CAFC Affirms PTAB’s Decision That Printed Matter Doctrine Can Be Used In Claim Construction

By Reza Mollaaghababa
In an inter partes review proceeding, a challenger cannot raise patent-eligibility as a ground of invalidity.  Rather, the invalidity grounds are limited to lack of novelty and obviousness.  Notwithstanding, in construing claim terms, the PTAB can decide not to give patentable weight to certain claim limitations that are not patent-eligible. In Praxair Distribution., Inc. v. Mallinckrodt Hospital Products IP Ltd., No. 2016-2616, 2016-2656 (Fed. Cir. May 16, 2018) the PTAB had employed the so-called “printed matter doctrine” not to give patentable weight to certain limitations as merely “providing information”  and the CAFC affirmed the PTAB’s claim construction.

Mallinckrodt is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 8,846,112, which is directed to methods of distributing nitric oxide gas cylinders for pharmaceutical applications.

Claim 1 recites a method of providing pharmaceutically acceptable nitric oxide gas, which includes obtaining a cylinder containing compressed nitric oxide gas, supplying the cylinder to a medical provider who is responsible for treating neonates who have hypoxic respiratory failure, including some who do not have left ventricular dysfunction. Claim 1 further includes the step of providing to the medical provider “(i) information that a recommended dose of inhaled nitric oxide gas for treatment of neonates with hypoxic respiratory failure is 20 ppm nitric oxide and (ii) information that, in patients with preexisting left ventricular dysfunction, inhaled nitric oxide may increase pulmonary capillary wedge pressure (PCWP), leading to pulmonary edema, the information of (ii) being sufficient to cause a medical provider considering inhaled nitric oxide treatment for a plurality of neonatal patients who (a) are suffering from a condition for which inhaled nitric oxide is indicated, and (b) have pre-existing left ventricular dysfunction, to elect to avoid treating one or more of the plurality of patients with inhaled nitric oxide in order to avoid putting the one or more patients at risk of pulmonary edema.”

Independent claim 7 includes a “recommendation that, if pulmonary edema occurs in a patient who has pre-existing [LVD] and is treated with inhaled nitric oxide, the treatment with inhaled nitric oxide should be discontinued” (the “recommendation” limitation). Claim 9 depends on claim 7 and further comprises the following steps: performing at least one diagnostic process to identify a neonatal patient who has hypoxic respiratory failure and is a candidate for inhaled nitric oxide treatment; determining prior to treatment with inhaled nitric oxide that the neonatal patient has pre-existing left ventricular dysfunction; treating the neonatal patient with 20 ppm inhaled nitric oxide, whereupon the neonatal patient experiences pulmonary edema; and in accordance with the recommendation of [claim 7], discontinuing the treatment with inhaled nitric oxide due to the neonatal patient’s pulmonary edema. Id.

The Board applied the printed matter doctrine to interpret the providing information, evaluating, and recommendation claim limitations “to be either printed matter or purely mental steps not entitled to patentable weight, as those limitations lacked a functional relationship to the other claim limitations except in claim 9.” In particular, the PTAB was not persuaded by Mallinckrodt’s argument that the recitation of “a pharmaceutically acceptable nitric oxide gas” in the preamble of the claims would require considering information provided in the label of the supplied product.  Rather, the PTAB construed this limitation as simply “nitric oxide gas that is suitable for pharmaceutical use.” Continue reading “CAFC Affirms PTAB’s Decision That Printed Matter Doctrine Can Be Used In Claim Construction”

CAFC Finds Another PTAB Claim Construction Unreasonable and Again Reverses an Invalidity Holding

By Reza Mollaaghababa
In an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding, the meaning of terms used in challenged claims of an unexpired patent are given their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the claim language and the specification. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) recently reversed the Board’s interpretation of a claim term in an IPR proceeding (IPR2015-00460) in which Samsung had challenged the validity of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,146,997 of Home Semiconductor Corp. (“Home”) because it found that Board had adopted a claim construction “without regard to the context” in which the term was used in the claims and the specification. In a decision written by Judge Lourie last month, the Federal Circuit panel found that the PTAB had adopted an erroneous interpretation and reversed the decision stating that the PTAB’s finding of invalidity based by anticipation of claim 2 was “not supported by substantial evidence.” (See, Home Electronics v. Samsung Electronics, CAFC Decision No. 2016-2215, July 25, 2017).

