Claim Language Defined in the Specification Is Reason for Overturning District Courts Ruling of Invalidity for Violating the Recapture Rule

By Kevin M. Repper

In AIA Engineering Ltd. v. Magotteaux Intern. S/A, 657 F.3d 1264 (Fed.Cir.2011), the Federal Circuit overturned a district court judgment of invalidity under the recapture rule of 35 U.S.C. § 251.  The court held that the patentee was acting as his own lexicographer, instead of attempting to broaden his own claims, when he repeatedly used the term “solid solution” during patent prosecution.

Magotteaux International was granted aU.S.patent directed to wear products used for crushing and grinding abrasive materials.  Consistently throughout the prosecution of the patent, the patentee used the claim language “ceramic pads consisting of a homogenous solid solution of 20-80 percent aluminum oxide and 80-20 percent zirconium oxide.”  Magotteaux later applied for reissue to change “consisting of” to “comprising” and “solid solution” to a “ceramic composition.”  The reissue patent was granted.

A year later, AIA Engineering sued Magotteaux in the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Tennessee.  AIA sought declaratory judgment of noninfringement, invalidity, and unenforceability of the reissue patent while Magotteaux countered for patent infringement.  The Judge for the District court ruled in favor of AIA for the motion for summary judgment of invalidity. The Judge found that the substitution of “ceramic composite” for “solid solution” broadened the scope of the claim and that Magotteaux relied on the “solid solution” to overcome the prior art.

The Federal Circuit Judge reversed this ruling, citing the three-step test for applying the recapture rule: “(1) first we determine whether, and in what respect, the reissue claims are broader in scope than the original patent claims; (2) next, we determine whether the broader aspects of the reissue claims relate to subject matter surrendered in the original prosecution; and (3) finally, we determine whether the reissue claims were materially narrowed in other respects, so that the claims may not have been enlarged, and hence avoid the recapture rule.” Medtronic Inc. v. Guidant Corp., 465 F.3d 1360, 1373, 80 USPQ2d 1558 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

The Federal Circuit concluded that the language “solid solution” and “ceramic composite” were synonymous in light of the specification, prosecution history, and extrinsic evidence.  Therefore, the court did not need to reach the third step in determining the recapture rule.

The two constituent materials of the patent, aluminum oxide and zirconium oxide, retain a distinct composition and/or crystal structure. Both parties agreed that the ordinary meaning of “solid solution” would require a “single, uniform crystalline structure.” Therefore, it would have been impossible to make an alumina-zirconia “solid solution” as disclosed in the original claims.  The court concluded, however, that because the applicant repeatedly disclosed “solid solution” in the specification, the applicant acted as his own lexicographer, providing a special definition for the term that was a synonym for “homogeneous ceramic composite.”

The court used both extrinsic and intrinsic evidence to determine the outcome of the case. First, it was determined that solid aluminum oxide and solid zirconium oxide do not share a common crystal structure at any temperature. Therefore, the impossibility of the solid solution of the original claim would have been apparent to one of ordinary skill. The court concluded that when the specification discloses a special meaning for a term that ultimately differs from the common meaning, the special meaning governs, “particularly when it also serves to avoid an inoperable claim construction.

Key Points

The Federal Circuit overturned the District Court by determining the meaning of “solid solution” as it pertains to the specific patent.  The court concluded by the extrinsic evidence that it would be impossible for a “solid solution” to be incorporated into the claims. The court examined the intrinsic evidence to determine how the “solid solution” was defined in the specification. The court concluded that although a “solid solution” and a “ceramic composite” may not mean the same thing to one of ordinary skill, the two terms were synonymous in light of the specification.

The District Court failed to observe the intrinsic evidence for the definition of “solid solution” within the specification and therefore failed to determine that “solid solution,” as defined by the specification, was synonymous with “ceramic composite.”

AIA Engineering Ltd. v. Magotteaux Intern highlights that a common definition of language in the claim is overshadowed by a special meaning of the language in the specification.  As demonstrated, this allows an invalid claim (due to common definitions of the language in the claim) to be valid, as long as a special meaning of the claim language in the specification is enabling.

Federal Circuit Overturns District Court’s Claim Construction in Markem-Imaje Corp. v. Zipher Ltd.

.By Zi Wang

In Markem-Imaje Corp. v. Zipher Ltd., 657 F.3d 1293 (Fed. Cir. 2011), the Federal Circuit per curiam majority overturned the district court’s claim construction and summary judgment of noninfringement.

Markem-Imaje Corp. sued Zipher Ltd. and Videojet Technologies, Inc. (together “Zipher”), requesting a declaratory judgment that Zipher’s ‘572 patent is not infringed by Markem.  The ‘572 patent is directed to a heat transfer printing apparatus that provides increased control over the acceleration, deceleration, speed, and positional accuracy of the printing operation.  In transfer printers in general, the ink ribbon is wound on two spools, one spool for supplying the ribbon for positioning on the substrate, and the other spool for taking up the ribbon after use.  Maintaining correct ribbon tension is essential for proper functioning of the printer.  The patent specification explains the problems with the mechanism that has been used to provide ribbon tension in prior art printers.  It then distinguishes the prior apparatus from what the ‘572 patent calls the “push-pull” mechanism of the ‘572 apparatus, and claims that this new mechanism solves various problems encountered with prior devices.  The “push-pull” mechanism is implemented using microcontroller-controlled stepper motors.

Claim 1, the broadest claim of the ‘572 patent, is directed to a tape drive that corrects tension divergences from the predetermined limit in this manner:

A tape drive comprising:

two motors, at least one of which is a stepper motor;

two tape spool supports on which spools of tape are mounted, each spool being driveable by a respective one of said motors;

a controller adapted to control energization of said two motors such that tape is transported in at least one direction between spools of tape mounted on the spool supports;

wherein the controller energizes both said motors to drive the spools in a tape transport direction, and

said controller calculates a length of tape to be added to or subtracted from tape extending between said spools in order to maintain tension in said tape between predetermined limit values and controls said motors to drive the spools to add or subtract the calculated length of tape to or from the tape extending between said spools.

The district court construed “driveable” and “drive” to mean “rotateable” and “rotate”, rejecting Zipher’s broader construction.  The district court reasoned that although the ordinary meaning of “drive” can be broad enough to encompass not only the rotation of the spools but also application of a holding torque that prevents the spool from rotating and that references to driving the spools in the specification could accommodate either construction, giving “drive” a meaning broader than “rotation” would be contradictory to the meaning of “drive” in the tape transport clause, which states that “the controller energizes both said motors to drive the spools in a tape transport direction.”  Moreover, according to the district court, because the claim clause “controls said motors to drive the spools” already used the word “control,” the patentee could not have intended “control” and “drive” to mean the same thing.  The district court also pointed to a few places in the specification that use the word “drive” narrowly.  The district court further construed the use of the plural word “spools” in the claim clause “to drive the spools to add or subtract the calculated length of tape” to mean that both spools must rotate to add or subtract a single calculated length of tape.

Because only a single spool is rotated to achieve each tension adjustment in Markem’s accused devices, the district court readily found noninfringement.  Zipher then appealed the district court’s claim construction and summary judgment to the Federal Circuit.

