Monday, April 30, 2007

This Might be Good for Vonage


In a decision issued April 30, the U.S. Supreme Court reinvigorated the "obviousness test" used to determine whether a patent should be issued. Ruling in the case of KSR v. Teleflex, the Court found that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles patent appeals, had not been using a stringent-enough standard to determine whether a patent was infringing.

At issue in KSR v. Teleflex is a gas pedal manufactured by KSR. The pedal has an electronic sensor that automatically adjusts its height to the height of the driver. Teleflex claimed that KSR's products infringed on a patent it held. KSR said that Teleflex's patent combining a sensor and a gas pedal was one that failed the obviousness test, and as such, should not have been granted.

Since 1952, legislation has mandated that an invention can not be patented if a "person having ordinary skill in the art" would consider it obvious. Many observers think Verizon's patents are overly broad. Basic mechanisms for connecting calls between the public switched telephone network and IP networks might be a similar sort of thing.

KSR argued that the US Patent and Trademark Office should have denied Teleflex's patent, as it only combines components performing functions they were previously known to do.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Circuit had failed to apply the obviousness test. "The results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court. "Were it otherwise, patents might stifle rather than promote the progress of useful arts."

The Supreme Court also said that the Federal Circuit's conception of a patent's obviousness was too narrow. "The Circuit first erred in holding that courts and patent examiners should look only to the problem the patentee was trying to solve," according to Justice Kennedy's opinion. "Second, the appeals court erred in assuming that a person of ordinary skill in the art attempting to solve a problem will be led only to those prior art elements designed to solve the same problem."

So Teleflex's patent has been invalidated and more importantly, the Federal Circuit will now have to pay closer attention to a patent's obviousness. That may be good news for Vonage.

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