NEWMAN, Circuit Judge.
Robert J. Skvorecz appeals the decision of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (Board), rejecting claims 1-5 and 7 in his application to reissue United States Patent No. 5,996,948 (the '948 patent).
The Skvorecz invention is a wire chafing stand, such as is used for supporting a chafer (a device for maintaining hot food outside the kitchen). The specification explains that wire chafing stands are transported and stored nested together in multiple units, and that the nested stands tend to wedge into one another and are then difficult to separate. The invention is an improved structure whereby nested stands are readily separated. The specification describes the improved stand whereby the wire legs have an indent (also called an "offset") located adjacent to the upper ends of the legs, serving to laterally displace each leg relative to the point of attachment of the leg to the upper rim of the stand. The result is that the wire legs of one stand can nest within another stand, without significant wedging of the nested stands into each other. Patent Figure 1 shows two nested stands:
An embodiment of the offset is marked at 30 in Patent Figure 4:
Mr. Skvorecz's patent application was filed on January 12, 1998 as a continuation-in-part, and after due examination, on August 12, 1999, the examiner issued a notice of allowability and examiner's amendment. On October 14, 1999 Mr. Skvorecz filed an amendment under 37 C.F.R. § 1.312 to correct Figures 12 and 13 in the patent application, for which the PTO had prepared final drawings, as the rules provide. He explained: "The offsets 42 were drawn backwards by the Examiner in Figures 12 and 13 and therefore need to be corrected to properly conform to the specification so as to facilitate the nesting of one wire chafing stand into another." Mr. Skvorecz stated that "[t]he correction is necessary to conform the drawings to the description and claims," but that "this is an error limited only to the way the offsets 42 in the upper rim are shown facing the opposite direction" and does not affect the claims or require any changes in the specification. The '948 patent was issued on December 17, 1999 with Figures 12 and 13 unchanged, as follows:
On January 20, 2000, the examiner denied Mr. Skvorecz's request to correct the drawings, with the explanation: "Proposed new figure changes appear to include new matter not originally disclosed."
On March 15, 2001 Mr. Skvorecz filed reissue application 09/772,278, seeking reissuance of claims 1-7 of the '948 patent under 35 U.S.C. § 251. Claim 1, the broadest claim in the reissue application, is as follows: (underlining indicate additions and brackets indicate deletions from original patent claim 1):
No changes were made in the specification or drawings. During the reissue examination, claim 6 was allowed and is not before us. The reissue examiner rejected claims 1-5 and 7 as being an improper recapture of surrendered subject matter; the Board reversed this rejection, which is not before us.
The reissue examiner also rejected claims 1, 2, and 5 for anticipation based on Figure 2 of United States Patent No. 5,503,062 (the Buff patent), shown below:
The Board sustained this anticipation rejection as to claims 1 and 2, but reversed it for claim 5, which reads as follows:
The Board also entered two new grounds of rejection, rejecting claim 5 for indefiniteness, and claims 1-5 and 7 for failing to comply with the written description requirement. The Board advised Mr. Skvorecz of his option, under 37 C.F.R. § 41.50(b), either to request rehearing as to the new rejections or to reopen prosecution by the examiner. Mr. Skvorecz requested rehearing, and on rehearing the Board sustained its rejections. This appeal followed, as to the remaining grounds of rejection.
The PTO is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the rulings of its tribunals receive the APA standard of judicial review. Dickinson v. Zurko, 527 U.S. 150, 155, 119 S.Ct. 1816, 144 L.Ed.2d 143 (1999) (applying the APA to the PTO). Thus on appeal we give plenary review to the Board's legal conclusions, and review its findings of fact to determine if they are arbitrary, capricious, or unsupported by substantial evidence. 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938).
Anticipation, 35 U.S.C. § 102
A rejection for "anticipation" means that the invention is not new. Anticipation requires that all of the claim elements and their limitations are shown in a single prior art reference. See Richardson v. Suzuki Motor Co., 868 F.2d 1226, 1236 (Fed.Cir.1989) (anticipation requires that the identical invention is described in the reference); Glaverbel Societe Anonyme v. Northlake Mktg. & Supply, Inc., 45 F.3d 1550, 1554 (Fed.Cir.1995) (same). Anticipation is a question of fact, and is reviewed accordingly. Glaverbel, 45 F.3d at 1554.
The Board found that the examiner established a prima facie case of anticipation
Mr. Skvorecz argues that his device is not the same as that of Buff, and that his claims require that each wire leg has a laterally displacing offset, while the Buff wire leg 48 does not have an offset that laterally displaces the leg from the rim. The Board agreed that "Buff's offset in the rim was not shown to be `for laterally displacing each wire leg relative to said upper rim' as required by claim 1," but nonetheless maintained the rejection. On rehearing the Board stated that Buff's wire 48 is a "transverse member" and not a wire leg, and therefore that it need not have a displacing offset. Mr. Skvorecz states, and we agree, that Buff's wire 48 is a leg of the Buff structure. The Board's contrary statement is unsupported by any evidence.
The PTO now presses the theory that claim 1 is anticipated because it can be construed to include wire legs without offsets, because the claim uses the open-ended transition term "comprising."
