Mark Harris, partner and co-head of the Appellate Practice Group at Proskauer
In patent law, just a few words can cause a tremendous ripple effect. Whether those words are in the patent itself or in the language used by the courts to interpret them, judges and attorneys can argue endlessly about the meaning of certain words. In the case of Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, the phrases in contention include “spaced relationship” and “insolubly ambiguous.”
The Nautilus case came in front of the Supreme Court on April 28, 2014, a decade after the dispute between the two companies began. The patent at the heart of the matter has everything to do with hearts or, rather, heart rates. Biosig holds a patent that many people use every time they go to the gym. Some equipment, such as certain treadmills, measure a runner’s heart rate, use technology that separates certain electrical waves the machine reads via the runner’s hands. This technology was patented by Biosig in 1994, and many exercise equipment manufacturers license the patents from Biosig. Nautilus does not. The company contends that is not valid because it is “indefinite.” The determination of whether a patent is definite, and therefore valid, is whether a person of ordinary skill in the art can determine the boundaries of the claim. That one small world set off a firestorm of legal activity that culminated in the Supreme Court hearing arguments to settle the dispute, and perhaps make a ruling that would have a large impact on the patent space in the future.