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2111    Claim Interpretation; Broadest Reasonable Interpretation [R-11.2013]

  CLAIMS MUST BE GIVEN THEIR BROADEST REASONABLE INTERPRETATION IN LIGHT OF THE SPECIFICATION

During patent examination, the pending claims must be “given their broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification.” The Federal Circuit’s en banc decision in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1316, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2005) expressly recognized that the USPTO employs the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard:

The Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) determines the scope of claims in patent applications not solely on the basis of the claim language, but upon giving claims their broadest reasonable construction “in light of the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art.” In re Am. Acad. of Sci. Tech. Ctr., 367 F.3d 1359, 1364[, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1830] (Fed. Cir. 2004). Indeed, the rules of the PTO require that application claims must “conform to the invention as set forth in the remainder of the specification and the terms and phrases used in the claims must find clear support or antecedent basis in the description so that the meaning of the terms in the claims may be ascertainable by reference to the description.” 37 CFR 1.75(d)(1).

See also In re Hyatt, 211 F.3d 1367, 1372, 54 USPQ2d 1664, 1667 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Because applicant has the opportunity to amend the claims during prosecution, giving a claim its broadest reasonable interpretation will reduce the possibility that the claim, once issued, will be interpreted more broadly than is justified. In re Yamamoto, 740 F.2d 1569, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1984); In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 321, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (“During patent examination the pending claims must be interpreted as broadly as their terms reasonably allow.”); In re Prater, 415 F.2d 1393, 1404-05, 162 USPQ 541, 550-51 (CCPA 1969) (Claim 9 was directed to a process of analyzing data generated by mass spectrographic analysis of a gas. The process comprised selecting the data to be analyzed by subjecting the data to a mathematical manipulation. The examiner made rejections under 35 U.S.C. 101 and 35 U.S.C. 102. In the 35 U.S.C. 102 rejection, the examiner explained that the claim was anticipated by a mental process augmented by pencil and paper markings. The court agreed that the claim was not limited to using a machine to carry out the process since the claim did not explicitly set forth the machine. The court explained that “reading a claim in light of the specification, to thereby interpret limitations explicitly recited in the claim, is a quite different thing from ‘reading limitations of the specification into a claim,’ to thereby narrow the scope of the claim by implicitly adding disclosed limitations which have no express basis in the claim.” The court found that applicant was advocating the latter, i.e., the impermissible importation of subject matter from the specification into the claim.). See also In re Morris, 127 F.3d 1048, 1054-55, 44 USPQ2d 1023, 1027-28 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (The court held that the PTO is not required, in the course of prosecution, to interpret claims in applications in the same manner as a court would interpret claims in an infringement suit. Rather, the “PTO applies to verbiage of the proposed claims the broadest reasonable meaning of the words in their ordinary usage as they would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art, taking into account whatever enlightenment by way of definitions or otherwise that may be afforded by the written description contained in applicant’s specification.”).

The broadest reasonable interpretation of the claims must also be consistent with the interpretation that those skilled in the art would reach. In re Cortright, 165 F.3d 1353, 1359, 49 USPQ2d 1464, 1468 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (The Board’s construction of the claim limitation “restore hair growth” as requiring the hair to be returned to its original state was held to be an incorrect interpretation of the limitation. The court held that, consistent with applicant’s disclosure and the disclosure of three patents from analogous arts using the same phrase to require only some increase in hair growth, one of ordinary skill would construe “restore hair growth” to mean that the claimed method increases the amount of hair grown on the scalp, but does not necessarily produce a full head of hair.). Thus the focus of the inquiry regarding the meaning of a claim should be what would be reasonable from the perspective of one of ordinary skill in the art. In re Suitco Surface, Inc., 603 F.3d 1255, 1260, 94 USPQ2d 1640, 1644 (Fed. Cir. 2010); In re Buszard, 504 F.3d 1364, 84 USPQ2d 1749 (Fed. Cir. 2007). In Buszard, the claim was directed to a flame retardant composition comprising a flexible polyurethane foam reaction mixture. 504 F.3d at 1365, 84 USPQ2d at 1750. The Federal Circuit found that the Board’s interpretation that equated a “flexible” foam with a crushed “rigid” foam was not reasonable.Id. at 1367, 84 USPQ2d at 1751. Persuasive argument was presented that persons experienced in the field of polyurethane foams know that a flexible mixture is different than a rigid foam mixture. Id. at 1366, 84 USPQ2d at 1751.

See MPEP § 2173.02 for further discussion of claim interpretation in the context of analyzing claims for compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.

2111.01   Plain Meaning [R-11.2013]

[Editor Note: This MPEP section is applicable to applications subject to the first inventor to file (FITF) provisions of the AIA except that the relevant date is the "effective filing date" of the claimed invention instead of the "time of the invention," which is only applicable to applications subject to pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 102. See 35 U.S.C. 100 (note) and MPEP § 2150 et seq.]

