Federal Circuit Summaries

Before Dyk, Reyna, and Hughes. Appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.

Summary: Where the Federal Circuit had previously construed the same claim term in an appeal involving a related patent also owned by the patentee in the present case, collateral estoppel applied as to the construction of that term in this appeal even though the claims were not identical.

Prior to this current appeal, Nestlé had appealed the Board’s construction of the term “aseptic” in an IPR proceeding involving a related patent owned by Steuben Foods. In the prior appeal, the Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s construction of the claim term “aseptic” and relied on binding lexicography in the specification to construe the term to mean the “FDA level of aseptic.” The patent at issue in this appeal was directed to systems for aseptic packaging of food products. In this case, the Board did not use the same construction of the term “aseptic” as determined by the Federal Circuit in the prior appeal.

The Federal Circuit relied on collateral estoppel in determining that the term “aseptic” should be construed in the same manner that it was construed in the prior appeal. The Federal Circuit noted that neither party “pointed to any material difference between the two patents or their prosecution histories” that would give rise to different claim construction issues. Further, “the two patents [] provide identical lexicography for the term ‘aseptic’ in their specifications.” In addition, the Federal Circuit emphasized that collateral estoppel is not limited to patent claims that are identical and that it is actually the identity of the issues that were litigated that determines whether collateral estoppel should apply. The Federal Circuit vacated the Board’s construction and remanded for further proceedings.