In PPC Broadband, Inc. v. Corning Optical Communications RF, LLC, Case No. 2015-1364 (February 22, 2016), the Federal Circuit vacated another PTAB final decision that construed claim terms without properly considering the patent’s specification.
The patent at issue relates to a connector for a coaxial cable. The claimed connector has a member that “resides around” the connector’s body, which the Patent Office construed to mean “in the immediate vicinity, near” the connector’s body. In response, the Patent Owner argued that this interpretation is unreasonably broad because the specification used the word “around” to mean “encircle or surround.”
The Federal Circuit agreed with the Patent Owner, stating that the PTAB erred by picking the broadest definition of “around” from various dictionary entries, without accounting “for how the claims themselves and the specification inform the ordinary skilled artisan as to precisely which ordinary definition the patentee was using.” (Id. at 7). The Court noted that in every instance where the specification used the word “around,” it related to encircling or surrounding, and the specification never used "around" to mean “near” or “in the vicinity.” “By contrast, the words ‘near’ or ‘nearest’ were used twelve times in the specification, each time meaning “in the vicinity of.” (Id. at 9). The Federal Circuit concluded that in view of the specification, the proper construction of "around" is “encircle or surround.”
This is not the first time that the Federal Circuit has rejected a PTAB claim interpretation for focusing on the meaning of claim terms in the abstract, without considering the context of other claim language and the specification. see e.g., Microsoft Corp. v. Proxyconn, Inc., 789 F.3d 1292, 1297 (Fed. Cir. 2015). It is interesting to contrast these decisions with the Court’s decision in Straight Path, which overruled a PTAB claim construction that contradicted unambiguous claim language in an attempt to reconcile the claim with an excerpt in the specification. Straight Path IP Group, Inc. v. Sipnet EU S.R.O., Case No. 2015 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 25, 2015). Collectively, these decisions remind us that the meaning of unambiguous claim language cannot be altered by the context of the specification, but the meaning of ambiguous language must be resolved in a way that is consistent with the specification.