Phillips v. AWH Corp.: Reemphasizing Context in Patent Construction

Eifion Phillips

This comment discusses a case that was much anticipated by the patent bar and resolved issues as to the proper method for interpreting the meaning of patent claims, a key issue in patent litigation. In an en banc decision, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit chose between various prior inconsistent approaches to patent claim construction. Specifically, the court “reaffirmed” the principle that patent claims should be interpreted primarily by reference to the context provided by the patent specification, rather than to external sources such as dictionaries. This aspect of the decision likely focuses claim interpretation properly on the meaning from the point of view of the person skilled in the art. Despite this clarification, an opportunity was missed to improve the certainty, finality, and possibly the overall quality of claim construction decisions, when the court declined to reconsider its prior holding that claim interpretation decisions are reviewed de novo on appeal.