Hey Boo-Boo, Defining Terms in the Specification is a Pic-i-nic

A definition in the patent’s specification can be critical in defining the scope of the claims.  According to the patent statute, the claims and specification are directed to a person of ordinary skill in the art, but it is important to remember that the person construing the patent’s claims — typically a Patent Examiner or a Federal District Judge — is usually not a person of ordinary skill in the art. Thus a readily understood, non-technical definition may better serve the inventor’s purposes.  Moreover, a simple example may more clearly define the term than any definition.  Such is the case in the Yogi Bear inspired examples of the definitions of “or” and “and” in U.S. Patent No. 9,607,066:

These examples make the meaning of the terms clear, in language that can be readily understood by anyone.

 

 

“Means” Does Not Always Mean “Means Plus Function”

In Skky, Inc. v. Mindgeek, S.A.R.L., [2016-2018] (June 7, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision in IPR2014-01236 that all of the challenged claims in  U.S. Patent 7,548,875 were invalid for obviousness.

The ‘875 patent relates to a method of delivering audio and/or visual files to a wireless device.  The prosecution lasted almost seven years, and the claims were only allowed after they were amended to recite a “wireless device means.”  The Board determined that “wireless device means” was not a means plus function element, but even if it was it did not require a device with multiple processors.

The Federal Circuit said that in determining whether a claim term invokes § 112 ¶ 6, the essential inquiry is not merely the presence or absence of the word “means” but whether the words of the claim are understood by persons of ordinary skill in the art to have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure.  It is sufficient if the claim term is used in common parlance or by persons of skill in the pertinent art to designate structure, even if the term covers a broad class of structures and even if the term identifies the structures by their function.

The Federal Circuit agreed that We agree with MindGeek that “wireless device means” does not invoke § 112 ¶ 6 because it recites sufficient structure.  Although the term uses the word “means” and so triggers a presumption, the full term recites structure, not functionality. The claims do not recite a function or functions for the wireless device means to perform, and “wireless device” is “used in common parlance . . . to designate structure. The Federal Circuit further found that “wireless device means” did not require multiple processors, noting that at least one disclosed embodiment was exclusively software, and thus it would be improper to construe  “wireless device means” to require multiple processors.

The Federal Circuit found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s claim construction, and its resulting finding of obviousness.

 

Drafting Broad Claims to Cover a Competitor is for Naught if the Specification Doesn’t Support Them

In Rivera v, ITC, [2016-1841] (May 23, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the ITC’s decision that there was no violation of 19 U.S.C. §1337, because the claims of U.S. Patent No. 8,720,320 were invalid for lack of a written description.

The ‘320 patent relates to single brew coffee machines, which the patent divides into two categories: those configured to receive pods — small, flattened disk-shaped filter packages of beverage extract, and those configured to accommodate larger, cup-shaped beverage filter cartridges.  The ‘320 patent describes the invention as an adapter assembly configured to effect operative compatibility between a single serve beverage brewer and beverage pods.

The Federal Circuit noted that every embodiment in the ’320 patent shows a cup-shaped “receptacle,” adapted to receive a pod.  Although the claims originally filed referenced a pod adapter assembly, after seven years of prosecution none of the claims included any reference to a pod or a pod adapter assembly.  The accused products were adapted to receive loose coffee grounds.

The issue on appeal was whether the “pod adaptor assembly,” “pod,” and “receptacle” disclosures in the patent application as filed, the patent claim element “container . . . adapted to hold brewing material.”  The Commission concluded that the specification did not provide the necessary written description support for the full breadth of the asserted claims, because the specification was entirely focused on a “pod adaptor assembly” or “brewing chamber,” and did not disclose a container that was itself a pod or that contained an integrated filter.

