No Extra Life: Harmless Claim Construction Error Does Not Restart Invalidity Challenge
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The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Patent Trial & Appeal Board decision, finding that under the harmless error rule, the challenged claims were invalid as obvious even if the Board erred in claim construction. Bot M8 LLC v. Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC, Case Nos. 22-1291 (Fed. Cir. May 9, 2023) (Prost, Reyna, Cunningham, JJ.).
Bot M8 owns a patent related to a gaming machine that authenticates certain data and includes both a board and a motherboard. The independent claims require that a "game program" is stored in memory on the board and written to the motherboard only after the game program has been authenticated by a central processing unit (CPU) on the motherboard (the Write Limitation). Sony Interactive Entertainment petitioned for inter partes review (IPR). Ultimately, the Board determined that the challenged claims were unpatentable as obvious. Bot M8 appealed.
The issue presented to the Federal Circuit was what data the Write Limitation precludes from being written to the motherboard prior to authentication: (1) the entire game program, (2) any portion of the game program and/or (3) any data (including data not related to the game program). It was undisputed that the claims at minimum preclude writing the entire game program to the motherboard before authentication (option 1). Both the Board and the Court rejected Bot M8's argument that would preclude writing any data whatsoever before authentication (option 3). The question thus resolved into whether the Write Limitation also precluded writing any portion of the game program prior to authentication (option 2). Bot M8 argued that it did.
Bot M8 focused on a statement made by the Board as indicative that the Board applied an erroneous claim construction that would allow a portion of the game program to be written prior to authentication (rejecting option 2): "[Bot M8] seeks to read into claim 1 a requirement that nothing related to, or any portion of, the gaming information be read into [the motherboard's] RAM … prior to authenticating the game program."
The Federal Circuit rejected Bot M8's argument, finding that even if the Board erred in construing the claim, Bot M8 failed to demonstrate that the alleged error was harmful. Specifically, the Court found that any such error was harmless because the Board never needed to apply an improper construction since it found the prior art disclosed writing only non-game program data prior to authentication, a protocol that both the Board and the Court found was not precluded by the Write Limitation. Deeming the Board's potential claim construction error harmless, the Court affirmed the Board's invalidity determination.
Practice Note: Parties seeking to appeal a Board decision based on an improper claim construction theory should demonstrate how the Board's error resulted in harm.
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