The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision from the Patent Trial & Appeal Board denying a motion to amend claims during an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, explaining that a claim amendment is improper if a proposed claim is broader in any respect relative to the original claims, even if it is overall narrower. Sisvel International S.A. v. Sierra Wireless, Inc., et al., Case Nos. 22-1387; -1492 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 1, 2023) (Prost, Reyna, Stark, JJ.)
Sisvel owns two patents directed to methods and apparatuses that rely on the exchange of frequency information in connection with cell reselection between a mobile station (or user cell phone) and a central mobile switching center. Sierra Wireless filed petitions for IPR alleging that claims of Sisvel’s patents were unpatentable as anticipated and/or obvious in view of certain prior art. During the IPR proceeding, the Board determined that the claim term “connection rejection message” should be given its plain and ordinary meaning of “a message that rejects a connection.”
The Board also denied Sisvel’s motion to amend the claims of one of the patents, finding that the amendments would have impermissibly enlarged the claim scope. the Board focused on a limitation relating to “setting a value,” comparing the original claims’ requirement with that of the proposed substitute claims. The original claims required that the value be set “based at least in part on information in at least one frequency parameter” of the connection rejection message while the substitute claims recited that the value may be set merely by “using the frequency parameter” contained within the connection rejection message. The Boeasoneasoned that in the proposed substitute claim, the value that is set need not be based on information in the connection rejection message, and thus the claim was broader in this respect than the original claims. After denying the motion to amend, the Board concluded that the original claims were unpatentable. Sisvel appealed.
Sisvel challenged the Board’s construction of “connection rejection message,” arguing that the term should be limited to a message from the specific cellular networks disclosed in the specification. The Federal Circuit rejected Sisvel’s argument, finding that the intrinsic evidence provided no persuasive basis to limit the claims to any particular cellular network disclosure. Having agreed with the Board’s construction, the Court affirmed the unpatentability determination.
Sisvel also challenged the Board’s refusal to permit Sisvel to amend the claims. Sisvel argued that the Board had incorrectly found that the proposed substitute claims were broader than the original claims because when all the limitations were considered as a whole, the scope of the substitute claims was narrower than the original claims.
Citing 35 U.S.C. § 316(d)(3), the Federal Circuit noted that when a patent owner seeks to amend its claims during an IPR, the amended claims “may not enlarge the scope of the claims of the patent.” The Court explained that removal of a claim requirement can broaden the resulting amended claim and concluded that such was the case here. The Federal Circuit rejected Sisvel’s argument, explaining that if a substitute claim “is broader in any respect [it] is considered to be broader than the original claim even though it may be narrower in other respects.” Here, the substitute claim was broader in at least two respects and thus the proposed amendment was improper. The Court therefore determined that the Board did not abuse its discretion in denying Sisvel’s motion to amend.
Practice Note: The tension between broadly construing claims versus importing limitations from specification was also displayed in Dali Wireless, Inc. v. CommScope Techs. LLC, No. 20-1045 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 6, 2023) (nonprecedential). In Dali Wireless, in order to support its validity argument, the patent owner argued that the term “any” should be limited to a specific remote unit. Despite the presence of embodiments supporting the patent owner’s proposed construction, the Federal Circuit refused to adopt the narrow construction, finding no clear intent to limit the claim scope to specific embodiments.