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Claim Term Can Have Different Meanings in Different Claims When Used Inconsistently in Respective Embodiments in Specification

09-1557
June 02, 2010
McAnulty, Timothy P.

Decision icon Decision

Last Month At The Federal Circuit - July 2010

Judges: Lourie (author), Gajarsa, Moore

[Appealed from: D. Mass., Judge Gorton]

In Haemonetics Corp. v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., No. 09-1557 (Fed. Cir. June 2, 2010), the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s claim construction of the term “centrifugal unit” in claim 16 of U.S. Patent No. 6,705,983 (“the ’983 patent”) and held that the term used in claim 16 means a vessel and a plurality of tubes, irrespective of the meaning of the same term used in claim 1.  The Court vacated the district court’s grant of JMOL that claim 16 is definite, and vacated the jury’s verdict regarding invalidity and infringement. 

Haemonetics Corp. (“Haemonetics”) and Baxter Healthcare Corp. and Fenwal Inc. (collectively “Fenwal”) manufacture and sell centrifuge devices designed to separate red blood cells from human blood by apheresis.  In contrast to manual collection, where an individual donates whole blood, apheresis collects red blood cells directly from the donor while returning the remaining blood components back to the donor.  The ’983 patent describes a centrifugal device comprising a vessel, in which blood components are separated in a separation chamber, and tubing, through which the blood flows in and out of the vessel.  The tubing connects the rotating vessel to a nonrotating support structure. 

Haemonetics initially brought suit against Fenwal alleging infringement of the ’983 patent by Fenwal’s ALYX® centrifugal system.  After claim construction and SJ motions, Haemonetics limited its allegation of infringement to claim 16 of the ’983 patent.  Fenwal counterclaimed that claim 16 was invalid as indefinite, anticipated, and obvious. 

Claim 16 claims a centrifugal unit comprising a centrifugal component and a plurality of tubes.  The body of claim 16 refers back to “the centrifugal unit,” further defining its height and radius dimensions.  The district court construed the term “centrifugal unit” as used in claim 16 to mean only the vessel, not the vessel and the tubing.  The district court relied on claim 16’s use of dimensions that are identical to those used in other independent claims that used the term “centrifugal unit” to refer exclusively to the vessel, and not the tubing.  The district court reasoned that because the vessel and tubing are always larger than the vessel alone, construing “centrifugal unit” to include the tubing in the context of dimensional limitations would yield an absurdity.

The Court specifically noted that claim 16 unambiguously defines “centrifugal unit” as comprising two structural components:  a centrifugal component and a plurality of tubes, and that the body of claim 16 further recites “the centrifugal unit,” and not “a centrifugal unit” or “the centrifugal component” when defining the height and radius dimensions.  Furthermore, the specification of the ’983 patent defines “centrifugal unit” in the context of the height and radius dimensions in two different embodiments.  One of the embodiments tracks the language of claim 1 and the other embodiment tracks the language of claim 16.

The ’983 patent describes the centrifugal unit in both embodiments as having the claimed dimensions.  But, when describing the first embodiment, the ’983 patent explains that the “centrifugal unit” has a plurality of tubes connected to it.  When describing the other embodiment, the ’983 patent describes the “centrifugal unit” as including “a centrifugal component and a plurality of tubes.”  The Court concluded that the patentee’s inconsistent use of identical height and radius dimensions for two different embodiments indicates that the term “centrifugal unit” must have different meanings in the context of different claims.  In other words, the description of the two embodiments, each tracking the language of different independent claims, most reasonably supports a construction in which “centrifugal unit” has one meaning in claim 1 and another meaning in claim 16.

The Court recognized that construing “centrifugal unit” in claim 16 to include the tubing may lead to an absurdity in the context of the dimensional limitations.  It noted, however, that even so, “we do not redraft claims to contradict their plain language in order to avoid a nonsensical result.”  Slip op. at 11.  Claim 16 defines “centrifugal unit” to include a plurality of tubes and defines the dimensional limitations of that centrifugal unit.  The Court concluded that, although an error may have occurred in drafting claim 16, it is what the patentee claimed and what the public is entitled to rely on.

 

Summary authored by Timothy P. McAnulty, Esq.