|← MPEP 2172||↑ MPEP 2100||MPEP 2174 →|
- 1 2173 Claims Must Particularly Point Out and Distinctly Claim the Invention
- 1.1 2173.01 Claim Terminology
- 1.2 2173.02 Clarity and Precision
- 1.3 2173.03 Inconsistency Between Claim and Specification Disclosure or Prior Art
- 1.4 2173.04 Breadth Is Not Indefiniteness
- 1.5 2173.05 Specific Topics Related to Issues Under 35 U.S.C. 112, Second Paragraph
- 1.5.1 2173.05(a) New Terminology
- 1.5.2 2173.05(b) Relative Terminology
- 1.5.3 2173.05(c) Numerical Ranges and AmountsLimitations
- 1.5.4 2173.05(d) Exemplary Claim Language ("for example," "such as")
- 1.5.5 2173.05(e) Lack of Antecedent Basis
- 1.5.6 2173.05(f) Reference to Limitations in Another Claim
- 1.5.7 2173.05(g) Functional Limitations
- 1.5.8 2173.05(h) Alternative Limitations
- 1.5.9 2173.05(i) Negative Limitations
- 1.5.10 2173.05(j) Old Combination
- 1.5.11 2173.05(k) Aggregation
- 1.5.12 2173.05(m) Prolix
- 1.5.13 2173.05(n) Multiplicity
- 1.5.14 2173.05(o) Double Inclusion
- 1.5.15 2173.05(p) Claim Directed to Product-By-Process or Product and Process
- 1.5.16 2173.05(q) "Use" Claims
- 1.5.17 2173.05(r) Omnibus Claim
- 1.5.18 2173.05(s) Reference to Figures or Tables
- 1.5.19 2173.05(t) Chemical Formula
- 1.5.20 2173.05(u) Trademarks or Trade Names in a Claim=
- 1.5.21 2173.05(v) Mere Function of Machine
- 1.6 2173.06 Prior Art Rejection of Claim Rejected as Indefinite
The primary purpose of this requirement of definiteness of claim language is to ensure that the scope of the claims is clear so the public is informed of the boundaries of what constitutes infringement of the patent. A secondary purpose is to provide a clear measure of what applicants regard as the invention so that it can be determined whether the claimed invention meets all the criteria for patentability and whether the specification meets the criteria of 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph with respect to the claimed invention.
2173.01 Claim Terminology[edit | edit source]
A fundamental principle contained in 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph is that applicants are their own lexicographers. They can define in the claims what they regard as their invention essentially in whatever terms they choose so long as any special meaning assigned to a term is clearly set forth in the specification. See MPEP § 2111.01. Applicant may use functional language, alternative expressions, negative limitations, or any style of expression or format of claim which makes clear the boundaries of the subject matter for which protection is sought.
2173.02 Clarity and Precision[edit | edit source]
The examiner’s focus during examination of claims for compliance with the requirement for definiteness of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, is whether the claim meets the threshold requirements of clarity and precision, not whether more suitable language or modes of expression are available.
The essential inquiry pertaining to this requirement is whether the claims set out and circumscribe a particular subject matter with a reasonable degree of clarity and particularity. Definiteness of claim language must be analyzed, not in a vacuum, but in light of:
(A) The content of the particular application disclosure;
(B) The teachings of the prior art; and
(C) The claim interpretation that would be given by one possessing the ordinary level of skill in the pertinent art at the time the invention was made.
In reviewing a claim for compliance with 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, the examiner must consider the claim as a whole to determine whether the claim apprises one of ordinary skill in the art of its scope and, therefore, serves the notice function required by 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, by providing clear warning to others as to what constitutes infringement of the patent.
See, Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1366, 71 USPQ2d 1081, 1089 (Fed. Cir. 2004) ("The requirement to 'distinctly' claim means that the claim must have a meaning discernible to one of ordinary skill in the art when construed according to correct principles. Only when a claim remains insolubly ambiguous without a discernible meaning after all reasonable attempts at construction must a court declare it indefinite.").
Accordingly, a claim term that is not used or defined in the specification is not indefinite if the meaning of the claim term is discernible.
If the language of the claim is such that a person of ordinary skill in the art could not interpret the metes and bounds of the claim so as to understand how to avoid infringement, a rejection of the claim under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, would be appropriate.
The test for definiteness under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, is whether "those skilled in the art would understand what is claimed when the claim is read in light of the specification." Orthokinetics, Inc. v. Safety Travel Chairs, Inc., 806 F.2d 1565, 1576, 1 USPQ2d 1081, 1088 (Fed. Cir. 1986).
2173.03 Inconsistency Between Claim and Specification Disclosure or Prior Art[edit | edit source]
Although the terms of a claim may appear to be definite, inconsistency with the specification disclosure or prior art teachings may make an otherwise definite claim take on an unreasonable degree of uncertainty. In re Cohn, 438 F.2d 989, 169 USPQ 95 (CCPA 1971); In re Hammack, 427 F.2d 1378, 166 USPQ 204 (CCPA 1970). In Cohn, the claim was directed to a process of treating a surface with a corroding solution until the metallic appearance is supplanted by an “opaque” appearance. Noting that no claim may be read apart from and independent of the supporting disclosure on which it is based, the court found that the description, definitions and examples set forth in the specification relating to the appearance of the surface after treatment were inherently inconsistent and rendered the claim indefinite.
2173.04 Breadth Is Not Indefiniteness[edit | edit source]
Breadth of a claim is not to be equated with indefiniteness. In re Miller, 441 F.2d 689, 169 USPQ 597 (CCPA 1971). If the scope of the subject matter embraced by the claims is clear, and if applicants have not otherwise indicated that they intend the invention to be of a scope different from that defined in the claims, then the claims comply with 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.
Undue breadth of the claim may be addressed under different statutory provisions, depending on the reasons for concluding that the claim is too broad. If the claim is too broad because it does not set forth that which applicants regard as their invention as evidenced by statements outside of the application as filed, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, would be appropriate. If the claim is too broad because it is not supported by the original description or by an enabling disclosure, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, would be appropriate. If the claim is too broad because it reads on the prior art, a rejection under either 35 U.S.C. 102 or 103would be appropriate.
2173.05 Specific Topics Related to Issues Under 35 U.S.C. 112, Second Paragraph[edit | edit source]
The following sections are devoted to a discussion of specific topics where issues under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, have been addressed. These sections are not intended to be an exhaustive list of the issues that can arise under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, but are intended to provide guidance in areas that have been addressed with some frequency in recent examination practice. The court and Board decisions cited are representative. As with all appellate decisions, the results are largely dictated by the facts in each case. The use of the same language in a different context may justify a different result.
