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“Operatively Connected” Construed Too Narrowly

August 11, 2004
Raciti, Eric P.

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - September 2004

Judges: Clevenger (author), Rader, and Linn

In Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Systems, Inc., No. 04-1097 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2004), the Federal Circuit ruled that the term “operatively connected,” describing the relationship between two recited claim elements, could not be construed to require “tenacious engagement” as required by the district court in granting SJ of noninfringement, and reversed that decision.

Innova/Pure Water, Inc. (”Innova”) is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 5,609,759 (“the ’759 patent”), which claims a filter and cap combination for water bottles. Innova’s claimed filter and cap combination includes a filter for radial filtration of water exiting a bottle that is “operatively connected” to the cap of the bottle. Safari Water Filtration Systems, Inc. (“Safari”) argued, and the district court agreed, that because the specification only discussed preferred embodiments in which the cap and filter were integral, the term “operatively connected” must be construed to require the filter and cap to be integral, or to be in “tenacious engagement.” Safari’s filter was held in the mouth of the bottle by the cap when threaded onto the bottle neck. Because the cap and filter were not integral, or in “tenacious engagement,”
the district court ruled for Safari.

Innova’s appeal focused on the proper interpretation of the disputed claim term “operatively connected.” Specifically, Innova challenged that the district court improperly read the “tenacious engagement” limitation into the claims, where the literal claim language required no such thing. The Federal Circuit agreed. First, the Court pointed out that the asserted claims do not literally require that the filter and cap form a unitary structure. The Court noted that the phrase is a frequently used functional term used across various arts. Absent any special meaning, as is the case here, the Court found that the general descriptive meaning of the term was controlling. Accordingly, the Court found that the term “operatively connected,” as used in the claims, required only that the cap and the filter be connected in a way to perform their designated function.

Accordingly, the Court vacated the district court’s grant of SJ and remanded the case for further proceedings.