I.   THE WORDS OF A CLAIM MUST BE GIVEN THEIR “PLAIN MEANING” UNLESS SUCH MEANING IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE SPECIFICATION

Under a broadest reasonable interpretation, words of the claim must be given their plain meaning, unless such meaning is inconsistent with the specification. The plain meaning of a term means the ordinary and customary meaning given to the term by those of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention. The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, including the words of the claims themselves, the specification, drawings, and prior art. However, the best source for determining the meaning of a claim term is the specification - the greatest clarity is obtained when the specification serves as a glossary for the claim terms. The presumption that a term is given its ordinary and customary meaning may be rebutted by the applicant by clearly setting forth a different definition of the term in the specification. In re Morris, 127 F.3d 1048, 1054, 44 USPQ2d 1023, 1028 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (the USPTO looks to the ordinary use of the claim terms taking into account definitions or other “enlightenment” contained in the written description); But c.f. In re Am. Acad. of Sci. Tech. Ctr., 367 F.3d 1359, 1369, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1834 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“We have cautioned against reading limitations into a claim from the preferred embodiment described in the specification, even if it is the only embodiment described, absent clear disclaimer in the specification.”). When the specification sets a clear path to the claim language, the scope of the claims is more easily determined and the public notice function of the claims is best served.

Although claims of issued patents are interpreted in light of the specification, prosecution history, prior art and other claims, this is not the mode of claim interpretation to be applied during examination. During examination, the claims must be interpreted as broadly as their terms reasonably allow. In re American Academy of Science Tech Center, 367 F.3d 1359, 1369, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1834 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (The USPTO uses a different standard for construing claims than that used by district courts; during examination the USPTO must give claims their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the specification.). This means that the words of the claim must be given their plain meaning unless the plain meaning is inconsistent with the specification. In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 321, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (discussed below); Chef America, Inc. v. Lamb-Weston, Inc., 358 F.3d 1371, 1372, 69 USPQ2d 1857 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (Ordinary, simple English words whose meaning is clear and unquestionable, absent any indication that their use in a particular context changes their meaning, are construed to mean exactly what they say. Thus, “heating the resulting batter-coated dough to a temperature in the range of about 400oF to 850oF” required heating the dough, rather than the air inside an oven, to the specified temperature.).

II.   IT IS IMPROPER TO IMPORT CLAIM LIMITATIONS FROM THE SPECIFICATION

“Though understanding the claim language may be aided by explanations contained in the written description, it is important not to import into a claim limitations that are not part of the claim. For example, a particular embodiment appearing in the written description may not be read into a claim when the claim language is broader than the embodiment.” Superguide Corp. v. DirecTV Enterprises, Inc., 358 F.3d 870, 875, 69 USPQ2d 1865, 1868 (Fed. Cir. 2004). See also Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 906, 69 USPQ2d 1801, 1807 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (discussing recent cases wherein the court expressly rejected the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment); E-Pass Techs., Inc. v. 3Com Corp., 343 F.3d 1364, 1369, 67 USPQ2d 1947, 1950 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“Interpretation of descriptive statements in a patent’s written description is a difficult task, as an inherent tension exists as to whether a statement is a clear lexicographic definition or a description of a preferred embodiment. The problem is to interpret claims ‘in view of the specification’ without unnecessarily importing limitations from the specification into the claims.”); Altiris Inc. v. Symantec Corp., 318 F.3d 1363, 1371, 65 USPQ2d 1865, 1869-70 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Although the specification discussed only a single embodiment, the court held that it was improper to read a specific order of steps into method claims where, as a matter of logic or grammar, the language of the method claims did not impose a specific order on the performance of the method steps, and the specification did not directly or implicitly require a particular order). See also subsection IV., below. When an element is claimed using language falling under the scope of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, 6th paragraph (often broadly referred to as means- (or step-) plus- function language), the specification must be consulted to determine the structure, material, or acts corresponding to the function recited in the claim. In re Donaldson, 16 F.3d 1189, 29 USPQ2d 1845 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (see MPEP § 2181- MPEP § 2186).

In In re Zletz,supra, the examiner and the Board had interpreted claims reading “normally solid polypropylene” and “normally solid polypropylene having a crystalline polypropylene content” as being limited to “normally solid linear high homopolymers of propylene which have a crystalline polypropylene content.” The court ruled that limitations, not present in the claims, were improperly imported from the specification. See also In re Marosi, 710 F.2d 799, 802, 218 USPQ 289, 292 (Fed. Cir. 1983) (“'claims are not to be read in a vacuum, and limitations therein are to be interpreted in light of the specification in giving them their ‘broadest reasonable interpretation.'” (quoting In re Okuzawa, 537 F.2d 545, 548, 190 USPQ 464, 466 (CCPA 1976)). The court looked to the specification to construe “essentially free of alkali metal” as including unavoidable levels of impurities but no more.). Compare In re Weiss, 989 F.2d 1202, 26 USPQ2d 1885 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (unpublished decision - cannot be cited as precedent) (The claim related to an athletic shoe with cleats that “break away at a preselected level of force” and thus prevent injury to the wearer. The examiner rejected the claims over prior art teaching athletic shoes with cleats not intended to break off and rationalized that the cleats would break away given a high enough force. The court reversed the rejection stating that when interpreting a claim term which is ambiguous, such as "'a preselected level of force,' we must look to the specification for the meaning ascribed to that term by the inventor.” The specification had defined “preselected level of force” as that level of force at which the breaking away will prevent injury to the wearer during athletic exertion.)

