In In re: Smith International, Inc., [2016-2303] (September 26, 2017), the Federal Circuit reversed the PTAB’s affirmance of the Examiner’s rejections of claims in an ex parte reexamination of U.S. Patent 6,732,817 directed to a downhole drilling tool for oil and gas operations.

The Board affirmed the examiner’s interpretation of the term “body” as a broad term that may encompass other components such as “mandrel” and “cam sleeve,” reasoning that only the term “body” is recited in the claims without further limiting features and that the specification neither defines the term “body” nor prohibits the examiner’s broad reading of it. The Federal Circuit concluded that the Board’s construction of “body” was unreasonably broad. Even when giving claim terms their broadest reasonable interpretation, the Board cannot construe the claims “so broadly that its constructions are unreasonable under general claim construction principles.”

The Federal Circuit noted that some of the claims at issue recite a broad term “body” without further elaboration on what the term “body” encompasses. However, the Federal Circuit noted that the remainder of the specification does not use the term as a generic body. There is no dispute that the patent specification consistently describes and refers to the body as a component distinct from others, such as the mandrel, piston and drive ring.

On this record, the Board concluded that the Examiner’s broad construction was not precluded. The Federal Circuit found, however, that the correct inquiry in giving a claim term its broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the specification is not whether the specification proscribes or precludes some broad reading of the claim term adopted by the Examiner. Nor is it simply an interpretation that is not inconsistent with the specification. It is an interpretation that corresponds with what and how the inventor describes his invention in the specification, i.e., an interpretation that is “consistent with the specification.”

The Federal Circuit held that giving the term “body” such a strained breadth in the face of the otherwise different description in the specification was unreasonable. With the correct construction, the Federal Circuit reversed the rejection of the claims.