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Claim Construction of U.S. Pharmaceutical Patents April 19, 2005. Brian V. Slater Partner. U.S. Claim Construction: An Overview . Claim construction is exclusively a question of law for the judge* Frequently the subject of a special hearing prior to trial (so-called “ Markman hearing)

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u s claim construction an overview
U.S. Claim Construction: An Overview
  • Claim construction is exclusively a question of law for the judge*
  • Frequently the subject of a special hearing prior to trial (so-called “Markman hearing)
  • Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reviews claim construction decisions de novo on appeal**
  • * Markman v. Westview Instr., 517 U.S. 370 (1996)
  • ** Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1998)
u s claim construction an overview3
U.S. Claim Construction: An Overview
  • Often dispositive issue in patent lawsuit:
    • “[T]o decide what the claims mean is nearly always to decide the case.”*
  • This is true of pharmaceutical patent suits:
    • E.g., claim term “hydroxypropyl methylcellulose” (HPMC) not limited to particular grade of HPMC recited in examples (summary judgment of no infringement vacated)**
  • * Markman v. Westview, 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995)(Mayer J., dissenting)
  • ** Glaxo Wellcome, Inc. v. Andrx Pharmaceuticals, 344 F.3d 1226 (Fed. Cir. 2003)
claim construction facts figures
Claim Construction Facts & Figures
  • Between 1/1/98 and 4/30/2000, Federal Circuit modified claim construction in 78 of 179 cases (44%)*
  • In about 30% of Federal Circuit claim construction cases in 2004 there was either a concurrence or dissent**
  • * Christian A. Chu, Empirical Analysis of the Federal Circuit’s Claim Construction Trends, 16 BERKTLJ 1075 (2001)
  • ** Claim construction Project. See
en banc rehearing phillips v awh
En Banc Rehearing: Phillips v. AWH
  • On July 21, 2004, the Federal Circuit agreed to rehear Phillips v. AWHen banc, asking:
    • Which has primacy: dictionaries or specification?
    • Should claims be construed to preserve validity?
    • What is the role of the prosecution history?
    • What is the role of expert testimony?
    • What deference should Federal Circuit accord?
  • Chief Judge Mayer dissented saying it is “futile” unless Court reconsiders its holdings that claim construction is question of law
balancing tensions
Balancing Tensions
  • Ensuring the notice function of a patent
    • “[I]t is only fair (and statutorily required) that competitors be able to ascertain to a reasonable degree the scope of the patentee’s right to exclude.”*


  • Giving a patent owner a fair and reasonable scope of protection
  • * Markman v. Westview, 523 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995).
balancing tensions9
Balancing Tensions
  • Relying on intrinsic record (claims, specification and prosecution history)


  • Relying on the “ordinary meaning” of claim terms (e.g., dictionaries) and refusing to import limiting features from the specification into the claims
markman v westview instruments 52 f 3d 967 fed cir 1995 en banc
Markman v. Westview Instruments, 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc)
  • “Claims must be read in view of the specification of which they are a part.”


  • “The written description part of the specification itself does not delimit the right to exclude.”
markman v westview instruments 52 f 3d 967 fed cir 1995 en banc11
Markman v. Westview Instruments, 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc)
  • The Court should also consider the patent’s prosecution history, if it is in evidence


  • “. . . the prosecution history . . . cannot ‘enlarge, diminish or vary’ the limitations in the claims”
markman v westview instruments 52 f 3d 967 fed cir 1995 en banc12
Markman v. Westview Instruments, 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc)
  • Extrinsic evidence (including inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises) may be “helpful” to explain scientific principles/and the meaning of technical terms and terms of art
  • BUT
  • Cannot be used “for the purpose of varying or contradicting the terms of the claims”
vitronics v conceptronic 90 f 3d 1576 fed cir 1996
Vitronics v. Conceptronic, 90 F.3d 1576 (Fed. Cir. 1996)
  • Intrinsic evidence is “most significant source” in claim construction
  • Only if “genuine ambiguity” exists after reviewing intrinsic evidence may extrinsic evidence be used
  • Dictionaries and prior art are “more objective and reliable guides” than opinion testimony
  • Footnote 6: dictionaries worthy of “special note”
wang labs v america online 197 f 3d 1377 fed cir 1999
Wang Labs v. America Online, 197 F.3d 1377 (Fed. Cir. 1999)
  • Issue: Construction of the term “information frame”
  • Parties agreed that the term in its general usage could be applied to both bit-mapped and character based systems
  • Court held claims limited to character-based systems because it was only system enabled
bell atl network v covad communications 262 f 3d 1258 fed cir 2001
Bell Atl. Network v. Covad Communications, 262 F.3d 1258 (Fed. Cir. 2001)
  • Citing Vitronics footnote 6 (that dictionaries have a “special place”), does not list dictionaries as extrinsic evidence and almost treats dictionaries as intrinsic evidence