On appeal, Zipher argued that “drive”, similar to “control”, has the inclusive meaning of not only rotate but also “hold steady in a commanded position.”  Markem, on the other hand, relied on Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) for its position.  Phillips court stated that “claim terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent,” and that “a claim term should be construed consistently with its appearance in other places in the same claim or in other claims of the same patent.”  The Federal Circuit majority sided with Zipher, holding that “drive” need not be narrowly construed merely because a broader construction would make it similar to the word “control” that is also used in the claim.  The majority also stated that nothing in the specification or the overall invention as presented in the claim and as argued to the patent examiner requires the narrow construction.

In addition to the district court’s construction of “drive the spools”, Zipher also appealed its construction that the claims require “some method of deriving a tension measurement.”  The district court opined that “without having a reasonable estimate of the current tape tension, it is not possible to identify whether the tension is approaching or exceeding the limit values.”  Zipher argued that since the claim does not recite measuring tension, the district court’s construction would import a limitation into the claims from the specification and violate the mandate of Rambus Inc. v. Infineon Tech. AG, 318 F.3d 1081 (Fed. Cir. 2003) that “the claims need not recite every component necessary to enable operation of a working device.”  The majority again agreed with Zipher and drew an analogy with a car engine: “a claim to an engine providing motive power to a car should not be construed to incorporate a limitation for an exhaust pipe, though an engine may not function without one.”

Judge Newman dissented in part. She disagreed with the majority’s reliance on the “mandate” of Rambus.  According to Newman, the panel majority ignored “the paramount importance of the specification in claim construction.”  Citing a series of cases to support her position, Newman stated that she would hold that “while the invention is flexible as to how tension is measured, and permits measurement through indirect methods, some method of measurement is contemplated and required.”

This is the third time in 2011 that the Federal Circuit has been divided and reached contradictory decisions on the issue as to how to reconcile claim language with the description in the specification.  The other two cases are Arlington Industries Inc. v. Bridgeport Fittings Inc.,632 F.3d 1246 (Fed. Cir. 2011), and Retractable Technologies Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 653 F.3d 1296 (Fed. Cir. 2011).  J. Lourie and CJ. Rader were on opposite sides of the issue in these two cases, each in turn penning the majority opinion in one and the dissenting opinion in the other.  The Federal Circuit rejected the opportunity to rehear Retractable en banc in Retractable Technologies Inc. v. Becton Dickinson & Co., 659 F.3d 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2011), before it was presented with the same problem in the present case.

Take-away points:  Patent prosecutors should use the same word in a consistent manner throughout the whole application to avoid ambiguity.  What’s more, contrary to good general practice in writing, it is probably preferable to stick with the same word when expressing the same idea in patent applications.

Vexatious Plaintiff Is Slapped With $4.5M In Fees

By Zi Wang

In MarcTec LLC v. Johnson & Johnson, 664 F.3d 907 (Fed. Cir. 2012), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that the case is exceptional and awarded a total amount of more than $4.5 million in attorney and expert fees to the defendant.

Plaintiff MarcTec filed suit against Cordis, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, alleging the latter of infringing the ‘753 and ‘290 patents. The two patents-in-suit are directed at surgical devices and implants with a therapeutic-agent-containing coating bonded by heat.  According to the prosecution history, in order to overcome the PTO’s rejection over the ‘417 patent, the patentee highlighted the fact that the coating is to be bonded by heat.  The patentee also tried to distinguish his invention from stents during prosecution for similar reasons.  The allegedly infringing product in question is the Cypher stent manufactured by Cordis.  The product utilizes the technology disclosed by the ‘417 patent, the same patent plaintiff distinguished and disclaimed to obtain allowance for his own patents. The Cypher’s coating is sprayed onto the stent at room temperature and bonds to it at room temperature. Continue reading

Difference in Prior Art Requirements in Obviousness and Anticipation; Broad Genus Disclosures in Prior Art

By Charles Pierce

 

In ClearValue, Inc. v. Pearl River Polymers, Inc., the Federal Circuit ruled that Claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 6,120,690 (the ‘690 patent) was invalid because it was anticipated by a broad genus disclosure in U.S. Patent No. 4,800,039 (Hassick).

ClearValue accused Pear River of indirectly infringing the ‘690 patent by selling high molecular weight DADMAC polymers to customers who would then use the DADMAC polymers and aluminum polymers to clarify water.  Claim 1 of the ‘690 patent reads:

A process for clarification of water of raw alkalinity less than or equal to 50 ppm by chemical treatment, said process comprising:

adding to the water and, prior to or after adding to the water, blending at least one aluminum polymer with a high molecular weight quaternized ammonium polymer in an amount sufficient to form a flocculated suspension in the water and to remove turbidity from the water, said high molecular weight quaternized ammonium polymer comprising at least an effective amount of

high molecular weight di-allyl di-methyl ammonium chloride (DADMAC) having a molecular weight of at least approximately 1,000,000 to 3,000,00 and

said aluminum polymer including at least an effective amount of poly-aluminum hydroxychloride [ACH] of a basicity equal to or greater than 50%.

(Emphasis added.)  ClearValue also alleged misappropriation of trade secrets, one of which covered a similar clarification process.  The jury found for ClearValue on both issues.  The district court denied Pearl River’s motions for JMOL of no infringement and invalidity, but granted Pearl River’s motion for JMOL of no misappropriation.

The Hassick patent discloses a “composition useful for reducing turbidity in aqueous systems which comprises (a) [ACH]; and (b) at least one water-soluble cationic polymer selected from [a group which includes di-allyl di-methyl ammonium chloride].”  Hassick further discloses that this composition can be used to “synergistically reduce turbidity in aqueous systems, particularly low-turbidity . . . low-alkalinity systems (i.e. 150 ppm or less).”  Hassick’s results, however, also showed that the DADMAC and ACH combination does not work well in reducing the turbidity of low-alkalinity water.

ClearValue argued that Hassick’s results teach away from the inventiveness of the ‘690 patent, and therefore, the use of ACH with high molecular DADMAC would not have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art.  The district court cited this as sufficient to uphold the jury’s finding of no anticipation or obviousness.  While agreeing that whether prior art teaches away from an invention is relevant to obvious analysis, the Federal Circuit ruled that this was of no consequence to anticipation analysis.  The only requirement is that the prior art describe “every claim limitation and enable one of skill in the art to practice an embodiment of the claimed invention without undue experimentation.”  35 U.S.C. § 192.

ClearValue also argued that Hassick’s disclosed method was too broad to anticipate Claim 1.  Specifically, that because Hassick described a method of clarifying water with an alkalinity of 150 ppm or less, it did not anticipate the claimed method of clarifying water with an alkalinity of 50 ppm or less.  ClearValue cited Atofina v. Great Lakes Chem. Corp., 441 F.3d 991 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

In Atofina, the patent at issue claimed a method of synthesizing difluoromethane at a temperature between 330 and 450 degrees Celsius.  Atofina noted that the particular temperature range was critical to the process, and that a lower temperature of 300 degrees Celsius would not work.  The prior art disclosed a temperature range of 100 to 500 degrees Celsius.

