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Hundreds of people flocked to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Tuesday to listen to arguments in a case that could affect how patents are interpreted. The Federal Circuit addressed in an en banc hearing whether courts should rely primarily on dictionaries to define the terms that describe the scope of an invention, or look to the description in the patent itself. Phillips v. AWH, 363 F.3d 1207, is one of the most pivotal patent issues to come before the Federal Circuit, generating more than 50 amicus curiae briefs. The court was prepared for a big turnout. As people arrived, they received a numbered slip of paper for a seat in the courtroom or a standing-room-only spot. The hourlong proceedings were piped into a second courtroom and lobby set up for the overflow crowd. James Benjamin, a deputy clerk at the Federal Circuit, estimated that at least 300 people attended. “We’ve had some big cases,” said Benjamin, a 25-year veteran of the court, “but nothing to my knowledge with the audience as in this case.” Beth Brinkmann, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s Washington, D.C., office, said she arrived two hours before the hearing started and was No. 7 for a standing-room-only slot in the courtroom. MoFo held a seminar on the case at the Crowne Plaza Cabana in Palo Alto, Calif., on Tuesday, and also aired the event over the Internet. Hooked into the event via phone, Brinkmann summed up the Federal Circuit arguments. In addition to the question of dictionary use, the judges focused on whether the description of a patent — its so-called specification — could limit the claims. They also touched on how much deference district judges should be given in their interpretation of patent claims. Brinkmann said she couldn’t guess how the judges would rule on the case. “Not too many judges were tipping their hand,” she said.

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