The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently reversed a grant of summary judgment of non-infringement, concluding that a district court had too narrowly construed the terms “information transmitter” and “recognition device” to exclude any personal action by an elevator user other than walking into the monitored area. Schindler Elevator Corp. v. Otis Elevator Co., Case No. 09-1146 (Fed. Cir. January 25, 2010) (Linn, J.) (Dyk, J., concurring in result and dissenting in part).

Schindler’s asserted patent concerns an elevator system that recognizes a user when he or she enters an entry location of a building, then dispatches an elevator to bring the user to a destination floor based on stored user-specific data. The embodiment in question encompasses recognition taking place via an “information transmitter” brought within range of a mounted “recognition device.” Once the system recognizes the user, it accesses the user’s information and an elevator is dispatched to take the user to a pre-designated floor. Schindler alleges that Otis infringed the “information transmitter” embodiment of the patent through its system at 7 World Trade Center, which requires users to swipe a card within approximately 3.5 inches over card readers in building turnstiles. The reader uses the card information to dispatch an elevator.

The point of contention arose as a result of specification language in the Schindler patent stating that the information transmitter and recognition device communicate “without any personal action being required by the passenger.” Otis alleged that the action of bringing a card within the necessary proximity of the sensor qualified as “personal action,” and the district court agreed. The district court read the specification as excluding any personal action by an elevator user other than “walking into the monitored area.” Accordingly, the district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement to Otis.

The Federal Circuit reversed, finding the district court construction to be too narrow. The Court determined that the statements in the specification and prosecution history on which the district court relied were “directed to elevator operations that occur only after the information transmitter is already within range of the recognition device, not to the initial act of bringing the information transmitter within range of the recognition device.” The Court noted specification examples in which a user would need to do more than just walk to bring the transmitter into range; for example, the “key” specification of claim 7 requires the user to unlock a door and open it to dispatch the elevator. Ultimately, the Federal Circuit modified the district court construction of the terms at issue by striking the phrase “without requiring any sort of personal action by the passenger” from each construction. The Court then vacated the grant of summary judgment and remanded.

Concurring with the result but dissenting in part, Judge Dyk expressed concern that the court broadened the construction of the patent so far as to render its disclaimer meaningless.