Alloc, Inc. v. Pergo, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2010)(nonprecedential)
Alloc and Pergo both manufacture and sell laminate flooring. Pergo’s patents cover a mechanical joint that allows the “boards” to be joined together without the usual glue or nails. After being threatened, Alloc filed a declaratory judgment action – asking the Wisconsin-based district court to render the patents invalid, unenforceable, and not-infringed. The jury complied and held the patents invalid and not infringed. In a subsequent bench trial, the district court did not find inequitable conduct in the prosecution.
In error, the district court had submitted questions of claim construction to the jury. Claim construction has long been considered a matter of law to be decided only by a judge. On appeal, the Federal Circuit ruled that the jury-submission mistake to be a harmless error. However, the court’s six-page non-precedential opinion creates confusion in my mind. I would have preferred this decision to have been issued as an affirmance without opinion.
On appeal, the appellate court first affirmed — finding the prior art “more than sufficient to support the jury’s finding of obviousness.” Then, when addressing infringement, the appellate court recognized the claim construction error but identified that error as harmless because the claims were also obvious. My outstanding concern is the appellate court’s implicit holding that errors in claim construction do not affect the obviousness determination. That holding is not correct or consistent with the current notion that the obviousness question should focus on the invention as claimed.
It may be relevant to note that the appellate opinion was written by Judge Virginia Kendall sitting by designation from the Northern District of Illinois. Judges Lourie and Dyk joined the opinion. It is probably best to identify this decision as non-precedential and then walk away.