Thursday, September 3, 2009

Martek Biosciences v. Nutrinova

A five judge panel heard this case and disagreed about the construction of “animal.” The majority concluded that the patentee defined the term in the specification and that the term carried its ordinary meaning, in which case it included humans. However, the dissent felt that this was an “unusual situation in which a purported definition of a claim term in the written description is totally negated by the remainder of the text of the patent. [The patentee’s] attempt at lexicography does not conform to the way in which it otherwise describes its invention.” (p. 2 of dissent.) In other words, the dissent felt that the claims and most of the specification used the term “animal” in a manner that excluded humans even though the explicit definition included in one sentence of the specification did not exclude humans. The majority concluded that not only had the patentee acted as a lexicographer, but that the other portions of the specification did not “constitute a clear and manifest disavowal of human animals.”

The other aspects of the opinion were unanimous. The court noted that the written description requirement can be satisfied even if the scope of the claims is broader than the disclosure. “[A] patent claim is not necessarily invalid for lack of written description just because it is broader than the specific examples disclosed.” (p. 9.) Also, in a discussion concerning prior inventorship evidence, the court said that an abandoned application does not establish reduction to practice. “[W]hile an abandoned patent application is evidence of conception, it is insufficient to corroborate testimony that an alleged prior inventor reduced the invention to practice.” (p. 18.) Regarding enablement, two narrower dependent claims were not invalid for lack of enablement even though the independent claim may have been. (p. 25.) Finally, concerning infringement, the court stated that tests were not necessarily required to establish the presence of a functional limitation. In explaining Kim v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 465 F.3d 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2006), it stated “we did not articulate a general rule requiring one who alleges infringement of a claim containing functional limitations to perform actual tests or experiments on the accused product or method.” (p. 15.) As such, the patentee was able to rely on “testimony from two experts, each of whom conceptually analyzed the accused process and testified that it must meet the functional claim limitation based on the [accused] composition … and the known effects of chloride concentration on stainless steel corrosion.” (Id. (emphasis added))