Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Electronics North America Corp.

In yet another post-Teva claim construction case (see discussion of Teva v. Sandoz, Shire Development v. Watson Pharmaceuticals, Kaneka Corp. v. Xiamen Kingdomway Grp. and TomTom, Inc. v. Adolph cases (this edition) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in a decision rendered on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of its Teva decision, reversed its earlier en bancdecision on a key claim construction dispute. Applying the Teva clear-error standard of review for factual findings made by the district court, the Federal Circuit this time found that the district court’s claim construction was not “clearly erroneous.” Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Electronics North America Corp., Case No. 12-1004 (Fed. Cir., June 23, 2015) (Reyna, J.).

At trial, the district court, based on expert testimony, ruled that the claim term “voltage source means” used in a claim directed to an electronic ballast current regulator and was not a means plus function limitation (and therefore not governed by § 112(6)), but instead would have been understood to an artisan as a structure, specifically a rectifier. Had the disputed term been governed by § 112(6), the claim would have been invalid under § 112(2) for a failure to disclose corresponding structure. After a jury found infringement, the district court awarded $3 million in damages to Lighting Ballast. Philips appealed.

In the initial appeal, after reversing the district court claim construction (in a non-precedential decision) based on de novo claim construction review, the Federal Circuit granted en banc review to consider the correct standard of review to apply in situations where district court fact fining had been made in connection with claim construction.

The result of that en banc review was three published opinions that covered 88 pages, but the distilled holding of the majority was as follows:

“[W]e apply the principles of stare decisis, and confirm the Cybor standard of de novo review of claim construction, whereby the scope of the patent grant is reviewed as a matter of law. After fifteen years of experience with Cybor, we conclude that the court should retain plenary review of claim construction, thereby providing national uniformity, consistency, and finality to the meaning and scope of patent claims. The totality of experience has confirmed that Cybor is an effective implementation of [the Supreme Court’s decision in Markman], and that the criteria for departure from stare decisis are not met.” (See IP Update, Vol. 17, No. 2.)

Lighting Ballast sought Supreme Court review but while its cert petition was pending, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Teva Pharmaceuticals (IP Update, Vol 18, No. 1), holding that factual findings made by a district court in connection with claim construction should be reviewed for clear error, and remanded Lighting Ballast back to the Federal Circuit for reconsideration in view of Teva. In its remand decision, the Federal Circuit focused on the “unchallenged expert testimony” cited by the district court regarding the meaning, to the artisan, of the claimed “voltage source means.”

Noting that “[t]he district court made findings of fact [as to the meaning of the disputed claim term] based on extrinsic evidence” [i.e., the expert testimony] and that “it was not legal error . . . to rely on [the] extrinsic evidence, because that evidence was “not used to contradict claim meaning that is unambiguous in light of the intrinsic evidence,” the Court this time affirmed the (previously reversed) district court’s construction.

Practice Note: As many litigators have recognized and as district court judges have concluded, in the post-Teva world, extrinsic evidence introduced in connection with claim construction disputes may focus appellate review, at least in these situations where the extrinsic evidence is not used in a way that is inconsistent with the intrinsic evidence. See IP Update, Vol. 18, No. 4, (Enzo Biochem); IP Update, Vol. 18, No. 3 (In re Papst Licensing and Fenner Investments v. Cellco Partnership) and cases included in this edition of IP Update (Kaneka Corp., TomTom and Teva (remand)) for reports on other recent post-Teva cases where the Federal Circuit either accepted or rejected extrinsic claim construction evidence (for deferential review) or rejected it (and engaged in de novo review).