第13回:米国特許法の基本~米国特許商標庁の手続におけるクレーム解釈~(2019年3月19日)

2019年3月19日
著者:小野 康英(米国特許弁護士、日本国弁理士)

USPTO Alexandria Campus (Alexandria, VA)

前回、裁判所におけるクレーム解釈の基本ルールであるPhillips基準を紹介した。

今回は、米国特許商標庁(USPTO: United States Patent and Trademark Office)の手続におけるクレーム解釈(注1)のルールを紹介する。

(注1)連邦巡回区控訴裁のNewman判事は、本稿で紹介するBRI基準は、クレームの範囲を定めるという意味でのクレーム解釈(claim construction)のルールではないと主張する。筆者はその主張を一理あると考えるが、本稿では、BRI基準を、通説的な理解に従い、クレーム解釈のルールとして取り扱う。In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC, 793 F.3d 1268, 1286-1287 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (Newman, J., dissenting) (“The broadest reasonable interpretation is authorized for use in the examination of pending applications, as the applicant and the examiner interact to define the invention so as to distinguish or avoid overlap with prior art[.] The purpose of construing claims broadly during examination is to restrict or clarify the applicant’s proposed claims, not to broaden them[.] … The “broadest” protocol aids the applicant and the examiner in defining claim scope during prosecution. It is not a claim construction on which substantive legal rights of validity or infringement are based, or are intended to be based.”); See also PPC Broadband, Inc. v. Corning Optical Communications RF, LLC, 815 F.3d 734, 740 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“Historically, the PTO applied [the broadest reasonable interpretation] standard in the examination and reexamination of patents, where the applicant may freely amend the claim language to clarify the scope of the claim. Examinations and reexaminations are not adjudicatory. Instead, the patent examiner and the applicant work together to determine the scope of the claimed invention. … While broadly construing claim language increases the likelihood that otherwise distinguishable prior art will render the claimed invention anticipated or obvious, the patentee can amend the claim language during prosecution—and narrow it if necessary—to clarify the scope of the invention and avoid rejection or cancellation of the claims[.] District courts, by contrast, do not assign terms their broadest reasonable interpretation. Instead, district courts seek out the correct construction—the construction that most accurately delineates the scope of the claimed invention—under the framework laid out in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). The same is true of reexaminations before the PTO when claims have expired, and therefore may not be amended. In re Rambus, Inc., 753 F.3d 1253, 1256 (Fed. Cir. 2014).”).

1.最広義の合理的解釈(BRI基準)

(1)内容
USPTOの手続におけるクレーム解釈の原則のルールを、連邦巡回区控訴裁(Fed. Cir.: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit)がPhillips基準大法廷判決の法廷意見で述べた表現を用いれば、次のとおりである:「USPTOは、特許出願のクレームの範囲を、そのクレームの文言だけでなく、当業者により解釈される、明細書に照らした、最広義の合理的解釈をそのクレームに与えることにより、決定する。」(注2)

このルールは、実務上、最広義の合理的解釈(BRI: broadest reasonable interpretation)(BRI基準)とよばれる(注3)

(注2)Phillips v. AWH, 415 F.3d 1303, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (“The Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) determines the scope of claims in patent applications not solely on the basis of the claim language, but upon giving claims their broadest reasonable construction “in light of the specification as it would be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art[.”]); In re Morris, 127 F.3d 1048, 1054 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“[T]he PTO applies to the verbiage of the proposed claims the broadest reasonable meaning of the words in their ordinary usage as they would be understood by one of ordinary skill in the art, taking into account whatever enlightenment by way of definitions or otherwise that may be afforded by the written description contained in the applicant’s specification.”).
(注3)83 Fed. Reg. 51340 (October 11, 2018).

(2)趣旨
USPTO(及びその前身組織)は、特許の実体手続において、100年以上にわたりBRI基準を使用してきた(注4)。そして、連邦裁判所も、100年以上にわたり、USPTOによるBRI基準の使用を認めてきた(注5)

判例は、USPTOが特許の実体手続において原則BRI基準を使用することを認める理由として、許可クレームが本来認められるべきクレームよりも広い権利範囲を有する可能性をBRI基準により低減することによる公益保護、及び、BRI基準適用との均衡を図る措置として機能する、出願経過における出願人によるクレーム補正の機会の存在を挙げている(注6)

(注4)Podlesak v. McInnerney, 1906 Dec. Comm’r Pat. 265, 258.
(注5)Miel v. Young, 29 App.D.C. 481, 484 (D.C. Cir. 1907) (“This claim should be given the broadest interpretation which it will support….”).
(注6)In re American Academy of Science Tech Center, 367 F.3d 1359, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“Giving claims their broadest reasonable construction “serves the public interest by reducing the possibility that claims, finally allowed, will be given broader scope than is justified[.] … Construing claims broadly during prosecution is not unfair to the applicant[,] because the applicant has the opportunity to amend the claims to obtain more precise claim coverage.”).

