Dictionaries (yet again)

Thaler v Commissioner of Patents [2021] FCA 879

On the use of dictionaries to resolve the meaning of ‘inventor’, Beach J in Thaler (at [15]) said more was required than ‘mere resort to old millennium usages’.  If words are only ‘pictures of ideas’, the judge needed ‘to grapple with the underlying idea’.

The judge (at [147-153) noted – (1) choice between dictionaries is always problematic, (2) agent nouns like ‘inventor’ can now aptly extend to machines6, (3) dictionary definitions are ‘inclusive and exemplary’ not exclusive, (4) those definitions cannot control meaning, (5) dictionaries are developed on the basis of historical usage, and most importantly (6) dictionaries are no substitute for interpretation7.

This principle is from Episode 76 of interpretation NOW!


6 cf Atlantis [1997] FCA 1105 (at [12]), JMVB [2006] FCAFC 141 (at [71-72]).

7 cf US textualism approach – Van Buren 593 US __ (2021) illustrates.