See MPEP § 2181 for guidance in determining whether an applicant has complied with the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, when 35 U.S.C. 112, sixth paragraph, is invoked.
2173.05(a) New Terminology[edit | edit source]
I. THE MEANING OF EVERY TERM SHOULD BE APPARENT[edit | edit source]
The meaning of every term used in a claim should be apparent from the prior art or from the specification and drawings at the time the application is filed. Applicants need not confine themselves to the terminology used in the prior art, but are required to make clear and precise the terms that are used to define the invention whereby the metes and bounds of the claimed invention can be ascertained. During patent examination, the pending claims must be given the broadest reasonable interpretation consistent with the specification. In re Morris, 127 F.3d 1048, 1054, 44 USPQ2d 1023, 1027 (Fed. Cir. 1997); In re Prater, 415 F.2d 1393, 162 USPQ 541 (CCPA 1969). See also MPEP § 2111 - § 2111.01. When the specification states the meaning that a term in the claim is intended to have, the claim is examined using that meaning, in order to achieve a complete exploration of the applicant’s invention and its relation to the prior art. In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 13 USPQ2d 1320 (Fed. Cir. 1989).
II. THE REQUIREMENT FOR CLARITY AND PRECISION MUST BE BALANCED WITH THE LIMITATIONS OF THE LANGUAGE[edit | edit source]
Courts have recognized that it is not only permissible, but often desirable, to use new terms that are frequently more precise in describing and defining the new invention. In re Fisher, 427 F.2d 833, 166 USPQ 18 (CCPA 1970). Although it is difficult to compare the claimed invention with the prior art when new terms are used that do not appear in the prior art, this does not make the new terms indefinite.
New terms are often used when a new technology is in its infancy or is rapidly evolving. The requirements for clarity and precision must be balanced with the limitations of the language and the science. If the claims, read in light of the specification, reasonably apprise those skilled in the art both of the utilization and scope of the invention, and if the language is as precise as the subject matter permits, the statute (35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph) demands no more. Shatterproof Glass Corp. v. Libbey Owens Ford Co., 758 F.2d 613, 225 USPQ 634 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (interpretation of “freely supporting” in method claims directed to treatment of a glass sheet); Hybritech, Inc. v. Monoclonal Antibodies, Inc., 802 F.2d 1367, 231 USPQ 81 (Fed. Cir. 1986) (interpretation of a limitation specifying a numerical value for antibody affinity where the method of calculation was known in the art at the time of filing to be imprecise). This does not mean that the examiner must accept the best effort of applicant. If the proposed language is not considered as precise as the subject matter permits, the examiner should provide reasons to support the conclusion of indefiniteness and is encouraged to suggest alternatives that are free from objection.
III. TERMS USED CONTRARY TO THEIR ORDINARY MEANING MUST BE CLEARLY REDEFINED IN THE WRITTEN DESCRIPTION[edit | edit source]
Consistent with the well-established axiom in patent law that a patentee or applicant is free to be his or her own lexicographer, a patentee or applicant may use terms in a manner contrary to or inconsistent with one or more of their ordinary meanings if the written description clearly redefines the terms. See, e.g., Process Control Corp. v. HydReclaim Corp., 190 F.3d 1350, 1357, 52 USPQ2d 1029, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“While we have held many times that a patentee can act as his own lexicographer to specifically define terms of a claim contrary to their ordinary meaning,” in such a situation the written description must clearly redefine a claim term “so as to put a reasonable competitor or one reasonably skilled in the art on notice that the patentee intended to so redefine that claim term.”); Hormone Research Foundation Inc. v. Genentech Inc., 904 F.2d 1558, 15 USPQ2d 1039 (Fed. Cir. 1990). Accordingly, when there is more than one definition for a term, it is incumbent upon applicant to make clear which definition is being relied upon to claim the invention. Until the meaning of a term or phrase used in a claim is clear, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph is appropriate. In applying the prior art, the claims should be construed to encompass all definitions that are consistent with applicant’s use of the term. See Tex. Digital Sys., Inc. v. Telegenix, Inc., 308 F.3d 1193, 1202, 64 USPQ2d 1812, 1818 (Fed. Cir. 2002). It is appropriate to compare the meaning of terms given in technical dictionaries in order to ascertain the accepted meaning of a term in the art. In re Barr, 444 F.2d 588, 170 USPQ 330 (CCPA 1971). See also MPEP § 2111.01.
2173.05(b) Relative Terminology[edit | edit source]
The fact that claim language, including terms of degree, may not be precise, does not automatically render the claim indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Seattle Box Co., v. Industrial Crating & Packing, Inc., 731 F.2d 818, 221 USPQ 568 (Fed. Cir. 1984). Acceptability of the claim language depends on whether one of ordinary skill in the art would understand what is claimed, in light of the specification.
WHEN A TERM OF DEGREE IS PRESENT, DETERMINE WHETHER A STANDARD IS DISCLOSED OR WHETHER ONE OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART WOULD BE APPRISED OF THE SCOPE OF THE CLAIM[edit | edit source]
When a term of degree is presented in a claim, first a determination is to be made as to whether the specification provides some standard for measuring that degree. If it does not, a determination is made as to whether one of ordinary skill in the art, in view of the prior art and the status of the art, would be nevertheless reasonably apprised of the scope of the invention. Even if the specification uses the same term of degree as in the claim, a rejection may be proper if the scope of the term is not understood when read in light of the specification. While, as a general proposition, broadening modifiers are standard tools in claim drafting in order to avoid reliance on the doctrine of equivalents in infringement actions, when the scope of the claim is unclear a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, is proper. See In re Wiggins, 488 F. 2d 538, 541, 179 USPQ 421, 423 (CCPA 1973).
When relative terms are used in claims wherein the improvement over the prior art rests entirely upon size or weight of an element in a combination of elements, the adequacy of the disclosure of a standard is of greater criticality.
REFERENCE TO AN OBJECT THAT IS VARIABLE MAY RENDER A CLAIM INDEFINITE[edit | edit source]
A claim may be rendered indefinite by reference to an object that is variable. For example, the Board has held that a limitation in a claim to a bicycle that recited “said front and rear wheels so spaced as to give a wheelbase that is between 58 percent and 75 percent of the height of the rider that the bicycle was designed for” was indefinite because the relationship of parts was not based on any known standard for sizing a bicycle to a rider, but on a rider of unspecified build. Ex parte Brummer, 12 USPQ2d 1653 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989). On the other hand, a claim limitation specifying that a certain part of a pediatric wheelchair be “so dimensioned as to be insertable through the space between the doorframe of an automobile and one of the seats” was held to be definite. Orthokinetics, Inc. v. Safety Travel Chairs, Inc., 806 F.2d 1565, 1 USPQ2d 1081 (Fed. Cir. 1986). The court stated that the phrase “so dimensioned” is as accurate as the subject matter permits, noting that the patent law does not require that all possible lengths corresponding to the spaces in hundreds of different automobiles be listed in the patent, let alone that they be listed in the claims.
