CAFC in Elcommerce v. SAP: attorney argument is not evidence
From Judge Newman's opinion in Elcommerce.com v. SAP
The burden was on SAP to prove by clear and convinc- ing evidence that a person of ordinary skill in the field of the invention would be unable to recognize supporting structure and acts in the written description and associate it with the corresponding function in the claim. See TecSec, Inc. v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., 731 F.3d 1336, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (“The party alleging that the specification fails to disclose sufficient corresponding structure must make that showing by clear and convincing evidence.”). While “the person of ordinary skill in the art” is a legal construct, like “the reasonable man,” and claim construction is ultimately a matter for the judges, it cannot be assumed that judges are persons of ordinary skill in all technological arts.
Nor can it be assumed that, without evidence, a general purpose judge could ascertain the position of persons of skill in the art and conclude that there is not a shred of support for any of the eleven interrelated means-plus- function claim limitations, as argued by SAP. The district court rightly was concerned about what a person of skill in the art might make of the lengthy written description and flow-charts and the multiple claimed functions. The judge repeatedly asked for evidence of what such a person would understand in this particular setting. Instead of evidence, SAP submitted only attorney argument.
The district court accepted SAP’s position that no ex- ternal evidence was “required” and could be relied upon to show how a person of ordinary skill would understand the descriptive text and flowcharts and diagrams in the patent. However, the adequacy of a particular description is a case-specific conclusion, not an all-purpose rule of law. Findings as to what is known, what is understood, and what is sufficient, must be based on evidence.
Without evidence, ordinarily neither the district court nor this court can decide whether, for a specific function, the description in the specification is adequate from the viewpoint of a person of ordinary skill in the field of the invention. We do not of course hold that expert testimony will always be needed for every situation; but we do hold that there is no Federal Circuit or other prohibition on such expertise. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The district court persistently asked for evidence and was given none. Without more SAP cannot overcome the presumption of patent validity.
We conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment without a proper evidentiary basis for its conclusion. The burden was on SAP to prove its case, and in the absence of evidence provided by technical experts who meet the Daubert criteria there is a failure of proof. Attorney argument is not evidence.