III.    “PLAIN MEANING” REFERS TO THE ORDINARY AND CUSTOMARY MEANING GIVEN TO THE TERM BY THOSE OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART

“[T]he ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips v. AWH Corp.,415 F.3d 1303, 1313, 75 USPQ2d 1321, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc); Sunrace Roots Enter. Co. v. SRAM Corp., 336 F.3d 1298, 1302, 67 USPQ2d 1438, 1441 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Brookhill-Wilk 1, LLC v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., 334 F.3d 1294, 1298 67 USPQ2d 1132, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“In the absence of an express intent to impart a novel meaning to the claim terms, the words are presumed to take on the ordinary and customary meanings attributed to them by those of ordinary skill in the art.”). It is the use of the words in the context of the written description and customarily by those skilled in the relevant art that accurately reflects both the “ordinary” and the “customary” meaning of the terms in the claims. Ferguson Beauregard/Logic Controls v. Mega Systems, 350 F.3d 1327, 1338, 69 USPQ2d 1001, 1009 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Dictionary definitions were used to determine the ordinary and customary meaning of the words “normal” and “predetermine” to those skilled in the art. In construing claim terms, the general meanings gleaned from reference sources, such as dictionaries, must always be compared against the use of the terms in context, and the intrinsic record must always be consulted to identify which of the different possible dictionary meanings is most consistent with the use of the words by the inventor.); ACTV, Inc. v. The Walt Disney Company, 346 F.3d 1082, 1092, 68 USPQ2d 1516, 1524 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Since there was no express definition given for the term “URL” in the specification, the term should be given its broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the intrinsic record and take on the ordinary and customary meaning attributed to it by those of ordinary skill in the art; thus, the term “URL” was held to encompass both relative and absolute URLs.); and E-Pass Technologies, Inc. v. 3Com Corporation, 343 F.3d 1364, 1368, 67 USPQ2d 1947, 1949 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Where no explicit definition for the term “electronic multi-function card” was given in the specification, this term should be given its ordinary meaning and broadest reasonable interpretation; the term should not be limited to the industry standard definition of credit card where there is no suggestion that this definition applies to the electronic multi-function card as claimed, and should not be limited to preferred embodiments in the specification.).

The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, including “the words of the claims themselves, the remainder of the specification, the prosecution history, and extrinsic evidence concerning relevant scientific principles, the meaning of technical terms, and the state of the art.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d at 1314, 75 USPQ2d at 1327. If extrinsic reference sources, such as dictionaries, evidence more than one definition for the term, the intrinsic record must be consulted to identify which of the different possible definitions is most consistent with applicant’s use of the terms. Brookhill-Wilk 1, 334 F.3d at 1300, 67 USPQ2d at 1137; see also Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250, 48 USPQ2d 1117, 1122 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“Where there are several common meanings for a claim term, the patent disclosure serves to point away from the improper meanings and toward the proper meanings.”) and Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (construing the term “solder reflow temperature” to mean “peak reflow temperature” of solder rather than the “liquidus temperature” of solder in order to remain consistent with the specification.). If more than one extrinsic definition is consistent with the use of the words in the intrinsic record, the claim terms may be construed to encompass all consistent meanings. See e.g., Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342, 60 USPQ2d 1851, 1854 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (explaining the court’s analytical process for determining the meaning of disputed claim terms); Toro Co. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1299, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1067 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“[W]ords in patent claims are given their ordinary meaning in the usage of the field of the invention, unless the text of the patent makes clear that a word was used with a special meaning.”). Compare MSM Investments Co. v. Carolwood Corp., 259 F.3d 1335, 1339-40, 59 USPQ2d 1856, 1859-60 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Claims directed to a method of feeding an animal a beneficial amount of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) to enhance the animal’s diet were held anticipated by prior oral administration of MSM to human patients to relieve pain. Although the ordinary meaning of “feeding” is limited to provision of food or nourishment, the broad definition of “food” in the written description warranted finding that the claimed method encompasses the use of MSM for both nutritional and pharmacological purposes.); and Rapoport v. Dement, 254 F.3d 1053, 1059-60, 59 USPQ2d 1215, 1219-20 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Both intrinsic evidence and the plain meaning of the term “method for treatment of sleep apneas” supported construction of the term as being limited to treatment of the underlying sleep apnea disorder itself, and not encompassing treatment of anxiety and other secondary symptoms related to sleep apnea.).

IV.   APPLICANT MAY BE OWN LEXICOGRAPHER

An applicant is entitled to be his or her own lexicographer and may rebut the presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning by clearly setting forth a definition of the term that is different from its ordinary and customary meaning(s). See In re Paulsen, 30 F.3d 1475, 1480, 31 USPQ2d 1671, 1674 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (inventor may define specific terms used to describe invention, but must do so “with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision” and, if done, must “‘set out his uncommon definition in some manner within the patent disclosure’ so as to give one of ordinary skill in the art notice of the change” in meaning) (quoting Intellicall, Inc. v. Phonometrics, Inc., 952 F.2d 1384, 1387-88, 21 USPQ2d 1383, 1386 (Fed. Cir. 1992)). Where an explicit definition is provided by the applicant for a term, that definition will control interpretation of the term as it is used in the claim. Toro Co. v. White Consolidated Industries Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1301, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1069 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (meaning of words used in a claim is not construed in a “lexicographic vacuum, but in the context of the specification and drawings”). Any special meaning assigned to a term “must be sufficiently clear in the specification that any departure from common usage would be so understood by a person of experience in the field of the invention.” Multiform Desiccants Inc. v. Medzam Ltd., 133 F.3d 1473, 1477, 45 USPQ2d 1429, 1432 (Fed. Cir. 1998). See also Process Control Corp. v. HydReclaim Corp., 190 F.3d 1350, 1357, 52 USPQ2d 1029, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1999) and MPEP § 2173.05(a). The specification should also be relied on for more than just explicit lexicography or clear disavowal of claim scope to determine the meaning of a claim term when applicant acts as his or her own lexicographer; the meaning of a particular claim term may be defined by implication, that is, according to the usage of the term in the context in the specification. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 75 USPQ2d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc); and Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Compare Merck & Co., Inc., v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc., 395 F.3d 1364, 1370, 73 USPQ2d 1641, 1646 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (the court held that patentee failed to redefine the ordinary meaning of “about” to mean “exactly” in clear enough terms to justify the counterintuitive definition of “about” stating that “When a patentee acts as his own lexicographer in redefining the meaning of particular claim terms away from their ordinary meaning, he must clearly express that intent in the written description.”).

