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Rivets Are Not “Releasable Fasteners”

03-1408
March 15, 2005

Decision icon Decision

Last Month at the Federal Circuit - April 2005

Judges: Rader (author), Mayer, and Prost

In V-Formation, Inc. v. Benetton Group SpA, No. 03-1408 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 15, 2005), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of SJ of noninfringement for U.S. Patent Nos. 5,803,466 (“the ‘466 patent”) and 6,045,143 (“the ‘143 patent”).

V-Formation, Inc. (“V-Formation”) owns both the ‘466 and ’143 patents, which relate to an inline roller skate having a frame, comprising a toe plate and a heel plate, attached to the bottom of a boot with a pair of sidewalls “releasably” attached to flanges on the frame. The wheels of the in-line roller skate, in turn, are mounted between the pair of sidewalls. Benetton Group SpA (“Benetton”) manufactures an in-line roller skate having a frame attached to the bottom of a boot and a pair of sidewalls attached to the frame by rivets. V-Formation argued that the rivets attaching Benetton’s frame and sidewalls met the claim requirement for releasable fasteners.

In the district court, Benetton moved for SJ of noninfringement. Construing the term “releasably attaching” as requiring that the fasteners “must permit the sidewalls to be easily removed and replaced,” the district court granted SJ of noninfringement for the ‘466 patent. Further, the district court concluded that the structure of the Benetton skate did not satisfy toe-plate and heelplate limitations for the frame in the ‘143 patent. As a result, the district court granted SJ in favor of Benetton for the ‘143 patent as well.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit examined the specification of the ‘466 patent for context as to what one of ordinary skill in the art would have understood “releasably attaching” to mean. Quoting portions of the specification stating that the sidewalls must be “easily removed without special tools or skills,” and that an “aspect of the invention is a repair kit for . . . faster or more convenient sidewall replacement,” the Court found that the specification supported the district court’s claim construction. Further, the Federal Circuit examined prior art listed on the face of the ‘466 patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,549,310 (“the Meibockpatent”), as intrinsic evidence and observed that the Meibock patent described its frame as permanently attached through the use of rivets or releasably attached through the use of fasteners, such as screws or bolts. As a result, the Federal Circuit found that the district court had properly concluded that the Meibock patent provided evidence that rivets were permanent fasteners.

Having affirmed the district court’s claim construction, the Federal Circuit affirmed the finding of noninfringement of the ‘466 patent.

With respect to the ‘143 patent, the Federal Circuit did not agree with V-Formation’s contention that the district court’s grant of SJ was improper because the opposing view of the experts raised a genuine issue of material fact. Instead, the Federal Circuit noted that there was no disagreement between the views of the experts concerning the structure of the Benetton skate at issue. Further, the Federal Circuit agreed that the claims of the ‘143 patent did not cover the structure of the Benetton skate, and, therefore, the district court had properly concluded that the Benetton skate did not infringe the ‘143 patent, either literally or under the DOE.