If you don't live and breath patent law, you may wonder how people get patents. The Supreme Court today put a spotlight on the process. It made inventors happy.

You may have guessed that you have to apply for a patent. So far so good. One or more "examiners" in the United States Patent and Trademark Office look over your application and either accept or reject it, in whole or in part. Your lawyer or "patent agent" may argue with the PTO folks and may or may not convince them to "allow" your patent "claims". You may choose to resolve the examiners' concerns about your claims by making them narrower. Instead of a patent on light bulbs that use electricity, for instance, you might settle for a patent on light bulbs that use electricity flowing through a piece of tungsten.

But what if you think the PTO made you narrow your claims for no good reason? What recourse do you have?

The patent law of 1952 gives you the right either to go to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to review the PTO's ruling or to file suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (until recently the District of the District of Columbia) to do something more.

Say you opt for the district court route. Can you offer new evidence, which you never showed to the PTO, to support your argument that your patent claims deserve a wider scope?

The Supreme Court held today, unanimously, that you can do just that. Kappos v. Hyatt, No. 10-1219 (U.S. Apr. 17, 2012).