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Sturm College of Law


Enablement doctrine, Full scope rule


In exchange for granting inventors a limited monopoly, the patent laws require inventors to "enable" the public to make and use their invention. In Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medra4, Inc., Automotive Technologies International, Inc. v. BMW of North America, Inc., and Sitrick v. Dream works, L.L.C., the Federal Circuit made it far easier to show that patents are invalid based on lack of enablement in the predictable arts. These decisions rely on the enablement doctrine to invalidate claims that appear to be far broader in scope than what the written description of the patents suggests.

This Article: (1) explains the rationale underlying the enablement doctrine; (2) traces how the doctrine has evolved into various inconsistent tests; (3) analyzes the three new decisions; and (4) rejects the "full scope" rule that these decisions advance. Specifically, this Article argues that in the predictable arts, the full scope rule is extremely difficult to apply and will cause unnecessary litigation. Moreover, the enablement doctrine is a blunt instrument that rewards unintended beneficiaries and cannot consider all the facts important to an overbreadth analysis. Therefore, the enablement doctrine is not well suited to addressing the problem of generic or overbroad claims. This Article concludes that the Federal Circuit should take a step back from the full scope rule and return to the principles set forth in its earlier decisions. Finally, this Article suggests that if the Court truly wishes to address overbroad or generic claims, the doctrines of claim construction and the reverse doctrine of equivalents are better vehicles for accomplishing that goal.

Publication Statement

Originally published as Bernard Chao, Rethinking Enablement in the Predictable Arts: Fully Scoping the New Rule, 2009 STAN. TECH. L. REV. 3 (2009). Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.