The term “about” used to define the area of the lower end of a mold as between 25 to about 45% of the mold entrance was held to be clear, but flexible. Ex parte Eastwood, 163 USPQ 316 (Bd. App. 1968). Similarly, in W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. v. Garlock, Inc., 721 F.2d 1540, 220 USPQ 303 (Fed. Cir. 1983), the court held that a limitation defining the stretch rate of a plastic as “exceeding about 10% per second” is definite because infringement could clearly be assessed through the use of a stopwatch. However, the court held that claims reciting “at least about” were invalid for indefiniteness where there was close prior art and there was nothing in the specification, prosecution history, or the prior art to provide any indication as to what range of specific activity is covered by the term “about.” Amgen, Inc. v. Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., 927 F.2d 1200, 18 USPQ2d 1016 (Fed. Cir. 1991).
The phrase “a silicon dioxide source that is essentially free of alkali metal” was held to be definite because the specification contained guidelines and examples that were considered sufficient to enable a person of ordinary skill in the art to draw a line between unavoidable impurities in starting materials and essential ingredients. In re Marosi, 710 F.2d 799, 218 USPQ 289 (CCPA 1983). The court further observed that it would be impractical to require applicants to specify a particular number as a cutoff between their invention and the prior art.
The term “similar” in the preamble of a claim that was directed to a nozzle “for high-pressure cleaning units or similar apparatus” was held to be indefinite since it was not clear what applicant intended to cover by the recitation “similar” apparatus. Ex parte Kristensen, 10 USPQ2d 1701 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989).
A claim in a design patent application which read: “The ornamental design for a feed bunk or similar structure as shown and described.” was held to be indefinite because it was unclear from the specification what applicant intended to cover by the recitation of “similar structure.” Ex parte Pappas, 23 USPQ2d 1636 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992).
The term “substantially” is often used in conjunction with another term to describe a particular characteristic of the claimed invention. It is a broad term. In re Nehrenberg, 280 F.2d 161, 126 USPQ 383 (CCPA 1960). The court held that the limitation “to substantially increase the efficiency of the compound as a copper extractant” was definite in view of the general guidelines contained in the specification. In re Mattison, 509 F.2d 563, 184 USPQ 484 (CCPA 1975). The court held that the limitation “which produces substantially equal E and H plane illumination patterns” was definite because one of ordinary skill in the art would know what was meant by “substantially equal.” Andrew Corp. v. Gabriel Electronics, 847 F.2d 819, 6 USPQ2d 2010 (Fed. Cir. 1988).
The addition of the word “type” to an otherwise definite expression (e.g., Friedel-Crafts catalyst) extends the scope of the expression so as to render it indefinite. Ex parte Copenhaver, 109 USPQ 118 (Bd. App. 1955). Likewise, the phrase “ZSM-5-type aluminosilicate zeolites” was held to be indefinite because it was unclear what “type” was intended to convey. The interpretation was made more difficult by the fact that the zeolites defined in the dependent claims were not within the genus of the type of zeolites defined in the independent claim. Ex parte Attig, 7 USPQ2d 1092 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1986).
F. Other Terms
The phrases “relatively shallow,” “of the order of,” “the order of about 5mm,” and “substantial portion” were held to be indefinite because the specification lacked some standard for measuring the degree intended and, therefore, properly rejected as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Ex parte Oetiker, 23 USPQ2d 1641 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992).
The term “or like material” in the context of the limitation “coke, brick, or like material” was held to render the claim indefinite since it was not clear how the materials other than coke or brick had to resemble the two specified materials to satisfy the limitations of the claim. Ex parte Caldwell, 1906 C.D. 58 (Comm’r Pat. 1906).
The terms “comparable” and “superior” were held to be indefinite in the context of a limitation relating the characteristics of the claimed material to other materials - “properties that are superior to those obtained with comparable” prior art materials. Ex parte Anderson, 21 USPQ2d 1241 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1991). It was not clear from the specification which properties had to be compared and how comparable the properties would have to be to determine infringement issues. Further, there was no guidance as to the meaning of the term “superior.”
The phrase “aesthetically pleasing” was held indefinite because the meaning of a term cannot depend on the unrestrained, subjective opinion of the person practicing the invention. Datamize LLC v. Plumtree Software, Inc., 417 F.3d 1342, 1347-48, 75 USPQ2d 1801, 1807 (Fed. Cir. 2005).
2173.05(c) Numerical Ranges and AmountsLimitations[edit | edit source]
Generally, the recitation of specific numerical ranges in a claim does not raise an issue of whether a claim is definite.
I.NARROW AND BROADER RANGES IN THE SAME CLAIM
Use of a narrow numerical range that falls within a broader range in the same claim may render the claim indefinite when the boundaries of the claim are not discernible. Description of examples and preferences is properly set forth in the specification rather than in a single claim. A narrower range or preferred embodiment may also be set forth in another independent claim or in a dependent claim. If stated in a single claim, examples and preferences lead to confusion over the intended scope of the claim. In those instances where it is not clear whether the claimed narrower range is a limitation, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph should be made. The Examiner should analyze whether the metes and bounds of the claim are clearly set forth. Examples of claim language which have been held to be indefinite are (A) “a temperature of between 45 and 78 degrees Celsius, preferably between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius”; and (B) “a predetermined quantity, for example, the maximum capacity.”
While a single claim that includes both a broad and a narrower range may be indefinite, it is not improper under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, to present a dependent claim that sets forth a narrower range for an element than the range set forth in the claim from which it depends. For example, if claim 1 reads “A circuit … wherein the resistance is 70-150 ohms.” and claim 2 reads “The circuit of claim 1 wherein the resistance is 70-100 ohms.”, then claim 2 should not be rejected as indefinite.
