Gregory R. Baden

89 Texas L. Rev. 1203

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This Note proposes a third-party obviousness specialist in patent litigation in response to the challenge of practically determining this requirement in a technically and legally consistent manner.

Making consistent determinations of obviousness is a challenge at all levels of the patent system, from patent examiners to the U.S. Supreme Court.  An erroneous determination can be costly, due to the cost of the disputes.  The root of the challenge of determining obviousness is its doctrinal positioning as a mixed question of fact and law, according to Baden.  One problem with this positioning is whether a judge, jury, or some combination of the two should be responsible for making the determination.

In response to the challenges of the obviousness determination, Baden proposes a third-party obviousness specialist, and situates the role of this specialist within the concepts of patent law.  Rather than supplanting the judge or jury, the “obviousness master” would assist the court in establishing the boundaries of the obviousness factual inquiries.  Baden notes that there is support for such a master in both academic commentary and existing legal doctrine, which he discusses.

He then addresses the options for practical implementation of the obviousness master.  He provides two possible forms.  First, the obviousness master could be implemented in a manner similar to that employed for a traditionally titled special master in claim construction or interpretation hearings.  Second, the role could be developed via a specialized incarnation of an expert witness, which would include the use of a double-blind selection method for choosing the individual.  Baden addresses each form in detail.

Lastly, Baden presents the benefits and challenges of, and arguments for and against, implementing an obviousness specialist.  Baden concludes that an obviousness specialist would allow the parties, the court, and, importantly, the jury to focus on the primary task of navigating the defined waters of the invention without venturing into the unmapped sea of innovation.