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Terms of Degree Not Always Indefinite

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a district court determination that the claim terms “resilient” and “pliable” were indefinite. The Federal Circuit found that the claims, while broad, were sufficiently definite in view of both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence. The Federal Circuit also upheld the district court’s findings of no induced infringement, finding zero evidence of predicate direct infringement of the properly construed method claims. Niazi Licensing Corp. v. St. Jude Medical S.C., Inc., Case No. 21-1864 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 11, 2022) (Taranto, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.) The Federal Circuit also affirmed entry of sanctions excluding portions of the plaintiff’s technical and damages expert reports for failing to disclose predicate facts during discovery and also affirmed exclusion of portions of plaintiff’s damages expert report as unreliable for being conclusory and legally insufficient.

In reaching its decision on indefiniteness, the Federal Circuit focused on the terms “resilient” and “pliable” as used in a claim directed to a double catheter structure. Citing the 2014 Supreme Court decision in Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, the Federal Circuit explained that language has “inherent limitations,” and stated that a “delicate balance” must be struck to provide “clear notice of what is claimed” and avoid the “zone of uncertainty” relating to infringement. The Court noted that under Nautilus, claims must provide “objective boundaries,” but the Court distinguished the present case from those in which “subjective boundaries” created uncertainty and rendered the claim indefinite. The Court pointed to its 2005 decision in Datamize v. Plumtree Software as a “classic example” of subjectivity where the term “aesthetically pleasing” was deemed indefinite because the patent provided no way to provide “some standard for measuring the scope of the phrase.” The Court also noted that a patent’s claims, written description and prosecution history—along with any relevant extrinsic evidence—can provide or help identify the necessary objective boundaries for claim scope

The Federal Circuit concluded that there was sufficient support in the intrinsic evidence, both in the claims themselves and the written description, to allow a skilled artisan to determine the scope of the claims with reasonable certainty. The Court explained that the claim at issue recited “an outer, resilient catheter having shape memory” that “itself provides guidance on what this term means—the outer catheter must have ‘shape memory,’ and ‘sufficient stiffness.’” The Court also cited to “[n]umerous dependent claims [that] further inform the meaning of this term by providing exemplary resilient materials of which the outer catheter could be made. . . . The written description provides similar guidance . . . . Thus, a person of ordinary skill reading the claims and written description would know of exemplary materials that can be used to make a resilient outer catheter, i.e., one that has shape memory and stiffness such that it can return to its original shape.”

The Federal Circuit distinguished this case from Datamize, where the claim scope depended on the eye of each observer, finding it more akin to its 2017 decision in Sonix Technologies. In that [...]

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Game Reset: Extrinsic Evidence Can’t Limit Claim Scope Beyond Scope Based on Unambiguous Intrinsic Evidence

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment of noninfringement after concluding that the district court erred by relying on expert testimony to construe a claim term in a manner not contemplated by the intrinsic evidence. Genuine Enabling Tech. LLC v. Nintendo Co., Ltd., et al., Case No. 20-2167 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 1, 2022) (Newman, Reyna, Stoll, JJ.)

Genuine owns a patent directed to a user interface device (UID) that, in the process of synchronizing and merging data streams into a combined data stream, directly receives microphone speech input and transmits speech output via a speaker. During prosecution, the inventor distinguished “slow varying” physiological response signals discussed in a prior art reference from the “signals containing audio or higher frequencies” in his invention, arguing that the latter posed a signal “collision” problem that his invention solved. In distinguishing the prior art, the inventor explained that his invention “describes, in its representative embodiments, how to combine the data from a UID (mouse) and from a high-frequency signal, via a framer, which is unique and novel.”

Genuine subsequently filed a lawsuit against Nintendo, accusing Nintendo’s Wii Remote, Wii Remote Plus, Nunchuk, WiiU GamePad, Switch Joy-Con Controller and Switch Pro Controller of infringing the patent. During claim construction, the parties asked the district court to construe the term “input signal.” Genuine proposed the construction of the disputed claim term to be “a signal having an audio or higher frequency,” whereas Nintendo proposed the narrower construction of “[a] signal containing audio or higher frequencies.” Relying on expert testimony, Nintendo also argued that the inventor “disclaimed signals that are 500 [Hz] or less . . . generated from positional change information, user selection information, physiological response information, and other slow-varying information.”