II.OPEN-ENDED NUMERICAL RANGES
Open-ended numerical ranges should be carefully analyzed for definiteness. For example, when an independent claim recites a composition comprising “at least 20% sodium” and a dependent claim sets forth specific amounts of nonsodium ingredients which add up to 100%, apparently to the exclusion of sodium, an ambiguity is created with regard to the “at least” limitation (unless the percentages of the nonsodium ingredients are based on the weight of the nonsodium ingredients). On the other hand, the court held that a composition claimed to have a theoretical content greater than 100% (i.e., 20-80% of A, 20-80% of B and 1-25% of C) was not indefinite simply because the claims may be read in theory to include compositions that are impossible in fact to formulate. It was observed that subject matter which cannot exist in fact can neither anticipate nor infringe a claim. In reKroekel, 504 F.2d 1143, 183 USPQ 610 (CCPA 1974).
In a claim directed to a chemical reaction process, a limitation required that the amount of one ingredient in the reaction mixture should “be maintained at less than 7 mole percent” based on the amount of another ingredient. The examiner argued that the claim was indefinite because the limitation sets only a maximum amount and is inclusive of substantially no ingredient resulting in termination of any reaction. The court did not agree because the claim was clearly directed to a reaction process which did not warrant distorting the overall meaning of the claim to preclude performing the claimed process. In re Kirsch, 498 F.2d 1389, 182 USPQ 286 (CCPA 1974).
Some terms have been determined to have the following meanings in the factual situations of the reported cases: the term “up to” includes zero as a lower limit, In re Mochel, 470 F.2d 638, 176 USPQ 194 (CCPA 1974); and “a moisture content of not more than 70% by weight” reads on dry material, Ex parte Khusid, 174 USPQ 59 (Bd. App. 1971).
The common phrase “an effective amount” may or may not be indefinite. The proper test is whether or not one skilled in the art could determine specific values for the amount based on the disclosure. See In reMattison, 509 F.2d 563, 184 USPQ 484 (CCPA 1975). The phrase “an effective amount . . . for growth stimulation” was held to be definite where the amount was not critical and those skilled in the art would be able to determine from the written disclosure, including the examples, what an effective amount is. In re Halleck, 422 F.2d 911, 164 USPQ 647 (CCPA 1970). The phrase “an effective amount” has been held to be indefinite when the claim fails to state the function which is to be achieved and more than one effect can be implied from the specification or the relevant art.
In re Fredericksen 213 F.2d 547, 102 USPQ 35 (CCPA 1954). The more recent cases have tended to accept a limitation such as “an effective amount” as being definite when read in light of the supporting disclosure and in the absence of any prior art which would give rise to uncertainty about the scope of the claim. In Ex parte Skuballa, 12 USPQ2d 1570 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989), the Board held that a pharmaceutical composition claim which recited an “effective amount of a compound of claim 1” without stating the function to be achieved was definite, particularly when read in light of the supporting disclosure which provided guidelines as to the intended utilities and how the uses could be effected.
2173.05(d) Exemplary Claim Language ("for example," "such as")[edit | edit source]
Description of examples or preferences is properly set forth in the specification rather than the claims. If stated in the claims, examples and preferences may lead to confusion over the intended scope of a claim. In those instances where it is not clear whether the claimed narrower range is a limitation, a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph should be made. The examiner should analyze whether the metes and bounds of the claim are clearly set forth. Examples of claim language which have been held to be indefinite because the intended scope of the claim was unclear are:
(A)“R is halogen, for example, chlorine”;
(B)“material such as rock wool or asbestos” Ex parte Hall, 83 USPQ 38 (Bd. App. 1949);
(C)“lighter hydrocarbons, such, for example, as the vapors or gas produced” Ex parte Hasche, 86 USPQ 481 (Bd. App. 1949); and
(D)“normal operating conditions such as while in the container of a proportioner” Ex parte Steigerwald, 131 USPQ 74 (Bd. App. 1961).
The above examples of claim language which have been held to be indefinite are fact specific and should not be applied as per se rules. See MPEP § 2173.02 for guidance regarding when it is appropriate to make a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.
2173.05(e) Lack of Antecedent Basis[edit | edit source]
A claim is indefinite when it contains words or phrases whose meaning is unclear. The lack of clarity could arise where a claim refers to “said lever” or “the lever,” where the claim contains no earlier recitation or limitation of a lever and where it would be unclear as to what element the limitation was making reference. Similarly, if two different levers are recited earlier in the claim, the recitation of “said lever” in the same or subsequent claim would be unclear where it is uncertain which of the two levers was intended. A claim which refers to “said aluminum lever,” but recites only “a lever” earlier in the claim, is indefinite because it is uncertain as to the lever to which reference is made. Obviously, however, the failure to provide explicit antecedent basis for terms does not always render a claim indefinite. If the scope of a claim would be reasonably ascertainable by those skilled in the art, then the claim is not indefinite. Energizer Holdings Inc. v. Int’l Trade Comm’n, 435 F.3d 1366, 77 USPQ2d 1625 (Fed. Cir. 2006)(holding that “anode gel” provided by implication the antecedent basis for “zinc anode”); Ex parte Porter, 25 USPQ2d 1144, 1145 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) (“controlled stream of fluid” provided reasonable antecedent basis for “the controlled fluid”). Inherent components of elements recited have antecedent basis in the recitation of the components themselves. For example, the limitation “the outer surface of said sphere” would not require an antecedent recitation that the sphere has an outer surface. See Bose Corp. v. JBL, Inc., 274 F.3d 1354, 1359, 61 USPQ2d 1216, 1218-19 (Fed. Cir 2001) (holding that recitation of “an ellipse” provided antecedent basis for “an ellipse having a major diameter” because “[t]here can be no dispute that mathematically an inherent characteristic of an ellipse is a major diameter”).
EXAMINER SHOULD SUGGEST CORRECTIONS TO ANTECEDENT PROBLEMS
Antecedent problems in the claims are typically drafting oversights that are easily corrected once they are brought to the attention of applicant. The examiner’s task of making sure the claim language complies with the requirements of the statute should be carried out in a positive and constructive way, so that minor problems can be identified and easily corrected, and so that the major effort is expended on more substantive issues. However, even though indefiniteness in claim language is of semantic origin, it is not rendered unobjectionable simply because it could have been corrected. In re Hammack, 427 F.2d 1384 n.5, 166 USPQ 209 n.5 (CCPA 1970).
A CLAIM TERM WHICH HAS NO ANTECEDENT BASIS IN THE DISCLOSURE IS NOT NECESSARILY INDEFINITE
The mere fact that a term or phrase used in the claim has no antecedent basis in the specification disclosure does not mean, necessarily, that the term or phrase is indefinite. There is no requirement that the words in the claim must match those used in the specification disclosure. Applicants are given a great deal of latitude in how they choose to define their invention so long as the terms and phrases used define the invention with a reasonable degree of clarity and precision.
