A patentee is required to conclude his or her patent specification with one or more claims that particularly and distinctly point out the subject matter of the invention. A patent claim that fails to do that is said to be indefinite. In Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, 134 S. Ct. 2120 (2014), the Supreme Court tried to determine what the standard for indefiniteness should be.

New Standard for Definiteness

Prior to the Nautilus decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit), the federal appeals court that considers most patent appeals, held that a patent claim could be indefinite when the claim was “insolubly ambiguous” and when it was not “amenable to construction.”

The Supreme Court determined that the Federal Circuit’s standard was too imprecise. The Court changed the standard to require that the claim has sufficient particularity and clarity to inform skilled artisans of the bounds of the claim to meet the statutory standard for definiteness.

The Supreme Court did not determine whether the patent-at-issue met the new standard for definiteness and returned the case to the Federal Circuit. 

Impact of the Nautilus Decision

Despite the fact that the Nautilus decision changed the standard for definiteness/indefiniteness, the ultimate effect of the decision will not be known for several years. Some courts and commentators have suggested that the decision merely clarified the existing standard, while others have indicated that the standard has been substantially altered.

Regardless, the decision has given accused infringers another tool that can be used to escape liability for patent infringement.