Addressing the issue of whether a claimed “location facility” drafted in the singular covered software distributed over multiple computers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reiterated that singular words such as “a” and “an” in patent claims mean “one or more” unless the patentee showed clear intent to limit to “one.” 01 Communique Lab v. LogMeIn, Case No. 11-1403 (Fed. Cir., July 31, 2012) (Fogel, J., sitting by designation).
After construing the term “location facility,” the district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement. All asserted claims included “a locator server computer” that “includes a location facility,” which carries out four specific functions. The district court concluded that certain statements made during reexamination limited the claimed “location facility” to being contained in a single physical computer and granted summary judgment of non-infringement in favor of LogMeIn because its system did not contain any single component that performs all four claimed functions. 01 Communique appealed.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that LogMeIn’s position was at odds with the well-established principle that the words “a” and “an” mean “one or more” unless the patentee evinced a clear intent to limit “a” or “an” to “one.” Relying on teaching in the specification that the “Server computer 12 may comprise one or more computers” and “such facilities can be sub-divided into separate facilities,” the Federal Circuit held that the specification supports a construction of "location facility" that encompasses a facility distributed among multiple physical computers.
Turning to whether prosecution disclaimer precludes such a result, the Court noted that the statements relied on by the district court did not clearly and unambiguously disclaim distributing the location facility over more than one computer. The Federal Circuit understood the argument made during reexamination to merely mean that the claims require that the location facility actually create the communication channel (one of the four claimed functions) and would not be satisfied by mere use of the location facility by some component other than the location facility, such as a personal computer, that then creates the channel itself.
The Federal Circuit also rejected LogMeIn’s argument that the cancellation of a rejected claim—which specifically defined “location server computer” to encompass multiple computers—disclaimed coverage of using multiple computers. The Court explained that because cancelled claim stood rejected only because it depended on another claim rejected for an unrelated reason, the patentee’s cancellation of the claim and the claim it depended upon did not amount to a disclaimer of multiple computers. The Court noted the examiner’s statements that several other claims covering multiple computers were supported because the specification “never defined that the locator server computer or server computer comprises a singular component” and “defines that the server computer comprises one or more computers.”