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Partially does not include totally, judgment of noninfringement affirmed

June 05, 2008
Post by Blog Staff

In a decision yesterday, the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court's claim construction and its related judgment of noninfringement. The court declined to import a meaning which went against the plain meaning of the disputed term, and stated if the patentee had intended such a meaning, it should have done so explicitly. The term at issue was "partially hidden from view," and the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that this term excluded items "totally hidden from view."Interestingly, the court affirmed the district court's claim construction even though it excluded every embodiment illustrated in the specification, including the preferred embodiment. The court noted that other claims not at issue could possibly encompass these omitted embodiments.More concerning Helmsderfer v. Bobrick Washroom Equip., Inc. after the jump.Brocar owns a patent directed to a vandalism-resistant diaper changing station for use in public restrooms. Brocar sued a competitor, Bobrick, alleging that Bobrick's stainless steel baby changing stations infringed claims 6 and 7 of the patent, both of which depend from claim 1. The claims at issue, claims 6-7, depend from claim 1. Claim 1 reads (emphasis added):

1. A wall-mounted station for changing the diapers of a baby comprising: a support platform having top and bottom surfaces and opposing sides, the support platform being hingedly fixable at one side with respect to a wall; the support platform being movable between a closed position up against a wall wherein the platform top surface is partially hidden from view and the bottom surface is exposed for view and an open position hinged away from a wall wherein the support platform is disposed generally perpendicular to a wall and the top surface is exposed for receiving a baby; a generally flat protective panel, formed of a non-glass, abrasion-resistant material, the platform bottom surface being configured for receiving said panel such that said panel overlies at least a portion of the platform bottom surface and covers the exposed bottom surface of the platform when the support platform is in a closed position to create vandalism proof support platform for reducing the effects of graffiti and abrasions on the platform and for improving the inner decor of a facility in which the changing station is installed.
The district court construed seven disputed claim terms, including "partially hidden from view." The district court construed the term as "hidden from view to some extent but not totally hidden from view." Under this construction, it was undisputed there was no infringement. The district court entered a stipulated judgment to that effect, and Brocar appealed.Brocar contended that the term should be defined as "positioned so at least some of the top surface is blocked from being seen," and that the plain meaning of "partially" included completely. For support, Brocar pointed to specification language stating the top surface is "generally hidden from view." Also, Brocar noted the district court's construction excluded all disclosed embodiments of the invention, including the preferred embodiment, and thus should not be the proper construction.The Federal Circuit rejected these arguments, and affirmed the district court's construction. The court noted that while Brocar chose to use "partially" in the disputed term, it had used the terms "generally" and "at least" in other instances in claim 1. The court stated that "if Brocar had intended to use these terms to describe the top surface, it should have." The court also agreed with the district court's statement that the intrinsic record provided no clear meaning of the disputed term, and it was therefore appropriate for the district court to look to extrinsic evidence, in this case three dictionaries, to help determine the plain meaning of the term.Regarding exclusion of the disclosed embodiments, the court noted such a claim construction is generally disfavored. Here, however, only the claims at issue were construed not to cover the disclosed embodiments; claims not at issue could encompass the omitted embodiments. As a result, the district court's construction was correct notwithstanding its exclusion of the disclosed embodiments. Finally, the court stated that Brocar could have avoided the whole dispute if it had acted "as its own lexicographer and alter[ed] the ordinary meaning of the term 'partially,'" but did not do so in this case. As a result, the court affirmed the district court's judgment of noninfringement.To read the full decision in Helmsderfer v. Bobrick Washroom Equip., Inc., click here.


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