A CLAIM IS NOT PER SE INDEFINITE IF THE BODY OF THE CLAIM RECITES ADDITIONAL ELEMENTS WHICH DO NOT APPEAR IN THE PREAMBLE
The mere fact that the body of a claim recites additional elements which do not appear in the claim’s preamble does not render the claim indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. See In re Larsen, No. 01-1092 (Fed. Cir. May 9, 2001) (unpublished) (The preamble of the Larsen claim recited only a hanger and a loop but the body of the claim positively recited a linear member. The examiner rejected the claim under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, because the omission from the claim’s preamble of a critical element (i.e., a linear member) renders that claim indefinite. The court reversed the examiner’s rejection and stated that the totality of all the limitations of the claim and their interaction with each other must be considered to ascertain the inventor’s contribution to the art. Upon review of the claim in its entirety, the court concluded that the claim at issue apprises one of ordinary skill in the art of its scope and, therefore, serves the notice function required by 35 U.S.C. 112, paragraph 2.).
2173.05(f) Reference to Limitations in Another Claim[edit | edit source]
A claim which makes reference to a preceding claim to define a limitation is an acceptable claim construction which should not necessarily be rejected as improper or confusing under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. For example, claims which read: “The product produced by the method of claim 1.” or “A method of producing ethanol comprising contacting amylose with the culture of claim 1 under the following conditions .....” are not indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, merely because of the reference to another claim. See also Ex parte Porter, 25 USPQ2d 1144 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992) where reference to “the nozzle of claim 7” in a method claim was held to comply with 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. However, where the format of making reference to limitations recited in another claim results in confusion, then a rejection would be proper under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.
2173.05(g) Functional Limitations[edit | edit source]
A functional limitation is an attempt to define something by what it does, rather than by what it is (e.g., as evidenced by its specific structure or specific ingredients). There is nothing inherently wrong with defining some part of an invention in functional terms. Functional language does not, in and of itself, render a claim improper. In re Swinehart, 439 F.2d 210, 169 USPQ 226 (CCPA 1971).
A functional limitation must be evaluated and considered, just like any other limitation of the claim, for what it fairly conveys to a person of ordinary skill in the pertinent art in the context in which it is used. A functional limitation is often used in association with an element, ingredient, or step of a process to define a particular capability or purpose that is served by the recited element, ingredient or step. In Innova/Pure Water Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys. Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1117-20, 72 USPQ2d 1001, 1006-08 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the court noted that the claim term “operatively connected” is “a general descriptive claim term frequently used in patent drafting to reflect a functional relationship between claimed components,” that is, the term “means the claimed components must be connected in a way to perform a designated function.” “In the absence of modifiers, general descriptive terms are typically construed as having their full meaning.” Id. at 1118, 72 USPQ2d at 1006. In the patent claim at issue, “subject to any clear and unmistakable disavowal of claim scope, the term ‘operatively connected’ takes the full breath of its ordinary meaning, i.e., ‘said tube [is] operatively connected to said cap’ when the tube and cap are arranged in a manner capable of performing the function of filtering.” Id. at 1120, 72 USPQ2d at 1008.
Whether or not the functional limitation complies with 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, is a different issue from whether the limitation is properly supported under 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, or is distinguished over the prior art. A few examples are set forth below to illustrate situations where the issue of whether a functional limitation complies with 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, was considered.
It was held that the limitation used to define a radical on a chemical compound as “incapable of forming a dye with said oxidizing developing agent” although functional, was perfectly acceptable because it set definite boundaries on the patent protection sought. In re Barr, 444 F.2d 588, 170 USPQ 33 (CCPA 1971).
In a claim that was directed to a kit of component parts capable of being assembled, the Court held that limitations such as “members adapted to be positioned” and “portions . . . being resiliently dilatable whereby said housing may be slidably positioned” serve to precisely define present structural attributes of interrelated component parts of the claimed assembly. In re Venezia, 530 F.2d 956, 189 USPQ 149 (CCPA 1976).
2173.05(h) Alternative Limitations[edit | edit source]
Alternative expressions are permitted if they present no uncertainty or ambiguity with respect to the question of scope or clarity of the claims. One acceptable form of alternative expression, which is commonly referred to as a Markush group, recites members as being “selected from the group consisting of A, B and C.” See Ex parte Markush, 1925 C.D. 126 (Comm’r Pat. 1925).
Ex parte Markush sanctions claiming a genus expressed as a group consisting of certain specified materials. Inventions in metallurgy, refractories, ceramics, pharmacy, pharmacology and biology are most frequently claimed under the Markush formula but purely mechanical features or process steps may also be claimed by using the Markush style of claiming. See Ex parte Head, 214 USPQ 551 (Bd. App. 1981); In re Gaubert, 524 F.2d 1222, 187 USPQ 664 (CCPA 1975); and In re Harnisch, 631 F.2d 716, 206 USPQ 300 (CCPA 1980). It is improper to use the term “comprising” instead of “consisting of.” Ex parte Dotter, 12 USPQ 382 (Bd. App. 1931).
The use of Markush claims of diminishing scope should not, in itself, be considered a sufficient basis for objection to or rejection of claims. However, if such a practice renders the claims indefinite or if it results in undue multiplicity, an appropriate rejection should be made.
Similarly, the double inclusion of an element by members of a Markush group is not, in itself, sufficient basis for objection to or rejection of claims. Rather, the facts in each case must be evaluated to determine whether or not the multiple inclusion of one or more elements in a claim renders that claim indefinite. The mere fact that a compound may be embraced by more than one member of a Markush group recited in the claim does not necessarily render the scope of the claim unclear. For example, the Markush group, “selected from the group consisting of amino, halogen, nitro, chloro and alkyl” should be acceptable even though “halogen” is generic to “chloro.”
The materials set forth in the Markush group ordinarily must belong to a recognized physical or chemical class or to an art-recognized class. However, when the Markush group occurs in a claim reciting a process or a combination (not a single compound), it is sufficient if the members of the group are disclosed in the specification to possess at least one property in common which is mainly responsible for their function in the claimed relationship, and it is clear from their very nature or from the prior art that all of them possess this property. While in the past the test for Markush-type claims was applied as liberally as possible, present practice which holds that claims reciting Markush groups are not generic claims (MPEP § 803) may subject the groups to a more stringent test for propriety of the recited members. Where a Markush expression is applied only to a portion of a chemical compound, the propriety of the grouping is determined by a consideration of the compound as a whole, and does not depend on there being a community of properties in the members of the Markush expression.
