In one of the most important patent decisions in years, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that in a patent infringement suit it is up to judges, rather than juries, to resolve the crucial issue of what a patent means.
While the decision does not completely oust juries from patent cases, it may have that effect as a practical matter in many infringement suits.
The determination of the patent claim - the precise definition of the scope of the patent over which the patent owner exercises a lawful monopoly -is often the most important aspect of the case, and once a judge has decided this question, there is often nothing left for the jury to do.
The decision is likely to strengthen the position of people accused of infringing on a patent, because juries are known for favoring patent holders and for being impressed by expert trial testimony that portrays the scope of a patent in the broadest possible way.
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