Patent Owner Could Not Claim Priority to Provisional Application That Only Disclosed Species of Claimed Genus

D Three Enterprises, LLC v. Sunmodo Corporation, [2017-1909, 2017-1910](May 21, 2018), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment of invalidity of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,689,517, 9,068,339, and 8,707,655, based upon a determination that they could not claim priority to provisional application no. 61/150,301.

The patents-in-suit are directed to roof mount sealing assemblies, which allow users to mount objects on a roof and seal the mounting location against water.  The District Court determined that the patents-in-suit could not claim priority from the provisional application because the claims were broader than the invention disclosed in the provisional application, and thus the written description requirement pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §112(a).

The Federal Circuit noted that to claim a genus, a patentee must disclose a representative number of species falling within the scope of the genus or structural features common to the members of the genus so that a PHOSITA can visualize or recognize the members of the genus.  All of the asserted claims save one recite washerless assemblies.  The provisional application disclosed one washerless assembly, depicted in Figures 27−33 and 41, showing an an attachment bracket with W-shaped prongs.  The district court noted that all of the applications disclosed this attachment bracket, such that a PHOSITA would not understand the attachment bracket to be an “optional feature.”  However, the claims to the washerless version were not limited to attachment brackets with the W-shaped prongs.

The Federal Circuit first considered with summary judgement on the issue was appropriate, finding that the patent owner had sufficient notice, so that it was.   The Federal Circuit then turned to the merits, agreeing with the district court that washerless assemblies using attachments other than attachment bracket with the W-shaped prongs were not adequately disclosed in the provisional application, which in no way contemplated the use of other types of attachment brackets in a washerless assembly.  The Federal Circuit added that it was not sufficient for purposes of the written description requirement of § 112
that the disclosure, when combined with the knowledge in the art, would lead one to speculate as to the modifications that the inventor might have envisioned, but failed to disclose.

D Three argued that boilerplate language in the provisional application disclosed alternative attachment brackets:

[PHOSITAs] will recognize certain modifications, permutations, additions and sub-combinations therefore. It is therefore intended that the following appended claims hereinafter introduced are interpreted to include all such modifications, permutations, additions and subcombinations are within their true sprit [sic] and scope.

But the Federal Circuit found that this boilerplate language at the end of the provisional application was not sufficient to show adequate
disclosure of the actual combinations and attachments used in the Washerless Claims. The Federal Circuit noted that adequate written description does not ask what is permissible in view of the disclosure, rather, it asks what is disclosed.

The Federal affirmed that the provisional application lacked adequate written description of what was claimed, and thus did not support a claim of priority.