See also MPEP § 2173.05(a).

2111.02   Effect of Preamble [R-08.2012]

The determination of whether a preamble limits a claim is made on a case-by-case basis in light of the facts in each case; there is no litmus test defining when a preamble limits the scope of a claim. Catalina Mktg. Int’l v. Coolsavings.com, Inc., 289 F.3d 801, 808, 62 USPQ2d 1781, 1785 (Fed. Cir. 2002). See id. at 808-10, 62 USPQ2d at 1784-86 for a discussion of guideposts that have emerged from various decisions exploring the preamble’s effect on claim scope, as well as a hypothetical example illustrating these principles.

“[A] claim preamble has the import that the claim as a whole suggests for it.” Bell Communications Research, Inc. v. Vitalink Communications Corp., 55 F.3d 615, 620, 34 USPQ2d 1816, 1820 (Fed. Cir. 1995). “If the claim preamble, when read in the context of the entire claim, recites limitations of the claim, or, if the claim preamble is ‘necessary to give life, meaning, and vitality’ to the claim, then the claim preamble should be construed as if in the balance of the claim.” Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1305, 51 USPQ2d 1161, 1165-66 (Fed. Cir. 1999). See also Jansen v. Rexall Sundown, Inc., 342 F.3d 1329, 1333, 68 USPQ2d 1154, 1158 (Fed. Cir. 2003)(In considering the effect of the preamble in a claim directed to a method of treating or preventing pernicious anemia in humans by administering a certain vitamin preparation to “a human in need thereof,” the court held that the claims’ recitation of a patient or a human “in need” gives life and meaning to the preamble’s statement of purpose.). Kropa v. Robie, 187 F.2d 150, 152, 88 USPQ 478, 481 (CCPA 1951) (A preamble reciting “An abrasive article” was deemed essential to point out the invention defined by claims to an article comprising abrasive grains and a hardened binder and the process of making it. The court stated “it is only by that phrase that it can be known that the subject matter defined by the claims is comprised as an abrasive article. Every union of substances capable inter alia of use as abrasive grains and a binder is not an ‘abrasive article.’” Therefore, the preamble served to further define the structure of the article produced.).

I.    PREAMBLE STATEMENTS LIMITING STRUCTURE

Any terminology in the preamble that limits the structure of the claimed invention must be treated as a claim limitation. See, e.g., Corning Glass Works v. Sumitomo Elec. U.S.A., Inc., 868 F.2d 1251, 1257, 9 USPQ2d 1962, 1966 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (The determination of whether preamble recitations are structural limitations can be resolved only on review of the entirety of the application “to gain an understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to encompass by the claim.”); Pac-Tec Inc. v. Amerace Corp., 903 F.2d 796, 801, 14 USPQ2d 1871, 1876 (Fed. Cir. 1990) (determining that preamble language that constitutes a structural limitation is actually part of the claimed invention). See also In re Stencel, 828 F.2d 751, 4 USPQ2d 1071 (Fed. Cir. 1987). (The claim at issue was directed to a driver for setting a joint of a threaded collar; however, the body of the claim did not directly include the structure of the collar as part of the claimed article. The examiner did not consider the preamble, which did set forth the structure of the collar, as limiting the claim. The court found that the collar structure could not be ignored. While the claim was not directly limited to the collar, the collar structure recited in the preamble did limit the structure of the driver. “[T]he framework - the teachings of the prior art - against which patentability is measured is not all drivers broadly, but drivers suitable for use in combination with this collar, for the claims are so limited.” Id. at 1073, 828 F.2d at 754.

