Independence Day 2023

July 4 is arguably the most important date in the history of the U.S. John Adams had some specific thoughts on how the day should be celebrated: “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” And inventors have long obliged the Founding Father with tech for the celebration.

IN 1923 Arthur Dean received U.S. Patent No. 1,513,536 on a Toy Mortar suitable for Independence Day celebrations.

In 1902, Edward Howard received U.S. Patent No. 716,547 on a Toy Gun for celebrating Independence Day:

In 1931 Harold Barnes received U.S. Patent No, 1,809,825 on a safety cracker for celebrating Independence Day, and hopefully saving little patriots’ fingers.

In 1962 George Eddy received U.S. Patent No. 3,034,786 on an Action Toy for celebrating Independence Day:

In 2001, a group lead by Michael Sullivan, received U.S. Patent No. 3,034,786 on a Thermochromic Candle.

So go ahead and celebrate with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, but be careful!

How Many?

An often critical issue in determining patent infringement is how many of a specified claim element are required by the claim. This issue can arise in a variety of ways:

A or An

The general rule is that “a” or “an” means one or more. In KCJ Corp. v. Kinetic Concepts, Inc., 223 F.3d 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2000), the Federal Circuit observed:

an indefinite article “a” or “an” in patent parlance carries the meaning of “one or more” in open-ended claims containing the transitional phrase “comprising.” … Unless the claim is specific as to the number of elements, the article “a” receives a singular interpretation only in rare circumstances when the patentee evinces a clear intent to so limit the article. … Under this conventional rule, the claim limitation “a,” without more, requires at least one.

See, also  Baldwin Graphic Sys., Inc. v. Siebert, Inc., 512 F.3d 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2008).

However, the Federal Circuit indicated that there are situations where “a” or “an” can mean “only one.” See, for example, Harari v. Lee, 656 F.3d 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2011), and Insituform Techs., Inc. v. CAT Contr., Inc., 99 F.3d 1098, 1106 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

How can the careful prosecutor ensure the interpretation he or she wants? One way is to provide a definition in the specification. Thousands of patents do.

  1.  As used herein, “a” or “an” or “the” can mean one or more than one. For example, “a” widget can mean one widget or a plurality of widgets. See, e.g., U.S. Patent No. 1082263.9
  2. As used herein, “a” or “an” may mean one or more than one. See, e.g., U.S. Patent No. 10525082.
  3. Unless otherwise indicated or the context suggests otherwise, as used herein, “a” or “an” means “at least one” or “one or more.” See, e.g., U.S. Patent No. 10546223.
  4.  As used herein, “a” or “an” means “at least one” or “one or more” unless otherwise indicated. See, e.g., U.S. Patent No.7465758.
  5. As used herein, “a” or “an” means at least one, unless clearly indicated otherwise. See, e.g., U.S. Patent No.11275080.
  6. As used herein, “a” or “an” means one or more unless otherwise specified. See, e.g., U.S. Patent No. 9540312.

A problem with definitions is that the prosecutor has to commit to a meaning, and do so by the time of filing. In the examples above definitions #1 and #2 aren’t really definitions at all – they merely state a possible meaning. No options are foreclosed, buy no certainty is achieved. Definitions #3 expresses a preference, but there is still some uncertainty. Definitions #4 – #6 provides a definition that is only superseded by an “indication” or a “specification” otherwise.

More certainty is obtained by specifying “one” or “at least one” when the element is described and claimed.


The simple word “or” has multiple, inconsistent meanings. In some contexts, “or” can express exclusive alternatives. In these cases “A or B” means either A and not B, or B and not A. See, Kustom Signals, Inc. v. Applied Concepts, 264 F.3d. 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2001). In other contexts, “or” can express non-exclusive alternatives. In these cases “A or B” means just A, A and B, or just B. Brown v. 3M, 265 F.3d 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

As discussed above, definitions can help provide some certainty. There are numerous examples:

  1. The term “or” as used in this disclosure is to be understood to refer a logically inclusive or not a logically exclusive or, where for example the logical phrase (if A or B) is satisfied when A is present, when B is present or where both A and B are present (contrary to the logically exclusive or where when A and B are present the if statement is not satisfied). See, e.g., U.S. Patent No. 9747910.
  2. As used herein, “or” is understood to mean “inclusively or,” i.e., the inclusion of at least one, but including more than one, of a number or list of elements. In contrast, the term “exclusively or” refers to the inclusion of exactly one element of a number or list of elements. See, e.g., U.S. Patent No. 10639598.

