Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Supreme Court's Surprising Interest In Patent Law

from the will-it-help-or-hurt? dept

While Congress is looking at various bad ideas to make the patent system even worse than it is today, it appears that the Supreme Court may be taking an interest in shaping the future of the patent system in the US as well. Some are noting how odd it is that the Supreme Court is looking at three different patent cases -- all of which may have dramatic effects on the system. The Supreme Court doesn't take many patent cases, so the fact that they're looking at three suggests the court is suddenly much more interested in patent-related issues. Whether or not that's a good thing, remains to be seen. The first two cases mentioned, we've already discussed. They involve the eBay-MercExchange battle over granting injunctions and the Metabolite case about whether or not someone can get a patent on the correlation between an amino acid and a vitamin -- i.e., something found in nature. The final case is the MedImmune case, and will determine whether or not it's okay for a company to challenge the validity of a patent after the company has already licensed the patent. The lower court said that MedImmune couldn't sue, because if it felt the patent was invalid, it never should have licensed it in the first place. This is problematic, because many companies will end up licensing patents simply to avoid the uncertainty involved in a long lawsuit. In fact, that's a big part of why RIM finally settled with NTP -- despite plenty of evidence that NTP's patents were invalid. While each of these decisions may impact patent law in some significant ways, it's still a drop in the bucket compared to what Congress could, but won't, do in improving the way the country tries to set up incentives for innovation.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Jeremy, May 1st, 2006 @ 6:20am

    Call me crazy but I for one do not want the Supreme Court making law. It already oversteps it's bounds enough. I would much rather that Congress get some gumption and do something about it. But even if they don't the Supreme courst has no business redefining law. That's the Legislatures job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Bob, May 1st, 2006 @ 7:22am


    But where the legislature leaves gaps it's up to the court system to fill them in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Other Brian, May 1st, 2006 @ 7:26am

    Re: Gaps

    No, no it's not the courts job to fill in gaps in the law. It's always the legislatures job. The court may recognize a gap, but that's as far as they should go - interpret the law, don't create it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    John Duncan Yoyo, May 1st, 2006 @ 7:35am

    Re: Re: Gaps

    The Courts patch the mistakes of the legislature until they quit playing games and do their work. Right now the congress is busy playing games with each other than actually working together to craft some sort of workable solutions to problems.

    If the courts come in and do something It may eventually get the congress to do actually their work. And come up with the best laws that they can agree to rather than making each other look bad and accomplishing nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Zathras, May 1st, 2006 @ 7:47am

    Re: Re: Gaps

    So when the court encounters a gap, it's just supposed to say that it can't rule because there's a gap? Choosing one side over another would have just as much effect as interpreting the statutes to fill in any gap.

    Courts have been making the law for hundreds of years. That's the source of the common law for negligence, contractual interpretation, etc. Courts making the law is one of politics' biggest red herrings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous of Course, May 1st, 2006 @ 7:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Gaps

    It's convenient to leave the law making up
    to the court when it's a hot issue. Congress
    figured this out long ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    lifer, May 1st, 2006 @ 8:07am


    So the Supreme Court should have never made abortion legal is what you are saying....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    emichan, May 1st, 2006 @ 8:15am

    The fact is, the courts CANNOT make law, but it is entirely and necessarily within their power to interpret law and "fill in the gaps" if the law is ambiguously written. The authors of legislation are imperfect, and cannot conceive every possible contingency, so if the law is not clear in a certain case, or if there is a question of the constitutionality of a law, the courts step in. Congress still has ultimate legislative power, because 1.they can change the constitution and 2. they can pass legislation that "fills in the gaps" in older laws in whatever ways they wish. So, if the court seems to be unduly powerful, it is only because Congress is slacking off on the job. And to be quite frank, if that is the case, it is only because we are letting them slack off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Topher3105, May 1st, 2006 @ 8:42am

    Just wondering

    If I could patent the process of filing frivolous lawsuits against big companies for the purpose of hopefully getting a large settlement in the millions of dollars range in order to make the case go away.

    Once I get that patent then I would sue that dumbass woman that spilled hot coffee on her and won millions from McDonalds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    dorpus, May 1st, 2006 @ 10:32am


    Don't you hate it when people with no scientific background write articles, and then further write secondhand information about it? How the hell is there a "correlation" between an amino acid and vitamin?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Grumpy Old Man, May 1st, 2006 @ 10:36am

    Re: Just wondering

    God I hate that reference, yes the woman was awarded a ton of money, but most of that was overturned in appeal, in the end she ended up with little more than legal fees. It is just another example of the only group that truly reaps profit from lawsuits, the lawyers from both sides of the case.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    spr0949, May 1st, 2006 @ 10:44am

    Re: Just Wondering

    She wasnt't such a dumbass. She has millions and we are all paying for it. The dumbasses are our elected officials who pass the laws and regulations that enable these kinds of situations.

    On second thought, they're not dumbasses either. They're lawyers we elected to pass laws, and they pass laws that they use to earn retainers!! The dumbasses are us!! We keep electing lawyers!!

    We have met the enemy and he is us!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2006 @ 11:35am

    Re: "Correlation"?

    there's a correlation in the levels of a certain amino acid in the body and the presence of a certain vitamin. based on the levels of that amino acid, they can see if you are suffering from a certain vitamin deficiency.

    i hate when people who jump to conclusions decide to type something in order to prove somebody wrong but then just look like an idiot instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    dorpus, May 1st, 2006 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Re: "Correlation"?

    If there is a correlation (linear? positive? Spearman?) in observed bloodstream concentrations, then that is a meaningful sentence. Just talking about a "correlation between a vitamin and amino acid" makes no sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2006 @ 7:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: "Correlation"?

    "there is a correlation between a vitamin and an amino acid."
    "there is a correlation between a vitamin and an amino acid in bloodstream concentrations."

    both sentences work... just like these two do:
    "dorpus is an idiot."
    "dorpus is an idiot because he doesn't understand english."

    granted, the first statement is slightly ambiguous and doesn't give you all the information, but it still makes sense. (i'm referring to the first set of sentences, btw)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Jamie, May 1st, 2006 @ 8:04pm

    I shudder at the thought of the US Congress changing patent law. So many of them appear to be in the back pockets of corporations, it's hard to believe that they'd do anything that would take away any benefits that those corporations receive from obvious and / or invalid patents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    dorpus, May 1st, 2006 @ 10:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: "Correlation"?

    Sounds like something Mike would write anonymously. But then, I don't expect much out of this 4th rate tech tabloid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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