By Teresa Riordan

New York Times

WASHINGTON -- A ruling by the nation's highest patent court is likely to stem the rising number of infringement cases heard by juries, which tend to be more sympathetic to inventors than judges are and which have handed out dozens of big-dollar infringement verdicts over the last decade.

The long-awaited decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit essentially says that judges rather than juries should determine what a patent means.

``So many disputes turn on the question of what the patent means, that this ruling will have a substantial, perhaps dramatic, effect on how patent litigation is pursued,'' said Donald S. Chisum, a leading patent expert and a professor of law at the University of Washington in Seattle. ``It will make cases shorter and less expensive.''

The ruling this week comes as the number of patent cases tried before juries has risen sharply. More than half of all patent cases are heard by juries. And the three largest patent infringement awards were all made by juries: $1.2 billion in favor of Litton Industries against Honeywell Inc.; $873 million against Eastman Kodak Co., which was found to have infringed on Polaroid Corp. patents; and $208 million against Nintendo Co. in favor of Alpex Computer Corp.

The new ruling says that the judge, rather than the jury, should determine what the language of a patent means and that the judge must rely on definitions set forth in the patent itself or in documents filed in connection with the application for the patent.

Published 4/08/95 in the San Jose Mercury News.

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