The Federal Circuit noted that both parties analyze the written description issue under the assumption that the asserted claims read on the accused cup-shaped containers. While the parties further agreed that nothing in the ’320 patent explicitly described a pod adaptor assembly with a filter integrated into the cartridge, Rivera argued that the broad definition that pod:

is a broad term and shall have its ordinary meaning and shall include, but not be limited to, a package formed of a water permeable material and containing an amount of
ground coffee or other beverage therein.

in the specification provided adequate support. The Federal Circuit rejected Rivera’s argument, agreeing with the ITC and the intervenor.  The Federal Circuit noted the “underlying concern” of the ‘320 patent was compatibility between pods and cartridges. The Federal Circuit quoted extensively from the specification, noting the distinction between pods and cartridges “permeates the entire patent.”  The Federal Circuit said there was no hint or discussion of a cartridge or pod adaptor assembly or receptacle that also serves as the “pod.”  The Federal Circuit noted that the distinction carries through to every embodiment.  The Federal Circuit concluded that the “broad” definition of a pod
does not change the fact that however broad “pod” is, it must
still be distinct from pod adapter assembly.

The Federal Circuit made of point of stating that the Patent Owner agreed that the claim covered the accused product.  Setting the scope set the question of adequate written description. Otherwise, construing a claim in view of the specification would result in a narrower scope, rather than invalidity. Perhaps the claim could have been saved, but it wouldn’t cover what the patent owner wanted it to.

While the focus of patent scope is rightly on crafting the claims, to get the full scope of the carefully crafted claims, the specification needs to provide a written description and an enable disclosure.

 

 

 

Patent Owner Statements During an IPR Disclaimed Claim Scope

In Aylus Networks, Inc., v. Apple, [2016-1599] (May 11, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment of non-infringement of U.S. Patent No. RE 44,412 on systems and methods for implementing digital home networks having a control point located on a wide area network.

Apple argued that it did not practice the claim requirement “wherein the CPP logic is invoked to negotiate media content delivery between the MS and the MR” recited in the two asserted claims 2 and 21.  Apple argued that this language required that only the CPP logic is invoked to negotiate media content delivery between the MS and the MR, and based upon this construction the district court granted summary judgment.

In construing the “wherein the CPP logic is invoked to negotiate media content delivery between the MS and the MR” limitation, the district court relied on statements made by Aylus in its preliminary responses to Apple’s petitions for IPR of the ’412 patent, finding these  statements
“akin to prosecution disclaimer.”  On appeal Aylus argued that statements made during an IPR cannot be relied on to support a finding of prosecution disclaimer, and that even if they can, the statements it made did not constitute a clear and unmistakable disclaimer of claim scope.

The Federal Circuit rejected Aylus’s first argument, holding that statements made by a patent owner during an IPR proceeding can be relied on to support a finding of prosecution disclaimer during claim construction.  After briefly reviewing the disclaimer doctrine, and noting that disclaimer have been applied in post-issuance proceedings before the patent office, such as reissues and reexaminations, the Federal Circuit said that extending the prosecution disclaimer doctrine to IPR proceedings will ensure that claims are not argued one way in order to maintain their patentability and in a different way against accused
infringers.  The Federal Circuit noted that several district courts have already held that statements in an IPR can be considered for prosecution disclaimer.  The Federal Circuit also rejected Aylus argument that statements in a Patent Owner’s Preliminary Response don’t count as a disclaimer because they are made pre-institution.

The Federal Circuit then turned to the question of whether Aylus’s statements in the IPR were sufficiently “clear and unmistakable.”  After examining the statements themselves, and the fact that the statements worked — avoiding IPR for the subject claims — the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the statements represent
an unequivocal and unambiguous disavowal, and found no
error in the district court’s claim construction.

 

Semicolons Strongly Indicate Each Step is Separate and Distinct; Confuse Most Non-Patent Lawyers

In In re Affinity Labs of Texas, LLC, [2016-1173] (May 5, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision that §317(b) did not bar the reexamination, and that the reexamined claims were in valid.

