| WASHINGTON, April 28
WASHINGTON, April 28 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday took up the thorny issue of how to assess if a patent is
so vague that it should be thrown out, a case that could impact
other fights dealing with patent infringement.
The high court heard arguments in the long-running case
between Nautilus Inc and Biosig Instruments Inc, which
centers on monitors built into fitness machines like treadmills
that register electrical waves to estimate a user's heart rate.
Far beyond the gym, the case has implications for the
ongoing dispute against "patent trolls," the derisive name given
to companies that sue for infringement, or attempt to extract
licensing fees, by using weak or overly broad patents.
If the Supreme Court uses Nautilus vs. Biosig to raise the
bar on how much detail needs to be in a patent to avoid charges
of being "indefinite," it will become easier to get other vague
patents declared invalid as well.
Congress and the Federal Trade Commission, with backing from
the White House, have various efforts under way to review or
reform the patent system in response to a steep rise in
infringement cases in recent years.
Neither Biosig nor Nautilus is accused of being a troll.
Biosig first sued Nautilus in 2004, saying that Nautilus
infringed a 1994 patent. A district court said its patent was
invalid because of "indefiniteness" - essentially, it was too
vague - and as a result, could not be infringed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, however,
disagreed and said the patent was valid because it was not
Some justices seized on that phrase. Justice Antonin Scalia
said that the court had taken the case because of "really
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the appeals court failed to
take into consideration whether Biosig's patent could be
understood by a person familiar with the technology in question.
When patents are written they tend to be worded in a way
that includes very narrow descriptions of what the invention
does, but also some very broad notions as a way of best being
able to defend against potential infringement.
But a claim that is overly broad can get the patent thrown
out as "indefinite," and many patents straddle that line.
The Supreme Court last took up the issue of how detailed
patents need to be more than 70 years ago, according to Hal
Wegner, a patent expert at Foley & Lardner LLP.
Beyond the broader patent debate, the justices seemed
divided on whether the Biosig patent in this particular case
should be thrown out.
A decision is expected in late June.
On Wednesday, the top U.S. court will hear a second closely
followed patent case involving technology for managing Web
images and video that features Limelight Networks Ltd
and Akamai Technologies.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Ros Krasny and G Crosse)