When materials recited in a claim are so related as to constitute a proper Markush group, they may be recited in the conventional manner, or alternatively. For example, if “wherein R is a material selected from the group consisting of A, B, C and D” is a proper limitation, then “wherein R is A, B, C or D” shall also be considered proper.
Genus, subgenus, and Markush-type claims, if properly supported by the disclosure, are all acceptable ways for applicants to claim their inventions. They provide different ways to present claims of different scope. Examiners should therefore not reject Markush-type claims merely because there are genus claims that encompass the Markush-type claims.
See also MPEP § 608.01(p) and § 715.03.
See MPEP § 803.02 for restriction practice re Markush-type claims.
Alternative expressions using “or” are acceptable, such as “wherein R is A, B, C, or D.” The following phrases were each held to be acceptable and not in violation of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph in In reGaubert, 524 F.2d 1222, 187 USPQ 664 (CCPA 1975): “made entirely or in part of”; “at least one piece”; and “iron, steel or any other magnetic material.”
An alternative format which requires some analysis before concluding whether or not the language is indefinite involves the use of the term “optionally.” In Ex parte Cordova, 10 USPQ2d 1949 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989) the language “containing A, B, and optionally C” was considered acceptable alternative language because there was no ambiguity as to which alternatives are covered by the claim. A similar holding was reached with regard to the term “optionally” in Ex parte Wu, 10 USPQ2d 2031 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989). In the instance where the list of potential alternatives can vary and ambiguity arises, then it is proper to make a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, and explain why there is confusion.
2173.05(i) Negative Limitations[edit | edit source]
The current view of the courts is that there is nothing inherently ambiguous or uncertain about a negative limitation. So long as the boundaries of the patent protection sought are set forth definitely, albeit negatively, the claim complies with the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Some older cases were critical of negative limitations because they tended to define the invention in terms of what it was not, rather than pointing out the invention. Thus, the court observed that the limitation “R is an alkenyl radical other than 2-butenyl and 2,4-pentadienyl” was a negative limitation that rendered the claim indefinite because it was an attempt to claim the invention by excluding what the inventors did not invent rather than distinctly and particularly pointing out what they did invent. In re Schechter, 205 F.2d 185, 98 USPQ 144 (CCPA 1953).
A claim which recited the limitation “said homopolymer being free from the proteins, soaps, resins, and sugars present in natural Hevea rubber” in order to exclude the characteristics of the prior art product, was considered definite because each recited limitation was definite. In re Wakefield, 422 F.2d 897, 899, 904, 164 USPQ 636, 638, 641 (CCPA 1970). In addition, the court found that the negative limitation “incapable of forming a dye with said oxidized developing agent” was definite because the boundaries of the patent protection sought were clear. In re Barr, 444 F.2d 588, 170 USPQ 330 (CCPA 1971).
Any negative limitation or exclusionary proviso must have basis in the original disclosure. If alternative elements are positively recited in the specification, they may be explicitly excluded in the claims. See In re Johnson, 558 F.2d 1008, 1019, 194 USPQ 187, 196 (CCPA 1977) (“[the] specification, having described the whole, necessarily described the part remaining.”). See also Ex parte Grasselli, 231 USPQ 393 (Bd. App. 1983), aff’d mem., 738 F.2d 453 (Fed. Cir. 1984). The mere absence of a positive recitation is not basis for an exclusion. Any claim containing a negative limitation which does not have basis in the original disclosure should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, as failing to comply with the written description requirement. Note that a lack of literal basis in the specification for a negative limitation may not be sufficient to establish a prima faciecase for lack of descriptive support. Ex parte Parks, 30 USPQ2d 1234, 1236 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993). See MPEP § 2163 - § 2163.07(b) for a discussion of the written description requirement of 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph.
2173.05(j) Old Combination[edit | edit source]
A CLAIM SHOULD NOT BE REJECTED ON THE GROUND OF OLD COMBINATION
With the passage of the 1952 Patent Act, the courts and the Board have taken the view that a rejection based on the principle of old combination is NO LONGER VALID. Claims should be considered proper so long as they comply with the provisions of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.
A rejection on the basis of old combination was based on the principle applied in Lincoln Engineering Co. v. Stewart-Warner Corp., 303 U.S. 545, 37 USPQ 1 (1938). The principle was that an inventor who made an improvement or contribution to but one element of a generally old combination, should not be able to obtain a patent on the entire combination including the new and improved element. A rejection required the citation of a single reference which broadly disclosed a combination of the claimed elements functionally cooperating in substantially the same manner to produce substantially the same results as that of the claimed combination. The case of In reHall, 208 F.2d 370, 100 USPQ 46 (CCPA 1953) illustrates an application of this principle.
The court pointed out in In re Bernhardt, 417 F.2d 1395, 163 USPQ 611 (CCPA 1969) that the statutory language (particularly point out and distinctly claim) is the only proper basis for an old combination rejection, and in applying the rejection, that language determines what an applicant has a right and obligation to do. A majority opinion of the Board of Appeals held that Congress removed the underlying rationale of Lincoln Engineering in the 1952 Patent Act, and thereby effectively legislated that decision out of existence. Ex parte Barber, 187 USPQ 244 (Bd. App. 1974). Finally, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in Radio Steel and Mfg. Co. v. MTD Products, Inc., 731 F.2d 840, 221 USPQ 657 (Fed. Cir. 1984), followed the Bernhardt case, and ruled that a claim was not invalid under Lincoln Engineering because the claim complied with the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Accordingly, a claim should not be rejected on the ground of old combination.
2173.05(k) Aggregation[edit | edit source]
A claim should not be rejected on the ground of “aggregation.” In re Gustafson, 331 F.2d 905, 141 USPQ 585 (CCPA 1964) (an applicant is entitled to know whether the claims are being rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101, 102, 103, or 112); In re Collier, 397 F.2d 1003, 1006, 158 USPQ 266, 268 (CCPA 1968) (“[A] rejection for ‘aggregation’ is non-statutory.”).
If a claim omits essential matter or fails to interrelate essential elements of the invention as defined by applicant(s) in the specification, see MPEP § 2172.01.
2173.05(m) Prolix[edit | edit source]
Examiners should reject claims as prolix only when they contain such long recitations or unimportant details that the scope of the claimed invention is rendered indefinite thereby. Claims are rejected as prolix when they contain long recitations that the metes and bounds of the claimed subject matter cannot be determined.
2173.05(n) Multiplicity[edit | edit source]
|37 CFR 1.75. Claim(s).|
(a)The specification must conclude with a claim particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention or discovery.
(b)More than one claim may be presented provided they differ substantially from each other and are not unduly multiplied.
