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Claimed “Member” Is Not Limited Only to Disclosed Embodiment

May 03, 2002

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - June 2002

Judges: Michel (author), Mayer, and Lourie

In CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., No. 01-1139 (Fed. Cir. May 3, 2002), the Federal Circuit reversed a SJ of no literal infringement and remanded for further consideration of infringement under the DOE.

CCS Fitness, Inc. (“CCS”) is the assignee of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,924,962 (“the ‘962 patent”), 5,938,567 (“the ‘567 patent”), and 5,683,333 (“the ‘333 patent”), which are directed to a stationary exercise device known as an elliptical trainer. CCS sued the Life Fitness division of Brunswick Corporation (“Life Fitness”), alleging that two of Life Fitness’s elliptical exercisers literally infringed claims of the ‘962 and ‘567 patents and infringed certain claims of the ‘333 patent under the DOE.

Each of the claims in the asserted patents recites the term “reciprocating member.” The parties agreed that Life Fitness’s accused machines use pedal levers that curve upward and use multiple components to attach to and rotate around a crankshaft. However, the parties moved for SJ, arguing whether “reciprocating member” covered curved, multicomponent structures or only a single straight-bar structure.

The district court had found that the term “reciprocating member” did not cover structures having multiple parts, since the illustrations in the patents showed only a reciprocating member made of a single contiguous straight bar. The district court had reasoned that if CCS wanted to claim a reciprocating member that was a curved, multicomponent structure, its patents should have included an illustration that showed this embodiment. Accordingly, the district court granted SJ in favor of Life Fitness that the accused devices did not literally infringe the ‘962 and ‘567 patents and granted SJ that the accused devices did not infringe the ‘333 patent under the DOE.

CCS appealed, arguing that the ordinary meaning of “reciprocating member“ covered a curved structure having multiple components. Life Fitness argued that the term “member” had no ordinary meaning and, thus, when interpreted in light of the specification, was limited to a straight bar. Life Fitness also argued that the term “reciprocating member” was a means-plus-function clause and, therefore, was limited to the structure disclosed in the specification and equivalents.

The Federal Circuit found that “reciprocating member” covered multicomponent, curved structures, noting that a heavy presumption exists in favor of such a claim term having its ordinary and customary meaning. An accused infringer that simply points to a preferred embodiment or other disclosures in the specification or prosecution history fails to overcome this heavy presumption, the Court observed. It emphasized that a patentee need not describe every conceivable and possible future embodiment for the claims to cover that particular embodiment. Relying upon dictionaries to determine the ordinary meaning, the Federal Circuit agreed with CCS that “reciprocating member” was not limited to a single component straight-bar structure.

The Court also rejected Life Fitness’s means-plus-function argument because the limitation defined some structure. As such, the “member” was not limited to the disclosed structure and equivalents.

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reversed the SJ of no literal infringement, and reversedin- part, vacated, and remanded the SJ of no infringement under the DOE.