The Federal Circuit distinguished Atofina on this basis, stating, “In Atofina, the evidence showed that one of ordinary skill would have expected the synthesis process to operate differently outside the claimed temperature range . . .”  While the prior art in both cases taught a broad genus, in ClearView there was no such indication that the 50 ppm disclosed is necessary to the process, nor was there any indication that the process would operate differently.  Moreover, one of Hassick’s examples took place at 60-70 ppm.  Because of the lack of a “considerable difference between the claimed range and the range in the prior art,” the Federal Circuit ruled that Claim 1 of the ‘690 patent was anticipated, and therefore unpatentable.

Finally, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of JMOL that Pearl River did not misappropriate ClearView’s trade secret because Hassick publicly disclosed the elements of the trade secret in question prior to the alleged misappropriation.

 

Key Points and Practice Tips:

  • While the fact that prior teaches away from an invention irrelevant in an obviousness analysis, it is not relevant to an anticipation analysis.
  • A genus disclosure does not necessarily disclose every species within the genus, there must be a “considerable difference between the claimed range and the range in the prior art.”  If a claim falls within a described genus, emphasize the differences between the ranges claimed and points outside that range.
  • If all the elements of a trade secret are publicly disclosed before an alleged misappropriation, then there is no misappropriation because there is no trade secret.  This is true even if the reference “teaches away from” the process claimed as a trade secret.
  • Be careful when writing a patent application.  If prior art discloses a wide range that encompasses a range claimed in the invention, then stress why the range claimed is different or necessary.  In Atofina, the “considerable difference between the claimed range and the range in the prior art” was what precluded a finding of anticipation.

Federal Circuit Finds Reference to “Present Invention” Limits Scope of Claims and No Willful Infringement Where Commercially Reasonable Time is taken to Change Infringing Product to Non-Infringing Product

In Trading Technologies Int’l, Inc. (TT) v. Ecco LLC, Eccoware Ltd., and eSpeed Int’l, Ltd. (eSpeed), 595 F.3d 1340;93 U.S.P.Q.2D 1805 (Fed. Cir. 2010), TT owns both U.S. Pat. No. 6,772,132 (‘132 patent) and U.S. Pat. No. 6,766,304 (‘304 patent).  The ‘132 and the ‘304 patents share a common provisional filing date of March 2, 2000.  The ‘132 patent was filed on June 9, 2000 and issued on August 3, 2004.  The ‘304 patent, which is a divisional patent of the ‘132 patent, was filed on June 27, 2001 and issued on July 20, 2004.  Both patents relate to software displaying an electronic commodity market.  The market consists of bids, or offers to purchase, and asks, or offers to sell.  The software has a graphical user interface (GUI) having a dynamic display for the bids and asks and a static display for prices corresponding to the bids and asks.  Prior art software displayed an “inside market” which was the best or highest bid price and the best or lowest ask price, which reflect the current price of the commodity.

However, the prior art displayed grids for the inside market that did not move. Thus, if a trader saw a price on the inside market on which they wanted to act, the trader could mistakenly click on the wrong price while a new price in the inside market appeared before they clicked on their intended price.  In contrast, TT’s software had a static price column, and thus, the best bid and best ask would move up and down along the price column to reflect the current state of the market.  As such, a trader could click on the intended price box and know that a transaction at the clicked price would occur, while not worrying that an accidental order at an incorrect price occurred because the inside market had changed before the order was processed.

TT filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging that eSpeed’s products, which are trading platforms and software for trading commodities on eSpeed’s electronic exchanges, infringed TT’s patents.

The accused eSpeed products include Futures View, Dual Dynamic, and eSpeedometer, with the accused products being the same in all relevant aspects, as the latter products are redesigns of the original product.  Also, eSpeed acknowledged that Futures View satisfied all claim limitations of the patents in suit.  eSpeed was sold before the ‘132 and ‘304 patents were issued.  However, TT and eSpeed disagreed on whether Dual Dynamic and eSpeedometer use a “static display of prices” or a “static price axis,” which are recited by the ‘132 and ‘304 patents, respectively.  Dual Dynamic re-centered price levels by either a manual operation by a user or by an automatic operation if the inside market shifted by a predetermined amount, however, the automatic operation could not be disabled by users.  eSpeedometer, on the other hand, only had an automatic re-centering operation, wherein the entire market display would adjust after each change in the inside market.

The products were variously sold during the suit, with Futures View being sold before the TT’s patents issued, and replaced with Dual Dynamic in December 2004 before a hearing for a preliminary injunction in the case.  eSpeedometer replaced Dual Dynamic after the District Court found that Dual Dynamic likely infringed TT’s patents.  After trial, the District Court held that Futures View still infringed asserted claims of the ‘132 patent and the ‘304 patent.  The District Court also held that other accused products were not literally infringing TT’s ‘132 and ‘304 patents, and that TT was barred from using doctrine of equivalents to assert infringement.  Furthermore, the District Court found there to be no on-sale bar under 35 U.S.C. §102(b) by giving the ‘132 patent and the ‘304 patent filing dates corresponding to a common provisional application.  Additionally, the District Court found that there was no indefiniteness with respect to the asserted claims of the ‘132 and ‘304 patents.

Specifically, the District Court found that neither Dual Dynamic nor eSpeedometer literally infringed on the ‘132 or ‘304 patents.  As per infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, the District Court held that Dual Dynamic did not infringe under the doctrine of equivalents because finding infringement would obviate the term “static” and that prosecution history estoppel prevented application of doctrine of equivalents to eSpeedometer.  As such, the District Court granted summary judgment of non-infringement with respect to Dual Dynamics and eSpeedometer.

With respect to eSpeed’s Future View, the District Court, during a jury trial, granted several of TT’s motions, including barring eSpeed from asserting an on-sale bar defense, and barring expert testimony asserting that the claim construction of “single action of a user input device” was indefinite.  The jury found that Futures View willfully infringe the ‘132 and ‘304 patents, however, the District Court vacated the jury’s finding of willful infringement and reduced the damages awarded to TT.  Additionally, the District Court found that TT did not engage in inequitable conduct and denied eSpeed’s motions on validity, indefiniteness, priority date, and patent misuse defense.  Both TT and eSpeed appealed the District Court’s holding.

On appeal Federal Circuit, while noting that numerous issues were raised by both parties on appeal, stated that TT’s appeal focuses on patent infringement, while eSpeed’s appeal focuses on patent validity.  TT appealed the District Court’s claim construction as per “common static price axis” and “a static display of price,” and argued that Dual Dynamic and eSpeedometer infringe under TT’s claim construction.  Additionally, TT asserted that Dual Dynamic infringes under the doctrine of equivalents without obviating the word “static,” and that prosecution history estoppel does not preclude eSpeedometer from infringing the TT patents under the doctrine of equivalents.  eSpeed, in the appeal, asserted:  (1) that the ‘132 and ‘304 patents should not be dated back to the provisional application dates; (2) that the patents are invalid under the on-sale bar; (3) that the term “single action of a user input device” is indefinite; and (4) that TT engaged in inequitable conduct.