The PTO has not correctly construed the signal "comprising." This signal simply means that the device may contain elements in addition to those explicitly mentioned in the claim. See CIAS, Inc. v. Alliance Gaming Corp., 504 F.3d 1356, 1360 (Fed.Cir.2007) ("In the patent claim context the term `comprising' is well understood to mean `including but not limited to.'"). The Board erred in holding that some wire legs of the Skvorecz device, as claimed, need not have an offset, when the claims state that each wire leg has an offset.
The protocol of giving claims their broadest reasonable interpretation during examination does not include giving claims a legally incorrect interpretation. This protocol is solely an examination expedient, not a rule of claim construction. Its purpose is to facilitate exploring the metes and bounds to which the applicant may be entitled, and thus to aid in sharpening and clarifying the claims during the application stage, when claims are readily changed. See In re Buszard, 504 F.3d 1364, 1366 (Fed.Cir.2007); In re Cortright, 165 F.3d 1353, 1358 (Fed.Cir.1999). As explained in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) at § 2111, entitled "Claim Interpretation; Broadest Reasonable Interpretation," "Applicant always has the opportunity to amend the claims during prosecution, and broad interpretation by the examiner reduces the possibility that
The signal "comprising" does not render a claim anticipated by a device that contains less (rather then more) than what is claimed. Here the examination expedient of "broadest reasonable interpretation" was incorrectly applied to interpret "comprising" to mean that not all the Skvorecz wire legs need have offsets, despite the claims that state that "each wire leg" has an offset. The Buff device does not have an offset located in each wire that serves as a leg to support the device. In the Buff structure both the transverse wire 48 and the longitudinal wire 49 provide the bottom support analogous to wire legs, and it is undisputed that wire segment 48 does not have an offset. Anticipation cannot be found, as a matter of law, if any claimed element or limitation is not present in the reference. The "anticipation" rejection is reversed.
Indefiniteness, § 112
35 U.S.C. § 112 ¶ 2 states:
The MPEP at § 2173.02 ("Clarity and Precision") states that the "focus during the 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 MPEP states:
Id. The reissue examiner had not rejected any claim on this ground, but the Board entered a new ground of rejection, rejecting claim 5 for indefiniteness. The PTO argues that the Board correctly determined that (1) the phrase "at the separation" in dependent claim 5 lacks antecedent basis in independent claim 1, rendering claim 5 indefinite; and (2) the indefiniteness of "at the separation" renders the term "segments" indefinite, especially because "segments" is not defined in the specification.
Mr. Skvorecz points out that reissue claim 5 is identical to claim 5 as issued in the original patent, and that the terms now criticized by the Board were not deemed indefinite by any examiner. He states that the limitation added by claim 5, which states "with the plurality of offsets welded to said wire legs at the separation of the upright sections into segments," was shown in the specification as originally filed, for the specification shows that the upright sections of the wire legs form segments, as illustrated at elements 18 and 19 in Figures 2 and 3. MPEP § 2173.05(e), entitled "Lack of Antecedent Basis," states: "There is no requirement that the
With respect to the Board's concern that "it is unclear what is being described by the term `segments,'" on rehearing the Board proposed that if claim 5 were to recite "a separation" instead of "the separation," the definiteness requirement would be met. The Board explained:
Rehearing op. at 4. This helpful suggestion may be implemented on remand.
Written Description, § 112
The written description requirement is set forth in 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 1:
A purpose of the written description requirement is to provide the public with knowledge of the patented technology, thereby to advance the useful arts. The description of the invention provides the foundation for the scope and content of the claims, and serves to demonstrate that the applicant is in possession of the invention that is claimed. In fulfillment of these purposes, the applicant may employ "such descriptive means as words, structures, figures, diagrams, formulas, etc., that fully set forth the claimed invention." Lockwood v. American Airlines, Inc., 107 F.3d 1565, 1572 (Fed.Cir.1997). The form and presentation of the description can vary with the nature of the invention; compliance with the written description requirement is a fact-dependent inquiry. In re Alton, 76 F.3d 1168, 1172 (Fed.Cir.1996).
The PTO argues that the claim element "a plurality of offsets located ... in said first rim" is not described in the specification, and is described only in the proposed correction to Figures 12 and 13, which the examiner refused to enter. Mr. Skvorecz argues that Figures 12 and 13 indeed show the offsets in the first rim, pointing to the specification's description of these figures as "offsets 42 are formed in the upper rim 14 of the chafing stand 10," '948 patent col.5 ll.18-19, "laterally displacing each
Figures 12 and 13 do show such offsets in the rim. However, the PTO argues that Figures 12 and 13 are partial figures, and do not show every leg's offsets and their displacement. However, the full structure is shown in other drawings of the various embodiments, in full structure (such as Figures 1 and 7) and partial structure (such as Figures 10 and 11). See In re Wright, 866 F.2d 422, 426 (Fed.Cir. 1989) (the specification as a whole must be considered). A skilled artisan would readily understand Figures 12 and 13 as partial structures showing detail of the offsets. "An applicant's disclosure obligation varies according to the art to which the invention pertains." In re Hayes Microcomputer Products, Inc. Patent Litig., 982 F.2d 1527, 1534 (Fed.Cir.1992). A person skilled in the mechanical arts would understand the specification including the drawings as showing the offsets and the lateral displacement of each wire leg. The Board's finding that the written description requirement is not met is unsupported by substantial evidence, and is reversed.
The rejections on grounds of §§ 102 and 112 are reversed. The case is remanded for further proceedings.
REVERSED AND REMANDED