WASHINGTON -- The US Supreme Court will use a patent infringement dispute over automotive gas pedals to decide when some inventions are too obvious to qualify for a patent.
The justices agreed to hear KSR International Co.'s bid to stop a suit over adjustable gas pedals originally filed against it by Teleflex Inc., which has since sold its auto pedal business. KSR says the Teleflex patent isn't valid because the technology was merely a combination of existing inventions. The Bush administration urged the court to grant a review.
The case may alter how patents are issued and make it easier to challenge them in courts. Yesterday's court action follows a May 15 ruling that made it harder to block sales of infringing products. Companies such as software maker Microsoft Corp. have been pushing the high court to scale back patent rights, saying they have been inundated with patent infringement lawsuits.
The patent covers an electronic sensor combined with gas, brake or clutch pedals that adjust to the height of the driver.
KSR makes the pedals for General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet and GMC trucks and sport utility vehicles. Supporting KSR's appeal are companies including Microsoft, Cisco Systems Inc. and Hallmark Cards Inc.
``This is probably the most important case the Supreme Court has taken on patents in the past 25 years," said Frank Porcelli, a patent lawyer with Fish & Richardson in Boston. ``This could mean a major revolutionary change."
The justices will hear arguments in their term beginning in October.
The November 2002 lawsuit accused closely held KSR, based in Ridgetown, Ontario, of infringing Teleflex's patent for an adjustable pedal system combined with an electronic control. Teleflex said its method took less space than previous combinations.
A federal judge in Detroit ruled the technology was too obvious to qualify for a patent. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington revived the suit, ordering the judge to reconsider whether the patent was valid.