In Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., the Supreme Court addressed an oft-discussed jurisprudential disconnect between itself and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit: whether patent claim construction was “legal” or “factual” in nature, and how much deference is due to district court decision-making in this area. This Article closely examines the Teva opinion and situates it within modern claim construction jurisprudence. The thesis is that the Teva holding is likely to have only very modest effects on the incidence of deference to district court claim construction, but that for unexpected reasons the case is far more important—and potentially beneficial—than it appears.
This Article argues that Teva is likely to have a substantial impact on the methodology of patent claim construction. There are at least two reasons for this. First, the players involved in district court patent litigation now have an increased incentive to introduce extrinsic evidence concerning claim meaning and to argue that such evidence is critical to the outcome of claim construction. Second, the Teva opinion itself contemplates a two-step process of evidentiary analysis in claim construction: first an analysis of extrinsic evidence (fact), then an analysis of the weight and direction of such evidence in the patent (law). The post-Teva mode of claim construction in district courts is therefore likely to be far more focused on objective, factual information concerning the ordinary meaning of claim terms, or the ways that skilled artisans would understand claim terms generally.
This Article further argues that these changes to the methodology of patent claim construction are generally positive. By anchoring claim meaning in objective evidence and following an established process for evaluating claim terms, this methodology should result in more predictability in litigation-driven claim construction, better drafted patent claims in the longer term, and ultimately, a patent law that more finely tunes the system of incentives it is supposed to regulate—all changes that, if realized, should be welcomed by the patent system, most of its participants, and the public.