The Board Stretches the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation Standard to Broadest Possible Interpretation

Bill Schertler | October 20, 2017

In re Smith International, Inc.

September 26, 2017

Before Lourie, Reyna, Hughes.  Opinion by Lourie.

Procedural History:

Smith International (“Smith”) owns U.S. Patent No. 6,732,817 (the ‘817 patent) directed to a downhole drilling tool for oil and gas operations.  In 2012, Smith’s corporate parents, Schlumberger Holdings Corp. and Schlumberger N.V., sued Baker Hughes Inc. (“Baker Hughes”) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas for, inter alia, infringement of the ’817 patent.  Baker Hughes requested ex parte reexamination of claims 28–37, 39–46, 49, and 50 of the ’817 patent.  The PTO granted the request for ex parte reexamination, which is the subject of appeal in this case.

In the reexamination, the Examiner finally rejected claims 28–36, 39, 40, 42, 79–80, 93–98, and 100 as anticipated by International Publication No. WO 00/31371 (“Eddison”).  The Examiner rejected claims 43–46, and 49 as obvious over Eddison in view of U.S. Patent 6,059,051 (“Jewkes”), and claims 28, 40, 41, 43, 50, 80, 81, 93, and 99 as obvious over Eddison, European Publication No. EP 0 246 789 (“Wardley”), and Jewkes.  Smith appealed to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“Board”), and the Board affirmed all of the examiner’s rejections.  The Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) reversed the Board.

Details:

This case primarily concerns what the word “body” means in the context of the ’817 patent.

Representative claim 28 is set forth below.

28.  An expandable downhole tool for use in a drilling assembly positioned within a wellbore having an original diameter borehole and an enlarged diameter borehole, comprising:

 a body; and

at least one non-pivotable, moveable arm having at least one borehole engaging pad adapted to accommodate cutting structures or wear structures or a combination thereof and having angled surfaces that engage said body to prevent said arm from vibrating in said second position;

wherein said at least one arm is moveable between a first position defining a collapsed diameter, and a second position defining an expanded diameter approximately equal to said enlarged diameter borehole.

Fig. 4 of the ‘817 patent is reproduced below to show, inter alia, the “body” (tool body 510) and the “moveable arm” (moveable tool arm 520).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reexamination

During reexamination, using the broadest reasonable interpretation standard, the Examiner construed the term “body” broadly to correspond to the “body” 18, “mandrel” 16 and “cam sleeve” 28 of Eddison.  Eddison discloses a drilling tool having a “mandrel 16” that “extends through the body 18” and “provides mounting for a cam sleeve 28,” which “cooperates with the extendable members 30 in the form of cutters 30 mounted in respective body ports 32.”  See Fig. 1 of Eddison reproduced below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relying on the broad construction of “body”, the Examiner found that Eddison teaches “at least one non-pivotable, moveable arm…having angled surfaces that engage said body” in claim 28 and corresponding elements in other independent claims.

The Board

On appeal to the Board, the Board affirmed the Examiner’s interpretation of the word “body” as a broad term that may encompass other components such as “mandrel” and “cam sleeve”.  The Board reasoned that the term “body” is a generic term that by itself provides no structural specificity.  The Board also reasoned that although “the specification describes the body as a discrete element separate from other elements,” the specification neither defines the term “body” nor precludes the Examiner’s broad reading of it.

The Board rejected Smith’s argument that one of ordinary skill in the art would understand the term “body” as a distinct element from other components.  Based on the Board’s interpretation of the term “body,” the board affirmed the Examiner’s anticipation and obviousness rejections based on Eddison.

CAFC

On appeal to the CAFC, Smith challenged the Board’s construction of the term “body” and the anticipation and obviousness determinations.  Smith argued that the Board’s interpretation of the term “body” was unreasonable and inconsistent with the specification.  More specifically, Smith argued that the Board’s interpretation of “body” as a generic term encompassing the drilling tool’s internal components was unreasonable because the specification consistently refers to and depicts the body of the drilling tool as a component distinct from other separately identified components, such as the “mandrel” or “piston” that reside inside the drilling tool.  In light of the consistent description of the body, Smith urged that the term “body” should be interpreted as an “outer housing.”

The CAFC, using the expressions “strained interpretation” and “arbitrary inclusion of elements” to describe the Board’s construction, concluded that the Board’s construction of “body” was unreasonably broad.

The CAFC reasoned that the ‘817 specification does not use the term as a generic body.  Instead, the ’817 patent separately identifies and describes various components of its drilling tool, such as the “body,” “moveable arms,” “mandrel,” “piston,” and “drive ring,” which do not support the Board’s broad reading of the claim term “body.”  In this connection, the CAFC stated “There is no dispute that the ’817 patent specification consistently describes and refers to the body as a component distinct from others, such as the mandrel, piston, and drive ring.  Therefore, the Board’s reasoning that because the specification does not ‘in and of itself proscribe the Examiner’s construction,’ the Examiner’s interpretation was reasonable, was erroneous.”

The CAFC addressed the Board’s reasoning in support of adopting the broad interpretation that “the patentee here did not act as a lexicographer, and that the specification neither defines nor precludes the examiner’s reading of the term ‘body’.”  Using this reasoning, the Board found that nothing in the specification would disallow the examiner’s interpretation, rendering it “reasonable.”  However, the CAFC responded “following such logic, any description short of an express definition or disclaimer in the specification would result in an adoption of a broadest possible interpretation of a claim term, irrespective of repeated and consistent descriptions in the specification that indicate otherwise. That is not properly giving the claim term its broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the specification.” [Emphasis added.]

Finally, the CAFC stated, “The correct inquiry in giving a claim term its broadest reasonable interpretation in light of the specification is not whether the specification proscribes or precludes some broad reading of the claim term adopted by the examiner. And it is not simply an interpretation that is not inconsistent with the specification. It is an interpretation that corresponds with what and how the inventor describes his invention in the specification, i.e., an interpretation that is ‘consistent with the specification.’”

Full Opinion

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