The Federal Circuit recently affirmed the PTO in the appeal of In re Karl Urquhart by way of a Rule 36 Judgment. The oral argument is of interest in that it addresses broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI) of claim language as well as functional language.
Claim 13 of the application was one of the claims at issue. Claim 13 recited:
Claim 13 (REJECTED) A semiconductor processing
a semiconductor process tool including a tank, wherein the semiconductor tool is
configured to process a semiconductor component; and
a blender system comprising:
a blender unit configured to receive and blend at least two chemical compounds
and deliver a solution comprising a mixture of compounds at selected
concentrations to the tank, wherein the tank retains a selected volume of a
chemical solution bath; and
a controller configured to maintain at least one compound within a selected
concentration range in the chemical solution bath, wherein the controller
controls at least one of:
operation of the blender unit to maintain the concentration of the at
least one compond within a selected concetration range within the solution
delivered to the tank; and
a change in flow rate of solution into and out of the tank when a
concentration of the at least one compound within the chemical solution bath falls outside
of a target range.
The claim was deemed anticipated by a patent directed at a bathtub that mixed hot and cold water, US Patent 1522120.
The Appellant argued that the PTO had failed to properly apply the language “a semiconductor process tool.” For example, in its appeal at the Board level the Applicant/Appellant cited In re Suitco Surface:
Claim 13 requires the claimed system to have “a semiconductor process tool including a tank, wherein the semiconductor tool is configured to process a semiconductor component.” Even if you disregard the “configured to” portion, the claim still requires “a semiconductor process tool including a tank.” The Examiners insist that a bathtub is a semiconductor process tool. A bathtub is not even remotely related to a semiconductor process tool. The absurdity of this claim construction argument is matched only by the Examiner’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that it is absurd. Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become all too commonplace within the USPTO. MPEP §2111; In re Suitco Surface, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Case No. 2009-1418, decided April 14, 2010)(”The PTO’s construction here, though certainly broad, is unreasonably broad. The broadest-construction rubric coupled with the term ‘comprising’ does not give the PTO unfettered license to interpret claims to embrace anything remotely related to the claimed invention.”).
You can listen to the oral argument [here].
You can view the Rule 36 Judgment [here] that affirmed the rejection of the claims.