CCS Fitness v. Brunswick, 288 F.3d 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2002)

Held claim term “member” was to be construed in accordance with common and technical dictionaries where nothing in specification or prosecution history overcame that meaning

texas digital v telegenix 308 f 3d 1193 fed cir 2002
Texas Digital v. Telegenix, 308 F.3d 1193, (Fed. Cir. 2002)
  • A “heavy presumption” in favor of ordinary meaning unless disavowed in intrinsic record
  • “Dictionaries, encyclopedias and treatises, publicly available at the time the patent issued, are objective resources that serve as reliable sources of information on the established meanings that would have been attributed to the terms of the claims by those of skill in the art . . . Indeed, these materials may be the most meaningful sources of information to aid judges . . . “
  • “Categorizing dictionaries as ‘extrinsic evidence’ . . . is misplaced.”
combined sys v defense tech 350 f 3d 1207 fed cir 2003
Combined Sys. v. Defense Tech., 350 F.3d 1207 (Fed. Cir. 2003)
  • Some recent opinions, when read in isolation, may have sent the message that the specification should be consulted “solely for the limited purpose of determining whether it contradicts the dictionary meaning of a claim term”
  • Instead, intrinsic evidence must be reviewed not only to rebut the ordinary meaning, but also to aid in every case of claim construction
  • Despite clarification, court heavily relied on dictionary definitions to determine ordinary meaning
ferguson beauregard logic v delaware capital 350 f 3d 1327 fed cir 2003
Ferguson Beauregard/Logic v. Delaware Capital, 350 F.3d 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2003)
  • “Dictionary definitions, while reflective of the ordinary meaning of words, do not always associate those meanings with context or reflect the customary usage of words by those skilled in a particular art.”
  • “It is the use of the words in the context of the written description and customarily by those skilled in the relevant art that accurately reflects both the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘customary’ meaning of the terms in the claims of a patent.”
merck v teva pharm usa inc 347 f 3d 1367 fed cir 2003
Merck v. Teva Pharm. USA Inc., 347 F.3d 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2003)
  • Majority (Newman, J.; Prost, J.): claimed method of treatment using alendronic “acid” encompasses administration of salt form because:
    • specification describes active as encompassing both acid and salt forms
    • experts testified pharmacologists would understand use of acid encompasses salt
  • Dissent (Mayer, J.):
    • both sides’ experts agreed acid is a different compound than its salt
    • specification distinguishes between the two
novartis v eon labs 363 f 3d 1306 fed cir 2004
Novartis v. Eon Labs., 363 F.3d 1306 (Fed. Cir. 2004)
  • Invention: small solid particles of cyclosporin (a very poorly soluble drug) dispersed in an aqueous medium (called a “hydrosol”)
  • Issue: Whether claim term “hydrosol” is limited to products made outside the body or includes products formed in vivo after ingestion
  • Both parties’ experts agreed “hydrosol” means small solid particles of cyclosporin dispersed in an aqueous medium
novartis v eon labs majority dyk j prost j
Novartis v. Eon Labs. Majority (Dyk, J.; Prost, J.)
  • Court first consulted general purpose dictionary not cited by parties that defined “hydrosol” as a “sol in which the liquid is water”
  • Then looked up “sol”, which was defined as “a dispersion of solid particles in a liquid colloidal solution”
  • Then looked up “solution”, which gave multiple meanings including “a liquid and usu. aqueous medicinal preparation with the solid ingredients soluble.”
novartis v eon labs majority dyk j prost j28
Novartis v. Eon Labs. Majority (Dyk, J.; Prost, J.)
  • Then looked up “medicinal preparation” in dictionary and found it to relate to “medicine”, which in turn was defined as a “preparation”
  • And, finally, looked up “preparation” in three dictionaries that define it as “ready for use”
  • Then stated that “medicinal preparation” is a “preexisting product that is administered to treat disease and therefore must necessarily be prepared outside the body”
novartis v eon labs majority dyk j prost j29
Novartis v. Eon Labs. Majority (Dyk, J.; Prost, J.)
  • Court found term “hydrosol” is ambiguous because it has two possible definitions:
