November 7 Tuesday

Patenting Movement: The Case of Surgical Robotics with Andrew Chin

  • Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 12:05PM - 1:20PM
  • Room 121
  • Open To The Yale Community
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Patenting Movement: The Case of Surgical Robotics

Like many other animals, humans have extended the functional reach of their bodies by inventing tools to achieve their goals. At the most fundamental level, progress in the useful arts can be measured by the extent to which humans can make and use these tools to produce the results and effects they desire. Patent claims properly demarcate this progress when they define these tools (or methods of making or using them), not merely where and how far the tools reach. Kinematic properties, which describe the geometric motions of structural elements without regard to the forces that cause them to move, should therefore not be considered sufficiently concrete to delineate the scope of a mechanical patent claim.

I will begin by surveying the practice of kinematic patent claiming in the U.S. surgical robotics industry. Drawing on insights from fields ranging from classical geometry to the special theory of relativity, I will show why many kinematic claims logically fall under the longstanding and recently reinvigorated doctrinal exclusions of mathematical theorems and abstract ideas from patent-eligible subject matter. I will then examine the patent-eligibility of a claimed surgical manipulator whose design incorporates kinematic data captured from procedures performed by kinesthetically skilled surgeons. Finally, I will identify some of the urgent questions raised by surgical robotics patents regarding the kinds of progress and skill that fall within the patent system’s ambit, with consequences for the political economy of labor and downstream innovation in the age of automation.

Andrew Chin is a Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina. He obtained his BS in Mathematics from the University of Texas, his DPhil in Mathematics and Computing from the University of Oxford, and his JD from Yale Law School. He clerked for Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where he also assisted Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in the drafting of the findings of fact in United States v. Microsoft Corp. His patent law scholarship bridges such disciplines as software engineering, mechanical engineering, bioinformatics, analytical philosophy, linguistics, information science, microeconomics, and industrial organization. He has also made substantial contributions in the fields of antitrust law, cyberlaw, securities law, administrative law, Asian American studies, and computational complexity. He was recently selected as the only law professor to participate in the Geometry of Redistricting Workshop's national expert witness training program at Tufts University.

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