Thursday, November 5, 2009

Claims implied by specification not enough for 112 First (Ex parte Abdel-Hafez:)

Ex parte Abdel-Hafez
Decided March 30, 2009
(Appeal 2002-3826; Appl. No. 10/691,696; Tech. Center 2100)

I view this case as a warning to avoid the word "implied" in your arguments against a § 112 rejection. The Applicant argued that a claim element was "implied" by the disclosure, and Board read "implied" as "renders obvious":
... the question of written description support should not be confused with the question of what would have been obvious to the artisan ... Whether Appellant's proffered provisional application support "implies" and thus renders obvious the later claimed "global" limitations is not relevant to the inquiry before us.
(Decision, p. 10.)
I think the Board was confused about written description vs. obviousness, since I do not read the Applicant's argument (a claim element was implied by the disclosure) as an argument that the claim element was obvious in view of the disclosure. Instead, I view the Applicant's argument as a reliance on the implicit teachings of the specification. And there's nothing wrong with that: an Applicant is entitled to rely not only on the explicit teachings of the specification, but also on the implicit teachings, since the specification is viewed not from the standpoint of a layman, but from the standpoint of a person of ordinary skill in the art.
 Although [the applicant] does not have to describe exactly the subject matter claimed, ... the description must clearly allow persons of ordinary skill in the art to recognize that [he or she] invented what is claimed.... The test for sufficiency of support in a parent application is whether the disclosure of the application relied upon reasonably conveys to the artisan that the inventor had possession at that time of the later claimed subject matter. 46 Vas-Cath Inc. v. Mahurkar, 935 F.2d 1555, 1563, 19 USPQ2d 1111, 1116 (Fed.Cir. 1991).
Okay, sometimes there's a fine line between saying that something not explicitly described in the spec is rendered obvious by the spec, and saying that something not explicitly described is implicitly disclosed. But the line exists, and I don't understand why the Board thought the Applicant crossed this line. After all, the Applicant said the claim element was "implied" by the spec, not that the element was "obvious" in view of the spec.

It's not clear whether the Board relied on this finding alone to uphold the §112 rejection, since the Board went on to indicate that "Appellants have not provided any meaningful analysis explaining how the pertinent portions of the provisional application meet the written description and enablement requirements under §112, first paragraph."(Decision, p. 10.)

It's true that the Applicant here did nothing more than point to two paragraphs of the provisional and make this statement:
While the word "global" is not used, taken with the provisional drawings, these all imply that the scan-enable SE signals and the set-reset enable SR_EN signals are global in nature in that provisional application.
(Brief, p. 11.)
So another takeway from this case could be: if you're relying on implicit rather than explicit disclosure, explain your reasoning. In this particular case, the argument might go something like this:
The provisional application discloses: “[t]he present invention uses A scan enable (SE) and and/or gate to disable the asynchronous set/reset signals of ALL scan cells. A new set/reset enable (SR_EN) signal is introduced to propagate the faults of asynchronous set/reset signals in a dedicated capture cycle.” (Capitalization and italics added for emphasis.) Although the provisional uses the article A rather than the adjective ONE, when used in ordinary English and outside of a claim, “A scan enable” is understood to mean “ONE scan enable.” Thus, the provisional discloses that one scan enable disables set/reset for all scan cells. Since "global" means "of, relating to, or applying to a whole," ONE signal that disables something for ALL scan cells is understood to be a “GLOBAL scan enable signal,” as is recited in claim 83. Thus, the provisional does “convey with reasonable clarity to those skilled in the art that, as of the filing date sought, [the inventor] was in possession of the invention.” Vas-Cath, Inc. v. Mahurkar, 935 F.2d 1555, 1563-64 (Fed. Cir. 1991). The written description rejection of claim 83 should therefore be overturned.
I won't say that Ex parte Abdel-Hafez holds “using 'implied' in reference to the disclosure is inapplicable to a § 112 argument” — that would go too far. However, I do think this case shows that if you rely on implicit disclosure, you should explain the inferences that a POSITA draws from the disclosure.

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