Broadest reasonable interpretation must be consistent with the specification and record evidence

In re: Man Machine Interface Tech LLC, No. 2015-1562 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 19, 2016)

A third party sought ex parte reexamination of a patent relating to a remote control device. The examiner rejected some of the claims as being anticipated and obvious, and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) affirmed.

Specifically, at issue was proper construction of the terms “adapted to be held by the human hand” and “thumb switch.” The PTAB agreed with the examiner that the terms should be read broadly such that: 1) “adapted to be held by the human hand” included various forms of grasping by the human hand; and 2) “thumb switch” meant a switch merely capable of being enabled/activated by the human thumb but not excluding activation by another digit. The PTAB noted that the specification did not preclude such a broad interpretation.

The Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, reversed-in-part, vacated-in-part, and remanded. As to the issue of claim construction, the court reiterated that in reexamination, claims must be given their broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the specification. Because of the specification’s “clear teaching that the patentee intended a narrower meaning,” the PTAB’s broad construction of the terms was unreasonable. The court adopted a narrower interpretation, so that: 1) “adapted to be held by the human hand” meant “designed or made to be held by the human hand;” and 2) “thumb switch” meant “made or designed for activation by a human thumb.”

Therefore, the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB’s anticipation rejection given that it was not supported under the proper claim constructions. The court did find, however, that the PTAB’s factual findings underlying its obviousness rejection were supported by substantial evidence, and vacated and remanded for a determination as to whether the claims would be obvious under the correct claim constructions.

A copy of the opinion can be found here ►