The examples above provide definitions of an inclusive “or,” but also provide a template of how to define an exclusive “or.”

Alternatively, the careful prosecutor can be more precise in the specification and claims. One way is to claim “A and/or B” for an inclusive “or”, and “either A or B” for an exclusive “or.”


“And” has also caused problems for patent owners.  In Super Guide Corp. v. DirecTV Enters., Inc., 358 F.3d 870, 885-86 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the patent owner and the accused infringer disagreed over the effect of “and” in the claim limitation “first means for storing at least one of a desired program start time, a desired program end time, a desired program service, and a desired program type.” The patent owner argued that this language required at least one of any of the four list categories. The accused infringer argued that this language required at least one from each of the four listed categories. The Federal Circuit agreed with the accused infringer, noting that the phrase “at least one of” preceded a series of categories of criteria, and the patentee used the term “and” to separate the categories of criteria, which connotes a conjunctive list. The Federal Circuit cited William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style 27 (4th ed. 2000). The TTAB has reached a similar result in Ex Parte Jung, Appeal 2016-008290 at 2 (P.T.A.B. Mar. 22, 2017).

Thus when enumerating a list, the careful prosecutor must be mindful choosing whether to join the list with “and” or “or”


If “or” and “and” can cause problems, it would seem that “and/or” can likewise cause problems. As Wikipedia notes, “and/or” has come under criticism in the courts. Judges have called it a “freakish fad”, an “accuracy-destroying symbol”, and “meaningless”. In Ex Parte Gross, Application No. 11/565,411, the Examiner rejected claim 1 as indefinite based upon the use of “and/or.” However, the PTAB reversed – finding that “A and/or B” does have a meaning and that meaning is A alone, B alone, or A and B together. The Board noted the “preferred verbiage” should be more simply “at least one of A and B.”

While not popular with legal purists, “and/or” may be the best choice to get the intended claim scope.

Protection for Non-Literal Portions of Code Filtered Out by the Abstraction-Filtration-Comparison Test

SAS Institute, Inc., v. World Programming Limited, [2021-1542] (April 6, 2023), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination that SAS failed to establish the copyrightability of its software.

SAS creates and sells a suite of software used for data access, data management, data analysis, and data presentation.  Users of the SAS System write commands in a SAS programming language .  World Programming Limited (“WPL”) created a competing system that uses the SAS programming language to allow users to complete analytics tasks.

Whether a particular component or element of a program is protected by a copyright depends on whether it qualifies as an expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself.  Other doctrines of copyright law detail what elements are not protectable, including scènes à faire elements, material in the public domain, factual material, and elements under the merger doctrine.  The literal elements of computer programs, for example: source and object codes, can be the subject of copyright protection, and as a general matter, and to varying degrees, copyright protection can extend beyond literal elements to nonliteral elements.

The appeal involves only nonliteral elements of the SAS System, i.e., those aspects that are not reduced to written code. These elements include the program architecture, structure, sequence and organization, operational modules, and user interface.  The Federal Circuit explained that using a literary novel as an analogy, the novel’s written words would be the literal elements (e.g., code) and the organization of the chapters, characters, and plot would be the nonliteral elements.  The Federal Circuit observed, that as one moves away from the literal elements to more general levels of a computer program, it becomes “more difficult” to distinguish between unprotectible ideas, processes, methods or functions, on the one hand, and copyrightable expression, on the other.

