Patently obvious

A Supreme Court ruling with far-reaching consequences for American innovation turns on the definition of a single word.

Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe:

Screenhunter_07_may_06_2110Last week, ruling in a dispute over the design of a gas pedal, the Supreme Court jolted the American patent system. The case, KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., dealt with the placement of an electronic sensor in an accelerator that could be adjusted according to a driver’s height — not in itself a matter of national concern. But the court used its decision to issue a broad rebuke of the way in which American patent cases are decided. In the process, some patent lawyers say, it may also have added a new level of uncertainty to an area of the law that is vital to the nation’s economy and our ability to protect and encourage innovation.

In a unanimous opinion, the justices ruled that the patent in question was invalid because designing a gas pedal in such a way was an “obvious” thing to do, at least to the average gas pedal designer, and therefore not really an invention. What’s more, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, argued that the current patent regime threatened to stifle the sort of creativity that the Founding Fathers had originally created the system to foster. Courts, Kennedy wrote, have been upholding patents for technologies or designs that didn’t need them, that would have been developed “in the ordinary course” of events. In doing so, they have allowed bogus inventions to steal business from legitimate ones, and discouraged true innovation.

More here.