Major Decision by Supreme Court Will Impact Future of Patents

The Supreme Court has made a decision that will have dramatic impact on existing patent law. This week, the Supreme Court issued a decision in KSR v. Teleflex, which dealt with the design of the humble gas pedal, but has far greater consequences. Teleflex is the latest in a series of cases that look to better define the proper limits and roles of patents

The question in KSR v. Teleflex was whether a pedal design patented in 2001 was nothing more than an "obvious" combination of previously existing designs. The trial court ruled it was obvious, and invalidated the patent. An appeals court overruled that decision. The Supreme Court sided with the trial court.

In Justice Anthony Kennedy's unanimous opinion, the court ruled that the appellate patent court had raised the bar too high in assessing "obviousness."

In an article in the Wall Street Journal covering the decision, the WSJ wrote: "Federal law requires that patents only be granted for non-obvious innovations. This is because patents ought to protect inventions that require a discovery, a leap of logic or imagination. An example that Justice Kennedy cites in Teleflex is that of a battery that used an electrode previously thought unsuitable for that purpose. An inventor discovered that the conventional wisdom was wrong, and a new type of battery came into being.

The Teleflex gas pedal, by contrast, combined elements of existing pedals in a way that neither defied the conventional wisdom nor resulted in novel, unexpected benefits. The fact that no one had combined those elements in that particular way was not, the Court ruled, sufficient to conclude that the combination merited a patent.

More broadly, Justice Kennedy wrote that the federal courts had adopted too strict a standard for invalidating patents. This could have broad ramifications. Our patent system is only as good as the bureaucrats who grant the patents and the courts that enforce them. So if a legal standard allows dubious patents to be enforced, then innovation and the economy may suffer."

You can read the WSJ article here. A more extensive discussion and the dramatic impact it will have on software patents is discussed at

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May 8, 2007
by MoreCowbell (not verified)

I have always thought that

I have always thought that the term "obviousness" was really subjective.  Whether or not an idea is obvious is completely dependent on the intelligence level of the person evaluating it.  Thanks for the interesting article.