Client Alerts & Newsletters

An Indefinite Article "A" Or "An" Means "One Or More"

Jan.17.2008

In Baldwin Graphic Systems v. Siebert (No. 07-1262, January 15, 2008), a Federal Circuit panel reaffirms that an indefinite article “a” or “an” carries the meaning of “one or more” in open-ended claims containing the transitional phrase “comprising.” At issue is a district court’s claim construction that the term “a pre-soaked fabric roll” means “a single pre-soaked fabric roll.” In reversing the district court, the Federal Circuit concludes “[t]hat ‘a’ or ‘an’ can mean ‘one or more’ is best described as a rule, rather than merely as a presumption or even a convention.” The exceptions to this rule are extremely limited; a patentee must evince a clear intent to limit ”a” or “an” to “one”.

The panel also notes that “[a]n exception to the general rule that ‘a’ or ‘an’ means more than one only arises where the language of the claims themselves, the specification, or the prosecution history necessitate a departure from the rule.” The subsequent use of the definite articles “the” or “said” in a claim to refer back to the same claim term is not deemed to change the general plural rule, but simply reinvokes that non-singular meaning.

For more information, please contact the professional(s) listed below, or your regular Crowell & Moring contact.

Robert L. Grabarek Jr.
Partner – Orange County
Phone: +1 949.798.1343
Email: rgrabarek@crowell.com

Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with approximately 550 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory and policy, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity, equity and inclusion. The firm has offices in Brussels, Doha, London, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.

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