Narrow Claim Construction in View of “Present Invention” And Only One Embodiment

The Federal Circuit reviewed the grant of summary judgment of non-infringement with respect to Dual Dynamic and eSpeedometer with out deference, and reviewed the District Court’s claim construction order under Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996).  TT asserted that the District Court’s construction of “static” in the limitations of “static display of prices” and “common static price axis” in the ‘132 and ‘304 patents to be incorrect.  The District Court construed “static display of prices” to mean “a display of prices comprising price levels that do not change positions unless a manual re-centering command is received.”  Similarly, the District Court construed “common static price axis” to mean “a line comprising price levels that do not change unless a manual re-centering command is received and where the line of prices corresponds to at least one bid value and one ask value,” with the District Court noting that “a static condition – requires permanency” so that “the price axis never changes positions unless by manual re-centering or re-positioning.”

Thus, the Federal Circuit noted that under the District Court’s interpretation, the ‘132 and the ‘304 patent only cover manual re-centering without automatic re-centering.  However, the Dual Dynamic and eSpeedometer include automatic re-centering corresponding to changes in the inside market.  The specifications of both the ‘132 and ‘304 patents state that “The values in the price column are static; that is, the do not normally change positions unless a re-centering command is received.”  The Federal Circuit noted that although the District Court’s construction may seem narrower than the inventor’s definition of “static” because the District Court added that the re-centering command is to be manual, the claims, specification and prosecution history estoppel support the District Court’s definition.  Thus, the Federal Circuit agreed with the District Court’s claim construction.

While elaborating on the support for the claim construction found in the specification, the Federal Circuit stated that they recognize that relying on the specification heavily may lead to an improper risk of reading a preferred embodiment into the claim, unless the patentee evinces a clear intention that the preferred embodiment represents the claim.  (See Saunders Group, Inc. v. Comfortrac, Inc., 492 F.3d 1326, 1332 (Fed. Cir. 2007)).  In reviewing the specification, the Federal Circuit found that the “reference to ‘the present invention’ strongly suggests that the claimed re-centering command requires a manual input, specifically, a mouse click. See Honeywell Int’l, Inc. v. ITT Indus., 452 F.3d 1312, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (concluding that the invention was limited to a fuel filter because the specification referred to the fuel filter as ‘this invention’ and ‘the present invention’).”  The Federal Circuit further noted that the specification did not disclose alternate embodiments, such as automatic re-centering.  As such, the Federal Circuit stated that “[t]his court takes some comfort against this risk from the inventors’ use of the term “the present invention” rather than “a preferred embodiment” or just “an embodiment.”

The Federal Circuit went on to detect any contrary intentions as per the embodiment, and noted that all claims of the ‘132 patent include a “wherein” clause stating that “the static display of prices does not move in response to a change in the inside market.”  As such, the claims of the ‘132 patent excludes automatic re-centering upon a change in the inside market.

TT further argued that even if the “re-centering command” is interpreted as manual in the ‘132 patent, the District Court cannot limit the claims to only recited elements because the claims use a transitional phrase “comprising.”  Thus, TT asserts that the claims also cover features not recited, such as automatic re-centering.  The Federal Circuit responded by stating that “automatic re-centering is not an additional feature, but rather negates a claimed requirement that the price level remains static and does not move….Thus, this court construes the claims to require a manual re-centering command.”  The Federal Circuit also pointed to the prosecution history in noting that the Examiner initially rejected the claims because “static display” was indefinite.  The Federal Circuit stated that the Examiner allowed the claims, in part, based upon the applicant’s explanation that “the values in the price column…do not change (unless a re-centering command is received).”    Furthermore, the Federal Circuit also noted that a manual re-centering of the price column may avoid mistakes that may arise from an automatic re-centering of the price column, as found in the prior art.  Thus, the Federal Circuit stated that:

[t]he invention’s contribution to the prior art, its specification, and its prosecution history show that the static display of prices cannot move without a manual re-centering command from the trader.  Accordingly, the District Court correctly construed disputed word “static.”

Thus, the Federal Circuit found that eSpeed’s Dual Dynamic and eSpeedometer do not literally infringe on the ‘132 and ‘304 patents because eSpeed’s products have mandatory re-centering features.

No Doctrine of Equivalents Due to Claim Vitiation and Prosecution History Estoppel

With respect to the doctrine of equivalents, the Federal Circuit noted that, under the all-elements rule, it is required to consider “the totality of circumstances of each case and determine whether the alleged equivalent can be fairly characterized as an insubstantial change from the claimed subject matter without rendering the pertinent litigation meaningless.”  Freedman Seating Co. v. Am. Seating Co., 420 F.3d 1350, 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2005).  As per the claim vitiation if doctrine of equivalents is found, the Federal Circuit stated that claim vitiation “applies when there is a ‘clear, substantial difference or a difference in kind’ between the claim limitation and the accused product. Id. at 1360.  It does not apply when there is a ‘subtle difference in degree.’  Id.

The Federal Circuit stated that occasional automatic re-centering, as may occur with Dual Dynamic, is not an insubstantial difference, and that they must surmise the difference between a price axis that moves only in response to a trader’s command and one that moves without prompting.  In noting that Dual Dynamic’s automatic re-centering allows for the problems of the prior art, wherein an inside market price may move while a trader was executing a deal, the automatic re-centering is substantially different than the invention of the ‘132 and ‘304 patents.  Therefore, the Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s holding that the doctrine of equivalents does not show that Dual Dynamic infringes.

The Federal Circuit also agreed with the District Court’s decision that prosecution history estoppel bars TT from asserting doctrine of equivalents to show that eSpeedometer infringes the patents in suit.  The Federal Circuit noted that TT submitted a prior art reference describing a static price display after the USPTO issued a notice of allowance, and requested that the application be withdrawn from issuance.  TT amended claims that issues as claim 1 of their respective patents, with similarly recited limitations stating that price displays do not move in response to the inside market changing.  TT argued that “do not move” being amended into the claims did narrow the claims because they already recite “static.”  However, the Federal Circuit noted that TT’s argument is circular because the District Court has construed “static” to mean not moving, and thus, the claims of the ‘142 and ‘304 patents would still be limited to manual re-centering.  Thus, the Federal Circuit found that the inventors surrendered any subject matter that moves automatically during prosecution, and affirmed the District Court’s holding that Dual Dynamic and eSpeedometer don not infringe the ‘132 and ‘304 patents under the doctrine of equivalents.

No Willful Infringement

As per TT’s appeal on the District Court finding no willful infringement, the Federal Circuit noted that they, in In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 497 F.3d 1360, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2007), held that “proof of willful infringement permitting enhanced damages requires at least a showing of objective recklessness.”  The Federal Circuit went on to note that neither party disputes that eSpeed began redesigning Futures View immediately after TT commenced the infringement suit.  The Federal Circuit then stated that “[p]rompt redesign efforts and complete removal of infringing products in a span of a few months suggest that eSpeed was not objectively reckless.”  Furthermore, TT could not show that eSpeed sold Future View to new customers, or that they delayed in updating Future View with the non-infringing Dual Dynamic.  Thus, the Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s grant of JMOL motion on willful infringement that no reasonable jury could have found eSpeed to be willfully infringing the ‘132 and ‘304 patents.

