Process or method claims are not subject to rejection by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office examiners under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph, solely on the ground that they define the inherent function of a disclosed machine or apparatus. In re Tarczy-Hornoch, 397 F.2d 856, 158 USPQ 141 (CCPA 1968). The court in Tarczy-Hornoch held that a process claim, otherwise patentable, should not be rejected merely because the application of which it is part discloses apparatus which will inherently carry out the recited steps.
All words in a claim must be considered in judging the patentability of a claim against the prior art. In re Wilson, 424 F.2d 1382, 165 USPQ 494 (CCPA 1970). The fact that terms may be indefinite does not make the claim obvious over the prior art. When the terms of a claim are considered to be indefinite, at least two approaches to the examination of an indefinite claim relative to the prior art are possible.
First, where the degree of uncertainty is not great, and where the claim is subject to more than one interpretation and at least one interpretation would render the claim unpatentable over the prior art, an appropriate course of action would be for the examiner to enter two rejections: (A) a rejection based on indefiniteness under 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph; and (B) a rejection over the prior art based on the interpretation of the claims which renders the prior art applicable. See, e.g., Ex parte Ionescu, 222 USPQ 537 (Bd. App. 1984). When making a rejection over prior art in these circumstances, it is important for the examiner to point out how the claim is being interpreted. Second, where there is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty as to the proper interpretation of the limitations of a claim, it would not be proper to reject such a claim on the basis of prior art. As stated in In re Steele, 305 F.2d 859, 134 USPQ 292 (CCPA 1962), a rejection under 35 U.S.C. 103 should not be based on considerable speculation about the meaning of terms employed in a claim or assumptions that must be made as to the scope of the claims.
The first approach is recommended from an examination standpoint because it avoids piecemeal examination in the event that the examiner's 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph rejection is not affirmed, and may give applicant a better appreciation for relevant prior art if the claims are redrafted to avoid the 35 U.S.C. 112, second paragraph rejection.