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Court Remands Case Concerning Leaf Blower Patent for Trial on Doctrine of Equivalents

September 24, 2001

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - October 2001

Judges: Rader (author), Newman, and Linn]

In Toro Co. v. White Consolidated Industries, Inc., No. 00-1561 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 24, 2001), the Federal Circuit vacated a SJ of noninfringement and remanded for trial.

The Toro Company (“Toro”) owns U.S. Patent No. 4,694,528 (“the ‘528 patent”), which discloses and claims a convertible vacuum-blower used, for example, to collect leaves and small debris or to disperse the same as a blower. In a previous opinion, the Federal Circuit construed the claims and reversed a SJ of literal infringement. Toro Co. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 199 F.3d 1295 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“Toro I”). In particular, the Federal Circuit construed a limitation of claim 16 to mean that a restriction ring or “means for increasing the pressure” is “permanently affixed to and included as part of a cover.” Because White Consolidated Industries, Inc.’s (“White”) accused vacuum-blower has a restriction ring that is separate from the cover, the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded for a determination of infringement under the DOE.

On remand, the district court had interpreted Toro I as holding that a critical function of the air-inlet cover claimed in the ‘528 patent is to automatically insert and remove the restriction ring. Since such function is missing from White’s accused vacuum-blower, the district court had granted SJ that it did not infringe the ‘528 patent under the DOE.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of its opinion and clarified that the claim does not recite the functions of automatically placing the restriction ring and one cannot read such a functional requirement into the claims from the specification. The claim simply defines the function of the cover as covering the air inlet. It explained that in Toro I, it had construed the cover to include a restriction ring; it did not incorporate all inherent functions of a restriction ring into the claim. Thus, the Federal Circuit found a genuine issue of material fact remaining as to whether White’s two-piece ring and cover are insubstantially different from the unitary ring and cover claimed and remanded for trial.