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AllVoice Computing v. Nuance Communications Cases of Interest >  IP >  Patent >  Written Description
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Allvoice Computing v. Nuance Communications

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504 F.3d 1236 (2007)

Facts: AllVoice’s? patent covers an interface between a speech recognition engine and various end-user application programs on a personal computer. When a user speaks into a computer's audio input device, the computer's speech recognition engine receives the message. Then, the invention creates an interface that helps translate message directly into application programs, usually word processors. The interface in a dependent claim maintains its own data structures to keep track of the relative positions of words in the programs. These data structures also preserve associations between those words and the original recorded speech. The interface also allows editing but still allowing the recording to playback coherently. Finally, another claim in question,73, is essentially a data link that keeps track of word position changes to identify audio corresponding with the selected text.

Procedural Posture: The district court for the Southern District of Texas granted summary judgment, holding claims 60, 61, and 67 were indefinite, and claim 73 did not disclose the best mode, and thus held the claims invalid. The district court relied on an expert’s claim construction of means-plus-function clauses in claims 60, 61, and 67 to find them indefinite. The district court did not specify the hypothetical person of ordinary skill in the art. During oral argument, AllVoice's counsel defined "a person of ordinary skill in the art" in the context of this case as "someone who has a degree in computer science or something equivalent and 2-3 years experience programming in Windows."
Nuance alleged, and the district court agreed, that some functions of WordExpress?, one of Allvoice’s commercial products, constituted an undisclosed best mode for claim 73. Based on this assumption, the district court held that the best mode for maintaining links after text editing included the "Selrange macro" ("the macro"), Microsoft Windows "hooks," and the disabling of certain features of Microsoft Word.

Holding: The Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit disagrees regarding the finding of indefiniteness and looked to what one skilled in the art would understand the bounds of the claim(s) to be in light of the specification. The court agreed with AllVoice’s? definition of a PHOSITA. The specification does contain structure corresponding to the "output means" clause of that is in question for claim 60: "The speech recognition interface application 12 receives the recognised word . . . and outputs the word using the dynamic data exchange ("DDE") protocol in the Windows operating system." As explained in detail by AllVoice’s? expert, a person of ordinary skill in this art would understand the DDE protocol. The clauses at issue in claims 61 and 67 relate to the interface’s ability to perform functions "independent of" the connected application program. The district court construed "independent of" to mean essentially "isolated." The Appeals court held that this interpretation of the claims is not correct: the term "independent of" means that the interface must maintain its own position data, in its own data structures, but still have the ability to receive positional information from the application.
As to best mode, claim 73 shows that the alleged undisclosed best mode is not a best mode of practicing the claimed invention. The alleged best mode subject matter falls outside the scope of claim 73. The alleged best mode is not a way of practicing the claimed invention at all. claim 73 does not include "updating" link data, "maintaining" link data after editing, or "monitoring" changes to text, as the district court held the best mode to have. Because "forming link data" does not include monitoring changes or updating link data, a method to perform those unclaimed functions falls outside the scope of claim 73. The macro considered by the district court does nothing more than monitor the changes to a document, to eventually facilitate the updating of link data. Claim 73 does not include these features. Thus, the court held that the macro cannot be a best mode for claim 73. Since the assumed best mode fell outside of claim 73, the court refused to decide whether or not AllVoice? tried to conceal its best mode and reversed and remanded the case.
Critical Analysis: This case seemed to rely a great deal on claim construction, which is still confusing to me. The district court apparently used the prosecution history in ways that it should not have and thus construed the claims too narrowly.

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