The Federal Circuit observed that the Second, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits, have adopted the abstraction-filtration comparison test, or method, to determine the scope of copyright protection for computer programs, including their nonliteral elements.  The abstraction-filtration-comparison method involves three steps: First, the court breaks down the allegedly infringed program into its constituent structural parts—abstraction. This step helps a court separate ideas and processes from expression and eliminate those portions of the work that are not eligible for protection.  Second, the court sifts out all non-protectable material—filtration.  The court examines the structural components at each level of abstraction” and “defining the scope of plaintiff’s copyright”.  Third, the trier of fact compares any remaining “core of protectable expression” with the allegedly infringing program to determine if there is in fact a substantial similarity—comparison. SAS contended that the district court legally erred in its application of the abstraction-filtration-comparison test.  The Federal Circuit rejected SAS’ argument that it satisfied its evidentiary burden once it demonstrated that the SAS System was covered by registered copyrights. The Federal Circuit also rejected SAS argument that the district court erred when it shifted the burden to SAS to establish that its asserted elements are protected by copyright law, noting that any plaintiff has to respond to any proof advanced by defendant.

Corroboration of Reduction to Practice Supported Under the Rule of Reason, Supported by Substantial Evidence.

In Dionex Softron GmbH v Agilent Technologies, Inc., [2021-2372] (January 6, 2023), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision awarding priority to Agilent in an interference.

In the interference, the Board identified Dionex as the senior party and Agilent as the junior party, thereby requiring that Agilent prove priority by a preponderance of the evidence.

In its analysis, the Board applied the rule of reason and found that the testimony of Wolfgang Kretz, one of Agilent’s two co-inventors, was sufficiently corroborated by
two of his co-workers, Manfred Berndt and Martin Bäuerle, who had worked near Kretz during the relevant time. Berndt and Bäuerle testified that Kretz successfully tested
a prototype encompassing all limitations of the count by June 1, 2007.

Based on the foregoing, the Board entered judgment on priority for Agilent and against Dionex and refused Dionex’s claims. Dionex timely appealed.

The Federal Circuit said that the Board properly treated Agilent’s specification as
the “originating specification” for purposes of construing the disputed claim terms and evaluating the sufficiency of written description support for the claims. When a party
challenges written description support for an interference count or the copied claim in an interference, the originating disclosure provides the meaning of the pertinent claim language.

The Federal Circuit said that the Board did not err in concluding that Agilent’s specification provided adequate written description support. Dionex’s arguments on this point depend entirely on our adopting Dionex’s proposed claim construction. In other words, Dionex contends there is not adequate written description support for its ordered steps construction of the claim, but we have rejected this proposed construction. Since the Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s claim construction, Dionex’s written description arguments necessarily failed.

The Board did not err in awarding priority to Agilent. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s findings that Agilent’s actual reduction to practice was sufficiently corroborated
and occurred prior to Dionex’s earliest conception date. The Board’s finding of corroboration, under the rule of reason, is supported by substantial evidence.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

There are more than 20000 patents that relate to or at least mention Christmas, but only one that mentions all of the gifts in the 1780 song The Twelve Days of Christmas: U.S. Patent No. 3,867,237, issued in 1972 on a Pear Tree Decoration . The pear tree has detachable branches and twelve numbered packages containing artificial miniature items corresponding to the items referred to in the Christmas carol.

The patent explains that:

The twelve days of Christmas start tomorrow, and run until the Epiphany on January 6. However, the ‘237 Patent suggests a different timing: “It is intended that the package No. 1 containing the pears and partridge will be opened on December l3. The package No. 2 will be opened on December 14th. The package No. 3 will be opened on December 15th, and so on with another package opened each day in numbered succession so that the package No. 12 will be opened on the 12th day after starting on December 13th. The kit invention 20 designed principally for the entertainment of children, with young children particularly enjoying the excitement of each day placing a new set of decorations or items in the package 30 onto the pear tree 21, starting on December l3th and ending on December 24th, Christmas Eve.

