Addressing whether there were any reasons to depart from the plain and ordinary meaning of terms in claim construction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s summary judgment of non-infringement, finding that the decision was premised on erroneous claim constructions because the district court had improperly limited the terms beyond their plain and ordinary meaning. Hill-Rom Services, Inc. v. Stryker Corp., Case No. 13-1450 (Fed. Cir., June 27, 2014) (Moore, J.) (Reyna, J., dissenting).
Hill-Rom brought suit against Stryker alleging patent infringement of patents directed to hospital beds. The district court issued its claim construction ruling and the parties stipulated to non-infringement based on the construction of four claim terms: “datalink,” “interface board including a processor,” “message validation” and “bed condition message.” After the district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement. Hill-Rom appealed.
The Federal Circuit reversed, explaining that the district court had erred in limiting “datalink” to “a cable.” The district court should have applied the plain and ordinary meaning, because the specification did not support any limiting lexicography or disavowal arguments. Although the specification used the terms “datalink,” “cable” and “serial datalink” to describe the same component in the preferred embodiment without presenting a wireless alternative, the Court found that there was no language indicating that a wired connection was important, essential or necessary. Further, the Court pointed to dependent claims that referred to a “wired datalink” as evidence of claim differentiation, i.e., differentiated from wireless. Hill-Rom’s expert presented the only evidence representing the understanding of one of ordinary skill in the art, which included wireless datalinks. The Federal Circuit ruled that the district court erred in construing datalink to exclude wireless communications in order to enable the claims. Rather, the Court instructed that claim terms should be given their plain and ordinary meaning and not be rewritten to preserve validity.
Turning to “interface board including a processor” claim term, the Federal Circuit concluded the proper construction did not require a “wall interface unit” or receiving messages from a remote location because neither the claims nor the written description included such requirements.
The Court generally agreed with the district court regarding the construction of the term “message validation information,” to the extent that validation meant verifying the message bit by bit, noting that to construe otherwise would exclude the preferred embodiment. However, the Court stated that nothing in the claims or specification limited the term to a single data field, and so the construction should be amended to “one or more fields.”
Finally, the Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court’s construction of “bed condition message,” which it found was incorrectly based on judicial estoppel since the district court improperly relied on statements made by Hill-Rom in the prosecution of a later, unrelated, hospital bed patent application. Further, the Court noted that even those statements by Hill-Rom were not clearly inconsistent with Hill-Rom’s construction of “bed condition message,” and that therefore the plain and ordinary meaning should apply.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Reyna argued that the Court’s construction of datalink improperly included all data communication now and into the future. In Judge Reyna’s view both the claims and written description emphasize “datalink” as a physical structure. Judge Reyna stated that the majority ignored a subsequently filed application by Hill-Rom that was substantially the same as the patents at issue but for the use of wireless technology.