“Single Action” Claim Term Definite and Supported by Provisional Application

As per the contention on whether the limitation of “single action of a user input device” is indefinite, the Federal Circuit upheld the District Court’s ruling that the term, as construed, is sufficiently definite.  The Federal Circuit stated that “[t]he district’s court’s construction correctly sets objective boundaries by distinguishing the invention from multiple-action systems found in the prior art.”  The District Court found that “an action” means one user action, even including sub-elements such as two separate clicks of a double-click, if the user views all sub-elements as one action.  Additionally, the Federal Circuit stated that one of ordinary skill in the art would find a non-ambiguous difference between singular and multiple user actions, even with the District Court’s construction that a single action be executed in a “short period of time.”

With respect to eSpeed’s contention of the patents in suit having a priority date of the provisional applications filed on March 2, 2000, the Federal Circuit looked to the provisional application as an adequate written description under 35 U.S.C. §112, par. 1.  At contention was the fact that all claims recite a “single action of a user input device,” whereas the provisional application only recites “a single click of a computer mouse.”  The Federal Circuit states that “[o]n summary judgment, the parties’ experts disagreed that the provisional application showed possession of forms of order entry other than “a single click of a computer mouse”,”…and thus, there was “a dispute of material fact about whether the disclosure of a species, i.e., “one click of a mouse,” was sufficient to show that the inventors possessed the genus, i.e., “single action of a user input device.”  Thus, the Federal Circuit held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining there was a dispute of material fact and precluding a grant of summary judgment on the issue.

The Federal Circuit also found that the District Court’s jury instruction was not legally erroneous, and that the District Court did not abuse its discretion by allowing TT’s expert witness to testify generally about the written description requirement.   Lastly, the Federal Circuit looked at the merits and found that the jury’s verdict was supported by substantial evidence on record showing that the written description was adequate.  The Federal Circuit noted that “the parties’ experts did not dispute that one of ordinary skill in the art would have know about other forms of “single action” such as a double-click or pressing a key,” and thus, “disclosure of a species in this case provides sufficient written description support for a later filed claim directed to a very similar and understandable genus.”  Therefore, the Federal Circuit found that the ‘132 and ‘304 patents were entitled to claim priority to the provisional application.

No On Sale bar for Service Contract to Build Invention

The District Court granted a motion in limine precluding eSpeed from alleging the on-sale bar defense, and eSpeed appealed the decision.  eSpeed relied upon the fact that Harris Brumfield, one of the inventors, hired TT to build trading software according to his idea.  TT and Brumfield entered into a contract, Individual Consulting Agreement #2 (ICA2), in which TT would build trading software according to Brumfield’s specifications.  TT delivered the software to Brumfield in February 1999, and Brumfield paid TT for the custom software on March 2, 1999.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s de facto decision that ICA2 was not a sales transaction for a product embodying the patented invention, as is required for an on-sale bar under 35 U.S.C. §102(b).

The Federal Circuit stated that the ICA2 was a contract for hourly programming services, and not a computer software license, as eSpeed contended, and that Brumfield did not sell or offer anything for sale that would embody the invention.   Additionally, no product was ever sold to Brumfield.  Thus, the Federal Circuit stated that “[i]nventors can request another entity’s services in developing products embodying the invention without triggering the on-sale bar,” and that Brumfield’s contract with TT did not constitute a sale under 35 U.S.C. §102(b).

With respect to TT’s alleged inequitable conduct, the Federal Circuit found that the District Court was correct in finding that TT did not engage in such by not disclosing Brumfield’s custom software to the USPTO because the software wasn’t material to the question of patentability.  Brumfield used the software after March 2, 1999, however, the Federal Circuit stated that the “District Court did not clearly err by finding that Brumsfield’s software was immaterial given that his use of the software after the priority date would not have changed the examiner’s analysis of the patent.”  eSpeed further alleges that TT should have disclosed the “sale” of the software from TT to Brumfield, and Brumfield’s testing of the software to the USPTO.  The Federal Circuit noted that the ICA2 contract was not a sale under 35 U.S.C. §102(b) and that Brumfield tested the software for his own personal purposes, confidentially, and that he kept the software secret until he and TT filed the provisional application.  Thus, the Federal Circuit found no inequitable conduct on the part of TT.

Summary

In summary, the Federal Circuit upheld the District Court on all matters decided by the District Court.  Particularly, the Federal Circuit noted that the use of “the present invention” rather than “a preferred embodiment” or just “an embodiment” in the specification can be used to support the Federal Circuit Court’s use of the specification’s embodiment as reflecting the claims.  Additionally, the Federal Circuit found that, in the present case, prosecution history estoppel can be used to bar the use of doctrine of equivalents.  The Federal Circuit also stated that “disclosure of a species in this case provides sufficient written description support for a later filed claim directed to a very similar and understandable genus,” in finding the provisional application an adequate written description for the ‘132 and ‘402 patents.  Also, the Federal Circuit held that “[i]nventors can request another entity’s services in developing products embodying the invention without triggering the on-sale bar.”  Therefore, the Federal Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed the District Court’s decision.

Significance for Patent Owners and Applicants

In Trading Technologies Int’l, the Federal Circuit again emphasizes the importance of the specification in defining claim terms using the specification.  The Federal Circuit scoured the specification looking for a more expansive definition given to a particular claim term, and were unable to find alternative embodiments which would have allowed such an expansive interpretation.  Indeed to the contrary, the Federal Circuit found that the applicants had not even indicated that the claim term was only an embodiment, and instead emphasized that the claim term was part of the present invention, as opposed to only an embodiment of the present invention.  Therefore, when drafting claims and specifications, it is important that the specification include multiple embodiments for each claim term and avoid characterizing any particular embodiment as being the invention as opposed to an example of that invention.

Federal Circuit Interprets Term “Providing a Communication Link” using the Objects of the Invention and Abstract

In Netcraft Corp. v. eBay et al., No. 2008-1263 (Fed. Cir. 2008), Netcraft obtained two patents related to Internet billing methods: U.S. Patent No.6,351,739 (the ’739 patent) and U.S. Patent No. 6,976,008 (the ’008 patent).  Both patents claimed priority to U.S. Patent No. 5,794,221 (the ’221 patent), and thus both patents contained identical specifications.  Netcraft sued eBay and eBay’s subsidiary PayPal for infringement of these patents.  eBay raised a non-infringement defense, arguing that eBay did not provide Internet access and therefore did not “provid[e] a communication link” as recited in the asserted claims.  The District Court agreed, and granted eBay’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement.  Netcraft appealed to the Federal Circuit, which upheld the District Court’s ruling.

The Federal Circuit’s ruling revolved around the meaning of the disputed term “providing a communication link…through equipment of the third party”, which was recited in the representative claim 1 of the ’739, but which was not used or defined in the specification.  Consistent with claim construction principles, the Federal Circuit turned first to the specification for insight as to the meaning of the disputed term.

Netcraft argued that the specification provided no support for the District Court’s claim construction.  However, the Federal Circuit found ample evidence in the specification to support the District Court’s position.  Specifically, the specification repeatedly referred to objects of “the present invention” relating to providing Internet access, and summarized that the objects of “the present invention” were achieved by “the provider creates access to the Internet for the customer through the provider’s equipment.”  Additionally, the abstract explicitly stated that “the provider creates access to the Internet for the customer.”  Netcraft, at 8.  The Federal Circuit highlighted the consistent use of the phrase “the present invention” as indicated that the invention, as a whole, required the providing of the communication link.

