On June 23, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a non-precedential opinion in Indus. Tech. Research Inst. v. ITC (2013-1480).  This was an appeal from the International Trade Commission’s (the “Commission”) determination that LG Electronics, Inc., LG Electronics USA, Inc., LG Display Co., Ltd., and LG Display America, Inc. (collectively, “LG”) did not violate Section 337 in Certain Devices For Improving Uniformity Used in a Backlight Module and Components Thereof and Products Containing the Same (Inv. No. 337-TA-805) with respect to U.S. Patent No. 6,883,932 (“the ‘932 patent”).

By way of background, the Complainants in this investigation are Industrial Technology Research Institute and ITRI International, Inc. (collectively, “ITRI”).  On November 1, 2012, ALJ Essex issued the public version of his Initial Determination (“ID”) finding no violation as to the ‘932 patent.  See our November 6, 2012 post for more details on the ID.

On December 21, 2012, the Commission issued a notice and order in which it deciding to review the ID and remand-in-part the investigation to ALJ Essex for a determination regarding invalidity and unenforceability.  See our December 27, 2012 post for more details on the Commission’s notice.

On March 11, 2013, ALJ Essex issued the public version of his Remand Initial Determination (“Remand ID”) again finding no violation of Section 337.  In the Remand ID, the ALJ also found the ‘932 patent invalid as anticipated.  See our March 13, 2013 post for more details on the Remand ID.  On May 17, 2013, the Commission issued the public version of its opinion affirming the ALJ’s finding of no violation. See our June 28, 2013 post for more details on the Commission’s opinion.

The ‘932 patent is directed to a structure used in backlit digital display screens to uniformly distribute light across the screen.  The ‘932 patent recites an improved structure to uniformly distribute the light using “structured arc sheets” instead of light-diffusing sheets.

According to the Federal Circuit’s opinion, the dispute centers around the claim construction of the term “structured arc sheet,” which the Commission construed as “a sheet that is constructed in the shape of an arc.”  In its appeal, ITRI argued that the term should be construed as “a sheet containing an arc-like structure for altering the pathway of illuminating light in multiple directions,” and that the Commission erred in restricting the scope of the term to the disclosed embodiments by inferring a size of the claimed structured arc sheets.  ITRI also asserted that the ‘932 patent covers flat sheets with microscopic “arc-like” structures, and that the prosecution history supports this construction.  ITRI further contended that only its construction adds a limitation explaining how the structured arc sheets function and, according to ITRI, there is no dispute as to how the arc sheets function.  The Commission and LG responded that the intrinsic evidence supported the Commission’s construction and that ITRI was improperly attempting to read a functional limitation into the construction.

The Federal Circuit agreed with the Commission and LG that the intrinsic evidence supports the Commission’s construction, explaining that although the claim language indicates that the two structured arc sheets have “different thickness or curvature,” construing the claim to include two flat sheets with different thicknesses would read the term “arc” out of the claim.  Additionally, the court noted that the Commission’s construction only imposed limitations on the shape of the structured arc sheets and did not impose limitations on their size.

The court also found that the specification of the ‘932 patent supports the Commission’s construction as the figures and language consistently indicate that the sheet must be constructed in the shape of an arc.  The court further noted that the specification provides no support for ITRI’s argument that “arc” should be construed as “arc-like.”  The Federal Circuit further found that the intrinsic evidence does not contain any language requiring the addition of ITRI’s functional limitation in the claim construction.

As ITRI did not contest the Commission’s finding of no infringement and failure to meet the technical prong of the domestic industry requirement if the Federal Circuit affirmed the Commission’s construction of the term “structured arc sheets,” the court did not address LG’s affirmative defense of anticipation.  Accordingly, the court affirmed the Commission’s construction of “structured arc sheet” and the Commission’s termination of the investigation based on no violation of Section 337.