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Court Reverses Summary Judgment of Noninfringement

April 25, 2001

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - May 2001

Judges: Mayer, Bryson, and Dyk (per curiam)

In Somfy, S.A. v. Springs Window Fashion Division, Inc., No. 00-1379 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 25, 2001) (nonprecedential decision), the Federal Circuit reversed-in-part and remanded a district court’s decision granting SJ of noninfringement of Somfy, S.A.’s (“Somfy”) U.S. Patent No. 5,328,113 (“the ‘113 patent”) directed to a device for evenly winding the suspension cord of window blinds to ensure that the windings of the cord do not overlap one another.

Claim 1 of the ’113 patent describes a winding drum, an auxiliary drum means, and “shoulder means on one end of said auxiliary drum means for moving successive cord windings axially away from the shoulder means and onto the auxiliary drum means as the cord windings are formed.” The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that “shoulder means” was a claim limitation pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6, because “shoulder” described a blocking function rather than indicating a specific structure sufficient to perform the claimed function, i.e., to move the cord by blocking (“shouldering”) the cord.

Despite Somfy’s contrary argument, the Federal Circuit also affirmed the district court’s determination that, in view of the intrinsic and extrinsic evidence, including inventor’s testimony and dictionary definitions, the structure required the “shoulder means” to physically contact the auxiliary drum to perform the function.

The Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s noninfringement holding, however, and determined that, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Somfy, the testimony of Springs’s own witnesses on how the device operated, the device itself, and the evidence Somfy presented of copying, were sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that the fingers of the accused device were equivalent to the “shoulder means” of the ‘113 patent because the accused device operated in the same way as Somfy’s by guiding the cord against the shoulder or finger to move successive windings down the drum. Accordingly, the Court remanded for a determination of the infringement issue.