Affinity sued Apple for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,440,772, and Apple requested reexamination of the ‘772 Patent.  Apple and Affinity settled the lawsuit and filed a joint stipulation of dismissal.  Apple also filed a notice of non-participation in the reexamination, and Affinity petitioned to terminate the reexamination under 35 U.S.C. § 317(b), whihc prohibits the USPTO from maintaining an inter partes reexamination after the party who requested the reexamination has received a final decision against it in a civil action.  The USPTO denied Affinity’s petition because because the district court’s dismissal,
without prejudice did not meet section 317(b)’s required condition for terminating the reexamination.  The reexamination resulted in invalidation of all of the claims, which was affirmed by the PTAB.

The claims  the claim included a dual download feature, inter alia, requiring:

in response to receiving the request, making a first version of the piece of selectable content available for downloading to the wireless user device and a second version of the piece of selectable content available for downloading to a personal computer of the user, wherein the first version has the specific format and the second version has a different format playable by the personal computer;
sending the first version of the piece of selectable content to the wireless user device; and
sending the second version of the piece of selectable content to the personal computer.

Affinity argued that the two sending steps must occur automatically, without intervening steps, after the “in response to” language.  The Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that each of the five steps of method claim 4 —including the three steps of the dual download feature— are offset by semicolons. The Federal Circuit said: “This punctuation choice strongly indicates that each step is separate and distinct.” It would, therefore, be reasonable to conclude the fourth and fifth steps—the sending steps—are not tied to the “making . . . available” step and
not performed “in response to” the same request found in
the “making . . . available” step, as Affinity argued.  The Federal Circuit also found that while portions of specification were consistent with automatically downloading, they certain did not require it, and in fact some embodiments did not have automatic downloads.  The Federal Circuit thus affirmed the broad claim construction by the Board, and the invalidation of those broad claims.

Because the Federal Circuit agreed that the estoppel provision of § 317(b) did not prohibit the PTO from maintaining the reexamination
of the ’772 Patent’s claims, and the Board’s construction of the claims was consistent with the broadest reasonable interpretation, the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision.

 

Little Words That Can Make a Big Difference: i.e. Versus e.g.

The difference between i.e. (id est — that is) and e.g. (exempli gratia — for example) from time to time comes up in patent cases.  While the difference is not always clear to some practitioners, it is clear to the Federal Circuit.  Recently, in Rembrandt Wireless Technologies, LP v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., [2016-1729] (April 17, 2017), the Federal Circuit held that patentee’s use of i.e. during prosecution was definitional, finding that “two types of modulation methods, i.e., different families of modulation techniques” defined “two types” as involving different families of modulation techniques.  The Federal Circuit noted precedent where i.e. was treated as definitional:

A patentee’s use of “i.e.,” in the intrinsic record, however, is often  definitional.   Edwards Lifesciences LLC v. Cook Inc., 582 F.3d 1322, 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (“[U]se of ‘i.e.’ signals an intent to define the word to which it refers.”); see also Abbott Labs. v. Novopharm Ltd., 323 F.3d 1324, 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (holding that a patentee “explicitly defined” a term by using “i.e.” followed by an explanatory phrase).

The Federal Circuit explained that “the term ‘i.e.’ is Latin for id est, which means ‘that is.’”  The Federal Circuit added that whether a statement to the PTO that includes “i.e.” constitutes a clear and unmistakable disavowal of claim scope depends on the context, citing Braintree Labs., Inc. v. Novel Labs., Inc., 749 F.3d 1349, 1355 (Fed. Cir. 2014).

Samsung pointed to instances were i.e. was found not to be definitional, such as where it would be internally inconsistent as in Pfizer, Inc. v. Teva Pharm., USA, Inc., 429 F.3d 1364, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2005) or where it would read out preferred embodiments, as in Dealertrack, Inc. v. Huber, 674 F.3d 1315, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2012).  But the Federal Circuit did not agree that interpreting “i.e.” as definitional, as it normally is, would result in inconsistency.

The difference between i.e. and e.g. was highlighted by the Federal Circuit in Interval Licensing LLC v. AOL, LLC., [2013-1282, -1283, -1284, -1285] (September  10, 2014).  In considering the definiteness of the claim limitation “unobtrusive manner that does not disturb the user,” the Federal Circuit noted that:

Had the phrase been cast as a definition instead of as an example—if the phrase had been preceded by “i.e.” instead of “e.g.”—then it would help provide the clarity that the specification lacks. But as the specification is written, we agree with the district court that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not understand the “e.g.” phrase to constitute an exclusive definition of “unobtrusive manner that does not distract a user.”