Where, in view of the nature and scope of applicant’s invention, applicant presents an unreasonable number of claims which are repetitious and multiplied, the net result of which is to confuse rather than to clarify, a rejection on undue multiplicity based on 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, may be appropriate. As noted by the court in In re Chandler, 319 F.2d 211, 225, 138 USPQ 138, 148 (CCPA 1963), “applicants should be allowed reasonable latitude in stating their claims in regard to number and phraseology employed. The right of applicants to freedom of choice in selecting phraseology which truly points out and defines their inventions should not be abridged. Such latitude, however, should not be extended to sanction that degree of repetition and multiplicity which beclouds definition in a maze of confusion. The rule of reason should be practiced and applied on the basis of the relevant facts and circumstances in each individual case.” See also In re Flint, 411 F.2d 1353, 1357, 162 USPQ 228, 231 (CCPA 1969). Undue multiplicity rejections based on 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, should be applied judiciously and should be rare.
If an undue multiplicity rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, is appropriate, the examiner should contact applicant by telephone explaining that the claims are unduly multiplied and will be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Note MPEP § 408. The examiner should also request that applicant select a specified number of claims for purpose of examination. If applicant is willing to select, by telephone, the claims for examination, an undue multiplicity rejection on all the claims based on 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, should be made in the next Office action along with an action on the merits on the selected claims. If applicant refuses to comply with the telephone request, an undue multiplicity rejection of all the claims based on 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, should be made in the next Office action. Applicant’s reply must include a selection of claims for purpose of examination, the number of which may not be greater than the number specified by the examiner. In response to applicant’s reply, if the examiner adheres to the undue multiplicity rejection, it should be repeated and the selected claims will be examined on the merits. This procedure preserves applicant’s right to have the rejection on undue multiplicity reviewed by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.
Also, it is possible to reject one claim on an allowed claim if they differ only by subject matter old in the art. This ground of rejection is set forth in Ex parte Whitelaw, 1915 C.D. 18, 219 O.G. 1237 (Comm’r Pat. 1914). The Ex parte Whitelaw doctrine is restricted to cases where the claims are unduly multiplied or are substantial duplicates. Ex parte Kochan, 131 USPQ 204, 206 (Bd. App. 1961).
2173.05(o) Double Inclusion[edit | edit source]
There is no per se rule that “double inclusion” is improper in a claim. In re Kelly, 305 F.2d 909, 916, 134 USPQ 397, 402 (CCPA 1962) (“Automatic reliance upon a ‘rule against double inclusion’ will lead to as many unreasonable interpretations as will automatic reliance upon a ‘rule allowing double inclusion’. The governing consideration is not double inclusion, but rather is what is a reasonable construction of the language of the claims.”). Older cases, such as Ex parte White, 759 O.G. 783 (Bd. App. 1958) and Ex parte Clark, 174 USPQ 40 (Bd. App. 1971) should be applied with care, according to the facts of each case.
The facts in each case must be evaluated to determine whether or not the multiple inclusion of one or more elements in a claim gives rise to indefiniteness in that claim. The mere fact that a compound may be embraced by more than one member of a Markush group recited in the claim does not lead to any uncertainty as to the scope of that claim for either examination or infringement purposes. On the other hand, where a claim directed to a device can be read to include the same element twice, the claim may be indefinite. Ex parte Kristensen, 10 USPQ2d 1701 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1989).
2173.05(p) Claim Directed to Product-By-Process or Product and Process[edit | edit source]
There are many situations where claims are permissively drafted to include a reference to more than one statutory class of invention.
A product-by-process claim, which is a product claim that defines the claimed product in terms of the process by which it is made, is proper. In re Luck, 476 F.2d 650, 177 USPQ 523 (CCPA 1973); In re Pilkington, 411 F.2d 1345, 162 USPQ 145 (CCPA 1969); In re Steppan, 394 F.2d 1013, 156 USPQ 143 (CCPA 1967). A claim to a device, apparatus, manufacture, or composition of matter may contain a reference to the process in which it is intended to be used without being objectionable under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, so long as it is clear that the claim is directed to the product and not the process.
An applicant may present claims of varying scope even if it is necessary to describe the claimed product in product-by-process terms. Ex parte Pantzer, 176 USPQ 141 (Bd. App. 1972).
II.PRODUCT AND PROCESS IN THE SAME CLAIM
A single claim which claims both an apparatus and the method steps of using the apparatus is indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. IPXL Holdings v. Amazon.com, Inc., 430 F.2d 1377, 1384, 77 USPQ2d 1140, 1145 (Fed. Cir. 2005); Ex parteLyell, 17 USPQ2d 1548 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1990) ( claim directed to an automatic transmission workstand and the method of using it held ambiguous and properly rejected under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph).
Such claims may also be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 101 based on the theory that the claim is directed to neither a “process” nor a “machine,” but rather embraces or overlaps two different statutory classes of invention set forth in 35 U.S.C. 101 which is drafted so as to set forth the statutory classes of invention in the alternative only. Id. at 1551.
2173.05(q) "Use" Claims[edit | edit source]
Attempts to claim a process without setting forth any steps involved in the process generally raises an issue of indefiniteness under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. For example, a claim which read: “A process for using monoclonal antibodies of claim 4 to isolate and purify human fibroblast interferon.” was held to be indefinite because it merely recites a use without any active, positive steps delimiting how this use is actually practiced. Ex parte Erlich, 3 USPQ2d 1011 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1986).
Other decisions suggest that a more appropriate basis for this type of rejection is 35 U.S.C. 101. In Ex parte Dunki, 153 USPQ 678 (Bd. App. 1967), the Board held the following claim to be an improper definition of a process: “The use of a high carbon austenitic iron alloy having a proportion of free carbon as a vehicle brake part subject to stress by sliding friction.” In Clinical Products Ltd. v. Brenner, 255 F. Supp. 131, 149 USPQ 475 (D.D.C. 1966), the district court held the following claim was definite, but that it was not a proper process claim under 35 U.S.C. 101: “The use of a sustained release therapeutic agent in the body of ephedrine absorbed upon polystyrene sulfonic acid.”
Although a claim should be interpreted in light of the specification disclosure, it is generally considered improper to read limitations contained in the specification into the claims. See In re Prater, 415 F.2d 1393, 162 USPQ 541 (CCPA 1969) and In re Winkhaus, 527 F.2d 637, 188 USPQ 129 (CCPA 1975), which discuss the premise that one cannot rely on the specification to impart limitations to the claim that are not recited in the claim.
