MPEP Section 2111.01, Plain Meaning
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2111.01 Plain Meaning [R-5]
I. THE WORDS OF A CLAIM MUST BE GIVEN THEIR "PLAIN MEANING" UNLESS **>SUCH MEANING IS INCONSISTENT WITH< THE SPECIFICATION
**>Although< claims of issued patents are interpreted in light of the specification, prosecution history, prior art and other claims, this is not the mode of claim interpretation to be applied during examination. During examination, the claims must be interpreted as broadly as their terms reasonably allow. In re American Academy of Science Tech Center, 367 F.3d 1359, 1369, 70 USPQ2d 1827, 1834 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (The USPTO uses a different standard for construing claims than that used by district courts; during examination the USPTO must give claims their broadest reasonable interpretation >in light of the specification<.). This means that the words of the claim must be given their plain meaning unless **>the plain meaning is inconsistent with< the specification. In re Zletz, 893 F.2d 319, 321, 13 USPQ2d 1320, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (discussed below); Chef America, Inc. v. Lamb-Weston, Inc., 358 F.3d 1371, 1372, 69 USPQ2d 1857 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (Ordinary, simple English words whose meaning is clear and unquestionable, absent any indication that their use in a particular context changes their meaning, are construed to mean exactly what they say. Thus, "heating the resulting batter-coated dough to a temperature in the range of about 400oF to 850oF" required heating the dough, rather than the air inside an oven, to the specified temperature.). **>
II. IT IS IMPROPER TO IMPORT CLAIM LIMITATIONS FROM THE SPECIFICATION
"Though understanding the claim language may be aided by explanations contained in the written description, it is important not to import into a claim limitations that are not part of the claim. For example, a particular embodiment appearing in the written description may not be read into a claim when the claim language is broader than the embodiment." Superguide Corp. v. DirecTV Enterprises, Inc., 358 F.3d 870, 875, 69 USPQ2d 1865, 1868 (Fed. Cir. 2004). See also Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 906, 69 USPQ2d 1801, 1807 (Fed. Cir. 2004)(discussing recent cases wherein the court expressly rejected the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment);< E-Pass Techs., Inc. v. 3Com Corp., 343 F.3d 1364, 1369, 67 USPQ2d 1947, 1950 (Fed. Cir. 2003) ("Interpretation of descriptive statements in a patent's written description is a difficult task, as an inherent tension exists as to whether a statement is a clear lexicographic definition or a description of a preferred embodiment. The problem is to interpret claims 'in view of the specification' without unnecessarily importing limitations from the specification into the claims."); Altiris Inc. v. Symantec Corp., 318 F.3d 1363, 1371, 65 USPQ2d 1865, 1869-70 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Although the specification discussed only a single embodiment, the court held that it was improper to read a specific order of steps into method claims where, as a matter of logic or grammar, the language of the method claims did not impose a specific order on the performance of the method steps, and the specification did not directly or implicitly require a particular order). See also paragraph *>IV.<, below. **>When< an element is claimed using language falling under the scope of 35 U.S.C. 112, 6th paragraph (often broadly referred to as means or step plus function language)**, the specification must be consulted to determine the structure, material, or acts corresponding to the function recited in the claim. In re Donaldson, 16 F.3d 1189, 29 USPQ2d 1845 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (see MPEP § 2181- § 2186).