Christmas Tech

Patents are about solutions to problems, and the patent collection contains an interesting history of solving the problems with Christmas Tree Illumination. From 1867 unitl the advent of electric Christmas lights, a surprising amount of effort was devoted to making candles safe for Christmas trees:

U.S. Pnatent 69254 (1867) on Candlestick.
U.S. Patent No. 89,270 (1869) on Candle Holder.
U.S. Patent No. 133479 (1872) on Lantern
U.S. Patent No. 150572 (1874) on Decorative Lanterns
U.S. Patent No. 151055 (1874) Candlesticks for Christmas-Trees
U.S. Patent No. 152817 (1874) on Candle-Holders

U.S. Patent No. 155450 (1874) on Candle-Holders.
U.S. Patent No. 178603 (1876) on Christmas-Tree Bracket.
U.S. Patent No. 183573 (1876) Candle-Holders for Christmas Trees
U.S. Patent No. RE7652 (1877) on Candle-Holder
U.S. Patent No. 194421 (1877) on Illuminating-Devices for Christmas Trees
U.S. Patent No. 202342 (1878) on Candle-Holder
U.S. Patent No. 216628 (1879) on Candy Toy..
U.S. Patent No. 227088 (1880) on Candle-Holder for Christmas-Trees
U.S. Patent No. 227693 (1880) Candle-Holder for Christmas-Trees.
U.S. Patent No. 244045 (1881) Christmas Tree Candle Holder
U.S. Patent No. 266463 (1882) Candle Holder
U.S. Patent No. 270771 (1883) Candle Holder for Christmas Trees

U.S. Patent No. 286572 (1883) Candle Holder for Christmas Trees.

U.S. Patent No. 295182 (1884) Christmas Tree Candle Holder
U.S. Patent No. 298478 (1884) Reflector Support for Candles
U.S. Patent No. 347873 (1886) Candle Holder for Christmas Trees

U.S. Patent No. 373958 (1887) Lamp for Decorating and Illuminating Purposes

The Accidental History Library

The U.S. patent collection is a fabulous record of the history of innovation in the United States, and the rest of the world. But in recording the history of technology, that patent collection also captures glimpses of the broader history of society.

So, before December 7, 1941, there are several references to Pearl Harbor (in the Territory of Hawaii), but always as a place (the address of an inventor). See, for example, U.S. Patent No. US1677261, US1854268, and US2234109. After December 7, 1941, “Pearl Harbor” took on a new meaning as an event, rather than simply a place, reflecting the horrific events of that day, For example US2401521, filed in 1944, on a bomb site, references the “disaster” are Pearl Harbor:

US2471496 filed in 1945 on reclaiming scrap of natural rubber mixed with buna-s, references Pearl Harbor:

US2484051 refers to Pearl Harbor as a point of geographic and historical interest:

US6022637 identified the filing date of a prior art patent with reffe Eleven days after Pearl Harbor (Dec. 18, 1941), Bert Adams applied for a patent on his battery

US8584226 references Pearl Harbor, showing its impact

US8521512 even identifies Pearl Harbor as a “concept”:

US10300779 refers to a possible digital “Pearl Harbor” event:

It is interesting to hear the echo of historical events in the timeline of technology that is the USPTO patent collection.

Memorial Day 2022

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day, holiday started by the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union Veterans of the Civil War to remember their deceased comrades in arms by decorating their graves. The first Decoration Day was celebrated May 30, 1868, and by 1890, the holiday had been adopted by all of the former Union States.

The earliest mention of Decoration Day in the patent literature is US489218 from 1893 on a Floral Figure, which can be placed on graves “on Decoration Day or other occasions.”

As time passed “Memorial Day” began to replace “Decoration Day” as the day became a day to honor all fallen American soldiers, and not just those from the Civil War. In 1949, Plant Patent 875 used the terms interchangeably, noting that the subject Geranium plant would bloom “a hundred percent prerectly for Memorial Day” and later that it “easily comes into bloom for Decoration Day.”.

In 1958, U.S. Patent No. 2,857,507,disclosed an Electric Lawn Ornament that could be used on Decoration Day:

In 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act codified the name “Memorial Day” into law, and he first Memorial Day was celebrated in 1971.

U.S. Patent No. 5,435,099 coveres a Memorial-Stone-Attached Container useful for

U.S. Patent No. 7,059,082 covers a Memorial Vase Insert Artificial Flower and Helium Balloon Holder that can be used to celebrate Memorial Day.

