October 1, 2020
Recycling a car involves separating the valuable stuff from the garbage. So does patent litigation. On September 15, 2020, in IQASR LLC v. Wendt Corp., Case No. 19-2227 (nonprecedential), the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision finding that a patent directed to car recycling separation technologies fell into the latter category because the claim term “magnetic fuzz” was indefinite.
The asserted patent claimed a method involving shredding a car, sorting out recyclable ferrous metals, and then non-magnetically removing “magnetic fuzz” from the remainder. The Court of Appeals first determined that the district court’s finding that “magnetic fuzz” lacks an ordinary meaning in the art was not clearly erroneous. Next, analyzing the intrinsic evidence de novo, the Federal Circuit found that the patent did not adequately define “magnetic fuzz.”
The problem here was not that the patent said too little about magnetic fuzz, but rather too much. The patent says that “magnetic fuzz” is a “magnetically active disassociated microparticle.” It is also a “low susceptance microparticle.” “Low susceptance microparticles” is undefined, except through examples that include “magnetic fuzz, iron oxide particles, microparticles, dust, trash . . .” etc. Finally, “low susceptance microparticles” may be “magnetically active dissociated particles,” “such [as] but not limited to magnetic fuzz.”
All these qualified statements proved too much for the Federal Circuit. The fuzz is a type of microparticle. Microparticles may include magnetically active particles. Magnetically active particles include fuzz, but are not limited to fuzz. The Federal Circuit asks, rhetorically, “how is one to know, then, whether a magnetically active disassociated particle is magnetic fuzz” as opposed to some other kind of magnetically active dissociated particle?
In sum, the court found that the patent contains a “word salad of inconsistent indirect definitions and examples” that “flummoxed” the reader. The Court faulted the specification’s “equivocation and subjectivity” arising from “multiple layers of definitions [that] are all open-ended and non-limiting.”
Patent drafters use broad, non-limiting language, and provide a wide range of examples, to avoid unintentionally limiting the claims. This case shows what happens when that is taken too far, particularly with idiosyncratic words or phrases.
Author: Jason Bartlett