A “USE” CLAIM SHOULD BE REJECTED UNDER ALTERNATIVE GROUNDS BASED ON 35 U.S.C 101 AND 112
In view of the split of authority as discussed above, the most appropriate course of action would be to reject a “use” claim under alternative grounds based on 35 U.S.C. 101 and 112.
BOARD HELD STEP OF “UTILIZING” WAS NOT INDEFINITE
It is often difficult to draw a fine line between what is permissible, and what is objectionable from the perspective of whether a claim is definite. In the case of Ex parte Porter, 25 USPQ2d 1144 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1992), the Board held that a claim which clearly recited the step of “utilizing” was not indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. (Claim was to “A method for unloading nonpacked, nonbridging and packed, bridging flowable particle catalyst and bead material from the opened end of a reactor tube which comprises utilizing the nozzle of claim 7.”).
2173.05(r) Omnibus Claim[edit | edit source]
Some applications are filed with an omnibus claim which reads as follows: A device substantially as shown and described. This claim should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, because it is indefinite in that it fails to point out what is included or excluded by the claim language. See Ex parte Fressola, 27 USPQ2d 1608 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993), for a discussion of the history of omnibus claims and an explanation of why omnibus claims do not comply with the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.
Such a claim can be rejected using Form Paragraph 7.35. See MPEP § 706.03(d).
For cancellation of such a claim by examiner’s amendment, see MPEP § 1302.04(b).
2173.05(s) Reference to Figures or Tables[edit | edit source]
Where possible, claims are to be complete in themselves. Incorporation by reference to a specific figure or table “is permitted only in exceptional circumstances where there is no practical way to define the invention in words and where it is more concise to incorporate by reference than duplicating a drawing or table into the claim. Incorporation by reference is a necessity doctrine, not for applicant’s convenience.” Ex parte Fressola, 27 USPQ2d 1608, 1609 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1993) (citations omitted).
Reference characters corresponding to elements recited in the detailed description and the drawings may be used in conjunction with the recitation of the same element or group of elements in the claims. See MPEP § 608.01(m).
2173.05(t) Chemical Formula[edit | edit source]
Claims to chemical compounds and compositions containing chemical compounds often use formulas that depict the chemical structure of the compound. These structures should not be considered indefinite nor speculative in the absence of evidence that the assigned formula is in error. The absence of corroborating spectroscopic or other data cannot be the basis for finding the structure indefinite. See Ex parte Morton, 134 USPQ 407 (Bd. App. 1961), and Ex parteSobin, 139 USPQ 528 (Bd. App. 1962).
A claim to a chemical compound is not indefinite merely because a structure is not presented or because a partial structure is presented. For example, the claim language at issue in In re Fisher, 427 F.2d 833, 166 USPQ 18 (CCPA 1970) referred to a chemical compound as a “polypeptide of at least 24 amino acids having the following sequence.” A rejection under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, for failure to identify the entire structure was reversed and the court held: “While the absence of such a limitation obviously broadens the claim and raises questions of sufficiency of disclosure, it does not render the claim indefinite.” Chemical compounds may be claimed by a name that adequately describes the material to one skilled in the art. See Martin v. Johnson, 454 F.2d 746, 172 USPQ 391 (CCPA 1972). A compound of unknown structure may be claimed by a combination of physical and chemical characteristics. See Ex parteBrian, 118 USPQ 242 (Bd. App. 1958). A compound may also be claimed in terms of the process by which it is made without raising an issue of indefiniteness.
2173.05(u) Trademarks or Trade Names in a Claim=[edit | edit source]
The presence of a trademark or trade name in a claim is not, per se, improper under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, but the claim should be carefully analyzed to determine how the mark or name is used in the claim. It is important to recognize that a trademark or trade name is used to identify a source of goods, and not the goods themselves. Thus a trademark or trade name does not identify or describe the goods associated with the trademark or trade name. See definitions of trademark and trade name in MPEP § 608.01(v). A list of some trademarks is found in Appendix I.
If the trademark or trade name is used in a claim as a limitation to identify or describe a particular material or product, the claim does not comply with the requirements of the 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. Ex parte Simpson, 218 USPQ 1020 (Bd. App. 1982). The claim scope is uncertain since the trademark or trade name cannot be used properly to identify any particular material or product. In fact, the value of a trademark would be lost to the extent that it became descriptive of a product, rather than used as an identification of a source or origin of a product. Thus, the use of a trademark or trade name in a claim to identify or describe a material or product would not only render a claim indefinite, but would also constitute an improper use of the trademark or trade name.
If a trademark or trade name appears in a claim and is not intended as a limitation in the claim, the question of why it is in the claim should be addressed. Does its presence in the claim cause confusion as to the scope of the claim? If so, the claim should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph.
2173.05(v) Mere Function of Machine[edit | edit source]
Process or method claims are not subject to rejection by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office examiners under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, solely on the ground that they define the inherent function of a disclosed machine or apparatus. In re Tarczy-Hornoch, 397 F.2d 856, 158 USPQ 141 (CCPA 1968). The court in Tarczy-Hornoch held that a process claim, otherwise patentable, should not be rejected merely because the application of which it is part discloses apparatus which will inherently carry out the recited steps.
2173.06 Prior Art Rejection of Claim Rejected as Indefinite[edit | edit source]
All words in a claim must be considered in judging the patentability of a claim against the prior art. In re Wilson, 424 F.2d 1382, 165 USPQ 494 (CCPA 1970). The fact that terms may be indefinite does not make the claim obvious over the prior art. When the terms of a claim are considered to be indefinite, at least two approaches to the examination of an indefinite claim relative to the prior art are possible.
First, where the degree of uncertainty is not great, and where the claim is subject to more than one interpretation and at least one interpretation would render the claim unpatentable over the prior art, an appropriate course of action would be for the examiner to enter two rejections: (A) a rejection based on indefiniteness under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph; and (B) a rejection over the prior art based on the interpretation of the claims which renders the prior art applicable. See, e.g., Ex parte Ionescu, 222 USPQ 537 (Bd. App. 1984). When making a rejection over prior art in these circumstances, it is important for the examiner to point out how the claim is being interpreted. Second, where there is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty as to the proper interpretation of the limitations of a claim, it would not be proper to reject such a claim on the basis of prior art. As stated in In re Steele, 305 F.2d 859, 134 USPQ 292 (CCPA 1962), a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 should not be based on considerable speculation about the meaning of terms employed in a claim or assumptions that must be made as to the scope of the claims.
The first approach is recommended from an examination standpoint because it avoids piecemeal examination in the event that the examiner’s 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph rejection is not affirmed, and may give applicant a better appreciation for relevant prior art if the claims are redrafted to avoid the 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph rejection.