    • broad one unlimited to place of formation; and
    • narrow one limited to products made outside body
  • According to Court, intrinsic record supported adoption of narrower definition
    • no examples to hydrosols formed in patient’s stomach
    • specification says hydrosol “intravenously applicable”
novartis v eon labs dissent clevenger j
Novartis v. Eon Labs. Dissent (Clevenger, J.)
  • None of several dictionary definitions of “hydrosol” limits where hydrosol is made
  • Term “hydrosol” is not ambiguous and deserves full scope
  • Applicant made no explicit disclaimer or disavowal of hydrosols made inside the body
  • Dictionary exercise went “too far” by pursuing definition of “medicinal preparation” which required ingredients be “soluble” (cyclosporin is poorly soluble)
nystrom v trex co 374 f 3d 1105 fed cir 2004
Nystrom v. Trex Co., 374 F.3d 1105 (Fed. Cir. 2004)
  • Majority (Linn, J.; Mayer, J.) held “board” has multiple dictionary meanings not all of which are limited to sawn lumber so term was not so limited
  • Dissent (Gajarsa, J.) claimed majority’s approach was inconsistent with Novartis v. Eon where court determined which dictionary definition was most consistent with intrinsic
  • Majority counters that, under prior precedent, claim terms are construed to encompass all dictionary definitions not inconsistent with intrinsic record
phillips v awh corp 363 f 3d 1207 fed cir 2004
Phillips v. AWH Corp., 363 F.3d 1207 (Fed. Cir. 2004)
  • Invention: vandalism-resistant building modules consisting of modular wall panels
  • Issue: Whether claim term “baffles” limited to those at other than at 90º
  • Ordinary meaning of “baffle” from dictionary: “something for deflecting, checking, or otherwise regulating flow”
phillips v awh corp majority lourie j newman j
Phillips v. AWH Corp. (Majority (Lourie, J.; Newman, J.)
  • Specification is rife with references to impact resistance against projectiles, and baffles directed at 90º cannot deflect projectiles
  • None of the figures shows any baffle that is not at an angle other than 90º
  • “Inspection of the patent shows that baffles angled at other than 90º is the only embodiment disclosed in the patent; it is the invention.”
phillips v awh corp dissent dyk j
Phillips v. AWH Corp. (Dissent (Dyk, J.)
  • Majority improperly limited claim to preferred embodiment
  • “We however have ‘expressly rejected the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment.’”
  • Projectile resistance is only one of several objectives of the invention (including load bearing and thermal-acoustical isolation)
which has primacy the specification or dictionaries
Which has Primacy: the Specification or Dictionaries?
  • NYIPLA/U.S/IPO: The primary source of claim construction should be the intrinsic evidence
  • FCBA/ABA: “middle ground”: neither has primacy
  • IPO: No other evidence should be considered if the claims can be construed from intrinsic sources
  • Boston PLA: The primary audience for a patent includes the workers in the field, not “the tweed-jacketed editorial staff of the OED”
should claims be construed to preserve their validity
Should Claims be Construed to Preserve their Validity?
  • NYIPLA/U.S.: Where there are two plausible constructions of a claim term, courts should adopt the one that preserves validity.
  • FCBA/ABA: Claims should be construed without regard to their validity.
  • IPO: “Claims should be construed to preserve their definiteness but IPO has serious reservations regarding interpreting claims to preserve validity on other grounds.”
what is the role of expert testimony
What is the Role of Expert Testimony?
  • NYIPLA: “Expert testimony by a credible witness, particularly when supported by documentary evidence, may be highly persuasive.”
  • FCBA: “Expert testimony should also be permitted to the extent the trial court believes it may be useful.”
  • ABA: “Secondary sources, such as expert testimony, may always be considered.”
what deference should the federal circuit accord claim construction determinations
What Deference should the Federal Circuit Accord Claim Construction Determinations?
  • NYIPLA/ABA/FCBA: Subsidiary findings of fact should be accorded deference under a clearly erroneous standard but the ultimate construction should be subject to de novo review
