Claim Construction: When Figures Do Not Match Their Description

by McDermott Will & Emery

GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. Agilight, Inc.

Addressing the issue of claim construction in light of an appeal of summary judgment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s summary judgments of noninfringement, finding a genuine dispute based on an apparent disagreement between a figure in the specification and its corresponding description.  GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. Agilight, Inc., Case No. 13-1267 (Fed. Cir., May 1, 2014) (Moore, J.) (Reyna, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

GE sued Agilight, alleging infringement of four patents directed to LED string lights by Agilight’s LED string light product SignRayz.  After claim construction, the parties stipulated to noninfringement of two patents, and the district court granted Agilight’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement of the other two patents.  GE appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded the judgments of noninfringement for three patents and affirmed summary judgment of the other patent.  In its analysis, the Federal Circuit considered the lower court’s construction of the term “substantially ellipsoidal inner profile.”  The term described the shape of an inner surface of an LED reflective housing.  Although the parties stipulated to this term, the stipulation did not address whether the claim requires the entire profile, or just a portion of that profile, to be ellipsoidal.  The district court construed the term to require the inner profile to be “substantially” ellipsoidal.  The only embodiment disclosed in the specification refers to the inner profile of Figure 7 as ellipsoidal.  It was undisputed that the inner profile of the embodiment illustrated in Figure 7, the only disclosed embodiment, is only partially ellipsoidal and arguably not substantially ellipsoidal.

The Federal Circuit found that there was no intrinsic evidence supporting a construction of the term that would exclude the preferred and only disclosed embodiment.  The Federal Circuit reversed the judgment regarding that patent because there was a genuine dispute as to whether Agilight’s accused devices included a substantially ellipsoidal inner profile.  The Federal Circuit used similar reasoning in rejecting Agilight’s argument regarding the term “generally spherical outer profile” found in the same patent.

The Federal Circuit also reversed and remanded summary judgment of noninfringement based on the lower court’s construction of the term “IDC connector.”  The Federal Circuit found that the district court improperly imported limitations from the specification where there was no clear lexicography or disavowal to justify not construing the term according to its plain and ordinary meaning.

In the dissenting opinion, Judge Reyna disagreed with the majority’s construction of “substantially ellipsoidal inner profile.”  Judge Reyna stated that the term should refer to the full profile, instead of just a portion of the profile.  The dissent argued that the majority took the term “profile” out of context.  The plain meaning of “profile” along with the statements made during prosecution indicated that the claim required the full profile to be ellipsoidal.  Judge Reyna argued that there was disconnect between the patent figures and the corresponding description, but argued that this problem was resolved by the amendments and remarks made during prosecution.



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