Patent Title Is Intrinsic Evidence for Claim Interpretation
In Wastow Enterprises, LLC v. Truckmovers.Com, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reminded that a patent’s title can serve as intrinsic evidence during trial in determining the scope of the claims. The court reaffirmed that although the title of a patent is not the sole piece of evidence considered during claim construction, a patent’s title may be one evidentiary factor.
To many inventors, the title of a patent is the essence of the invention itself. Oftentimes, an invention begins as a single idea that is considered until the details fall into place. This idea is later captured in the title of the patent and represents the ability to communicate the invention to the world. Beyond this, the title of a patent also allows the patent to be indexed in search databases and allows an efficient way to determine the subject of the patent and invention. Consequently, in today’s ever-expanding world of data analysis a patent’s title may be a critical element in identifying and classifying a patent. However, while classifying and indexing patents is invaluable for the knowledge stores of the world, the question must be raised: does a patent’s title affect interpretation of the patent’s claims in the courtroom?
A recent court decision, Wastow Enterprises, LLC v. Truckmovers.Com, Inc., answers this question and provides insight into the criticality, or lack thereof, of a patent’s title. This decision highlights the importance of not only clearly and appropriately naming a patent, but also of the cohesion of a patent’s title with the patent as a whole.
According to 37 CFR § 1.72, a patent’s title must be as specific as reasonably possible, the title must be under 500 characters, and the title should appear on the first page of the specification. Other guidelines, although non-statutory, include that the title of the patent should refrain from using non-identifying articles and prepositions, such as “a,” “an,” and “the” to start the title, and that the title should not include words that embellish the title, such as “new,” “novel,” “etc.,” and “improved.” Finally, the title of a patent should avoid proprietary names, trademarked phrases, and abbreviations. By failing to comply with the aforementioned guidelines, a patent’s title can hinder a court’s interpretation of the claims, influencing a patentee’s ability to enforce the patent.
Such is the case of Wastow. Here, the title of the patent was one evidentiary factor utilized by the court to determine the scope of the claims and aid in determining patent infringement. Wastow sued Truckmovers, alleging that Truckmovers was infringing a patent by selling its “Z-wing” towing system. The district court issued an order on the construction of the claims, which declared that the term “device” as used throughout the claims is limited to only cover a “universal folding boom trailer.” The trial court relied on the fact that there was no intrinsic evidence throughout the patent to suggest that the term “device” may be construed as anything other than a “universal folding boom trailer.” Indeed, rather than make use of the generic term “device,” the patent’s specification repeatedly referred to “the present invention” as specifically a “universal folding boom trailer.”
As a result of the narrower construction, the district court decided that Truckmovers did not infringe Wastow’s patent and issued a judgment of noninfringement. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) reviewed the case, the CAFC similarly determined that the term “device” is limited to a “universal folding boom trailer,” thus affirming the judgment of the lower court. However, the CAFC relied even further on the patent’s title to reinforce their opinion, stating that “[t]he title thus reinforces what the written description makes clear.”
Wastow was not the first time the courts have used a title of a patent as intrinsic evidence in aiding claim construction. In Titanium Metals Corp. of America v. Banner, the CAFC also used the title of the invention to aid in determining the subject matter of the patent. At the heart of the case, Titanium Metals argued that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) Board of Appeals erred in rejecting the patent on the grounds of lack of novelty. Specifically, while the USPTO determined that Titanium Metal’s patent was anticipated by a Russian article directed towards a similar titanium alloy, Titanium Metals argued that-the patent was novel for claiming that the titanium alloy exhibited properties that were not described by the prior art article. The CAFC rejected this argument, siding with Banner in stating that although the claims required an alloy with “good corrosion resistance,” Titanium Metal’s claimed alloy had a similar composition and lacked novelty over the prior art’s alloy. Additionally, the court cited that one piece of evidence was that both the Russian article and the patent were directed to a “Titanium Alloy,” according to the title of both the patent and the article. In this decision, the court reaffirmed that a patent’s title can aid in claim construction if the claims and description leave room for interpretation.
This precedent was later used in Ruckus Wireless, Inc. v. Innovative Wireless Solutions, where the title of the patent, “Communicating Information Packets Via Telephone Lines,” was used to limit the scope of Innovative Wireless Solutions’ claims to wired telephone lines. Specifically, Innovative Wireless Solutions argued that because the claims identified both a “communications path” and a “two-wire line,” the term “communications path” must include more than just a two-wired telephone lines and should be interpreted to include wireless communications as well. The CAFC disagreed, stating that “the title of the Terry patents indicates that they are directed to ‘Communicating Information Packets Via Telephone Lines’.” The court stated that “[t]hough these statements do not expressly exclude wireless communications from the meaning of ‘communications path,’ they do not include it, and they discourage that understanding.” Consequently, the CAFC ruled in favor of Ruckus, affirming the district court’s final judgment of non-infringement.
Notably, in each of the above cases, while the title of the patent was not the sole factor in determining the scope of the claims, each of the decisions confirmed that the title of a patent has relevance during prosecution and litigation due to having some evidentiary weight that may affect claim interpretation. In particular, while an improved specification and accurate title may have potentially improved Wastow’s case, the CAFC still reaffirmed the importance of a patent’s title as evidence that can be used in trial during claim construction. Indeed, the importance of a title may not lay in its ability to stand as evidence on its own, but rather as an aid in determining the bounds of the claims.
Best Practice Tips
A patent’s title should be crafted to accurately reflect the claimed invention. Although it may be rare, courts have demonstrated on multiple occasions that a patent’s title can be used as evidence during claim construction, and accurately naming a patent to align with the claims can only serve to help. Additionally, a title’s patent assists in classification and identification, and accurately naming a patent aids in its visibility to the world.