No Interference−in−Fact Exists Because, Applying the Proper Construction, Junior Patent Is Not Obvious over Senior Reissue Application
May 05, 2010
Last Month at the Federal Circuit - June 2010
Judges: Michel, Rader (author), Schall
[Appealed from: E.D. Va., Judge Brinkema]
In Rolls−Royce, PLC v. United Technologies Corp., No. 09−1307 (Fed. Cir. May 5, 2010), the Federal Circuit held that Rolls−Royce, PLC’s (“Rolls−Royce”) junior patent would not have been obvious over United Technologies Corp.’s (“UTC”) senior reissue application, thereby determining that there was no interference−in−fact.
In 2003, the Board declared an interference between Rolls−Royce’s U.S. Patent No. 6,071,077 (“the ’077 patent”) and UTC’s Reissue Application No. 09/874,931 (“the ’931 reissue application”). Based on the earliest available priority dates, the Board named UTC the senior party. Rolls−Royce did not contest its designated priority. The Board defined a single interference count corresponding to claim 23 of UTC’s ’931 reissue application and claim 8 of Rolls−Royce’s ’077 patent. Both claims are directed to a stage of a gas turbine engine, which can be used to power aircraft. The claims require a fan blade with a swept−forward inner region, a swept−rearward intermediate region, and an outer region with recited properties. At issue was the limitation, recited in UTC’s claim 23, that “the outer region be translated forward relative to a leading edge with the same sweep angle as an outward boundary of the intermediate region to provide a sweep angle that causes the blade to intercept the shock.” The Board construed that limitation as including fan blades with either forward or rearward sweep angles in their outer region. On that basis, the Board entered final judgment in the interference proceedings in favor of UTC.
On appeal from the Board, the district court rejected the Board’s construction as overly broad. After receiving testimonial and documentary evidence in a three−day bench trial, the district court concluded that the disputed limitation, recited in UTC’s claim 23, did not include fan blades with a forward sweep angle in their outer region. Applying its own construction, the district court held that Rolls−Royce’s ’077 patent was patentably distinct from UTC’s ’931 reissue application, and so there was no interference−in−fact.
On appeal from the district court, the Federal Circuit focused its analysis on claim construction and obviousness. Since the disputed limitation in UTC’s claim 23 did not clearly designate a “forward” direction for the recited translation of the outer region of the fan blade, the Court consulted UTC’s specification for clarification. According to the Court, UTC’s specification discusses translation forward only with reference to the axial direction, which is parallel to the rotational axis of the fan and engine. The Court thus construed “translated forward” to mean “moved forward toward the axial direction,” which it defined as parallel to the rotational axis of the fan and engine. The Court rejected UTC’s proposed construction, “toward the relative velocity vector,” as overly broad because it could encompass the axial and circumferential directions, which are at right angles to each other.