Adjectives in Claim Construction

Comcast Cable Communications v. Promptu Systems Corporation (Fed. Cir., Jan. 4, 2021) is a nonprecedential opinion but nevertheless still provides an example of claim construction based on a modifying adjective.  The Appellant appealed the IPR final-written decision in which the PTAB held Appellant failed to prove that the challenged claims of US7,260,538 would have been obvious.  The claim term “command function” was at issue.  Claim 1 is representative:

1.  A method for providing voice recognition processing at a cable television head-end unit for a plurality of voice controlled television cable set-top boxes in a cable television network, comprising the steps of:

a television remote control receiving user-activated indication of a voice command;

receiving said voice command through a microphone associated with said television remote control;

said television remote control wirelessly transmitting a signal representing said voice command to a cable set-top box;

said cable set-top box transmitting a signal representing said voice command via cable television link to a remotely located head-end unit;

processing said voice command at said head-end unit;

the head-end unit deriving a set-top-box-compatible command function corresponding to said voice command;

the head-end unit transmitting said command function to said cable set-top box via the cable television link;

performing said command function at said cable set-top box.

The Appellant argued to the PTAB and the Federal Circuit that a “command function” is a function that merely causes an action, i.e., leads to an action.  However, the Federal Circuit agreed with the PTAB that the plain language of the claim limits “command function” to a function that commands an action to be taken, i.e., directing an action.  In addition, the Federal Circuit noted that nothing in the written description shows that the patentee intended to deviate from the plain mean of “command.”   See Hill-Rom Servs., Inc. v. Stryker Corp., 755 F.3d 1367, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“[T]o deviate from the plain and ordinary meaning of a claim term . . . the patentee must, with some language, indicate a clear intent to do so in the patent.”).  Under this claim interpretation, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB’s holding that the Appellant failed to prove that the challenged claims would have been obvious.

While the Federal Circuit did not provide this level of detail, the PTAB’s final-written decision  noted that the detailed description describes “command function” as follows: “Once the voice command is determined a command function is created. The command function is transmitted back to the set-top box where the set-top box performs the command function,” providing an example of the benefits of consistent usage of terms in the claims and the specification and consistent definitions.