By Dennis Crouch
X2Y Attenuators v. US International Trade Commission as well as Intel, Apple, & HP (Fed. Cir. 2014)
In this case, the Federal Circuit affirms a narrow construction of X2Y’s claim terms based upon a disavowal of scope. In the face of USPTO pleas for patentees to more particularly define claim terms, this case offers reasons for applicants to push-back against that approach.
The decision here fully and problematically supports the current patent drafting norms where the true nature and advances offered by inventions are hidden in order to avoid unduly limiting claim scope. Under standard patent drafting technique, no elements are described as necessary, critical, preferred, or even discouraged. And, “the invention” is never particularly defined or called-out. That strategy has the result of substantially decreasing the disclosure value of a patent.
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The founder of X2Y Tech was Mr. Anthony A. Anthony who passed away in 2012 while continuing to fight for royalty agreements from major manufacturers. During his life, Anthony obtained more than 100 patents covering a variety of electronic components and circuitry configurations.
X2Y’s claims require a set of electrodes but do not expressly indicate their relative configuration. The specification discusses a particular “sandwich” configuration of electrodes and the USITC found that the claims should be construed as also requiring the sandwich formation. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirms – finding that the language of the specification requires that the claims be so limited.
Under Phillips v. AWH, the specification and prosecution history of a patent can provide insight into proper the claim interpretation. In addition to the scope-shading offered by Phillips, scope disclaimers or term definitions coming from the applicant can dramatically shift claim scope. However, the law requires that any disclaimer must be found in a clear and unambiguous statement made by the applicant.
In this case, the specification refers to the sandwich configuration as “universal to all the embodiments” and as “an essential element among all embodiments or connotations of the inventions.” The court finds these statements to represent a “clear and unmistakable disavowal of claim scope.” The standard for finding disavowal, while exacting, was met in this case.
To be clear, an important element of the decision here is that the disavowal is not tied to any particular claim language, but applies to all claims of the patent without regard to their express claim terms. In fact, the court goes even further and found that statements made in some family-member applications also apply to establish the disclaimer here.
The court notes that one mechanism for overcoming the disclaimer in a child application would be to expressly amend the claim scope so as to reject the disclaimer – of course that result may well have written description problems.
A unanimous majority opinion was filed by Judge Moore and joined by judges Reyna and Wallach. Judge Reyna also filed a separate concurring opinion discussing whether claim construction must come before determining whether a priority claim is proper.