Xerox v. 3Com

CAFC (June 8, 2006) (claim term “sloppiness space” not ambiguous and does not render claim indefinite where specification provides a general guideline and examples).

Xerox sued 3Com asserting that 3Com’s “Graffiti” system infringed Xerox’s handwriting recognition patent.  Two of the claims at issue included a limitation that symbols be “well separated from each other in sloppiness space”.  The district court had determined that the claims were indefinite because the term was “not clearly defined or explained” and that there was “no way to determine whether or not two symbols do achieve sufficient separation”.  (Interestingly, the district court went on to state that “even if . . . not invalid as indefinite . . . [the claims] are anticipated”!)

Xerox argued that the term was defined as being “distinguished by ‘substantial angular offset (e.g., at least 45° and preferably 90°) or directional distinction (opposing directions).’” and examples were given in specification.    The Federal Circuit held that “[w]hile those descriptions are not rigorously precise, they provide adequate guidance . . . .”  The rule, according to the Court was that claim terms are “not indefinite when [the] specification provides ‘a general guideline and examples sufficient to enable a person of ordinary skill in the art to determine, [even though task may be formidable and the conclusion may be one over which reasonable persons will disagree], whether’ [the] claim limitation is satisfied.”

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