The context in which a term is used in the asserted claim can be highly instructive.

Schindler Elevator Corporation & Inventio AG v. Otis Elevator Company, No. 2009-1146 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 15, 2010)

The patentee sued the accused infringer on a patent related to automatically calling an elevator and taking a passenger to a specific location based on passenger specific information. The district court construed the disputed claim terms “information transmitter” and “recognition device.” In construing these terms, the district court required these terms to operate without any “personal action” by the elevator passenger. The parties then cross-moved for summary judgment on infringement. The district court held that the accused infringer´s system did not meet these claim limitations because the elevator passenger´s “personal action” was necessary to bring the “information transmitter” within range of the “recognition device.” Thus, the district court held that the accused infringer did not infringe as a matter of law. The Federal Circuit reversed the district court´s claim construction and vacated the grant of summary judgment of non-infringement.

In construing the claim limitations, the court emphasized that the context in which a term is used can be highly instructive and that the claims themselves, both asserted and unasserted, provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms. In this case, the district court overlooked the context of the terms “information transmitter” and “recognition device” and unnecessarily limited these terms to devices operating without “personal actions.” The district court´s construction was inconsistent with the claim language, which recognized that the transmitting data and reading the data were actions performed by the “information transmitter” and “recognition device,” not by the elevator passenger. Further, the claims expressly required “personal actions” by the elevator passenger, which could include bringing the “information transmitter” within range of the “recognition device.”

Further, the specification is always highly relevant to claim construction. Contrary to the district court´s construction, the specification provided examples of elevator passengers using “personal actions” to bring “information transmitters” within the range of “recognition devices.” Moreover, the prosecution history was not inconsistent with the Federal Circuit´s construction. The prosecution history merely recognized that the elevator passenger could not manually press a button for the “information transmitter” to communicate with the “recognition device.”

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