The most difficult issue in many patent cases is claim construction, that is, the court's interpretation and articulation of what exactly the claims of the patent mean. Interpreting patent claims is hard work. It usually involves consideration of technical jargon that, especially when significant time has passed since the patent was filed, may be obsolete or just plain awkward. As a result, courts don't always get claim construction right the first time. Indeed, a substantial percentage--depending on whom you ask, the anecdotal figure is around 50 percent--of trial court claim constructions are successfully challenged on appeal.
The high reversal rate for claim construction is especially problematic because most claim construction decisions cannot be immediately appealed. Interpreting the claims is only the first step in the infringement analysis. After they're interpreted, that construction has to be applied to the accused product or process. Most often that's something the jury is supposed to decide, which means you may have to go through a long and costly trial before a judgment is entered. That judgment--either that the patent claims are infringed or they are not--is what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the "Federal Circuit") ultimately reviews.
However, if the claim construction was wrong in the first place, the jury's verdict on infringement is usually wrong, too. That means a second trial will likely be necessary, which results in more work for the courts, more time lost in litigation, and more money spent on lawyers. The rub, argue critics, is that much of this additional expense and inefficiency could be avoided if claim construction opinions could be appealed prior to a final judgment on infringement.
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