Netcraft argued that these references to the “present invention” should not be seen as limiting.  While acknowledging that the mere “use of the phrase ‘the present invention’ does not ‘automatically’ limit the meaning of claim terms in all circumstances, and that such language must be read in the context of the entire specification and prosecution history,” the Federal Circuit found that the repeated use of the phrase the “present invention” and the prosecution history supported the District Court’s interpretation.  In this case, the specification repeatedly conveyed the impression that the invention as a whole relating to the provider/third party providing Internet access as part of the billing method.  The Federal Circuit found no evidence within the specification to indicate that the provider/third party did not provide Internet access or that another party could provide internet access instead of the provider/third party doing the billing method.  For example, Figure 2 of the ’739 patent disclosed a step labeled “Connect Customer to Internet”, while Figure 3 disclosed a step labeled “Customer Connects to Internet”.  Netcraft argued that the language of Figure 3 supported a conclusion that the third party was not required to provide Internet access.  According to the Federal Circuit, however, nothing in the specification foreclosed the District Court’s construction; in particular, other elements of the two figures differentiated the two methods shown.  Furthermore, the specification specifically referred to equipment as equipment that enabled Internet access.

The Federal Circuit next chided the District Court for failing to take the prosecution history of the asserted patents into account.  The Federal Circuit nevertheless concluded that this error was harmless, because the prosecution history did not clearly support Netcraft’s argument.  In one amendment, the prosecuting attorney indicated an example of a link as being a web site or E-mail address of the vendor.  The Federal Circuit, however, could not determine whether the web site and E-mail addresses were examples of a communication link (as argued by Netcraft) or examples of additional features of an Internet access provider (as argued by eBay).  Prosecution history proffered by eBay was also found lacking.  The ambiguity of the prosecution history did not support either side’s position, and the District Court’s failure to consider the prosecution history was therefore harmless.

Significance to Patent Applicants

In Netcraft Corp. v. eBay et al., the Federal Circuit provided an object lesson in the dangers of using claim terminology that is not used in the specification.  Specifically, the Federal Circuit construed the term “providing a communications link”, to require providing a customer with Internet access.   Since this term was not used or defined in the specification except through a single embodiment in which the internet access is provided by the equipment of the provider providing the billing, the court was free to use broad language defining “the present invention” to restrict the meaning of the term in the claim to not include third parties providing internet access to the provider.  The Federal Circuit’s decision upholding the District Court’s claim construction highlights two errors in the Netcraft patents’ specification and claims.  First, the claims used a term that was not used or defined in the specification in a manner allowing a broader interpretation of the providing operation.  Since the specification is an important source of information for interpreting claim terms, the omission provided the accused infringer with an opportunity to interpret the specification in a limiting fashion, which is the interpretation adopted by the courts.  Second, the specification repeatedly referred to “the present invention”, which allowed the court to limit the interpretation of the claims to the particular objects described and did not indicate that the recited features can be independently provided.  Broader language, such as “aspects of the present invention” or other language indicating that the specification referred to examples which can be used separately, would have constrained the court’s ability to limit the claims to require use of all of the examples described.  Lastly, in terms of claim construction, the situation could have been resolved by instead removing the “providing” feature from the method claims.  Thus, where ministerial features are being recited in method claims and these features need not be performed by the same entity for purposes of infringement, claims should be drafted to ensure that the claims cover infringement without the recited ministerial feature.  In Netcraft, the providing of a communication link is a fairly routine feature which can be provided by any number of entities.  By removing the “providing” operation and instead relying on a “provided” communication link, the result in Netcraft might have been avoided.

Federal Circuit Defines Term In View of Consistent Single Usage in Specification and Finds Term “Comprising” Does Not Automatically Broaden the Term

In Board of Regents of the University of Texas System v. BENQ America Corp., 533 F.3d 1362, 87 USPQ2d 1437 (Fed. Cir. 2008), the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System (“Board of Regents”) appealed the District Court for the Western District of Texas’s final judgment that BENQ America, Corp., et al. (collectively “BENQ”) did not infringe Board of Regents’ U.S. Patent No. 4,674,112 (“the ‘112 patent”). The Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision.

The ‘112 patent describes an apparatus and method designed to enable “non-verbal entry” and transmission of a word/words using a standard, touch-tone telephone. Because each key on a standard touch-tone telephone represents more than one letter, the user depresses a key one time for any of its corresponding letters, and the method compares this sequence against a vocabulary directory of possible words that the user may be intending to enter. The system minimizes memory requirements and enables an expanded word recognition capability by using a vocabulary of syllabic elements rather than a vocabulary of words.

During prosecution, the examiner rejected the claims as anticipated by the Rabiner article, “Digital Techniques for Computer Voice Response: Implementations and Applications,” Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 64, No. 4, Apr. 1976, pp. 416-33.  The examiner noted that Rabiner taught a system described by the claims, in which a single key is depressed for each letter of a word to be transmitted even though each key corresponds to multiple different letters. In response to the rejection, the Board of Regents amended claim 10 to state “each pre-programmed code being representative of a syllabic element [replacing an alphabetic character string],” and the ‘112 patent, thereafter, issued.

In March and May of 2005, the Board of Regents filed three separate lawsuits in the Western District of Texas alleging infringement of claim 10 (and its dependent claim 11) of the ‘112 patent by an extensive list of defendants. In October 2005, the District Court consolidated these cases into the present suit. Upon a Markman hearing, the District Court concluded that the claim term “syllabic element” means “a one-syllable letter group that comprises a word or can be combined with other one-syllable letter groups to form a word.” The District Court also concluded that the claim term “one or more pre-programmed codes” did not require construction.

On November 7, 2006, Motorola (defendant) filed a motion for summary judgment of non-infringement, which argued that Motorola’s accused devices did not infringe the matching limitation of claim 10 (i.e. “matching said binary code with one or more pre-programmed codes, each pre-programmed code being representative of a syllabic element”). The District Court granted this motion to all the defendants, concluding that the accused devices did not infringe the matching limitation because none of the accused devices “relie[d] upon a vocabulary of only syllabic elements, even if certain entries in those vocabularies happen[ed] to be one syllable long.”

On appeal, the Board of Regents argued that the District Court improperly rejected its intermittent infringement argument, erroneously determined that the accused devices fell outside the scope of the claims, and failed to resolve all factual inquiries in favor of the non-movant. The Board of Regents further disagreed with the District Court’s claim construction of “syllabic element” and its grant of summary judgment.

Defining “Syllabic Element”

In addressing the Board of Regents first argument, the Federal Circuit turned to the specification of the ‘112 patent to construe the term “syllabic element.” The specification repeatedly distinguishes between a “word” and a “syllabic element” and indicates that a word is comprised of syllabic elements, confirming that those terms are not coextensive in scope. Further, the specification contains a sole example of a syllabic element—“con,” a one-syllable letter group that is both a word and is able to be combined to form other words. The District Court found this passage to imply that a syllabic element is limited to a single syllable, whereas the Board of Regents reasoned that because “common letter-groups, suffixes, [and] prefixes” are “referred to as ‘syllabic elements,’” the term “syllabic element” must include every common letter-group, suffix, or prefix. Thus, because some prefixes include more than one syllable, the Board of Regents argued that this passage compels a construction that allows syllabic elements to be more than one syllable. The Federal Circuit, on the other hand, found that just because a “syllabic element” may be a prefix or a suffix does not mean that all prefixes and suffixes are “syllabic elements.” Also, this passage includes “common letter-groups” as possible “syllabic elements,” but even the Board of Regents did not contend that all common letter groups are “syllabic elements.”