The Federal Circuit said that given a lone example, rather than a definition, a skilled artisan is still left to wonder what other forms of display are unobtrusive and non-distracting. The Federal Circuit concluded that the phrase “unobtrusive manner that does not distract a user” was indefinite.

Issue Preclusion: Patent Owner Does Not Get a Do Over to Assert the Claims Against Similar Products

In Phil-Insul Corp. v. Airlite Plastics Co., [2016-1982] (April 17, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment of non-infringement of U.S.
Patent No. 5,428,933.  In prior litigation in which Phil-Insul asserted the patent against a different defendant, the district court construed the claims, granted summary judgment, and the Federal Circuit summarily affirmed.  In the present action, Airlite successfully argued to the district court that the accused products have the same design as the products found noninfringing in the prior litigation. The district court agreed, and granted Airlite’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement.

Airlite raised collarateral estoppe, and Phil-Insul countered that (1) it did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues in the prior litigation because it now alleges infringement of Claim 2, rather than Claim 1; (2) the district court’s claimconstruction in the prior litigation was incorrect; and (3) the defense of collateral estoppel is not available in this case because the claim construction was not essential to the court’s noninfringement rulings.

In granting summary judgment, the district court found that all of the elements for collateral estoppel were satisfied for both the claim construction and noninfringement issues presented. Specifically,
the district court found that Phil-Insul had a “full and fair
opportunity to litigate” the claim constructions, and that those constructions resulted in a finding of noninfringement. The district court
further found that the infringement issues were “essentially indistinguishable” from those in the prior litigation, and that the accused Airlite products have the same design as the products in the prior litigation.

Collateral estoppel “precludes a plaintiff from relitigating identical issues by merely ‘switching adversaries’” and prevents a plaintiff from “asserting a claim that the plaintiff had previously litigated and lost against another
defendant.”  The Federal Circuit said that regional circuit law applies to the application of collateral estoppel, but Federal Circuit law applies to aspects peculiar to patent law.  In particular in determining whether a later infringement claim is the same as an earlier claim, the products must be “essentially the same,” in other words the differences between them are merely colorable or unrelated to the limitations in the claim of the patent.

Phil-Insul argued that the district court erred when it (1) gave collateral estoppel effect to a Rule 36 judgment; (2) relied on the oral argument transcript from the prior appeal; and (3) failed to construe claim 2.   We
address each argument in turn.  The Federal Circuit found that a Rule 36 affirmance is a valid and final judgment, and can support claim or issue preclusion.  As to the reliance on oral argument transcript, the Federal Circuit found that district court did not err in relying on the transcript to confirm the scope of what was at issue in the prior litigation.  Finally, as to the need to construe claim 2, the Federal Circuit first noted that the parties selected the terms and the claims to be construed, so Phil-Insul complaint is without merit.  The Federal Circuit further noted that claim 2 contains the same terms “adjacent” and “dimension” terms that the court construed in the prior litigation, and that these terms were dispositive, and noting that it is well-established that claim terms are to be construed consistently throughout a patent, citing Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

 

Don’t Exalt Slogans over Real Meaning; Find the Claim Construction that Naturally Aligns with the Specification and Prosecution History

In The Medicines Company v. Mylan, Inc., [2015-1113, 2015-1151, 2015-1181] (April 6, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment of non-infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,598,343, and reversed a bench trial determination of infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,582,727.

The district court reasoned that the accused product did not infringe the ‘343 patent because this patent required “efficient mixing,” and concluded that the accused product infringed the ‘727 patent because the claims did not include the “efficient mixing” requirement.  The Federal Circuit found that the claims of both patents include a “batches” limitation, which according to the patents requires efficient mixing, thus both patents require “efficient mixing.”