“AND” Can Mean “OR” Depending on the Context

In Kaufman v. Microsoft Corp., [2021-1634, 2021-1691] (May 20, 2022) the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Microsoft’s post-judgment challenges to a $7 million damage award for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,885,981, and reversed the district court’s denial of prejudgment interest.

The ’981 patent addresses the creation of user interfaces that permit users to interact with data in relational databases. One of the issues was whether the claim required the automatic generation of an end user interface. The word automatic did not appear on the body of the claim, but the preamble stated that the method involved a “processor for automatically generating and end-user interface.”

Microsoft moved for summary judgment, arguing that that the phrase “automatically
generating” found in the preamble of claim 1 is limiting, and means that “no human labor required,” and thus Microsoft product does not infringe. Microsoft argued that the district court erred in failing to clarify the reach of the “automatically” requirement for the jury, warranting a new trial under O2 Micro because a clarification could reasonably have led the jury to a different verdict. However, the Federal Circuit held that Microsoft failed to preserve its O2 Micro challenge.

The Federal Circuit noted that in the original Markman proceeding, the parties did
not request a construction of the word “automatically” or raise an issue of the scope of the “automatically generating” requirement. During the motion for summary judgment
briefing, Microsoft described the “human labor” involved in use of Dynamic Data, and it
asserted a need for a claim construction under O2 Micro, but it said only that there was “a fundamental legal dispute as to the meaning of “automatic” in the claims, it never clearly said that, apart from what “automatic” means, a construction was needed specifying what functions had to be automatic, i.e., the scope of the “automatically generating” requirement. Further, Microsoft never offered the district court a formulation of such a claim construction resolving that scope issue, including at the at the pre-trial hearing.

The Federal Circuit also rejected Microsoft’s argument, presented for the first time on appeal, that “automatically generating” should be construed broadly to require some defined set of steps beyond those recited by the claims in (a), (b), and (c) to be performed automatically. Microsoft never proposed such a construction to the district court.

Microsoft’s final argument was that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding infringement, but the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court correctly explained, the jury reasonably that the manual step identified by Microsoft were not part of the claim requirement that were required to be performed automatically.

Finding that Microsoft failed to establish that the district court erred in its claim construction or that the jury’s verdict was not supported by substantial evidence, the Federal Circuit affirmed the jury’s finding that the accused processes come within the “automatically generating” limitation.

Microsoft also argued that the district court erred in the post-trial ruling when it concluded that “and” means “and/or,” contending that the phrase should be given the conjunctive
meaning, so that the client application (constituting the end-user interface) must integrate into each of the individual mode displays (for creating, retrieving, updating, and deleting) all three of the “processes for representing, navigating, and managing said relationships across tables.” The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court’s construction, noting that a claim construction that excludes a preferred embodiment is rarely, if ever correct and would require highly persuasive evidentiary support. The Federal Circuit noted that in the sole embodiment in the patent, a “retrieve” display lacks a “managing” process. The the Federal Circuit said that “and” must be construed as “and/or” so that the claim would cover the only disclosed embodiment.

The Federal Circuit recognized that it cannot redraft claims whether to make them operable or to sustain their validity, or to cause them to encompass the sole described embodiment, it said that that is not what it was doing here. The Court said where there is “only one reasonable construction,” it has recognized that, in certain contexts, the word “and” can reasonably be understood to denote alternatives, rather than conjunctive requirements.

Finally, the Federal Circuit addressed the denial of prejudgment interest. The district court provided two rationales for denying prejudgment interest to Kaufman: first, that the jury
verdict “subsumed interest,” and second, that Mr. Kaufman was responsible for “undue delay” in bringing the lawsuit, causing prejudice to Microsoft. The Federal Circuit said that the jury verdict cannot reasonably be understood to include interest, noting there was no testimony about how the interest would be calculated. The Federal Circuit also said that the district court also erred in finding Kaufman was responsible for undue delay justifying the denial of prejudgment interest. The Federal Circuit said that the fact that Mr. Kaufman
did not sue for five years after he became aware of Microsoft’s potential infringement does not alone justify a finding of undue delay. The Federal Circuit said that Microsoft presented
no evidence as to why Kaufman’s delay was undue.

