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Scope of Claim Terms Broadened by Relying on Ordinary Meaning

02-1592
August 13, 2003

Decision icon Decision

Last Month at the Federal Circuit - September 2003

Judges:  
Gajarsa (author), Newman, and Bryson

In Anchor Wall Systems, Inc. v. Rockwood Retaining Walls, Inc., No. 02-1592 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 13, 2003), the Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part, reversed-in-part, and vacated-in-part the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Anchor Wall Systems, Inc. (“Anchor”) sued Rockwood Retaining Walls, Inc. and several others (collectively “Rockwood”), alleging infringement of six patents that relate to masonry blocks having interlocking features that allow the blocks to be stacked to form retaining walls.

The district court granted Rockwood’s motion for partial SJ of noninfringement. In reaching its decision, the district court narrowly construed several claim terms, including “back surface,” “protrusion,” “mate,” and “generally parallel,” to include limitations from the written description. The district court found no literal infringement and held that because Anchor had amended the claims during prosecution, there was a complete bar to application of the DOE, citing the Federal Circuit’s decision in Festo. In addition, the district court granted Rockwood’s motion to strike the testimony of an expert witness on the grounds that the expert’s declarations were untimely and contradicted prior sworn testimony.

On appeal, Anchor argued that the district court had based its partial SJ of noninfringement on an improper construction of the claim terms. The Federal Circuit agreed. For each claim term in question, the Federal Circuit provided a broader construction based on the “ordinary meaning” of the term obtained using a dictionary definition and concluded that nothing in the written description compelled the narrow construction provided by the district court. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reversed that portion of the district court’s decision.

Anchor further argued that the district court had erred by concluding that, under Festo, an amendment of the asserted claims during prosecution resulted in a complete bar to application of the DOE. The Federal Circuit again agreed and, citing the Supreme Court’s rejection of the absolute-bar approach, vacated that portion of the district court’s decision.

Finally, Anchor argued that the district court had erred by granting Rockwood’s motion to strike the testimony of the expert witness. Applying the law of the Eighth Circuit, the Federal Circuit found that the district court had not abused its discretion and affirmed that portion of the district court’s decision.