The Federal Circuit noted that both patents included the “batches” limitation, that set a maximum impurity level for the product.  The Federal Circuit said that the claims could not be construed to cover any batch that met the impurity level, because it would cover the prior art, rendering the claim invalid.  Rather, properly construed, what the batches limitation requires is the use of a process that achieves batch
consistency.  The Federal Circuit noted that the patent owner agreed that Medicines agrees that batch consistency is the result of following the patents in suit and is what distinguishes them from the prior art.

The Federal Circuit found a claim construction that covered any process that achieved the impurity standard and was not limited to the disclosed “efficient mixing” was unworkable, because an infringer would not know whether it infringed until all of the batches were completed, and thus would not provide reasonable certainty regarding the claim scope.  This reasoning seems faulty because if the infringer used a process which, like the disclosed process, reliably achieved the claimed impurity level, there would be no uncertainty.

The Federal Circuit also noted that during prosecution the applicant characterized the invention as being the process: “[i]n the
present invention, various embodiments relate to a less
subjective and more consistent process.”  The applicant also took care to distinguish its post-critical date sales from its pre-critical date sales because they were “prepared by the new process of the present invention.”

Finally the Federal Circuit noted that the patent owner distiguished the invention to the district court based upon the process disclosed in the specification, telling the court that it was readily apparent that the definition of pharmaceutical batches refers to the compounding processes described in the patents-in-suit.

After a detailed review of the language of the specification, the Federal Circuit found that the specification teaches efficient mixing as a necessary and sufficient condition for achieving batch consistency, and the prosecution history confirms that achieving batch consistency requires efficient mixing. The Federal Circuit concluded that to attribute to the claims a meaning broader than any indicated in the patents and their prosecution history would be to ignore the totality of the facts of the case and exalt slogans over real meaning.

The Federal Circuit went on to find that the required “efficient mixing” was not met by the accused products, and reversed the district court’s finding of infringement.

 

 

 

Patent Owner Cannot Create New Claim Construction Issues After the Jury Verdict

In TVIIM, LLC v. McAfee, Inc., [2016-1562] (March 21, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed jury verdicts that U.S. Patent No.
6,889,168 was invalid and not infringed because substantial evidence supported the jury’s findings, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a new trial.

TVIIM argued that the jury rendered an inconsistent verdict of infringement and invalidity because the claim terms “as a result of/in response to,” “various utility functions,” and “reporting the discovered
vulnerabilities” have more than one ordinary meaning.  However, the Federal Circuit noted that TVIIM did not seek construction of any of the terms, and never asserted that the terms had multiple meanings.  The Federal Circuit said that TVIIM cannot be allowed to create a new claim construction dispute following the close of the jury trial.  THe Federal Circuit went on to find that substantial evidence supported the jury verdict.

 

Complaints About Claim Construction Irrelevant Without a Showing of How it Would Make a Difference

In Comcast IP Holdings I LLC v. Sprint Communications Company LP, [2015-1992] (March 7, 2017) the Federal Circuit affirmed a $7.5 million dollar award for infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,170,008,
7,012,916, and 8,204,046 directed to the use of computer network
technology to facilitate a telephone call.

Sprint complained about the construction of “switched telecommunication system” but the Federal Circuit failed to show how is construction would result in a different result.  Moreover, the Federal Circuit found that the claim language and the specification did not support Sprint’s proposed construction.

Sprint also complained that there was insufficient that its met the “call destination” and “identifier of a second party” limitations of the claims, which were given their plain and ordinary meaning because neither party requested a claim construction.  The Federal Circuit found that Sprint was essentially proffering a claim construction argument in the guise of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence of infringement.”

Finally, Sprint complained about the construction of “parsing,” arguing that the district court failed to apply disclaimers made by the patent owner during prosecution. But the Federal Circuit again found that Sprint failed to show how this affected the outcome.  However the Federal Circuit ultimately agreed with the district court’s construction.

The Federal Circuit also affirmed the award of prejudgment interest from the date of the earliest patent, finding that would be the date of negotiation of the undifferentiated reasonable royalty.