The ’997 Patent concerned “a simplified method for forming a self-aligned contact hole,” in which a conductive plug can be formed to electrically connect the semiconductor device to other circuit elements. Independent claim 1 of the ‘997 Patent recites a method of forming a self-aligned contact hole in a semiconductor substrate having a gate electrode and a diffusion region by

forming a conformal layer of etch barrier material overlying the substrate surface including the diffusion region and the upper surface and the sidewalls of the gate electrode,

forming an insulating layer overlying the barrier layer, etching an opening through the insulating layer self-aligned and borderless to the diffusion region by using the barrier layer as an etch stop, and

anisotropically etching the barrier layer underneath the opening, thereby exposing the diffusion region and simultaneously forming a spacer of the etch barrier material on the sidewall of the gate electrode.

Claim 2 of the ‘997 Patent, which depends on claim 1, further recites “forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region and on the sidewalls of the gate electrode by thermal oxidation prior to forming the barrier layer.”

The construction of the phrase “forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region” was at issue in this proceeding. The Patent Owner, Home, argued that this phrase should mean “forming an oxide layer covering the diffusion region,” while the Petitioner, Samsung, argued that the broadest reasonable construction of this phrase is “forming an oxide layer above the diffusion region.” Samsung argued that construing “over” as “covering” was too narrow a reading for a person of ordinary skill in the art. The Board adopted Samsung’s proposed construction for this term and hence held that claims 2 and 9-14 of the ‘997 Patent were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,277,720 (“Doshi”).

The CAFC held that the Board’s construction of “over” as meaning “above” is unreasonable in light of the claim language and the specification. The CAFC noted that “[i]n adopting the ‘full breadth’ of the term as advocated by Samsung, the Board focused on the word ‘above,’ rather than the claim term ‘over.’ That was error.” The CAFC further emphasized that “[e]ven when giving the claim term the broadest reasonable interpretation, the Board cannot construe the claims ‘so broadly that its constructions are unreasonable under general claim construction principles.’”

The CAFC reasoned that the language at issue “is not simply ‘over,’ but is ‘forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region,” and the use of the term ‘over’ in ‘forming an oxide layer over the diffusion region’ connotes more than an insignificant or incidental vertical overlap between the oxide layer and the diffusion region. Although ‘over’ and ‘above’ can be interchangeable in certain contexts, they are not coextensive here, and the full scope of ‘above,’ which is not a claim term, cannot be adopted to give meaning to the actual claim term ‘over’ if that adoption would result in an unreasonable interpretation of the claim term in the context.” Continue reading “CAFC Finds Another PTAB Claim Construction Unreasonable and Again Reverses an Invalidity Holding”

Fed. Circuit Affirms PTAB’S CBM Decision Based on a Ground Not Raised By Petitioner

By Reza Mollaaghababa
In SightSound Technologies, LLC v. Apple, Inc. (CBM2013-00020), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the patent appellate court) recently affirmed the decision of Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) to invalidate certain claims of SightSound’s patents 5,191,573 and 5,966,440 in a covered business method (CBM) proceeding based on an obviousness ground that was not expressly raised by the petitioner (Apple).

The ‘573 and ‘440 patents relate to methods for electronic sale and distribution of digital audio and video signals. Each of the relevant claims required forming a connection, through telecommunications lines, between a party’s first memory and a second party’s second memory, selling the desired digital signals for a fee through the telecommunications lines, transmitting the desired signal from the first memory to the second memory through the telecommunications lines, and storing the transmitted signal in the second memory.

In instituting the review of the challenged claims, PTAB found that the patents qualified for CBM review because they involved an activity that was “financial in nature,” namely, the electronic movement of money between financially distinct entities. The PTAB further found that the challenged claims did not include inventive technological features that would have otherwise excluded them from CBM review. The PTAB instituted the review not only based on anticipation grounds advanced by Apple but also based on an obviousness ground that was not specifically alleged by Apple, though the evidence upon which the PTAB relied for the obviousness ground was included in Apple’s petition. This evidence involved a series of disclosures relating to a computer system developed by CompuSonics in 1980’s. The Board reasoned that its reliance on this evidence was proper because while Apple’s petitions did no explicitly assert obviousness based on those disclosures, they nonetheless supported such a ground based on Apple’s detailed explanation of the CompuSonics references. Continue reading “Fed. Circuit Affirms PTAB’S CBM Decision Based on a Ground Not Raised By Petitioner”