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Specification Restricts Claim Scope from Ordinary Meaning

June 08, 2005

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - July 2005

Judges: Prost (author), Schall, and Gajarsa

In Boss Control, Inc. v. Bombardier Inc., No. 04-1437 (Fed. Cir. June 8, 2005), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of SJ of noninfringement in favor of Bombardier Inc. and Sports Car, Inc. (collectively “Bombardier”). The Court held that thepatentee had waived any claim of infringement under the DOE.

Boss Control, Inc. and others (collectively “Boss”) brought suit against Bombardier for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,734,206 (“the ‘206 patent”). The ‘206 patent is directed toward a security power interrupt apparatus that prevents unauthorized use of an electrically operated device. In controlling power to the device, the apparatus may operate in an “interrupt mode” when, for example, a keypad is removed from the device. In interrupt mode, the apparatus retains a power connection between auxiliary equipment and a power supply. Thus, power to the device is not completely shut off until a present electrical current is exceeded. The suit focused on claim 7, which recites, inter alia, “a controller operative to monitor the operative connection with said code-providing device,” and “operative to interrupt power to the load responsive to said code-providing device being operatively disconnected from said controller.”

The accused devices include personal watercraft and snowmobiles that are each installed with a security system. The watercraft’s security system allows the engine to operate only when a digitally encoded key, in the form of a cap carried by the operator, is recognized by the system. Thus, when the cap is removed from the watercraft, the engine, auxiliary gauges, and lights are instantly shut off. However, the security system temporarily provides power to the auxiliary gauges and lights when an operator attempts to restart the watercraft without the proper encoded key. The snowmobile’s security system allows the engine to start and idle with any cap in place, but only allows acceleration of the snowmobile when it recognizes a properly encoded key.

In the district court, Bombardier moved for SJ of invalidity and noninfringement. Rejecting Boss’s argument that the term “interrupt” simply means “to break off” or “to shut or cut off,” the district court found that the accused devices do not “interrupt power to the load,” as construed in the context of the ‘206 patent and do not “monitor the operative connection with said code-providing device.” Accordingly, the district court granted SJ of noninfringement.

In construing claim 7, the Federal Circuit examined the specification of the ‘206 patent to ascertain the meaning of the term “interrupt.” The Court determined that the multistage power interrupt aspects of the invention disclosed in the ‘206 patent are distinguishable from “simple on-off interruption of electrical power.” As disclosed in the ‘206 patent, the interruption of power to an electrical device involves two stages. The first stage enables auxiliary functions to remain operational when a combined current draw is less than a current threshold. The second stage disconnects power to the device when the current threshold is exceeded.

Accordingly, the Court rejected Boss’s arguments that the term “interrupt” should be given its ordinary meaning of “to break off” or “to shut or cut off.” In the context of the ‘206 patent, the Court noted that the term “interrupt” means more than simply on-off control of electrical power. Further, the Court found that the use of the term “cut off” interchangeably with the term “interrupt” during prosecution of the ‘206 patent did not overcome the specification’s definition of the claim term “interrupt.” Accordingly, the Federal Circuit found no error with the district court’s construction.

Based on this construction, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that there was no genuine issue of material fact with respect to literal infringement. The Court recognized that the security system of the watercraft does not interrupt power to a load when a code-providing device is operatively disconnected from a controller because the watercraft completely shuts down power when the security key is removed. Therefore, the watercraft does not provide electrical current up to a threshold level such that auxiliary components may continue to operate and does not shut off power when the threshold level is exceeded. The Court further noted that simply maintaining a physical connection in the form of a hardwire with the power supply does not show the watercraft maintains a current up to a preset threshold level in the hardwire.

The Federal Circuit also rejected Boss’s position that the district court committed reversible error by not determining infringement under the DOE. Instead, the Court agreed with Bombardier that Boss waived its right to appeal this issue when it failed to present any arguments concerning the DOE to the district court.