Patent Word Play

Parties can easily spend millions of dollars and several years litigating patent disputes.  Why do central issues in patent litigation such as patent infringement require such lengthy and expensive litigation?

At its core, patent infringement comes down to word interpretation—whether the claims of a patent “read” on a product or service.

You’d think word interpretation is a simple task, but you’d be shocked.

Thousands upon thousands of attorneys earn their living and bill hundreds of millions of dollars each year interpreting the meaning of words.  In fact, the entire judicial branch of our government (the other branches being the legislative and executive branches) is solely devoted to word interpretation—particularly, whether the words of a statute, contract, or other legal document apply to a real-world circumstance.

Why does such a seemingly simple task require so many resources?

Without getting too philosophical, a word is an approximation of our experience or understanding of life.  When we create or use words to categorize a concept, thing, or action, we inherently create outliers to this categorization.

It is at these outliers where word interpretation, and thus litigation, begins.

To illustrate, take words describing emotions.  Love, fear, hate, and anger–all these words approximate an intangible feeling.  But where does being upset spill into anger?  At what point does nervousness escalate to fear?

The same is true regarding objects (e.g., as used in system claims).  Take the word “car”—say you define it as a motorized vehicle with four wheels, and that can carry passengers?  But is an ages-10-to-12 playschool motorized car a “car,” as we understand it?

And take the word “send” (i.e., action words used in method claims)—say you define it as causing the movement of an object from one location to another.  But when you have an opportunity to prevent an object from moving from one location to another, but choose not to, did you send it?

These are rhetorical questions to illustrate a point–with any definition we apply to a word, we inherently create outliers and, thus, the seeds for disputes and disagreements, i.e., litigation.

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