On May 9, 2018, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) issued a notice of proposed rule for changing the standard for construing claims in unexpired patents in inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR), and transitional covered business method (CBM) proceedings from current broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) to the same claim construction standard that is
In an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the meaning of terms used in challenged claims of an unexpired patent are given their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the claim language and the specification. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) recently reversed the Board’s interpretation of a claim term in an IPR proceeding (IPR2015-00460) in which Samsung had challenged the validity of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,146,997 of Home Semiconductor Corp. (“Home”) because it found that Board had adopted a claim construction “without regard to the context” in which the term was used in the claims and the specification. In a decision written by Judge Lourie last month, the Federal Circuit panel found that the PTAB had adopted an erroneous interpretation and reversed the decision stating that the PTAB’s finding of invalidity based by anticipation of claim 2 was “not supported by substantial evidence.” (See, Home Electronics v. Samsung Electronics, CAFC Decision No. 2016-2215, July 25, 2017).
The ’997 Patent concerned “a simplified method for forming a self-aligned contact hole,” in which a conductive plug can be formed to electrically connect the semiconductor device to other circuit elements. Independent claim 1 of the ‘997 Patent recites a method of forming a self-aligned contact hole in a semiconductor substrate having a gate electrode and a diffusion region by
forming a conformal layer of etch barrier material overlying the substrate surface including the diffusion region and the upper surface and the sidewalls of the gate electrode,
forming an insulating layer overlying the barrier layer, etching an opening through the insulating layer self-aligned and borderless to the diffusion region by using the barrier layer as an etch stop, and
anisotropically etching the barrier layer underneath the opening, thereby exposing the diffusion region and simultaneously forming a spacer of the etch barrier material on the sidewall of the gate electrode.
Claim 2 of the ‘997 Patent, which depends on claim 1, further recites “forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region and on the sidewalls of the gate electrode by thermal oxidation prior to forming the barrier layer.”
The construction of the phrase “forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region” was at issue in this proceeding. The Patent Owner, Home, argued that this phrase should mean “forming an oxide layer covering the diffusion region,” while the Petitioner, Samsung, argued that the broadest reasonable construction of this phrase is “forming an oxide layer above the diffusion region.” Samsung argued that construing “over” as “covering” was too narrow a reading for a person of ordinary skill in the art. The Board adopted Samsung’s proposed construction for this term and hence held that claims 2 and 9-14 of the ‘997 Patent were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,277,720 (“Doshi”).
The CAFC held that the Board’s construction of “over” as meaning “above” is unreasonable in light of the claim language and the specification. The CAFC noted that “[i]n adopting the ‘full breadth’ of the term as advocated by Samsung, the Board focused on the word ‘above,’ rather than the claim term ‘over.’ That was error.” The CAFC further emphasized that “[e]ven when giving the claim term the broadest reasonable interpretation, the Board cannot construe the claims ‘so broadly that its constructions are unreasonable under general claim construction principles.’”
The CAFC reasoned that the language at issue “is not simply ‘over,’ but is ‘forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region,” and the use of the term ‘over’ in ‘forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region’ connotes more than an insignificant or incidental vertical overlap between the oxide layer and the diffusion region. Although ‘over’ and ‘above’ can be interchangeable in certain contexts, they are not coextensive here, and the full scope of ‘above,’ which is not a claim term, cannot be adopted to give meaning to the actual claim term ‘over’ if that adoption would result in an unreasonable interpretation of the claim term in the context.”…
Continue Reading CAFC Finds Another PTAB Claim Construction Unreasonable and Again Reverses an Invalidity Holding
In a rare case of disagreeing with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) vacated and remanded a PTAB decision invalidating claims 10-25 of PPC Broadband, Inc.’s U.S. Patent No. 8,323,060, which were challenged in an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding by Corning Optical Communications RF, LLC. (IPR2013-00342).
The challenged claims of PPC’s patent relate to a coaxial cable connector and require that the cable connector include “a continuity member having a nut contact portion positioned to electrically contact the nut and positioned to reside around an external portion of the connector body when the connector is assembled …” The Board held that the broadest reasonable construction of “reside around” was “in the immediate vicinity of; near.” Based on this construction, the Board concluded that the claims were obvious in view of the references cited by the petitioner, Corning, against the claims.
The Board reached this construction by relying on the broadest dictionary definition of the term “around.” In contrast, PPC (the patent owner) had proposed that the broadest reasonable construction of the term “reside around” in light of the claims and the specification is “encircle or surround.”
The CAFC sided with the patent owner and held that in the context of the patent the Board’s construction was not reasonable. The CAFC explained that “[t]he fact that ‘around’ has multiple dictionary meanings does not mean that all of these meanings are reasonable interpretations in light of the specification.” The CAFC further stated that all of the claims of the patent are directed to coaxial cable connectors and the components of these connectors partially or wholly encircle the inner electrical conductor. The CAFC emphasized that “[g]iven the context of this technology, it seems odd to construe the term ‘reside around’ without recognizing the context of its use in terms of the coaxial cable at issue.”…
Continue Reading CAFC Vacates a PTAB Decision Due To Faulty Claim Construction
The Cuozzo v. Garmin case, discussed in our blog in January, has been decided in favor of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A divided panel decided 2-1 to uphold the USPTO’s claim construction standard used by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) in the new inter partes review proceedings under the America Invents Act (AIA). See, In re: Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC, CAFC Case Number 2014-1301, Opinion dated February 4, 2015.
The majority decision, written by Judge Timothy Dyk, concludes that Congress authorized the “broadest reasonable interpretation” (BRI) standard for inter partes review (IPR), post-grant review (PGR) and covered business method (CBM) proceedings, even if the statute did not define what claim construction standard should be used.
The majority opinion, in which Judge Raymond Clevenger joined Judge Dyks, found that the adoption of the BRI standard did not exceed the USPTO’s authority. “There is no indication that the AIA was designed to change the claim construction standard that the USPTO has applied for more than 100 years,” according Judges Dyks and Clevenger.
As the name suggests, the BRI rule gives the PTAB the ability to interpret each element of a claim as broadly as reasonably possible so long as the interpretation is not contradicted by the patent specification. The impact of such broad interpretations is that claim language can “read on” prior art that otherwise might not be relevant if the claim element is given its ordinary meaning.…
Continue Reading Federal Circuit Panel Blesses BRI Standard for Claim Construction at PTAB But Another Panel May Not
Two of the earliest challenges to patents under the new post grant proceedings established by the America Invents Act (AIA) are now on appeal to the Court of the Appeals for the Federal Circuit and both appeals are taking direct aim at the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to adopt a controversial standard for claim construction – the so-called “Broadest Reasonable Interpretation” standard – to govern all of the new AIA proceedings.
Versata v. SAP concerns the very first “covered business method” (CBM) review proceeding (CBM2012-00001) conducted by the USPTO and is on appeal by the Patent Owner, Versata, of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) decision to invalidate certain challenged claims. Cuozzo v. Garmin concerns the first inter partes review (IPR) proceeding and likewise is on appeal from a PTAB decision finding Couzzo’s claims invalid.
Both appellants are challenging the USPTO’s claim construction standard as impermissible substantive rule-making by the agency and arguing that the standard instead should be the same as that applied to issued patents by the federal courts – the so-called Phillips rule that requires judges and juries to give the elements of a claim their “ordinary and customary meaning.” (See, Phillip v AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005))…
Continue Reading Does the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation Standard Make Sense?