In In re Zletz, supra, the examiner and the Board had interpreted claims reading "normally solid polypropylene" and "normally solid polypropylene having a crystalline polypropylene content" as being limited to "normally solid linear high homopolymers of propylene which have a crystalline polypropylene content." The court ruled that limitations, not present in the claims, were improperly imported from the specification. See also In re Marosi, 710 F.2d 799, 218 USPQ 289 (Fed. Cir. 1983) ("Claims are not to be read in a vacuum, and limitations therein are to be interpreted in light of the specification in giving them their 'broadest reasonable interpretation'." 710 F.2d at 802, 218 USPQ at 292 (quoting In re Okuzawa, 537 F.2d 545, 548, 190 USPQ 464, 466 (CCPA 1976)) (emphasis in original). The court looked to the specification to construe "essentially free of alkali metal" as including unavoidable levels of impurities but no more.). Compare In re Weiss, 989 F.2d 1202, 26 USPQ2d 1885 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (unpublished decision - cannot be cited as precedent) (The claim related to an athletic shoe with cleats that "break away at a preselected level of force" and thus prevent injury to the wearer. The examiner rejected the claims over prior art teaching athletic shoes with cleats not intended to break off and rationalized that the cleats would break away given a high enough force. The court reversed the rejection stating that when interpreting a claim term which is ambiguous, such as "a preselected level of force", we must look to the specification for the meaning ascribed to that term by the inventor." The specification had defined "preselected level of force" as that level of force at which the breaking away will prevent injury to the wearer during athletic exertion.**)*>
III. < "PLAIN MEANING" REFERS TO THE ORDINARY AND CUSTOMARY MEAN-ING GIVEN TO THE TERM BY THOSE OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART
"[T]he ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application." Phillips v. AWH Corp., *>415 F.3d 1303, 1313<, 75 USPQ2d 1321>, 1326< (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). Sunrace Roots Enter. Co. v. SRAM Corp., 336 F.3d 1298, 1302, 67 USPQ2d 1438, 1441 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Brookhill-Wilk 1, LLC v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., 334 F.3d 1294, 1298 67 USPQ2d 1132, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 2003)("In the absence of an express intent to impart a novel meaning to the claim terms, the words are presumed to take on the ordinary and customary meanings attributed to them by those of ordinary skill in the art."). It is the use of the words in the context of the written description and customarily by those skilled in the relevant art that accurately reflects both the "ordinary" and the "customary" meaning of the terms in the claims. Ferguson Beauregard/Logic Controls v. Mega Systems, 350 F.3d 1327, 1338, 69 USPQ2d 1001, 1009 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Dictionary definitions were used to determine the ordinary and customary meaning of the words "normal" and "predetermine" to those skilled in the art. In construing claim terms, the general meanings gleaned from reference sources, such as dictionaries, must always be compared against the use of the terms in context, and the intrinsic record must always be consulted to identify which of the different possible dictionary meanings is most consistent with the use of the words by the inventor.); ACTV, Inc. v. The Walt Disney Company, 346 F.3d 1082, 1092, 68 USPQ2d 1516, 1524 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Since there was no >express< definition given for the term "URL" in the specification, the term should be given its broadest reasonable interpretation >consistent with the intrinsic record< and take on the ordinary and customary meaning attributed to it by those of ordinary skill in the art; thus, the term "URL" was held to encompass both relative and absolute URLs.); and E-Pass Technologies, Inc. v. 3Com Corporation, 343 F.3d 1364, 1368, 67 USPQ2d 1947, 1949 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (Where no explicit definition for the term "electronic multi-function card" was given in the specification, this term should be given its ordinary meaning and broadest reasonable interpretation; the term should not be limited to the industry standard definition of credit card where there is no suggestion that this definition applies to the electronic multi-function card as claimed, and should not be limited to preferred embodiments in the specification.).