Not so fast — Letters to Customers + Customer Litigation Required More Analysis Before Dismissing a DJ Action

In Mitek Systems, Inc., v. United States Automobile Association, [2021-1989] (May 20, 2022), the Federal Circuit affirmed a California district court decision transferring Mitek’s DJ action to Texas, and vacated the Texas District Court’s dismissal of the DJ action, and remanded.

USAA owns U.S. Patent Nos. 8,699,779, 9,336,517, 8,977,571, and 9,818,090, all of which address the use of a mobile device to capture an image of a bank check and to transmit it for deposit. After more than 1000 notice letters to its clients, and an infringement trial against one of its customers, Mitek filed a declaratory judgment action against USAA in the Northern District of California.

USAA moved for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, or for dismissal based on the discretion granted to the district court by the Declaratory Judgment Act. In the alternative, USAA sought transfer to the Eastern District of Texas. The California district court granted USAA’s motion to transfer the declaratory-judgment action to the Eastern District of Texas, without ruling on the motion to dismiss, After transfer of the case, the Texas court took up the motion to dismiss, granting it because there was
no case or controversy between the parties. The Court determined the neither the customer litigation, nor the cease and desist letters were sufficient to support jurisdiction, and even if they did, the court would exercise its discretion to decline jurisdiction.

The Federal Circuit found the district court’s analysis incomplete, among other things no considering contributory and inducement of infringement. The Federal Circuit also found that the district courts analysis under 12(b)(1) failed to distinguish between a facial or a factual challenge.

The Federal Circuit said that on remand the district court’s primary task regarding Mitek’s first asserted basis for establishing a case or controversy will be to ascertain the alleged role of the Mitek technology in the banks’ applications and the alleged role that the Mitek technology plays in infringement claims. Making those core determinations, and considering any other pertinent issues, will supply a fuller basis for the bottom-line assessment of Mitek’s first theory of Article III jurisdiction.

With respect to Mitek’s alternative basis for jurisdiction the USAA’s letters to Mitek customers combined with subsequent indemnification demands — the Federal Circuit also found the district court analysis inadequate. The district court observed that Mitek had submitted only one letter with the Complaint — a letter that came from USAA’s licensing counsel and that did not threaten litigation, include claim charts for the patents-in-suit,
or identify Mitek or particular products as infringing. The Federal Circuit concluded that
the allegations in Mitek’s complaint concerning USAA’s letter campaign and the attached example letter, viewed in light of the Wells Fargo litigation, were sufficient to show a controversy between USAA and Mitek’s customers who received letters.

The Federal Circuit said that a communication from a patent owner to another party, merely identifying its patent and the other party’s product line, without more, does not suffice, but the Court said that here, there is just enough “more.” Given the additional detail in the claim and the customer suit against Wells Fargo, the Federal Circuit said under the totality of the circumstances, there is enough for Mitek’s other customers to reasonably interpret USAA’s actions as an implicit assertion of infringement based on incorporation of Mitek technology. As to the showing of a demand for an indemnity, the Federal Circuit said that this was met too, and that it was not necessary that Mitek further concede liability under the indemnity obligation.

On remand, the Federal Circuit instructed the district court should first determine which Rule
12(b)(1) framework to apply, i.e., determine whether USAA mounted a factual attack on the indemnity allegations of Mitek’s complaint. If it finds that USAA has not mounted a factual attack, the court must closely analyze the relevant indemnity allegations, to determine whether they suffice. If it finds that USAA has mounted a factual attack, the district court must decide how to proceed, including whether the parties should have the opportunity to present additional evidence, and to address issues concerning post-complaint events.

Regarding the discretionary decision to dismiss, the Federal Circuit said that where a discretionary decision rests on an inadequate explanation and might well be different without the deficiencies, it may vacate the decision and remand for reconsideration. In any event, there must be well-founded reasons for declining to entertain a declaratory judgment action. The Federal Circuit said that the district court did not give reasons independent of its reasons for its jurisdictional dismissal, which it held to be deficient in various respects, and cannot stand. The Federal Circuit vacated the discretionary dismissal.