August 1, 2016

Repeated and Consistent Usage, including in Rule 131 Declaration, Defines Term

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In GPNE Corp. v. Apple Inc., [2015-1825] (August 1, 2016), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination of noninfringement of  U.S. Patent Nos. 7,570,954 and  7,792,492, relating to a two-way paging system.

The focus was on the construction of the term node, which aside from the claims, was only used in the abstract.  The Federal Circuit began by noting that the only meaning that matters in claim construction is the meaning in the context of the patent.  The Federal Circuit noted that when a patent repeatedly and consistently characterizes a claim term in a particular way, it is proper to construe the claim term in accordance with that characterization.  The Federal Circuit also relied upon the prosecution history citing the way the “invention” was consistently and exclusively described in the inventor’s Rule 131 declaration.  The patent owner’s arguments about claim differentiation were rejected because of the consistent usages in the specification and the prosecution history.

The Federal Circuit also found it proper to require that the node “operates independently of a telephone network,” even though it was derived from a “single summation sentence” from the specification. However, this sentence read:

Thus, the invention provides a two-way paging system which operates independently from a telephone system for wireless data communication between users.

The Federal Circuit noted that when a patent describes the features of the “present invention” as a whole, this description limits the scope of the invention.

The Federal Circuit also rejected the patent owner’s complaint that the district court should have construed the term “pager,” stating that where a district court has resolved the questions about claim scope that were raised by the parties, it is under no obligation to address other potential ambiguities that have no bearing on the operative scope of the claim.  A court need not attempt the impossible task of resolving all questions of meaning with absolute, univocal finality.  Only those terms need be construed that are in controversy, and only to the extent necessary to resolve the controversy.  This is because “[s]uch an endeavor could proceed ad infinitum, as every word—whether a claim term itself, or the words a court uses to construe a claim term—is susceptible to further definition, elucidation, and explanation.”

The Federal Circuit affirmed the jury verdict of no infringement.