What Does “Broadest Reasonable Interpretation” Mean?

The concept of the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (BRI) entails giving words in a claim their straightforward meaning, as long as it aligns with the information provided. In practice, the broadest reasonable interpretation allows examiners to interpret words broadly, unless it becomes illogical to do so.

An Example Illustrating the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

To grasp the impact of the broadest reasonable interpretation, let’s consider the phrase “move up.” Under normal circumstances, this phrase would mean moving vertically upwards, either perpendicular to the ground or at an angle of at least 45 degrees. Such an interpretation seems natural. However, under the broadest reasonable interpretation, “move up” could refer to any upward movement that brings about a change in elevation. In this case, even an object with a trajectory of just 0.000001 degrees above the horizontal plane would be considered as moving upward.

Situations Where the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation is Inappropriate

There are instances where the broadest reasonable interpretation is not applicable. This is when the inventor:

  1. Chooses to define a word in a unique manner, acting as their own lexicographer.
  2. Disclaims the full scope of the claim term in the specification.

Lexicography is the act of assigning a personal definition to a word. During the patent application process, an inventor may decide to define a specific term in a way that contradicts its common definition. For example, the patent application might state, “As used herein, move up means any vertical movement with a trajectory of plus or minus 10 degrees from a perpendicular plane to the ground.” In this case, when the term “move up” is used in the claims, its interpretation is specific to the drafter and not given the broadest reasonable interpretation.

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A disclaimer, on the other hand, is different from acting as a lexicographer. A disclaimer typically arises when the inventor presents arguments to the examiner in support of patentability. These arguments aim to differentiate the invention from prior art, indicating that the claimed invention does not include certain features present in the prior art. As a result, the scope of the claims, regardless of their literal wording, excludes those features.

Prosecution history estoppel or file history estoppel are other terms used to describe a disclaimer. Essentially, an inventor is prevented from arguing positions that conflict with the arguments they presented during the examination of the patent application.

Challenges Faced by Laypeople due to the Broadest Reasonable Interpretation

The broadest reasonable interpretation often confuses inventors when they receive office actions from examiners. For instance, in the previous example, if an inventor moves an object upward and the examiner cites a prior art reference showing a trajectory of 0.00001 degrees, inventors may struggle to understand the examiner’s perspective. However, once they grasp the concept of BRI, they can respond more effectively and appropriately to the examiner’s concerns.

To address this issue, a possible solution could be to phrase the claim as “move up in a direction plus or minus 5% from a vertical plane.”

Why Examiners Can Take Broad Interpretations

In most cases, litigation where inventors argue that examiners have taken excessively broad interpretations has failed. Examiners usually prevail in such disputes unless their interpretation is nonsensical. During prosecution or examination, inventors have the opportunity to refine the wording of their claims, making them clearer and more precise. The patent process aims to grant patents for deserving inventions while also providing clarity regarding the scope of the patent, enabling others to clearly understand what falls within its boundaries.

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