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Justin E. Gray

Partner at Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP

Former Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University School of Law

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Federal Circuit Reverses BPAI's Claim Interpretation

In re Vaidyanathan (Fed. Cir. May 19, 2010) (nonprecedential)

The Federal Circuit vacated the BPAI's rejection of two claims as the BPAI's interpretation of the claims "finds no support in the [application] specification, and is not a reasonable interpretation under the rules of claim construction."

The patent application at issue related to a guidance and control method for controlling munitions such as missiles or unmanned aircraft, wherein an autonomous reflex response is based on a neural network model of a biological response.  The claims at issue contained the limitation "wherein the neural network is guiding the munition, vehicle or aircraft to strike a target."  The BPAI found that the "to strike a target" limitation does not require that the neural network guide the missile or munition all the way to "intercept", but instead merely requires that the neural network guide the munition "to strike a target."  The BPAI viewed the term "as a recitation of intended purpose, rather than a step of a claimed method" and rejected the claims in light of a prior art reference whose purpose was a target strike but did not teach using the neural network to guide the missile all the way to intercept.

The applicant argued that the claims, when properly construed, required actual participation by the neural network until the point of intercept.

The Federal Circuit determined that the BPAI's interpretation of the claims was incorrect, as "[t]he description in the specification consistently indicates that the neural network guides the munition all the way intercept … [and] the [] specification uses the word 'strike' synonymously with 'intercept,' foreclosing the divergent meanings the Board seeks to attach to these terms."  The Federal Circuit therefore vacated the BPAI's rejection of these claims and remanded for reconsideration under the correct claim interpretation.