Baran v. Med. Device Tech, Inc., 2010-1058 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 12, 2010).

The patentee asserted one claim from each of two patents directed to automated biopsy instruments. Following claim construction, the patentee entered a stipulation that he could not prove infringement as to one of the patents due to the construction of “releasably.” The district court granted summary judgment on the other patent based on the construction of the terms “member” and “release means.” The patentee appealed, and the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s claim construction.

As to “releasably”, the term shared a meaning with the term “detachable”, overcoming the implication that different terms have different meanings due to “evidence indicat[ing] that the patentee used the two terms interchangeably.” As such, an interpretation of “releasably” which included “separation without loss or damage” was proper, and the patentee’s stipulation of noninfringement remained effective.

The patentee also argued that the district court erred in construing the means-plus-function term “release means for retaining the guide in the charged position” to require both a release function and a retention function. The court rejected the argument that the term “release” precedes the “means for” clause and thus, does not recite a function. It held that the relevant inquiry is not syntactic but semantic—whether the term at issue is “purely functional.” The Federal Circuit upheld the district court’s interpretation because “the term ‘release’ is not an idle description but a vital function to be performed by the means-plus-function element.”

Finally, the court rejected the patentee’s argument that the district court erred in striking portions of his declaration submitted during summary judgment motion practice. The Federal Circuit agreed that the district court had broad discretion to fashion its case management deadlines, and because the patentee had not identified himself as an expert and his declaration was submitted well after the deadline for the submission of expert reports, it was well within that discretion for the district court to refuse to consider it to the extent it provided expert testimony.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.