The Board of Regents added the term “syllabic element” to claim 10 during prosecution of the ‘112 patent. If, as the Board of Regents proposed, the phrase “syllabic element” was broadly defined to include letter groups having any number of syllables, then all words would also be syllabic elements. This does not square with the prosecution history, however, as claim 10 was amended and the dependent claim that required matching with words was cancelled. This indicates that the set of “syllabic elements” does not include all words. The Federal Circuit noted that, in construing claims, the prosecution history can be useful, especially as to amended terms used to obtain allowance of a claim.  Jansen v. Rexall Sundown, Inc., 342 F.3d 1329, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2003).  In view of the prosecution history, the Federal Circuit concluded that the proper construction of “syllabic element” was a one-syllable letter group that either comprises a word or can be combined with other one-syllable letter groups to form a word. The Federal Circuit saw no error in the District Court’s claim construction.

“Each Pre-Programmed Code” Requires All Pre-Programmed Codes to Have Syllabic Element

As to the disagreement over the language, “each pre-programmed code being representative of a syllabic element,” the Board of Regents asserted that the claims simply require matching with one or more syllabic elements based on the theory that infringement occurs whenever a match with a syllabic element occurs, even if matches are also made with non-syllabic elements. BENQ disagrees and asserts that the claim requires that the database be composed solely of syllabic elements. The Federal Circuit found that it was significant that claim 10 distinguishes between “each pre-programmed code” and “the matched one or more programmed codes” because different claim terms are presumed to have different meanings. CAE Screenplates Inc. v. Heinrich Fiedler GmbH & Co., 224 F.3d 1308, 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Because “the matched one or more preprogrammed codes” clearly refers to the pre-programmed code(s) that are matched with the binary code in the “matching” step, the Federal Circuit concluded that “each pre-programmed code” must refer to all potential pre-programmed codes in the vocabulary accessed by the method. Because the prosecution history attributed significance to the use of the word “each” in defining the claim over the art, the Federal Circuit concluded that the claim phrase “each pre-programmed code being representative of a syllabic element” means that the vocabulary only includes syllabic elements.

“Comprising” Does Not Broaden “Each Pre-Programmed Code” Claim Element

The Board of Regents argued on appeal that the term “each” does not preclude the possibility of other codes as the use of the term “comprising” in claim 10 should allow an accused device to infringe anytime it satisfies the matching limitation in situations where other pre-programmed codes do not meet the conditions.  Thus, according to the Board of Regents, the addition of unrecited steps (such as matching with a pre-programmed code that is not representative of a syllabic element) should not defeat infringement.

In rejecting this argument, the Federal Circuit held that, while the generally correct presumption is that the use of the transitional phrase “comprising” does not exclude additional unrecited steps, the phrase “comprising” does “not reach into each of the [claimed] steps to render every word and phrase therein open-ended—especially where, as here, the patentee has narrowly defined the claim term it now seeks to have broadened.” Dippin’ Dots, Inc. v. Mosey, 476 F.3d 1337, 1343 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Therefore, the Federal Circuit determined that the Board of Regents could not rely on the word “comprising” to broaden the scope of a claim phrase that was limited during prosecution so as to gain allowance of the patent. See Chimie v. PPG Indus., Inc., 402 F.3d 1371, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 2005); Eckchian v. Home Depot, Inc., 104 F.3d 1299, 1304 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

The Federal Circuit concluded that the District Court correctly granted summary judgment of non-infringement as there was no substantive dispute regarding the relevant issues of fact. A “syllabic element” is a one-syllable letter group that either comprises a word or can be combined with other one-syllable letter groups to form a word (even being as small as a single letter), and “each pre-programmed code being representative of a syllabic element” means that the vocabulary only includes syllabic elements. As the accused devices did not use pre-programmed codes devoted exclusively to syllabic elements, the District Court properly entered judgment that the accused devices do not infringe the asserted claims of the ‘112 patent.

Significance to Patent Applicants

Board of Regents presents a reminder both as to the need to draft specifications with alternative embodiments to ensure broad claim interpretation, and that the term “comprising” will not always overcome a narrow claim interpretation where the specification demands a more narrow interpretation. Where a word is consistently used within the specification, that word will likely be given the same meaning when used in claim language.

Moreover, where plural elements are recited, the term “each” in relation to a feature of the elements can have a restrictive and closed meaning.  In Board of Regents, the term “each” was interpreted to preclude infringement where even one code did not have a syllabic element.  Therefore, the word “each” should be avoided, and if its use is unavoidable, applicants should ensure that the specification is clear that the use of the term “each” does not restrict the use of the invention.

 

Federal Circuit Uses Background of the Invention to Disclaim Claim Scope

In SafeTCare Manufacturing Inc. v. Tele-Made Inc., 83 U.S.P.Q.2d 1618 (Fed. Cir. 2007), SafeTCare owns U.S. Patent No. 6,357,065 (the ’065 patent), which is drawn to a variable width bariatric modular bed for use with obese hospital patients.  In order to move bed sections, a force is applied to a lift dog, which the court recognized as a term of art relating to a bracket attached to a movable deck assembly or lift assembly.  In the Background section of the specification, the ’065 patent discusses how the prior art uses “electric motors [that] are known to apply a pulling force on structural members attached to the bed frame.”  By way of contrast, the ’065 patent in the Summary of the Invention describes motors which “apply pushing forces against the lift dogs” and that the electric motors use “pushing (as opposed to pulling) forces applied by the electric motors to raise the frame and the mattress support deck.”  The specification also includes statements in the Detailed Description noting that “an important feature of the present invention” utilizes motors which “apply pushing forces against their respective lift dogs.”  Consistent with this description, claim 12 of the ’065 recites “a plurality of electric motors … for exerting a pushing force on said plurality of deck sections.”

Tele-Made sells a bariatric hospital bed named the Tri-flex II, which is manufactured by Burke, Inc.  The Tri-flex II includes moveable bed panels that rotate upward relative to the bed frame similarly to the claimed bariatric bed and uses multiple electric motors.  However, only one of the motors exerts a pushing force to achieve this upward motion.  The other motor exerts a pulling force, which through various other members of the bed results in the upward motion of the foot section. 

SafeTCare filed suit in the Southern District of Texas against Tele-Made asserting that the Tri-flex II infringed claim 12.  During the Markman hearing, the District Court found that the recited “pushing force” of claim 12 was a “physical force applied in a direction away from the body exerting it.”  Based upon this construction, Tele-made filed a motion for summary judgment for non-infringement since the Tri-flex II lacked multiple motors applying a pushing force.  The District Court granted the summary judgment.

