The Federal Circuit today decried the difficulty of steering a true path between the Scylla and Charybdis of patent law — infringement and validity.  In the case before it, the court focused on claim construction, an exercise that often determines which, if either, monster gets to eat you.  A broad construction tends to make a finding of infringement more likely (good for the patent holder) and validity less so (bad), and a narrow construction has the opposite tendencies.

The court’s ambivalence comes through in one paragraph especially:

While we reverse the district court on the issue of claim construction, we do not suggest that the resolution of the claim construction issue presented in this case, or in similar cases, is easy or that the outcome is dictated by straightforward application of patent law principles. . . . In many such cases, as in this one, we and the district court are required to draw sometimes conflicting inferences from different sources of guidance as to proper claim construction and to weigh those conflicting inferences in reaching a conclusion as to the proper construction.  After engaging in that process in this case, we reach a different result from that reached by the district court, but not easily.

The Saunders Group, Inc. v Comfortrac, Inc., 06-1576, slip op. at 14-15 (Fed. Cir. June 27, 2007).

Blawgletter says don’t worry about it.  Appellate courts disagree with trial judges all the time about the "plain" meaning of contracts; why should something different happen when the "contract" consists of an exclusive license (the patent)?

Barry Barnett

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(c) 2007 Barry Barnett.