Accent Packaging, Inc. v. Leggett & Platt, Inc., No. 2012-1011, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 2446 (Fed. Cir., Feb. 4, 2013).

In Accent Packaging, the Federal Circuit construed “one” as “one or more” and not “only one.” It also re-affirmed that a device does not infringe simply because it is possible to alter it in a way that satisfies all the claim limitations.

Accent sued Leggett in 2010 for alleged infringement of U.S. 7,373,877 and 7,412,992. The two almost-identical patents describe a “wire tier” device used to bale recyclables or solid waste for easier handling. Accent alleged that its 470 product is a commercial embodiment of the patents and Leggett’s Pinnacle product is an infringing knock off. However, whereas the 470 product has four “elongated operator bodies” (one for each of a gripper, knotter, cutter and cover), the Pinnacle product only has two “elongated operator bodies” (one for the gripper, the other for the knotter, cutter and cover).

The ‘877 patent claims require “elongated operator bodies, with each of the operator bodies being operably coupled with a respective one of said gripper, knotter, cutting element and cover” (emphasis added). The District Court construed this language as requiring four elongated operator bodies, and granted Leggett’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement of the ‘877 patent.

The Federal Circuit reversed and held that the claim does not explicitly require each elongated operator body to be coupled with one and only one operator element. The Court appears to have gone a step further than Baldwin Graphic Sys., Inc. v. Siebert, Inc., 512 F.3d 1338, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (“‘a’ or ‘an’ in patent parlance carries the meaning of ‘one or more’ in open-ended claims containing the transitional phrase comprising” unless a patentee has “‘evidence[d] a clear intent’ to limit ‘a’ or ‘an’ to ‘one’”). It acknowledged that the term “one” appears directly after “a respective” and might be viewed as limiting, but nevertheless interpreted “one” to mean one or more, because two of the elongated operator bodies in the patents’ preferred embodiment are disclosed as coupled to more than one operator elements (knotter and cover). In sum, the term “one” was held to mean one or more and not only one. This was Leggett’s only non-infringement position so the District Court was directed to enter summary judgment of infringement for Accent.

Separately, the Federal Circuit upheld a finding of non-infringement for the ‘992 patent because the Pinnacle’s cover could only pivot 68 degrees before reaching a “SafeLatch” stop, and did not satisfy the claims’ required “pivot arc of at least about 90°.” Accent argued on appeal that Pinnacle’s pivot arc was greater than 68 degrees because the stop could be easily removed, but the Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that “[a] device does not infringe simply because it is possible to alter it in a way that would satisfy all the limitations of a patent claim” (quoting High Tech Med. Instrumentation v. New Image Indus., Inc., 49 F.3d 1551, 1555 (Fed. Cir. 1995)).