On appeal, SafeTCare argued that the other motor, which resulted in the upward motion, also exerted a pushing force as defined by the claimed invention.  In affirming the District Court’s decision, the Federal Circuit quoted Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1315-16 (Fed. Cir. 2005)(en banc) for the proposition that the specification “is the single best guide for the meaning of a disputed term” and “may reveal an intentional disclaimer, or disavowal, of claim scope by the inventor.”  In reviewing the specification, the Federal Circuit found that the specification disavowed claim scope to cover motors which exert a pulling force, even where the pulling force otherwise resulted in a same upward motion for the bed panel which the claimed invention obtains through pushing.  Specifically, the Federal Circuit found that the multiple disclosures and comparison of pushing versus pulling on the lift dogs made “clear that this attribute of the invention is important in distinguishing the invention over the prior art.”  As such, the inventors’ disavowal of pulling motors in the specification limited the literal scope of the claims such that the Tri-flex II bed was not infringing.

For similar reasons, the Federal Circuit relied on its prior decision in Honeywell Int’l, Inc. v. ITT Indus., Inc., 452 F.3d 13612 (Fed Cir. 2006) that this disavowal also prevented infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.  As such, the Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision of no infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.

Federal Circuit Defines Card in Light of Specification to Exclude Coverage of PDA

In E-Pass Technologies, Inc. v. 3Com Corp. 81 USPQ2d 1385 (Fed. Cir. 2007), E-Pass is the assignee of U.S. Patent No. 5,276,311 (the “‘311 patent”), entitled “Method and Device of Simplifying the Use of a Plurality of Credit Cards, or the Like.”  The object of the invention is to provide a method and device for substituting a single electronic multifunction card for multiple credit cards …to address problems associated with carrying multiple cards, “the user needs, and is required to carry about, [only] a single card.”  On February 28, 2000, E-Pass filed a complaint of patent infringement against 3Com Corporation and Palm, Inc. (collectively, “3Com”).  In the complaint, E-pass accused 3Com of inducing consumers to practice the steps of the patented method on its Palm VII and Palm VIIx personal digital assistant (“PDA”) products.  Continue reading

Federal Circuit Interprets Claim Terms Based Upon Specification Examples and Clarifies Claim Interpretation to Preserve Validity of Claims

In MBO Labs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 474 F.3d 1323 , 81 USPQ2d 1661 (Fed. Cir. January 24, 2007), the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, and reversed-in-part claims construction, and vacated a summary judgment ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  MBO appealed the holding of summary judgment of non-infringement for Becton, of MBO’s patent relating to a hypodermic safety syringe, U.S. Patent No. RE 36, 885 (‘RE ‘885 patent’). 

The RE ‘885 patent covers a safety syringe with an attached guard device.  When the needle is extracted from a patient, a guard body mechanism attached to the syringe engages as the needle is retracted into the guard, and a flange portion covers and prevents the needle tip within the guard from exposure, preventing accidental puncture.  Prosecution history indicates a series of patents, based on continuations and continuations-in-part, ultimately resulting in issuance of U.S. Patent No. 5,755,699 (the ‘699 patent). 

MBO sought a broadening reissue of the ‘699 patent based on 35 U.S.C. § 251.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office allowed the reissue application without objection.  The reissue application issued as RE ‘885 in 2000.  MBO’s basis for the reissue request was that it was entitled to claim “any relative movement between the needle and the body”, not just a “system wherein the needle must be bodily moved toward the safety device.”  MBO sued Becton for infringement of various claims of RE ‘885, including claims 32 and 33 which were added in the reissue process.  The District Court conducted Markman hearings, construing “immediately”, “relative movement”, “slidably receiving”, “adjacent”, “proximity”, and “mounted on said body.” Conceding that under the District Court’s construction, there would be no infringement of the disputed claims, MBO appealed the District Court’s ruling on summary judgment for Becton.

Term “Immediately” Means “Simultaneously” In the Context of the Specification

The Federal Circuit, mirroring the District Court’s analysis, focused on the specification and claim preamble where “immediately” appeared.  The Federal Circuit noted that the uses in the specification, which were consistent with the entire prosecution history, indicated that MBO clearly distinguished its invention from the prior art by stressing that the needle would be made instantly safe upon withdrawal from the patient (by activation of the blocking flange at the front of the guard body).  The Federal Circuit agreed with the District Court’s construction that “immediately” meant “simultaneously with the needle’s withdrawal from the patient”, and its appearance in the claim preamble carried the meaning over into the claim itself. 

However, the District Court had also given this meaning to claims 32 and 33, in which “immediately” did NOT appear.  Despite the tenor of the specification and prosecution history stressing “immediately”, the Federal Circuit could not allow construction to include this same requirement in claims 32 and 33 since no actual textual reference to “immediately” could be found in those claims.  In addition, no other actual textual references within claims 32 and 33 indicated a “simultaneity” requirement. 

Claim Interpretation to Preserve Validity of Claim Not Allowable Where Only One Interpretation Possible

In interpreting the phrases “relative movement” and “slidably receiving,” the Federal Circuit noted the primary motivation for MBO’s reissue request was a broadening of claims in the RE ’885 patent to permit replacing “retraction” with “relative movement.”  That is, the embodiments MBO envisioned did not limit the invention to a stationary guard body, while only the needle was moving.  Rather MBO sought the equivalent act of pushing the guard forward while holding the needle still.  The District Court did not permit this expansion of claim scope since the District Court believed that the expanded definition would render the claims invalid under the recapture rule.  Therefore, the District Court limited the claims to only cover “retraction.”

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found the District Court’s interpretation to be too narrow an application of the recapture rule.  The recapture rule, based in 35 U.S.C. 251, would prohibit such broadening of claim scope if the earlier withdrawals or claim amendments were deliberate.  Without ruling whether there was actual recapture, the Federal Circuit found in the prosecution history that MBO’s explicitly stated purpose clearly sought to broaden the scope of its coverage to include relative movement and not just retraction.  The Federal Circuit held that the rule of interpreting a claim to preserve its validity only applies where there are competing interpretations.  As there was no doubt of the applicant’s desire to capture the expanded claim scope, the Federal Circuit held that the District Court’s interpretation was too narrow and improperly rewrote the claims.

Claim Term “Adjacent” Not Limited to Contiguous Relationships since Interpretation Excludes Preferred Embodiments

Again, relying on embodiments shown in various figures of RE ‘885, the Federal Circuit found the District Court’s construction too narrow relating to “adjacent”, “proximity”, and “mounted on said body.”  The District Court found that the term “adjacent” meant contiguous.  However, the Federal Circuit noted that such an interpretation excluded the preferred embodiment, which did not show the term adjacent being connected to or contiguous bodies.  Quoting On-Line Techs., Inc. v. Bodenseewerk Perkin-Elmer GmbH, 386 F.3d 1133, 1138 (Fed. Cir. 2004), the Federal Circuit held that “[A] claim interpretation that excludes a preferred embodiment from the scope of the claim is rarely, if ever, correct.” As such, the Federal Circuit held that “adjacent” should be more broadly construed to mean “next to” and not strictly “contiguous” or “connected”.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the District Court’s construction for “immediately” in all claims except 32 and 33, reversing the construction of them and the other disputed claims terms.  Summary judgment was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings.