Centor Australia Pty Ltd v RMD Industries Pty Ltd [2012] FCA 1135

On 19 October 2012, Justice Dowsett of the Federal Court handed down his decision finding that RMD did not infringe Centor's patent entitled "Floating Pivot Mount for a Folding Panel". The patent is directed to the mounting of folding doors and windows. In particular, the claimed invention involves the door or window panel being adjustably mounted to the frame to compensate for shifts that may occur over time, resulting in the misalignment of the frame and folding door/window panel.

Justice Dowsett found that on the proper construction of the patent claims in issue, the claims required the panel assembly to be moveable or capable of adjustment whilst the panels were mounted. The RMD products did not infringe because the RMD pivot mount could only be adjusted manually following the partial dismantling of the assembly.

The alleged infringement by RMD Industries

Centor alleged that by selling particular items of window hardware, RMD infringed claims 1 and 2 of the patent.

Claim 1 is for a folding panel assembly including "a pivot mount for adjustably mounting an end panel of the hinged panels to the jamb". One of the required features of the claimed pivot mount is that it has an arm that is "moveable axially" within a bore to "accommodate movement" parallel to the door or window opening.

Claim 2 is dependent on claim 1 but requires the additional feature that there is "biasing means within the bore for biasing the arm axially to a rest position".

The relevant RMD product was a pivot mount which included an arm that was screwed into a bore. RMD argued that its product did not infringe because the arm could not be moved unless the pivot mount assembly was partially dismantled to allow manual adjustment of the screw in the bore. The product therefore did not provide for the automatic adjustment of the panel which was required by the claims.

Patent construction – claims 1 and 2

Centor and RMD each relied on expert evidence relating to the proper construction of the claims. Justice Dowsett found that each of the experts was appropriately qualified to give evidence as an expert, but their evidence was of little assistance because the witnesses merely expressed an opinion about the meaning of plain English words. His Honour noted that their evidence simply explained the context in which the patent should be read.

In his Honour's view, the words "adjustably mounting" and "moveable" in claim 1 require that the panel assembly is capable of adjustment whilst it is mounted. That is, the arm needs to be moveable whilst the panel is in place. Because adjustment in the RMD products was made by partially dismantling the panel assembly and manually adjusting the screw, there was no infringement of claim 1. His Honour noted that his conclusion was reinforced by reference to the body of the specification which referred to the object of the invention being to overcome the inconvenience of property owners having to manually adjust the known pivot mounts.

In relation to claim 2, his Honour also found that RMD did not infringe because "biasing means" again required the arm to be moveable in the bore, unlike the manually adjustable screw threaded mechanism in the RMD product.

Costs of proceeding to be ordered

After dismissing Centor's application, Justice Dowsett stated that he would make orders dealing with the costs of the proceeding after receiving submissions from the parties.

Lesson for patent owners

Construction of patent claims is a question of law and therefore a matter for the Court, not an expert. In this case, Justice Dowsett found that the words in the claims were to be interpreted according to their plain English meaning and his Honour was not assisted by the expert evidence as to the meaning of particular words. However, when approaching the task of construction, his Honour nevertheless found the expert evidence of use in "explaining the context in which the patent should be read". For the purposes of construing patent claims, expert evidence can be used to assist the Court to place itself in the position of the hypothetical person skilled in the art with the common general knowledge at the priority date.