Current Issue

Volume 86, Number 6

December 2011

Innovations on the Cutting Edge of Ariad: Reinventing the Written Description Requirement

Jonathan E. Barbee

For the great majority of its history, the written description requirement was an
often-ignored relic of the patent statute. As technology advanced, the written
description requirement developed teeth as a means for invalidating patent claims
during litigation. Written description doctrine reached its peak in Ariad
Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co.
, when the Federal Circuit created a significant
setback for groundbreaking innovation. Ariad demonstrated that the written
description doctrine lacked sufficient recognition of the fundamental policies and
purposes of the patent system and that this could have serious consequences for
innovation. This Note attempts to rectify the written description doctrine by
reorienting the doctrine in innovation policy. To do so, I first apply an alternative
version of the “prospect theory” of patents to conventional patent policy. Based on
this policy calculus, I then devise a reformed hypothetical innovation test that looks
outside of the “four corners” of the patent and considers the larger impact that the
written description has on the patent system. Without such doctrinal reform, the
written description doctrine of Ariad and its legacy risks undermining the incentives
that motivate inventors to undertake cutting-edge technology.