Ordinary Language in Patent Claims Properly Understood by Jury Finding Infringement

In this Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case (the Federal Circuit), the Court affirmed a jury’s decision as to the ordinary meaning of the patent claim language (heat exchanging interfaces claimed to be removably attached or removably coupled to reservoirs) when the parties had not earlier requested that the trial court construe that claim language. “Applying the ordinary meaning, then, [the Court] conclude[d] that substantial evidence supports the [jury’s] finding of infringement.” Asetek Danmark AS v. CMI USA Inc., Case No. 2016-1026 (Fed. Cir. December 6, 2016) (Available Here).

Asetek Danmark A/S sued two parties — Cooler Master USA, Inc., which a month later became CMI USA Inc. and Cooler Master Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese company asserting infringement of two of Asetek’s patents, the ‘362 and the ‘764 patents. A few months before trial, by stipulation, Asetek dismissed with prejudice its claims against the Taiwanese company (hereafter “Cooler Master”). Asetek’s claims of infringement by CMI and CMl’s invalidity counterclaims, were tried partly to a jury and partly to the court. Asetek prevailed and received a judgment of infringement, and of no invalidity, plus a damages award against CMI of $404,941, based on a 14.5% royalty rate. The district court also entered an injunction covering specific “Cooler Master” products found to infringe. The injunction runs not only against CMI but also against Cooler Master-which was not then a party (though it later intervened and became one) and which was not adjudicated liable for infringement.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings on infringement, invalidity, and damages and remanded the injunction order. The injunction order specified conduct by Cooler Master (regarding the covered products) that goes beyond abetting a new violation by CMI. The standard “for reaching such conduct by persons not adjudicated liable for the underlying wrong, reflected in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d), are highly fact-specific. In this case, a determination of the propriety of the injunction’s reach would benefit from further findings and, if sought and needed, further record development.” Therefore, a remand was proper.

CMI argued that the alleged ”heat exchanging interfaces” in the accused products are not “removably attached” or “removably coupled” to “reservoirs,” as the asserted claims require because removing the ”heat exchanging interfaces” in the accused products would “damage the products or otherwise render them nonfunctional.”

The Federal Circuit rejected CMI’s argument and held “‘[W]here the parties and the district court elect to provide the jury only with the claim language itself, and do not provide an interpretation of the language in the light of the specification and the prosecution history,’ the jury’s findings ‘must be tested by the charge actually given and by giving the ordinary meaning of the language of the jury instruction,’ and the only question is one of substantial evidence. Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Mustek Sys., Inc., 340 F.3d 1314, 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2003). That rule applies here, because the parties did not request a construction of the claim terms ‘removably attached’ or ‘removably coupled,’ and they did not object to the district court’s jury instructions. Applying the ordinary meaning, then, we conclude that substantial evidence supports the finding of infringement.”

The jury was entitled to find that the ”heat exchanging interfaces’ in the accused products were ‘removably attached’ or ‘removably coupled.’

Further, the Court cited Dorel Juvenile Group, Inc. v. Graco Children’s Products, Inc., 429 F.3d 1043 (Fed. Cir. 2005), which interpreted superficially similar claim terms. Dorel involved a patent on a child’s car seat, and the asserted claims recited a base, which was removably attached and removably secured to a seat. In Dorel, the Court upheld the claim construction, relying on the specification which discussed that the term “removably attached” implied that the seat and base were affixed together in a manner that contemplates that the seat may be removed from the base such that the seat remains functional. In the CMI case at bar, the parties did not request a claim construction ruling from the judge, but instead the CMI case involves claim application. “The context is quite different, e.g., there is no requirement here that each component was meant to function separately (unlike the seat in Dorel).”

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