II.    PREAMBLE STATEMENTS RECITING PURPOSE OR INTENDED USE

The claim preamble must be read in the context of the entire claim. The determination of whether preamble recitations are structural limitations or mere statements of purpose or use “can be resolved only on review of the entirety of the [record] to gain an understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to encompass by the claim.” Corning Glass Works, 868 F.2d at 1257, 9 USPQ2d at 1966. If the body of a claim fully and intrinsically sets forth all of the limitations of the claimed invention, and the preamble merely states, for example, the purpose or intended use of the invention, rather than any distinct definition of any of the claimed invention’s limitations, then the preamble is not considered a limitation and is of no significance to claim construction. Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1305, 51 USPQ2d 1161, 1165 (Fed. Cir. 1999). See also Rowe v. Dror, 112 F.3d 473, 478, 42 USPQ2d 1550, 1553 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“where a patentee defines a structurally complete invention in the claim body and uses the preamble only to state a purpose or intended use for the invention, the preamble is not a claim limitation”); Kropa v. Robie, 187 F.2d at 152, 88 USPQ2d at 480-81 (preamble is not a limitation where claim is directed to a product and the preamble merely recites a property inherent in an old product defined by the remainder of the claim); STX LLC. v. Brine, 211 F.3d 588, 591, 54 USPQ2d 1347, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (holding that the preamble phrase “which provides improved playing and handling characteristics” in a claim drawn to a head for a lacrosse stick was not a claim limitation). Compare Jansen v. Rexall Sundown, Inc., 342 F.3d 1329, 1333-34, 68 USPQ2d 1154, 1158 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (In a claim directed to a method of treating or preventing pernicious anemia in humans by administering a certain vitamin preparation to “a human in need thereof,” the court held that the preamble is not merely a statement of effect that may or may not be desired or appreciated, but rather is a statement of the intentional purpose for which the method must be performed. Thus the claim is properly interpreted to mean that the vitamin preparation must be administered to a human with a recognized need to treat or prevent pernicious anemia.); In re Cruciferous Sprout Litig., 301 F.3d 1343, 1346-48, 64 USPQ2d 1202, 1204-05 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (A claim at issue was directed to a method of preparing a food rich in glucosinolates wherein cruciferous sprouts are harvested prior to the 2-leaf stage. The court held that the preamble phrase “rich in glucosinolates” helps define the claimed invention, as evidenced by the specification and prosecution history, and thus is a limitation of the claim (although the claim was anticipated by prior art that produced sprouts inherently “rich in glucosinolates”)).

During examination, statements in the preamble reciting the purpose or intended use of the claimed invention must be evaluated to determine whether the recited purpose or intended use results in a structural difference (or, in the case of process claims, manipulative difference) between the claimed invention and the prior art. If so, the recitation serves to limit the claim. See, e.g., In re Otto, 312 F.2d 937, 938, 136 USPQ 458, 459 (CCPA 1963) (The claims were directed to a core member for hair curlers and a process of making a core member for hair curlers. Court held that the intended use of hair curling was of no significance to the structure and process of making.); In re Sinex, 309 F.2d 488, 492, 135 USPQ 302, 305 (CCPA 1962) (statement of intended use in an apparatus claim did not distinguish over the prior art apparatus). If a prior art structure is capable of performing the intended use as recited in the preamble, then it meets the claim. See, e.g., In re Schreiber, 128 F.3d 1473, 1477, 44 USPQ2d 1429, 1431 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (anticipation rejection affirmed based on Board’s factual finding that the reference dispenser (a spout disclosed as useful for purposes such as dispensing oil from an oil can) would be capable of dispensing popcorn in the manner set forth in appellant’s claim 1 (a dispensing top for dispensing popcorn in a specified manner)) and cases cited therein. See also MPEP § 2112 - MPEP § 2112.02.

However, a “preamble may provide context for claim construction, particularly, where … that preamble’s statement of intended use forms the basis for distinguishing the prior art in the patent’s prosecution history.” Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1358-62, 71 USPQ2d 1081, 1084-87 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The patent claim at issue was directed to a two-step method for detecting a deficiency of vitamin B12 or folic acid, involving (i) assaying a body fluid for an “elevated level” of homocysteine, and (ii) “correlating” an “elevated” level with a vitamin deficiency. Id. at 1358-59, 71 USPQ2d at 1084. The court stated that the disputed claim term “correlating” can include comparing with either an unelevated level or elevated level, as opposed to only an elevated level because adding the “correlating” step in the claim during prosecution to overcome prior art tied the preamble directly to the “correlating” step. Id. at 1362, 71 USPQ2d at 1087. The recitation of the intended use of “detecting” a vitamin deficiency in the preamble rendered the claimed invention a method for “detecting,” and, thus, was not limited to detecting “elevated” levels. Id.

See also Catalina Mktg. Int’l, 289 F.3d at 808-09, 62 USPQ2d at 1785 (“[C]lear reliance on the preamble during prosecution to distinguish the claimed invention from the prior art transforms the preamble into a claim limitation because such reliance indicates use of the preamble to define, in part, the claimed invention.…Without such reliance, however, a preamble generally is not limiting when the claim body describes a structurally complete invention such that deletion of the preamble phrase does not affect the structure or steps of the claimed invention.” Consequently, “preamble language merely extolling benefits or features of the claimed invention does not limit the claim scope without clear reliance on those benefits or features as patentably significant.”). In Poly-America LP v. GSE Lining Tech. Inc., 383 F.3d 1303, 1310, 72 USPQ2d 1685, 1689 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the court stated that “a ‘[r]eview of the entirety of the ’047 patent reveals that the preamble language relating to ‘blown-film’ does not state a purpose or an intended use of the invention, but rather discloses a fundamental characteristic of the claimed invention that is properly construed as a limitation of the claim’” Compare Intirtool, Ltd. v. Texar Corp., 369 F.3d 1289, 1294-96, 70 USPQ2d 1780, 1783-84 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (holding that the preamble of a patent claim directed to a “hand-held punch pliers for simultaneously punching and connecting overlapping sheet metal” was not a limitation of the claim because (i) the body of the claim described a “structurally complete invention” without the preamble, and (ii) statements in prosecution history referring to “punching and connecting” function of invention did not constitute “clear reliance” on the preamble needed to make the preamble a limitation).

2111.03   Transitional Phrases [R-08.2012]

The transitional phrases “comprising”, “consisting essentially of” and “consisting of” define the scope of a claim with respect to what unrecited additional components or steps, if any, are excluded from the scope of the claim. The determination of what is or is not excluded by a transitional phrase must be made on a case-by-case basis in light of the facts of each case.

The transitional term “comprising”, which is synonymous with “including,” “containing,” or “characterized by,” is inclusive or open-ended and does not exclude additional, unrecited elements or method steps. See, e.g., Mars Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 377 F.3d 1369, 1376, 71 USPQ2d 1837, 1843 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“like the term ‘comprising,’ the terms ‘containing’ and ‘mixture’ are open-ended.”). Invitrogen Corp. v. Biocrest Manufacturing, L.P., 327 F.3d 1364, 1368, 66 USPQ2d 1631, 1634 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“The transition ‘comprising’ in a method claim indicates that the claim is open-ended and allows for additional steps.”); Genentech, Inc. v. Chiron Corp., 112 F.3d 495, 501, 42 USPQ2d 1608, 1613 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“Comprising” is a term of art used in claim language which means that the named elements are essential, but other elements may be added and still form a construct within the scope of the claim.); Moleculon Research Corp.v.CBS, Inc., 793 F.2d 1261, 229 USPQ 805 (Fed. Cir. 1986); In re Baxter, 656 F.2d 679, 686, 210 USPQ 795, 803 (CCPA 1981); Ex parte Davis, 80 USPQ 448, 450 (Bd. App. 1948) (“comprising” leaves “the claim open for the inclusion of unspecified ingredients even in major amounts”). In Gillette Co. v. Energizer Holdings Inc., 405 F.3d 1367, 1371-73, 74 USPQ2d 1586, 1589-91 (Fed. Cir. 2005), the court held that a claim to “a safety razor blade unit comprising a guard, a cap, and a group of first, second, and third blades” encompasses razors with more than three blades because the transitional phrase “comprising” in the preamble and the phrase “group of” are presumptively open-ended. “The word ‘comprising’ transitioning from the preamble to the body signals that the entire claim is presumptively open-ended.” Id. In contrast, the court noted the phrase “group consisting of” is a closed term, which is often used in claim drafting to signal a “Markush group” that is by its nature closed. Id. The court also emphasized that reference to “first,” “second,” and “third” blades in the claim was not used to show a serial or numerical limitation but instead was used to distinguish or identify the various members of the group. Id.

The transitional phrase “consisting of” excludes any element, step, or ingredient not specified in the claim. In re Gray, 53 F.2d 520, 11 USPQ 255 (CCPA 1931); Ex parte Davis, 80 USPQ 448, 450 (Bd. App. 1948) (“consisting of” defined as “closing the claim to the inclusion of materials other than those recited except for impurities ordinarily associated therewith.”). But see Norian Corp. v. Stryker Corp., 363 F.3d 1321, 1331-32, 70 USPQ2d 1508, 1516 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (holding that a bone repair kit "consisting of" claimed chemicals was infringed by a bone repair kit including a spatula in addition to the claimed chemicals because the presence of the spatula was unrelated to the claimed invention). A claim which depends from a claim which “consists of” the recited elements or steps cannot add an element or step. When the phrase “consists of” appears in a clause of the body of a claim, rather than immediately following the preamble, it limits only the element set forth in that clause; other elements are not excluded from the claim as a whole. Mannesmann Demag Corp.v.Engineered Metal Products Co., 793 F.2d 1279, 230 USPQ 45 (Fed. Cir. 1986). See also In re Crish, 393 F.3d 1253, 73 USPQ2d 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (The claims at issue “related to purified DNA molecules having promoter activity for the human involucrin gene (hINV).” Id., 73 USPQ2d at 1365. In determining the scope of applicant’s claims directed to “a purified oligonucleotide comprising at least a portion of the nucleotide sequence of SEQ ID NO:1 wherein said portion consists of the nucleotide sequence from … to 2473 of SEQ ID NO:1, and wherein said portion of the nucleotide sequence of SEQ ID NO:1 has promoter activity,” the court stated that the use of “consists” in the body of the claims did not limit the open-ended “comprising” language in the claims (emphases added). Id. at 1257, 73 USPQ2d at 1367. The court held that the claimed promoter sequence designated as SEQ ID NO:1 was obtained by sequencing the same prior art plasmid and was therefore anticipated by the prior art plasmid which necessarily possessed the same DNA sequence as the claimed oligonucleotides. Id. at 1256 and 1259, 73 USPQ2d at 1366 and 1369. The court affirmed the Board’s interpretation that the transition phrase “consists” did not limit the claims to only the recited numbered nucleotide sequences of SEQ ID NO:1 and that “the transition language ‘comprising’ allowed the claims to cover the entire involucrin gene plus other portions of the plasmid, as long as the gene contained the specific portions of SEQ ID NO:1 recited by the claim[s].” Id. at 1256, 73 USPQ2d at 1366.

