Advanced Steel Recovery, LLC v. X-Body Equipment, Inc.

Addressing claim construction issues, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment ruling, finding that the district court properly construed the disputed claim limitation based on its ordinary meaning. Advanced Steel Recovery, LLC v. X-Body Equipment, Inc., Case No. 14-1829 (Fed. Cir., Nov. 12, 2015) (Stoll, J.).

Advanced Steel sued X-Body alleging infringement of a patent related to loading shipping containers with bulk material for storage or transport. At issue was the proper construction of the term “proximate end.” Noting that the specification did not expressly define this term, the district court construed “proximate end” to mean “the extreme or last part lengthwise.” Based on this construction, the district court found that the “connection point” of the accused device was not at the “proximate end” and granted summary judgment of non-infringement in X-Body’s favor. Advanced Steel appealed.

On appeal, Advanced Steel faulted the district court for narrowly construing “proximate end” to mean the extreme or absolute edge of the container packer. According to Advanced Steel, the term should have been construed as the “back half” or “the portion or region that is opposite the distal end.” But, as the Federal Circuit explained, Advanced Steel’s argument misrepresents the district court’s construction. The district court did not actually construe “proximate end” as the “extreme edge,” “absolute edge,” but instead used the disjunctive “or” to show that the proximate end of the container packer includes not just the “extreme” end, but also the “last part.” The Court found that the district court’s construction was consistent with the plain and ordinary meaning of the claim term, and consistent with the specification, which in every figure shows the disputed connection point being at the extreme edge. The Court rejected Advanced Steel’s argument that the patent depicted the “proximate end” as being offset from the absolute edge, stating that the district court’s construction of “proximate end” allowed for such an offset to coexist. The Court also rejected Advanced Steel’s reliance on alternative dictionary definitions, explaining that these dictionaries’ definitions were not inconsistent with the district court’s construction.

In affirming the district court’s no literal infringement ruling, the Court agreed that the “connection point” of the accused device was not at the “proximate end” because it was nearly one-third away from the extreme end. As for the doctrine of equivalents, the Court agreed that the range of equivalents did not extend to the connection point of the accused device. Here, the Court found that Advanced Steel failed to meet its burden of showing that the accused device performed substantially the same way as the claimed invention, explaining that Advanced Steel’s expert referred to features of the accused device that corresponded to other claim limitations.

Practice Note: Claim terms that appear as narrow or limiting on their face will be interpreted as such unless the specification contains additional definitions or descriptions showing that one of ordinary skill in the art intended to define the claim terms beyond their ordinary meaning.