An advocate noted in a recent oral argument at the Federal Circuit that we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of White v. Dunbar. White v. Dunbar is known for its “nose of wax” statement. The case was decided by the Supreme Court on November 15, 1886:
Some persons seem to suppose that a claim in a patent is like a nose of wax, which may be turned and twisted in any direction, by merely referring to the specification, so as to make it include something more than, or something different from, what its words express. The context may, undoubtedly, be resorted to, and often is resorted to, for the purpose of better understanding the meaning of the claim; but not for the purpose of changing it, and making it different from what it is. The claim is a statutory requirement, prescribed for the very purpose of making the patentee define precisely what his invention is; and it is unjust to the public, as well as an evasion of the law, to construe it in a manner different from the plain import of its terms. This has been so often expressed in the opinions of this court that it is unnecessary to pursue the subject further. See Keystone Bridge Co. v. Phoenix Iron Co., 95 U. S. 274, 278; James v. Campbell, 104 U. S. 356, 370.
White v. Dunbar, 119 U.S. 47, 7 S. Ct. 72, 30 L. Ed. 303 (1886).