The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a determination by the International Trade Commission (ITC), resulting in a judgment of a § 337 violation against the respondent/intervenors, SMC Corporation and SMC of America (collectively SMC). Norgren Inc. v. International Trade Commission, Case No. 08-1415 (Fed. Cir., May 26, 2009)(Moore, J.) (nonprecedential).
Norgren filed a complaint with the ITC, alleging various § 337 violations by SMC. Norgren asserted that SMC had imported into the United States structures that connect fluid-conditioning units in a compressed air pipeline in violation of Norgren’s patent rights. The administrative law judge (ALJ) issued an initial determination (ID”, finding that SMC did not infringe the asserted claims, but also finding that the patent was non-obvious.
The claim in issue recites a structure with “a generally rectangular ported flange,” which the ALJ interpreted to require four projecting rims. As the SMC structures only have two projecting rims, the ALJ found that the accused structures did not infringe and thus there was no violation of § 337. The ITC declined to review the ID and terminated the investigation, finding no violation. Norgren appealed.
The issue on appeal focused on claim construction. Norgren argued that the ALJ’s claim construction was “erroneous for requiring that each flange has projecting rims on all four sides.” To resolve the dispute, the Court, reviewing the claim construction de novo, considered the claim preamble language “generally rectangular ported flange” and structural element “clamp adopted … to engage … the pair of ported flanges.” The Court found that nothing in the claims directly requires four projecting rims, noting that the term “rim” does not even appear in the patent. The Court discussed the “generally rectangular ported flange” language to determine if that language indirectly required four projecting rims. Reviewing the figures in the specification, the Court noted that the term “rectangular” was satisfied by the shape of the flange and did not refer to the number of rims required. The term “ported” was found to indicate that the flange have a hole in the middle permitting the passage of fluids. Finally, the Court found that the word “flange” would not be interpreted by one of ordinary skill in the art to require four rims. Although the figures depicted in the patent show flanges with four rims, the Court citing the prohibition against importing limitations from the specification into the claims, enunciated in Phillips, and concluded that the ALJ, in the ID, had unduly narrowed the claim.
Thus, the Court found that the term a “generally rectangular ported flange” means a generally rectangular projection with a hole for fluid passage and did not require four rims. On that basis, the Court reversed the ITC’s non-infringement determination.
SMC, acting as intervenor in the appeal, argued that the Court could affirm the ITC’s determination by reversing the finding of the ALJ that the patent was non-obvious. The Court, however, declined to address this issue, stating that the ALJ should evaluate obviousness in the first instance using the proper construction of “generally rectangular ported flange.”