Nailed It: Expert Must at Least Meet Ordinary Skill Level to Testify from POSITA Perspective

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Addressing a US International Trade Commission (ITC) decision finding a § 337 violation as to one patent but no violation as to four other patents, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reiterated that a technical expert must at least meet the level of ordinary skill in the art of the asserted patents to testify from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art (POSITA), whether for claim construction, validity or infringement. Kyocera Senco Indus. Tools Inc. v. ITC, Case Nos. 20-1046, -2050 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 21, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Dyk, Cunningham, JJ.)

In 2017, Kyocera filed a complaint at the ITC seeking a § 337 investigation based on infringement allegations for six patents directed to battery-powered gas spring nail guns. The investigation was assigned to the Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who, in the context of a Markman order, adopted Koki Holdings America Ltd.’s uncontested level of skill in the art as including “experience in powered nailer design.” After claim construction, Kyocera dropped one patent from the investigation and went forward with infringement under the doctrine of equivalents as the sole basis for violation for four other patents.

Prior to the evidentiary hearing, Koki moved to exclude Kyocera’s expert’s testimony due to their admission during deposition that they did not have the experience in powered nailer design required by the adopted level of ordinary skill in the art. The Chief ALJ held that the Federal Circuit’s decision in AquaTex Indus. v. Techniche Sols. expressly required that Kyocera’s expert’s testimony be excluded as to infringement under the doctrine of equivalents but permitted the expert to testify as to literal infringement on one patent and on claim construction. After the evidentiary hearing, the Chief ALJ issued an initial determination that relied, in part, on Kyocera’s expert to find a particular element satisfied on the one remaining patent where literal infringement was asserted, but ultimately found no infringement due to other claim limitations. The Chief ALJ’s noninfringement decision as to the one remaining patent was then overturned on review by the full ITC, which found a § 337 violation and issued a limited exclusion order.

Kyocera appealed the Chief ALJ’s exclusion of its expert’s testimony on doctrine of equivalents, and Koki cross-appealed on the Chief ALJ’s decision to allow Kyocera’s expert to testify as to literal infringement and claim construction. The Federal Circuit reversed the ITC’s decision, holding that it was error to permit any infringement testimony from Kyocera’s expert and explaining that a witness must at least have ordinary skill in the art to offer testimony from the perspective of a skilled artisan for claim construction, validity or infringement, whether literal or under the doctrine of equivalents.

Alexander Ott was a member of Koki’s ITC trial team and the Federal Circuit appeal team in this case.

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