by Dennis Crouch
In re Imes (Fed. Cir. 2015)
The Federal Circuit has again rejected USPTO’s broadest reasonable claim construction as unduly broad. The Federal Circuit here maintains the BRI standard, but suggests that more emphasis should be placed on the ‘reasonable’ prong and less on ‘broadest.’
More formal claim construction is becoming a common aspect of ordinary patent prosecution. However, rather than applying the “correct” claim construction that would be applied to an issued patent, the USPTO examiners are tasked with construing pending patent claims according to their Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (BRI). By design, BRI is intended to be broader than the interpretation given by a court. The purpose of this approach is to offer an additional buffer zone between the prior art and the issued patent and to give the USPTO stronger tools to ensure that claims are not ambiguously written.
In the present case, Imes is attempting to patent a device for certain types of wireless communication and the applied-for claim includes a “wireless communication module.” Imes argues that that term should be construed as a module that communicates without wires using electromagnetic waves. The claim construction debate over that term stems from the USPTO’s position that the broadest reasonable construction of “wireless communication” includes communication with wires. In particular, the PTO argued that “wireless communication” between two devices could be accomplished with a removable flash-drive — i.e., by saving information from a first computer on a flash drive then physically moving the flash drive to the second computer. Boom!
Siding with Imes, the Federal Circuit writes:
The Patent Office’s construction of “wireless” to include communications along metal contacts of the removable memory card and the computer system is inconsistent with the broadest reasonable interpretation in view of the specification. The construction of “wireless” is straightforward. The ’423 application expressly and unambiguously defines wireless: “[w]ireless refers to a communications, monitoring, or control system in which electromagnetic or acoustic waves carry a signal through atmospheric space rather than along a wire.” ’423 application. The ’423 application consistently uses the term “wireless” to refer to methods and devices that carry waves through atmospheric space, such as Bluetooth and various cellular protocols. The metal contacts of a removable memory card do not carry a signal through atmospheric space using electromagnetic or acoustic waves, and thus removable memory card 35 is not a wireless communication module under the broadest reasonable interpretation of that term in view of the specification.
USPTO Solicitor had identified the error in the PTAB ruling and attempted to shift the argument on appeal. However, the Federal Circuit refused to hear the new theory as not properly on appeal.
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Imes’ pending application also requires streaming video. In its rejection of the claims, the USPTO concluded that one of the references taught streaming video by teaching the ability to send a series of emails that each include an image attachment. The USPTO determination here looks like a factual conclusion regarding the scope-and-content-of-the-prior-art — the type of determination that is generally given substantial deference on appeal. On appeal, the Federal Circuit gave that deference, but found the conclusion still unreasonable:
Sending a series of e-mails with attached still images is not the same as streaming video. Such a construction is unreasonable as it comports with neither the plain meaning of the term nor the specification. Streaming video is the continuous transmission of video. A series of e-mails with attachments does not meet the definition of “streaming” and still images do not meet the definition of “video.”
On remand, the USPTO’s solution will likely be to search for better prior art.