When it comes to writing patents, every detail matters. Even a single misplaced comma can completely alter the meaning of a claim and potentially invalidate the patent. In this case study, we’ll dive into the details of the comma mistake and its consequences, highlighting the importance of precision in patent writing and the significant impact of even the smallest errors.
About the Boeing patent and missing comma
The Boeing patent EP1798872B1 claiming the aircraft communication systems and methods. Target feature of the communication system labelled by Boeing in the claim is as follows:
- A method for handling aircraft communications, comprising:
clause g. evaluating a preference to determine a preferred network of the plurality of transmission networks, wherein the preference comprises a preference list identifying a selection of the plurality of broadcast networks in order of preference (,) and identifying the highest in preference of the plurality of broadcast networks in the preference list that is available;
Clause (g) contains 3 sub features
(g1) evaluating a preference to determine a preferred network of the plurality of transmission networks,
(g2) wherein the preference comprises a preference list identifying a selection of the plurality of broadcast networks in order of preference
(g3) and identifying the highest in preference of the plurality of broadcast networks in the preference list that is available
The Boeing patent relates to a method of managing aircraft communication. The method involves utilizing multiple broadcast networks that are arranged in a preference order and stored in a list, to communicate with the ground. Prior to sending a message, an assessment is made to determine which of the preferred broadcast networks is of the highest priority.
Argument on the Boeing claim interpretation
Airbus raised opposition in accordance with the above clause g of the claim that the features (g2) and (g3) are read together without comma, which means that the list not only comprises information “identifying” selection of the broadcast networks in order of preference but also information “identifying” the highest in preference of the plurality of broadcast networks in the preference list that is available. However, no such feature was disclosed in the application as filed.
Boeing presented argument stating that to get a clear understanding of the claim 1 a skilled person can infer based on the application’s description and illustrations, specifically paragraphs  and  and Fig. 6 from the published application, that determining the availability is a component of the evaluation process rather than a component of the list itself.
However, board was not convinced by the argument and stated that the claim should make the interpretation itself and rather than tearing it down to the description/drawing part for the full disclosure and understanding. The board followed established law that assessing compliance with Article 123(2) EPC, a claim should essentially be read and interpreted on its own merits and description cannot be used to interpret meaning of the claim
Impact of comma on patent interpretation
The issue stemmed from not placing the comma after the word “preference” in the clause g of claim 1 and made it unclear whether the safety feature could be activated based on something other than the sensor data. If the comma had been placed after the word “data,” it would have made it clear that the safety feature could only be activated or deactivated based on the data received from the computer processor. However, the non-placement of the comma made it unclear whether the safety feature could be activated or deactivated based on factors other than the data received from the computer processor.
In this case- ID: T1127/16), ambiguity in the patent claim ultimately led to the patent being invalidated because it did not meet the requirement of being clear and unambiguous. This case highlights the importance of careful drafting and proofreading of patent claims, as even a single punctuation mark can significantly impact the interpretation of a patent.
MCRPL, a 21-year-old company with experienced patent professionals assist companies in drafting claims, drawings and entire patent specifications along with identifying potential ambiguities present in the already drafted patent claims. By carefully reviewing the claims and analysing them from different perspectives, we can help our clients ensure that their claims are clear, concise, and unambiguous.
In addition to drafting and proofreading patent claims, we also offer myriad of other patent services to support our clients throughout the patent application, prosecution and enforcement process. These services include patent searches, patent landscapes, novelty and patentability assessments, and patent infringement analysis, among others.