2163.03 Typical Circumstances Where Adequate Written Description Issue Arises [R-07.2015]
A description requirement issue can arise in a number of different circumstances where it must be determined whether the subject matter of a claim is supported in an application as filed. See MPEP § 2163 for examination guidelines pertaining to the written description requirement. Most typically, the issue will arise in the following circumstances:
I. AMENDMENT AFFECTING A CLAIM
An amendment to the claims or the addition of a new claim must be supported by the description of the invention in the application as filed. In re Wright, 866 F.2d 422, 9 USPQ2d 1649 (Fed. Cir. 1989). An amendment to the specification (e.g., a change in the definition of a term used both in the specification and claim) may indirectly affect a claim even though no actual amendment is made to the claim.
II. RELIANCE ON FILING DATE OF PARENT APPLICATION UNDER 35 U.S.C. 120
Under 35 U.S.C. 120, the claims in a U.S. application are entitled to the benefit of the filing date of an earlier filed U.S. application if the subject matter of the claim is disclosed in the manner provided by 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph in the earlier filed application. See, e.g., Tronzo v. Biomet, Inc., 156 F.3d 1154, 47 USPQ2d 1829 (Fed. Cir. 1998); In re Scheiber, 587 F.2d 59, 199 USPQ 782 (CCPA 1978).
III. RELIANCE ON PRIORITY UNDER 35 U.S.C. 119
Under 35 U.S.C. 119(a) or (e), the claims in a U.S. application are entitled to the benefit of a foreign priority date or the filing date of a provisional application if the corresponding foreign application or provisional application supports the claims in the manner required by 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. In re Ziegler, 992 F.2d 1197, 1200, 26 USPQ2d 1600, 1603 (Fed. Cir. 1993); Kawai v. Metlesics, 480 F.2d 880, 178 USPQ 158 (CCPA 1973); In re Gosteli, 872 F.2d 1008, 10 USPQ2d 1614 (Fed. Cir. 1989).
IV. SUPPORT FOR A CLAIM CORRESPONDING TO A COUNT IN AN INTERFERENCE
In an interference proceeding, the claim corresponding to a count must be supported by the specification in the manner provided by 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph. Fields v. Conover, 443 F.2d 1386, 170 USPQ 276 (CCPA 1971) (A broad generic disclosure to a class of compounds was not a sufficient written description of a specific compound within the class.). Furthermore, when a party to an interference seeks the benefit of an earlier-filed U.S. patent application, the earlier application must meet the requirements of 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph for the subject matter of the count. Hyatt v. Boone, 146 F.3d 1348, 1352, 47 USPQ2d 1128, 1130 (Fed. Cir. 1998).
V. ORIGINAL CLAIM NOT SUFFICIENTLY DESCRIBED
While there is a presumption that an adequate written description of the claimed invention is present in the specification as filed, In re Wertheim, 541 F.2d 257, 262, 191 USPQ 90, 96 (CCPA 1976), a question as to whether a specification provides an adequate written description may arise in the context of an original claim. An original claim may lack written description support when (1) the claim defines the invention in functional language specifying a desired result but the disclosure fails to sufficiently identify how the function is performed or the result is achieved or (2) a broad genus claim is presented but the disclosure only describes a narrow species with no evidence that the genus is contemplated. See Ariad Pharms., Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 598 F.3d 1336, 1349-50 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (en banc). The written description requirement is not necessarily met when the claim language appears in ipsis verbis in the specification. "Even if a claim is supported by the specification, the language of the specification, to the extent possible, must describe the claimed invention so that one skilled in the art can recognize what is claimed. The appearance of mere indistinct words in a specification or a claim, even an original claim, does not necessarily satisfy that requirement."Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Gen-Probe, Inc., 323 F.3d 956, 968, 63 USPQ2d 1609, 1616 (Fed. Cir. 2002).
VI. INDEFINITENESS REJECTION OF A MEANS- (OR STEP-) PLUS-FUNCTION LIMITATION
A claim limitation expressed in means- (or step-) plus-function language "shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof." 35 U.S.C. 112(f) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, sixth paragraph. If the specification fails to disclose sufficient corresponding structure, materials, or acts that perform the entire claimed function, then the claim limitation is indefinite because the applicant has in effect failed to particularly point out and distinctly claim the invention as required by 35 U.S.C. 112(b) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph. In re Donaldson Co., 16 F.3d 1189, 1195, 29 USPQ2d 1845, 1850 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (en banc). Such a limitation also lacks an adequate written description as required by 35 U.S.C. 112(a) or pre-AIA 35 U.S.C. 112, first paragraph, because an indefinite, unbounded functional limitation would cover all ways of performing a function and indicate that the inventor has not provided sufficient disclosure to show possession of the invention.