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Failure to Object to Jury Instructions Resulted in a Deferential Standard of Review for Claim Construction

August 10, 2006
Capron, Aaron J.

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - September 2006

Judges: Lourie, Rader (author), Linn

[Appealed from: D. Md., Judge Quarles]

In Serio-US Industries, Inc. v. Plastic Recovery Technologies Corp., Nos. 05-1106, -1143, -1306 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 10, 2006), the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s entry of judgment of noninfringement following a jury trial. In doing so, the Federal Circuit upheld the district court’s claim construction and affirmed the dismissal of Plastic Recovery Technologies Corporation’s (“PRT”) counterclaims.

Serio-US Industries, Inc. (“Serio-US”) filed suit against PRT alleging that PRT’s dumpster lock infringed certain claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,094,358 (“the ’358 patent”) and 5,662,364 (“the ’364 patent”). The ’358 and ’364 patents are directed to a gravity-actuated dumpster lock that prevents a dumpster from opening until inverted for emptying. A jury rendered a verdict of noninfringement on both patents.

On appeal, Serio-US argued that the district court’s jury instructions contained claim construction errors. The Federal Circuit noted that even though Serio-US submitted proposed jury instructions on the second day of trial, the record did not show that Serio-US objected to the district court’s jury instructions, as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 51(c). Thus, the Court held that Serio-US could only appeal “plain error” under Rule 51(d), which in the Fourth Circuit requires a showing of a “miscarriage of justice.”

The Court perceived no miscarriage of justice in the trial court’s jury instruction. In particular, the district court held that the claim limitation “front side” meant “a location on a front side surface of a dumpster,” whereas Serio-US argued that it meant a portion of the container “toward the front.” The Federal Circuit held that the district court’s interpretation was supported by the claim language and the specification, and thus did not amount to a miscarriage of justice. Further, the Federal Circuit denied Serio-US’s request to remand the case for a new trial on the issue of infringement because Serio-US did not file either a motion for JMOL or a new trial and because there was no prejudicial legal error in the trial court’s claim construction. Finally, the Federal Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion inrelying on expert testimony to arrive at its claim construction because it was not at odds with the intrinsic evidence.

Regarding PRT’s cross appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of PRT’s counterclaims because it failed to find any proof that Serio-US had filed a “bad faith” action. The Court reasoned that Serio-US relied on the opinion of patent counsel before bringing the suit and found that Serio-US believed that they had a likelihood of success based on the district court’s preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of PRT’s counterclaims and the refusal to award attorney fees.