2143.03 All Claim Limitations Must Be Considered [R-08.2017]
"All words in a claim must be considered in judging the patentability of that claim against the prior art." In re Wilson, 424 F.2d 1382, 1385, 165 USPQ 494, 496 (CCPA 1970).
Examiners must consider all claim limitations when determining patentability of an invention over the prior art. In re Gulack, 703 F.2d 1381, 1385, 217 USPQ 401, 403-04 (Fed. Cir. 1983). The subject matter of a properly construed claim is defined by the terms that limit the scope of the claim when given their broadest reasonable interpretation. See MPEP § 2111 et seq. It is this subject matter that must be examined. The determination of whether particular language is a limitation in a claim depends on the specific facts of the case. See, e.g., Griffin v. Bertina, 285 F.3d 1029, 1034, 62 USPQ2d 1431 (Fed. Cir. 2002).
As a general matter, the grammar and ordinary meaning of terms as understood by one having ordinary skill in the art used in a claim will dictate whether, and to what extent, the language limits the claim scope. Language that suggests or makes a feature or step optional but does not require that feature or step does not limit the scope of a claim under the broadest reasonable claim interpretation. In addition, when a claim requires selection of an element from a list of alternatives, the prior art teaches the element if one of the alternatives is taught by the prior art. See, e.g., Fresenius USA, Inc. v. Baxter Int’l, Inc., 582 F.3d 1288, 1298 (Fed. Cir. 2009).
The following types of claim language may raise a question as to its limiting effect (this list is not exhaustive):
- • preamble (MPEP § 2111.02);
- • clauses such as "adapted to," adapted for," "wherein," and "whereby" (MPEP § 2111.04, subsection I);
- • contingent limitations (MPEP § 2111.04, subsection II);
- • printed matter (MPEP § 2111.05); and
- • functional language associated with a claim term (MPEP § 2181).
If an independent claim is nonobvious under 35 U.S.C. 103, then any claim depending therefrom is nonobvious. In re Fine, 837 F.2d 1071, 5 USPQ2d 1596 (Fed. Cir. 1988).
I. INDEFINITE LIMITATIONS MUST BE CONSIDERED
A claim limitation which is considered indefinite cannot be disregarded. If a claim is subject to more than one interpretation, at least one of which would render the claim unpatentable over the prior art, the examiner should reject the claim as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph (see MPEP § 706.03(d)) and should reject the claim over the prior art based on the interpretation of the claim that renders the prior art applicable. Ex parte Ionescu, 222 USPQ 537 (Bd. Pat. App. & Inter. 1984) (Claims on appeal were rejected on indefiniteness grounds only; the rejection was reversed and the case remanded to the examiner for consideration of pertinent prior art.). Compare In re Wilson, 424 F.2d 1382, 165 USPQ 494 (CCPA 1970) (if no reasonably definite meaning can be ascribed to certain claim language, the claim is indefinite, not obvious) and In re Steele, 305 F.2d 859,134 USPQ 292 (CCPA 1962) (it is improper to rely on speculative assumptions regarding the meaning of a claim and then base a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 on these assumptions).
II. LIMITATIONS WHICH DO NOT FIND SUPPORT IN THE ORIGINAL SPECIFICATION MUST BE CONSIDERED
When evaluating claims for obviousness under 35 U.S.C. 103, all the limitations of the claims must be considered and given weight, including limitations which do not find support in the specification as originally filed (i.e., new matter). Ex parte Grasselli, 231 USPQ 393 (Bd. App. 1983) aff’d mem. 738 F.2d 453 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (Claim to a catalyst expressly excluded the presence of sulfur, halogen, uranium, and a combination of vanadium and phosphorous. Although the negative limitations excluding these elements did not appear in the specification as filed, it was error to disregard these limitations when determining whether the claimed invention would have been obvious in view of the prior art.).