2.BRI基準が適用されるUSPTO手続

判例は、特許出願の審査、並びに、基本的に、インターフェアランス及び各種の付与後手続(例:再発行、再審査、AIA前のインターフェアランス)において、USPTOがBRI基準を使用することを認めてきた(注7)

(注7)In re Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC, 793 F.3d 1268, 1276-1277 (Fed. Cir. 2015), affirmed by Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 579 U.S. ____ (2016) (“This court has approved of the broadest reasonable interpretation standard in a variety of proceedings, including initial examinations, interferences, and post-grant proceedings such as reissues and reexaminations. Indeed, that standard has been applied in every PTO proceeding involving unexpired patents[.] In doing so, we have cited the long history of the PTO’s giving claims their broadest reasonable construction. See, e.g., [In re Y]amamoto, 740 F.2d [1569,] 1571–72 (reexaminations); In re Reuter, 670 F.2d 1015, 1019 (CCPA 1981) (reissues); In re Prater, 56 CCPA 1381, 415 F.2d 1393, 1404–05 (1969) (examinations); cf. Reese v. Hurst, 661 F.2d 1222, 1236 (CCPA 1981) (interferences). Applying the broadest reasonable interpretation standard “reduce[s] the possibility that, after the patent is granted, the claims may be interpreted as giving broader coverage than is justified.” Reuter, 670 F.2d at 1015 (quoting Prater, 415 F.2d at 1404–05).”).

3.BRI基準が適用されないUSPTO手続

一方、BRI基準が適用されないUSPTO手続が存在する。

(1)対象特許の存続期間満了後のUSPTO手続
USPTO手続の係属中に対象特許の存続期間が満了した場合、その後のその手続においては、Phillips基準が適用される(注8 )。判例は、その理由を、対象特許の存続期間の満了後は、規則上、USPTO手続の係属中であってもクレームを補正できないことと関連付けて説明する(注9)

(注8)In re CSB-System International, Inc., 832 F.3d 1335, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“When a patent expires during a reexamination proceeding, the PTO should thereafter apply the Phillips standard for claim construction. We hold as much regardless of whether this means that the Board applies a different standard than the examiner.”).
(注9)Id., 832 F.3d at 1341 (“The policy underlying our embrace of BRI in limited circumstances does not extend to cases where a patent expires during a reexamination because the patent owner’s ability to amend is substantially diminished when this occurs regardless of the stage of the reexamination. Under the PTO’s regulations, a patentee may not amend a claim that expires during prosecution. 37 C.F.R. § 1.530(j) (“No amendment may be proposed for entry in an expired patent.”). Moreover, patents that expire during an appeal to the Board, as in this case, will not be issued with amended claims even if the patent owner amended them while before the examiner. See Institut Pasteur & Universite Pierre Et Marie Curie v. Focarino, 738 F.3d 1337, 1343 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (holding that, under § 1.530(j), (k), “the PTO may not issue the amended claim now that the patent has expired” after the Board issued a reexamination decision). Because it is not always clear how much time a Board appeal will take and at what point a patent owner can reopen prosecution and amend its claims, and we do not think an inquiry into whether or not a patent owner could have amended its claims, or speculation as to whether the patent owner could in the future have an opportunity to amend its claims, should resolve the question.”).

(2)IPR, PGR及びCBM-PGR
リーヒ・スミス米国発明法(AIA: The Leahy–Smith America Invents Act (Public Law 112-29))は、米国特許法(35 U.S.C.)を改正して当事者系レビュー(IPR: Inter Partes Review)(35 U.S.C. 311-319)、及び、付与後レビュー(PGR: Post Grant Review)(35 U.S.C. 321-329)を新設した。また、AIAは、USPTOに対して、所定ビジネス方法特許に対する暫定付与後異議申立て(CBM-PGR: Transitional PGR for Covered Business Method Patents)に関する規則制定権限を付与し(AIA 18)、USPTOは同制度を新設した(37 C.F.R. 42.300-42.304)。

