The Broadest Reasonable Interpretation (aka BRI) means that the words of the claim are given their plain meaning unless such meaning is inconsistent with the specification. In practice, the broadest reasonable interpretation means that words can be construed as broadly as the examiner wants unless such interpretation is nonsensical.
What is an example of the broadest reasonable interpretation?
A good way to understand the impact or the meaning of broadest reasonable interpretation is with an example. The word “move up” could mean moving vertically up perpendicular or least 45 degrees with respect to the ground. This interpretation would be the natural interpretation that most people might assume. However, under the broadest reasonable interpretation (BRI), “move up” could mean ANY vertical movement upward so that there is a change in elevation. An object that has a trajectory of positive 0.000001 degrees from horizontal would be considered to be moving upward.
When is the broadest reasonable interpretation inappropriate?
The broadest reasonable interpretation is not used when the inventor has:
- decided to become his or her own lexicographer, or
- disclaimed the full scope of the claim term in the specification.
A lexicographer is when a person who decides to make up their own definition for a word. As such, when writing a patent application, a decision might be made to define a certain term in a way that is contrary to the common definition. The text of the patent application might say “As used herein, move up means any vertical movement with a trajectory of plus or minus 10 degrees from perpendicular plane to a ground.” In this regard, when you say “move up” in the claims, this phrase isn’t given the broadest reasonable interpretation, it’s given the mean you, the drafter assigned to it.
A disclaimer is different from acting as your own lexicographer. The most common situation where a disclaimer arises is when the inventor presents arguments in a response to the examiner in support of patentability. The arguments try to distinguish the invention from the prior art. By distinguishing the invention from the prior art, the inventor is really saying that the claimed invention doesn’t include the prior art. Hence, the scope of the claims regardless of whether the literal works might include a feature excludes that prior art feature.
The term disclaimer is also referred to as prosecution history estoppel or file history estoppel. Essentially, you are prevented from arguing positions inconsistent with the argument you presented during the examination of the patent application.
The broadest reasonable interpretation causes significant issues with laypeople.
The broadest reasonable interpretation causes many inventors problems with understanding what the examiner is trying to say in the office action. As in our example above, when the invention moves an object up but the examiner cites a prior art reference that shows a trajectory of 0.00001 degrees up, inventors just don’t get it. However, once they understand BRI, they can respond to the examiner.
In terms of the “move up” example, a solution might be to claim “move up in a direction plus or minus 5% from a vertical plane.”
Why are examiners allowed to take seemingly overly broad interpretations?
Most litigation where the inventor argues that the examiner is taking too broad of an interpretation has failed. Examiners typically win this argument unless the interpretation taken by the examiner is nonsensical. During prosecution or examination, the inventor is given the opportunity to amend the words of the claims. As such, the inventor can amend the claims to be more clear. The patent process is supposed to give worthy inventions patents but also to clarify the scope of the patent so that others can clearly know what is within the scope of the patent.