The transitional phrase “consisting essentially of” limits the scope of a claim to the specified materials or steps “and those that do not materially affect the basic and novel characteristic(s)” of the claimed invention. In re Herz, 537 F.2d 549, 551-52, 190 USPQ 461, 463 (CCPA 1976) (emphasis in original) (Prior art hydraulic fluid required a dispersant which appellants argued was excluded from claims limited to a functional fluid “consisting essentially of” certain components. In finding the claims did not exclude the prior art dispersant, the court noted that appellants’ specification indicated the claimed composition can contain any well-known additive such as a dispersant, and there was no evidence that the presence of a dispersant would materially affect the basic and novel characteristic of the claimed invention. The prior art composition had the same basic and novel characteristic (increased oxidation resistance) as well as additional enhanced detergent and dispersant characteristics.). “A ‘consisting essentially of’ claim occupies a middle ground between closed claims that are written in a ‘consisting of’ format and fully open claims that are drafted in a ‘comprising’ format.” PPG Industries v. Guardian Industries, 156 F.3d 1351, 1354, 48 USPQ2d 1351, 1353-54 (Fed. Cir. 1998). See also Atlas Powder v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., 750 F.2d 1569, 224 USPQ 409 (Fed. Cir. 1984); In re Janakirama-Rao, 317 F.2d 951, 137 USPQ 893 (CCPA 1963); Water Technologies Corp. vs. Calco, Ltd., 850 F.2d 660, 7 USPQ2d 1097 (Fed. Cir. 1988). For the purposes of searching for and applying prior art under 35 U.S.C. 102 and 103, absent a clear indication in the specification or claims of what the basic and novel characteristics actually are, “consisting essentially of” will be construed as equivalent to “comprising.” See, e.g., PPG, 156 F.3d at 1355, 48 USPQ2d at 1355 (“PPG could have defined the scope of the phrase ‘consisting essentially of’ for purposes of its patent by making clear in its specification what it regarded as constituting a material change in the basic and novel characteristics of the invention.”). See also AK Steel Corp. v. Sollac, 344 F.3d 1234, 1240-41, 68 USPQ2d 1280, 1283-84 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Applicant’s statement in the specification that “silicon contents in the coating metal should not exceed about 0.5% by weight” along with a discussion of the deleterious effects of silicon provided basis to conclude that silicon in excess of 0.5% by weight would materially alter the basic and novel properties of the invention. Thus, “consisting essentially of” as recited in the preamble was interpreted to permit no more than 0.5% by weight of silicon in the aluminum coating.); In re Janakirama-Rao, 317 F.2d 951, 954, 137 USPQ 893, 895-96 (CCPA 1963). If an applicant contends that additional steps or materials in the prior art are excluded by the recitation of “consisting essentially of,” applicant has the burden of showing that the introduction of additional steps or components would materially change the characteristics of applicant’s invention. In re De Lajarte, 337 F.2d 870, 143 USPQ 256 (CCPA 1964). See also Ex parte Hoffman, 12 USPQ2d 1061, 1063-64 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989) (“Although ‘consisting essentially of’ is typically used and defined in the context of compositions of matter, we find nothing intrinsically wrong with the use of such language as a modifier of method steps. . . [rendering] the claim open only for the inclusion of steps which do not materially affect the basic and novel characteristics of the claimed method. To determine the steps included versus excluded the claim must be read in light of the specification. . . . [I]t is an applicant’s burden to establish that a step practiced in a prior art method is excluded from his claims by ‘consisting essentially of’ language.”).

  OTHER TRANSITIONAL PHRASES

Transitional phrases such as “having” must be interpreted in light of the specification to determine whether open or closed claim language is intended. See, e.g., Lampi Corp. v. American Power Products Inc., 228 F.3d 1365, 1376, 56 USPQ2d 1445, 1453 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (The term “having” was interpreted as open terminology, allowing the inclusion of other components in addition to those recited); Crystal Semiconductor Corp. v. TriTech Microelectronics Int’l Inc., 246 F.3d 1336, 1348, 57 USPQ2d 1953, 1959 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (term “having” in transitional phrase “does not create a presumption that the body of the claim is open”); Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 119 F.3d 1559, 1573, 43 USPQ2d 1398, 1410 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (In the context of a cDNA having a sequence coding for human PI, the term “having” still permitted inclusion of other moieties.). The transitional phrase “composed of” has been interpreted in the same manner as either “consisting of” or “consisting essentially of,” depending on the facts of the particular case. See AFG Industries, Inc. v. Cardinal IG Company, 239 F.3d 1239, 1245, 57 USPQ2d 1776, 1780-81 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (based on specification and other evidence, “composed of” interpreted in same manner as “consisting essentially of”); In re Bertsch, 132 F.2d 1014, 1019-20, 56 USPQ 379, 384 (CCPA 1942) (“Composed of” interpreted in same manner as “consisting of”; however, court further remarked that “the words ‘composed of’ may under certain circumstances be given, in patent law, a broader meaning than ‘consisting of.’”).

2111.04   “Adapted to,” “Adapted for,” “Wherein,” and “Whereby” Clauses [R-08.2012]

Claim scope is not limited by claim language that suggests or makes optional but does not require steps to be performed, or by claim language that does not limit a claim to a particular structure. However, examples of claim language, although not exhaustive, that may raise a question as to the limiting effect of the language in a claim are:

  • (A) “adapted to” or “adapted for” clauses;
  • (B) “wherein” clauses; and
  • (C) “whereby” clauses.

The determination of whether each of these clauses is a limitation in a claim depends on the specific facts of the case. See, e.g., Griffin v. Bertina, 283 F.3d 1029, 1034, 62 USPQ2d 1431 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (finding that a “wherein” clause limited a process claim where the clause gave “meaning and purpose to the manipulative steps”). In Hoffer v. Microsoft Corp., 405 F.3d 1326, 1329, 74 USPQ2d 1481, 1483 (Fed. Cir. 2005), the court held that when a “‘whereby’ clause states a condition that is material to patentability, it cannot be ignored in order to change the substance of the invention.” Id. However, the court noted (quoting Minton v. Nat’l Ass’n of Securities Dealers, Inc., 336 F.3d 1373, 1381, 67 USPQ2d 1614, 1620 (Fed. Cir. 2003)) that a “‘whereby clause in a method claim is not given weight when it simply expresses the intended result of a process step positively recited.’” Id.

