Five winning ways to break down patent jargon for judges and juries

IAM Global Leaders tell us how they translate complex technical concepts into persuasive arguments in front of non-expert judges and juries

IAM recently published its annual Global Leaders, in which many of the world’s foremost private practice patent experts reflect on their professional journeys to date and offer insights and guidance into career development, practice management and patent industry trends. 

We asked attorneys in the most specialised and sophisticated areas of patent law for their suggestions on how to convey highly technical ideas to non-experts, particularly in a courtroom scenario. Here is what they had to say.

Consequential commercial actions should be rooted in genuine understanding

Johan Örtenblad, managing partner and European patent attorney at Noréns Patentbyrå, emphasises the importance of imparting a genuine understanding of a technical concept when the stakes are high. “Often it is necessary to focus on the benefits of something, however, it can then become easy to oversimplify the solution,” he points out. “If basing important business decisions on complicated technical considerations, I think that it is crucial to have a reasonable intuitive understanding of the underlying mechanisms. A very cursory understanding will most likely not be sufficient. Instead, if at all possible I like to try to explain how things really work under the hood, but then to use relatable images and analogies rather than lingo and abbreviations. Only rarely is a technical concept too complicated to be broken down to something meaningful that can still be understood by a layperson.”

Tell a compelling story

“I like to have compelling and hopefully fun ideas, concepts and stories behind everything,” says Ilya Kazi, founder and CEO of IK-IP. Finding the crux that will be relevant to your client in a tangle of technical explanation is key to this. “Understanding why something technically complex is different from something else that is similar is insufficient. I always want to appreciate in simple terms why this subtle difference makes the whole thing interesting and hence why a patent application was worth filing in the first place. If I cannot concisely and casually tell my paralegal why what we are doing for a client is cool, I keep digging. This extends to the initial drafting of applications, which must tell a compelling story: this is why I do not believe that applications should just be passed down to trainees.”

Use images and analogies

Sherry M Knowles, principle at Knowles IP Strategies, was one of several of our experts to emphasise the importance of images and analogies to turn abstract ideas into clear visualisations. “Most chemistry can be simplified through pictures (if details are omitted!). Think of explaining it to your family or friends or someone at the grocery store using simple analogies. I recently had to explain what the mRNA covid-19 vaccine was to a house contractor to convince him he could not get coronavirus by injection of a small piece of the virus. This shows how critical it is to explain sophisticated science on a simple level to help people lose their fear of medicines.”

Understand your audience

“Understanding your audience is a key to success in any area,” insists Ira Matsil, partner at Slater Matsil. He maintains that when you combine the complexity of law with that of another highly technical field, attorneys become responsible for adding yet more value. “Of course, the already complex legal issues in patent law are only complicated by the technical overlay. As such, we must communicate clearly so that others can understand the concepts. By far, the most important component in achieving this goal is to thoroughly understand the concepts yourself. Without this, clear communication is impossible. With strong technical understanding, it becomes possible to consider your audience and simplify the concepts to communicate effectively to those without technical backgrounds.”

Recognise the strength of your audience

“I think that IP professionals generally underestimate the ability of lay people to judge complex technical issues,” muses Greg Gardella, managing principal at Gardella Grace, who believes that it is key to recognise your client’s strengths. “While a person without the specific knowledge might not fully appreciate all of the technical details, they understand the most important thing – that the plaintiff is telling one story and that the defendant is telling another – and that the two are fundamentally opposed. Properly assessing which is more credible does not necessarily require fulsome appreciation of each and every technical concept. Rather, it generally requires the skills that all of us are equipped with, such as the ability to gauge truth from deception. Laypersons are extraordinarily good at this. While they might not be able to furnish satisfying technical explanations justifying their conclusions, they generally reach the right result, in my opinion.”

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