AIAは、これらの手続(IPR; PGR; CBM-PGR)におけるクレーム解釈の基準を示さなかった。この点、USPTOは、議会の意図はこれらの手続におけるクレーム解釈の基準としてBRIを採用すべきことを示していると解釈して(注10)、同旨の規則を制定した(改正前37 C.F.R. 42.100(b); 42.200(b); 42.300(b)(注11)

IPRにおけるクレーム解釈の基準としてBRIを採用することの当否は、裁判所にて、USPTOの規則制定権限の文脈で争われた。米国最高裁は、結論として、USPTOがIPRにおけるクレーム解釈基準をBRIと定めた規則は適法と判断した(注 12)

ところが、Cuozzo事件後の2018年、USPTOは、米国最高裁が支持した上記諸規則を改正し、2018年11月13日以降に実体審理開始請求書が提出されるIPR, PGR及びCBM-PGRにおけるクレーム解釈基準をPhillips基準とすることとした(37 C.F.R. 42.100(b); 42.200(b); 42.300(b)(注13)。USPTOは、米国最高裁まで争って維持したBRI基準を自ら廃棄して、Phillips基準を採用する根拠として、特許付与の統一性及び予測可能性の向上(greater uniformity and predictability of the patent grant)、及び、司法手続の全般的効率向上(increase [of overall] judicial efficiency)を挙げた(注14)。このUSPTOの変わり身は、法制度が如何様にも構築され得ることを示す逸話と言えるかもしれない。

(注10) 77 Fed. Reg. 48698-48699 (August 14, 2012) (“The Office adopts the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard in this final rule in light of statutory language in the AIA, legislative history, and judicial precedent. [B]oth the Federal Circuit and Congress recognize that the patent system has two claim construction standards: (1) The “broadest reasonable interpretation” used by the Office in patentability determination proceedings; and (2) the other used by district courts in invalidity and infringement actions. See, e.g., Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316; 157 Cong. Rec. S1375 (daily ed. Mar. 8, 2011) (statement of Sen. Kyl). The Office and courts have been applying these standards for nearly thirty years when construing patent claims. Congress recognized the “broadest reasonable interpretation” standard in the legislative history of the AIA, and did not set forth a different standard or mandate the Office to apply the district court’s standard.”).
(注11)改正前37 C.F.R. 42.100(b) (“A claim in an unexpired patent shall be given its broadest reasonable construction in light of the specification of the patent in which it appears.”).
(注12)Cuozzo Speed Technologies, LLC v. Lee, 136 S.Ct. 2131, 2144 (2016) (“We conclude that the [the broadest reasonable construction regulation that governs inter partes review] represents a reasonable exercise of the rulemaking authority that Congress delegated to the Patent Office.”).
(注13)37 C.F.R. 42.100(b) (“In an inter partes review proceeding, a claim of a patent, or a claim proposed in a motion to amend under § 42.121, shall be construed using the same claim construction standard that would be used to construe the claim in a civil action under 35 U.S.C. 282(b), including construing the claim in accordance with the ordinary and customary meaning of such claim as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art and the prosecution history pertaining to the patent. Any prior claim construction determination concerning a term of the claim in a civil action, or a proceeding before the International Trade Commission, that is timely made of record in the inter partes review proceeding will be considered.”).
(注14)83 Fed. Reg. 513402 (October 11, 2018) (“Although the BRI standard is consistent with longstanding agency practice for patents in examination, the fact that the Office uses a claim construction standard in AIA proceedings that is different from that used by federal courts and the ITC means that decisions construing the same or similar claims in those fora may be different from those in AIA proceedings and vice versa. Minimizing differences between claim construction standards used in the various fora will lead to greater uniformity and predictability of the patent grant, improving the integrity of the patent system. In addition, using the same standard in the various fora will help increase judicial efficiency overall.”).

4.まとめ

以上をまとめると、USPTOの手続におけるクレーム解釈については、現行、IPR, PGR及びCBM-PGRにおけるクレーム解釈基準はPhillips基準である。一方、特許出願の審査を含めたそれ以外の手続におけるクレーム解釈基準は、原則、BRI基準である。ただし、USPTO手続の係属中に対象特許の存続期間が満了した場合、その後におけるその手続においては、一律、Phillips基準が適用される。

 

著者:小野 康英

米国特許弁護士(*)、日本国弁理士
Westerman Hattori Daniels & Adrian, LLP勤務
(*)コロンビア特別区(DC)、ニューヨーク州(NY)、カリフォルニア州(CA)、米国特許商標庁(USPTO)
※冒頭の写真は著者が撮影したものです。

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