2111.05   Functional and Nonfunctional Descriptive Material [R-08.2012]

USPTO personnel must consider all claim limitations when determining patentability of an invention over the prior art. In re Gulack, 703 F.2d 1381, 1385, 217 USPQ 401, 403-04 (Fed. Cir. 1983). Since a claim must be read as a whole, USPTO personnel may not disregard claim limitations comprised of printed matter. See Id. at 1384, 217 USPQ at 403; see also Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175, 191, 209 USPQ 1, 10 (1981). However, USPTO personnel need not give patentable weight to printed matter absent a new and unobvious functional relationship between the printed matter and the substrate. See In re Lowry, 32 F.3d 1579, 1583-84, 32 USPQ2d 1031, 1035 (Fed. Cir. 1994); In re Ngai, 367 F.3d 1336, 70 USPQ2d 1862 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The rationale behind the printed matter cases, in which, for example, written instructions are added to a known product, has been extended to method claims in which an instructional limitation is added to a method known in the art. Similar to the inquiry for products with printed matter thereon, in such method cases the relevant inquiry is whether a new and unobvious functional relationship with the known method exists. See In re Kao, 639 F.3d 1057, 1072-73, 98 USPQ2d 1799, 1811-12 (Fed. Cir. 2011); King Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Eon Labs Inc., 616 F.3d 1267, 1279, 95 USPQ2d 1833, 1842 (Fed. Cir. 2010).

I.   DETERMINING WHETHER A FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP EXISTS

A.   Evidence For a Functional Relationship

To be given patentable weight, the printed matter and associated product must be in a functional relationship. A functional relationship can be found where the printed matter performs some function with respect to the product to which it is associated. See Lowry, 32 F.3d at 1584, 32 USPQ2d at 1035 (citing Gulack, 703 F.2d at 1386, 217 USPQ at 404). For instance, indicia on a measuring cup perform the function of indicating volume within that measuring cup. See In re Miller, 418 F.2d 1392, 1396, 164 USPQ 46, 49 (CCPA 1969). A functional relationship can also be found where the product performs some function with respect to the printed matter to which it is associated. For instance, where a hatband places a string of numbers in a certain physical relationship to each other such that a claimed algorithm is satisfied due to the physical structure of the hatband, the hatband performs a function with respect to the string of numbers. See Gulack, 703 F.2d at 1386-87, 217 USPQ at 405.

B.   Evidence Against a Functional Relationship

However, where a product merely serves as a support for printed matter, no functional relationship exists. Such a situation would occur for a hatband with images displayed on the hatband but not arranged in any particular sequence. See Gulack, 703 F.2d at 1386, 217 USPQ at 404. Another example in which a product merely serves as a support would occur for a deck of playing cards having images on each card. See In re Bryan, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 6667 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (unpublished). See also Ex parte Gwinn, 112 USPQ 439, 446-47 (Bd. App. 1955), in which the invention was directed to a set of dice by means of which a game may be played. The claims differed from the prior art solely by the printed matter in the dice. The claims were properly rejected on prior art because there was no new feature of physical structure and no new relation of printed matter to physical structure. These situations may arise where the claim as a whole is directed towards conveying a message or meaning to a human reader independent of the supporting product. For example, a claimed measuring tape having electrical wiring information thereon, or a generically claimed substrate having a picture of a golf ball thereupon, would lack a functional relationship as the claims as a whole are directed towards conveying wiring information (unrelated to the measuring tape) or an aesthetically pleasing image (unrelated to the substrate) to the reader. Additionally, where the printed matter and product do not depend upon each other, no functional relationship exists. For example, in a kit containing a set of chemicals and a printed set of instructions for using the chemicals, the instructions are not related to that particular set of chemicals. In re Ngai, 367 F.3d at 1339, 70 USPQ2d at 1864.

II.   FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP MUST BE NEW AND UNOBVIOUS

Once a functional relationship between the product and associated printed matter is found, the investigation shifts to the determination of whether the relationship is new and unobvious. For example, a claim to a color-coded indicia on a container in which the color indicates the expiration date of the container may give rise to a functional relationship. The claim may, however, be anticipated by prior art that reads on the claimed invention, or by a combination of prior art that teaches the claimed invention.

III.   MACHINE-READABLE MEDIA

When determining the scope of a claim directed to a computer-readable medium containing certain programming, the examiner should first look to the relationship between the programming and the intended computer system. Where the programming performs some function with respect to the computer with which it is associated, a functional relationship will be found. For instance, a claim to computer-readable medium programmed with attribute data objects that perform the function of facilitating retrieval, addition, and removal of information in the intended computer system, establishes a functional relationship such that the claimed attribute data objects are given patentable weight. See Lowry, 32 F.3d at 1583-84, 32 USPQ2d at 1035.

However, where the claim as a whole is directed conveying a message or meaning to a human reader independent of the intended computer system, and/or the computer-readable medium merely serves as a support for information or data, no functional relationship exists. For example, a claim to a memory stick containing tables of batting averages, or tracks of recorded music, utilizes the intended computer system merely as a support for the information. Such claims are directed toward conveying meaning to the human reader rather than towards establishing a functional relationship between recorded data and the computer.

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