The ordinary and customary meaning of a term may be evidenced by a variety of sources, >including "the words of the claims themselves, the remainder of the specification, the prosecution history, and extrinsic evidence concerning relevant scientific principles, the meaning of technical terms, and the state of the art."< Phillips v. AWH Corp., *>415 F.3d at 1314<, 75 USPQ2d **>at 1327.< If extrinsic reference sources, such as dictionaries, evidence more than one definition for the term, the intrinsic record must be consulted to identify which of the different possible definitions is most consistent with applicant's use of the terms. Brookhill-Wilk 1, 334 F. 3d at 1300, 67 USPQ2d at 1137; see also Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa" per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250, 48 USPQ2d 1117, 1122 (Fed. Cir. 1998) ("Where there are several common meanings for a claim term, the patent disclosure serves to point away from the improper meanings and toward the proper meanings.") and Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (construing the term "solder reflow temperature" to mean "peak reflow temperature" of solder rather than the "liquidus temperature" of solder in order to remain consistent with the specification.). If more than one extrinsic definition is consistent with the use of the words in the intrinsic record, the claim terms may be construed to encompass all consistent meanings. ** See *>e.g.,< Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342, 60 USPQ2d 1851, 1854 (Fed. Cir. 2001)(explaining the court's analytical process for determining the meaning of disputed claim terms); Toro Co. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1299, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1067 (Fed. Cir. 1999)("[W]ords in patent claims are given their ordinary meaning in the usage of the field of the invention, unless the text of the patent makes clear that a word was used with a special meaning."). Compare MSM Investments Co. v. Carolwood Corp., 259 F.3d 1335, 1339-40, 59 USPQ2d 1856, 1859-60 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Claims directed to a method of feeding an animal a beneficial amount of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) to enhance the animal's diet were held anticipated by prior oral administration of MSM to human patients to relieve pain. Although the ordinary meaning of "feeding" is limited to provision of food or nourishment, the broad definition of "food" in the written description warranted finding that the claimed method encompasses the use of MSM for both nutritional and pharmacological purposes.); and Rapoport v. Dement, 254 F.3d 1053, 1059-60, 59 USPQ2d 1215, 1219-20 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (Both intrinsic evidence and the plain meaning of the term "method for treatment of sleep apneas" supported construction of the term as being limited to treatment of the underlying sleep apnea disorder itself, and not encompassing treatment of anxiety and other secondary symptoms related to sleep apnea.).**>
IV. < APPLICANT MAY BE OWN LEXICOGRAPHER
An applicant is entitled to be his or her own lexicographer and may rebut the presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning by clearly setting forth a definition of the term that is different from its ordinary and customary meaning(s). See In re Paulsen, 30 F.3d 1475, 1480, 31 USPQ2d 1671, 1674 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (inventor may define specific terms used to describe invention, but must do so "with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision" and, if done, must "'set out his uncommon definition in some manner within the patent disclosure' so as to give one of ordinary skill in the art notice of the change" in meaning) (quoting Intellicall, Inc. v. Phonometrics, Inc., 952 F.2d 1384, 1387-88, 21 USPQ2d 1383, 1386 (Fed. Cir. 1992)). Where an explicit definition is provided by the applicant for a term, that definition will control interpretation of the term as it is used in the claim. Toro Co. v. White Consolidated Industries Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1301, 53 USPQ2d 1065, 1069 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (meaning of words used in a claim is not construed in a "lexicographic vacuum, but in the context of the specification and drawings"). Any special meaning assigned to a term "must be sufficiently clear in the specification that any departure from common usage would be so understood by a person of experience in the field of the invention." Multiform Desiccants Inc. v. Medzam Ltd., 133 F.3d 1473, 1477, 45 USPQ2d 1429, 1432 (Fed. Cir. 1998). See also Process Control Corp. v. HydReclaim Corp., 190 F.3d 1350, 1357, 52 USPQ2d 1029, 1033 (Fed. Cir. 1999) and MPEP § 2173.05(a). The specification should also be relied on for more than just explicit lexicography or clear disavowal of claim scope to determine the meaning of a claim term when applicant acts as his or her own lexicographer; the meaning of a particular claim term may be defined by implication, that is, according to the usage of the term in >the< context in the specification. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., *>415 F.3d 1303<, 75 USPQ2d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc); and Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Compare Merck & Co., Inc., v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc., 395 F.3d 1364, 1370, 73 USPQ2d 1641, 1646 (Fed. Cir. 2005), where the court held that patentee failed to redefine the ordinary meaning of "about" to mean "exactly" in clear enough terms to justify the counterintuitive definition of "about." ("When a patentee acts as his own lexicographer in redefining the meaning of particular claim terms away from their ordinary meaning, he must clearly express that intent in the written description.").
See also MPEP § 2173.05(a).