The district court found that the inventor’s arguments amounted to a disclaimer. Crediting Nintendo’s expert testimony, the district court construed “input signal” as “signals above 500 Hz and excluding signals generated from positional change information, user selection information, physiological response information, and other slow-varying information.” The district court subsequently granted summary judgment of noninfringement, finding that the accused controllers produced the types of slow-varying signals that the inventor had disclaimed during prosecution. Genuine appealed.

Genuine argued that the district court erred in construing “input signal” by improperly relying on extrinsic evidence and improperly finding that the inventor disclaimed certain claim scope during prosecution. The Federal Circuit agreed, reiterating that although extrinsic evidence can be helpful in claim construction, “the intrinsic record ‘must be considered and where clear must be followed,’” such that “where the patent documents are unambiguous, expert testimony regarding the meaning of a claim is entitled to no weight.” In this case, although the parties agreed that the inventor had disavowed claim scope during prosecution, there was a dispute as to the scope of the disclaimer beyond signals below the audio frequency spectrum.

The Federal Circuit explained that for a statement made during prosecution to qualify as a disavowal of claim scope, it [...]

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If Intrinsic Evidence Provides a Clear Meaning, Just Stop

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a final written decision of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) based on its finding that the Board erred in its ultimate claim construction by relying on extrinsic evidence that was inconsistent with the intrinsic evidence. Seabed Geosolutions (US) Inc. v. Magseis FF LLC, Case No. 20-1237 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

In April 2018, Seabed Geosolutions petitioned for inter partes review of a patent owned by Magseis directed to “seismometers for use in seismic exploration.” Every claim recited a “geophone internally fixed within” either a “housing” or an “internal compartment” of a seismometer. The Board construed this limitation to require a non-gimbaled geophone based entirely on extrinsic evidence. The Board found that the term “fixed” had a special meaning of “non-gimbaled” at the time of the invention. Based on this finding, the Board determined that Seabed had failed to prove that the challenged claims were unpatentable because the cited prior art did not disclose a non-gimbaled geophone. Seabed appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s claim construction of the term “fixed” because it relied on extrinsic evidence that was inconsistent with the intrinsic evidence and unnecessary to consider given the clarity of the intrinsic evidence. The Court reminded the Board that it “resort[s] to extrinsic evidence to construe claims only if it is consistent with the intrinsic evidence,” and that “[i]f the meaning of a claim term is clear from the intrinsic evidence, there is no reason to resort to extrinsic evidence,” citing prior Federal Circuit decisions.

Contrary to the special meaning found by the Board, the Federal Circuit determined that the term “fixed” carried its ordinary meaning (i.e., attached or fastened). The Court found that the term “specifies the geophone’s relationship with the housing, not the type of geophone.” As an initial matter, the specification was silent as to whether the geophone was gimbaled or not. “That silence does not support reading the claims to exclude gimbaled geophones,” in part because the specification used the term gimbaled when describing other aspects of the invention. Had the applicant intended to limit the claimed geophone, it would have done so.

Furthermore, the specification described the internal mounting of the geophone as a key feature to overcome issues with the then-conventional method of separating the geophone from the seismometer’s other components. The specification reiterated that by internally mounting the geophone, the invention was “self-contained.” The prosecution history also revealed that both the applicant and examiner understood the term to carry its plain and ordinary meaning, equating “internally fixed within” with “disposed, and electrically connected, within.” That equivalence indicates that the term was intended to describe the relationship of the geophone with the seismometer, rather than to limit the type of geophone as contemplated by the Board. Accordingly, the Court found that the intrinsic record was clear, and that the Board’s reliance on extrinsic evidence—much less extrinsic evidence that was inconsistent with the specification itself—was improper and remanded for [...]

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