The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge
Gilbert P. Hyatt brings these four civil actions against Jon Dudas, in his official capacity as Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"),seeking review of decisions by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences ("Board") that affirmed the rejection of twelve patent applications. Before the court are the parties' submissions on a threshold question-whether the Board erred by reviewing twenty-one representative claims instead of reviewing all of Hyatt's approximately 2400 claims. Upon consideration of the parties' respective positions and the record of the case, the court concludesthat, while the Board did not err by grouping claims, it improperly selected the representative claims for review.
A. Patent Application Requirements
An inventor seeking to obtain a patent must file a written application with the PTO. That application must include a specification of the purported invention, consisting of, inter alia, both a written description of the claimed invention and an enablement for that invention. 35 U.S.C. § 112, para. 1. To fulfill the written description requirement, a patent applicant must "convey with reasonable clarity to those skilled in the art that, as of the filing date sought, he or she was in possession of the invention." Vas-Cath, Inc. v. Mahurkar, 935 F.2d 1555, 1563--64 (Fed. Cir. 1991). That is, a description need not describe exactly what the applicant claims as her invention, but it must convey to one with "ordinary skill in the art" that the applicant invented what is claimed. Union Oil Co. v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 208 F.3d 989, 997 (Fed. Cir. 2000). The application must also explain the "manner and process of making and using [the invention] in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains . . . to make and use the same." 35 U.S.C. § 112 para. 1; see also 37 C.F.R. § 1.71(a). To meet this enablement requirement, "a patent application must adequately disclose the claimed invention so as to enable a person skilled in the art to practice the invention at the time the application was filed without undue experimentation." In re Swartz, 232 F.3d 862, 863 (Fed. Cir. 2000). "[A] 'reasonable' amount of routine experimentation," is allowed but "such experimentation must not be 'undue.'" Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Calgene, Inc., 188 F.3d 1362, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Additionally, "[w]hether claims are sufficiently enabled by a disclosure in a specification is determined as of the date that the patent application was first filed." Id.
At the end of the written description and enablement section of a patent application, a proper specification should conclude with a list of "claims," which identify the specific "subject matter" of the invention that the applicant regards as hers. 35 U.S.C. § 112 para. 2. A claim is a single-sentence description, usually divided into several paragraphs, of what an applicant believes to be her invention, setting the boundaries of the invention the applicant wishes the PTO to examine. Specifically, a single claim can be composed of multiple elements and/or limitations. Elements are the previously known physical components that make up the claimed invention. Limitations, on the other hand, usually describe the claim's restrictions, or the interaction between or features of the claim's elements. An application may contain several claims, and each claim usually contains several limitations. In addition, several claims in a single application may share some of the same limitations. As a result, the PTO may reject several claims at once by rejecting a single, shared limitation.
An applicant may, if she wishes, add additional claims to an invention disclosed in an earlier application, provided that the earlier, or parent, application has not yet been issued or abandoned. These "continuation applications" rely on the same specification in the pending parent application and are entitled to the parent application's filing date.
After an inventor files her application, the PTO assigns the application to an Examiner who has the necessary technical competence. HERBERT F. SCHWARTZ, PATENT LAW& PRACTICE 10, 18 (3d ed. 2001). After examining the application, the Examiner sends the applicant an "Office action" which may grant or reject the claims. Id. at 18--24; see also 37 C.F.R § 1.104(a)(2). The applicant may respond by submitting, in writing, a reply that "distinctly and specifically points out the supposed errors in the Examiner's action and must reply to every ground of objection and rejection in the prior Office action." 37 C.F.R. § 1.111(b). "A general allegation that the claims define a patentable invention without specifically pointing out how the language of the claims patentably distinguishes them from the references does not comply with the requirements of this section." Id. If the Examiner and applicant cannot agree on the disposition of certain claims, the Examiner issues a Final Office action. Id. § 1.113. If the Final Office action rejects the claims in the application, the applicant may then appeal to the Board, 35 U.S.C. § 134(a), which is made up of a panel of three administrative patent judges, who will either sustain or reverse the Examiner's rejections. Id. § 6.
On appeal, the Board is entitled to group the applicant's claims by common ground of rejection, in accordance with PTO regulations, and review one representative claim from each group, unless the applicant meets her burden of assuring separate review of all claims. To assure the separate review of all of her claims, the applicant's brief to the Board must (1) contain a statement that her claims do not stand or fall together; and (2) explain why her claims are separately patentable. See 37 C.F.R. § 1.192(d)(7). If the Board sustains the Examiner's rejections, the applicant may appeal to the Federal Circuit under 35 U.S.C. § 141, or she may bring a civil action to overturn the Board's decision in this court under 35 U.S.C. § 145.
Hyatt is an electrical engineer who holds more than sixty patents on inventions in subject areas including microcomputers, computer memories and displays, and global-positioning systems. Between April and June 1995, Hyatt filed the twelve patent applications at issue in these four cases, which, combined, included approximately 2400 claims. Each of these applications was part of a series of continuation applications based on ancestor patents dating back to the early 1980s or before, and each was later amended to add hundreds of claims that were not claimed in the ancestor applications or in the application as filed in 1995. The Examiner ultimately rejected all of the claims in Hyatt's applications. The most common basis for rejection was that the amended claims were not adequately described in the earlier-filed application. According to the PTO, this requirement-the written description requirement-is particularly important where, as here, "the patent claims are written years after the original patent application was filed, as the written support must be in the application as originally filed." Pl.'s Br. at 5. The PTO also rejected some of Hyatt's claims for lack of enablement and for obviousness.*fn1 Hyatt appealed these rejections to the Board.
For each rejected application, Hyatt filed an appeal brief and the Examiner thereafter filed a responsive brief. For two of the twelve applications, the Examiner provided Notices of Non-Compliance indicating that Hyatt had failed to meet the requirements of the PTO regulation governing the grouping of claims on appeal. The Notices also provided Hyatt a chance to cure these deficiencies by submitting supplemental arguments, which Hyatt did.
Following appellate briefing, the Board issued an opinion in each case, rejecting Hyatt's patent applications. Rather than review the hundreds of claims independently, the Board determined that it was "free to select a single claim from each group of claims subject to a common ground of rejection as representative of all claims in that group and to decide the appeal of that rejection based solely on the selected representative claim." See, e.g., Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 16 (Decision on Appeal for the '728 application), at 6; id., Ex. 17 (Decision on Appeal for the '072 application), at 4--7; id., Ex. 18 (Decision on Appeal for the '361 application), at 4--7. Focusing solely on twenty-one representative claims, the Board sustained the Examiner's rejections and, accordingly, denied Hyatt's applications. Hyatt thereafter filed four § 145 actions in this court that encompass all twelve patent applications at issue.
The issue before the court involves the propriety of the Board's grouping of Hyatt's claims. Hyatt first argues that he met the necessary requirements to prevent the grouping of his claims on appeal and that the Board erred by failing to consider all his claims. Alternatively, assuming the court were to disagree, Hyatt contends that the court should nonetheless consider all his claims for two reasons: (1) because the PTO assertedly waived its right to challenge Hyatt's compliance with the regulations in ten of the twelve applications at issue; and (2) because equity compels such a result. Finally, Hyatt argues ...