Claim language must be construed in the context of the claim in which it appears, because extracting a single word from a claim divorced from the surrounding limitations can lead construction astray.
The patents-in-suit shared a common specification with patents describing a networked system of gaming machines, including slot machines. The patents-in-suit described and claimed methods for rewarding players over and above the device payouts when certain conditions were met. For example, the gaming devices could be configured to payout a bonus when a player bet a certain amount of money. Significantly, the patents required that a command be sent to a gaming machine that would pay the player in accordance with the command. The patentee alleged that two promotions, Power Rewards and Power Winners, offered by the accused infringer infringed claims of its patents.
After construing a number of claim terms, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the patentee with respect to the Power Rewards promotion and with respect to one of the two embodiments of the Power Winners promotion. The district court granted summary judgment to the accused infringer on the other embodiment of the Power Winners promotion because in that embodiment the user was simply notified that he or she won the promotion, the user was not actually paid at the gaming device itself. Both parties appealed.
The Federal Circuit revisited each of the disputed claim terms and affirmed. One of the patents required “issuing a command over the network to one of said preselected gaming devices” and “paying at said one gaming device in accordance with the command.” The accused infringer argued that “one” should be construed to require that the command be sent to one and only one machine during the promotional period. The patentee argued that as long as one command goes to one machine and causes that machine to pay out, that command meets the claim limitation regardless of how many other commands are sent. The Court agreed with the patentee because the meaning of the word “one” was clear from the words that surrounded it. Claim language must be construed in the context of the claim in which it appears, because extracting a single word from a claim divorced from the surrounding limitations can lead construction astray. In addition to the claim language, a number of promotions described in the preferred embodiments involved multiple commands sent to different devices. As a result, the word “one” clearly modified the number of devices that would pay in accordance with the command, but did not prevent the issuance of other pay commands to other machines during the promotional period.
A copy of the opinion can be found here.