  • United States: Court should give “due consideration to a persuasive claim construction by the district court and accord due weight to its evaluation of any live testimony on this issue”
phillips en banc oral argument
PhillipsEn Banc Oral Argument
  • Phillips (appellant):
  • You should read the specification, then the claims. If the claims are broader, you should rely on the claims. The purpose of the specification is to provide written description and enablement, not to narrow the claims.
  • If you are construing an ordinary term, you can rely on a dictionary to see if there is a definition that fits with the specification.
  • Ordinary person would know main purpose of baffle is load bearing (not bullet deflection).
phillips en banc oral argument41
PhillipsEn Banc Oral Argument
  • AWH:
  • You should read the specification to determine the invention.
  • If an element is described as essential to the invention, and there are no other examples given, then it is implicitly narrowed.
  • Load supporting function is not part of the term baffle; the only function of the baffles is bullet deflection.
phillips en banc oral argument42
PhillipsEn Banc Oral Argument
  • U.S.:
  • As a practical matter, patent examiners do not use dictionaries.
  • Specification has primacy over dictionaries.
phillips en banc rehearing seven questions
PhillipsEn Banc Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #1
      • “Is the public notice function of patent claims better served by referencing primarily to technical and general purpose dictionaries and similar sources to interpret a claim or by looking primarily to the patentee’s use of the term in the specification? If both sources are to be consulted, in what order?”
phillips rehearing seven questions
Phillips Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #2
      • “If dictionaries should serve as the primary source for claim interpretation, should the specification limit the full scope of claim language (as defined by the dictionaries) only when the patentee has acted as his own lexicographer or when the specification reflects a clear disclaimer of claim scope? If so, what language in the specification will satisfy those conditions? What use should be made of general as opposed to technical dictionaries? How does the concept of ordinary meaning apply if there are multiple dictionary definitions of the same term? If the dictionary provides multiple potentially applicable definitions for a term, is it appropriate to look to the specification to determine what definition or definitions should apply?”
phillips rehearing seven questions47
Phillips Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #3
      • “If the primary source for claim construction should be the specification, what use should be made of dictionaries? Should the range of the ordinary meaning of claim language be limited to the scope of the invention disclosed in the specification, for example, when only a single embodiment is disclosed an no other indications of breadth are disclosed?”
phillips rehearing seven questions48
Phillips Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #4
      • “Instead of viewing the claim construction methodologies in the majority and dissent of the now-vacated panel decision as alternative, conflicting approaches, should the two approaches be treated as complementary methodologies such that there is a dual restriction on claim scope, and a patentee must satisfy both limiting methodologies in order to establish the claim coverage it seeks?”
phillips rehearing seven questions49
Phillips Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #5
      • “When, if ever, should claim language be narrowly construed for the sole purpose of avoiding invalidity under, e.g., 35 U.S.C. §§ 102, 103 and 112?”
phillips rehearing seven questions50
Phillips Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #6
      • “What role should prosecution history and expert testimony by one of ordinary skill in the art play in determining the meaning of the disputed claim terms?”
phillips rehearing seven questions51
Phillips Rehearing: Seven Questions
  • Question #7
      • “Consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996), and our en banc decision in Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc., 138 F.3d 1448 (Fed. Cir. 1998), is it appropriate for this court to accord any deference to any aspect of trial court claim construction rulings? If so, on what aspects, in what circumstances, and to what extent?”