By Jason Rantanen
American Piledriving Equipment, Inc. v. Geoquip, Inc. and American Piledriving Equipment, Inc. v. Bay Machinery Corporation (Fed. Cir. 2011) Download 10-1283
Panel: Bryson, Gajarsa, and Linn (author)
One of the Federal Circuit's primary purposes is to ensure consistent claim construction results. American Piledriving v. Geoquip highlights this role.
American Piledriving holds Patent No. 5,355,964, which relates to counterweights for "vibratory pile drivers." By rapidly rotating these unevenly weighted counterweights in opposite directions, vibratory forces are generated that force the pile into the ground. Early counterweights possessed several drawbacks that the invention of the '964 purport to solve.
The district court proceedings on appeal involved two suits brought by American Piledriving, one in the Eastern District of Virginia and the other in the Northern District of California, against distributors of vibratory pile drivers manufactured by Hydraulic Power Systems, Inc. (These two suits were part of a set of seven brought by American Piledriving, all in different districts). The crucial portion of representative claim 1 reads:
a counterweight rotatably carried in said receiving means for rotation about a rotational axis, said counterweight having a cylindrical gear portion and an eccentric weight portion integral with said cylindrical gear portion, said eccentric weight portion having at least one insert-receiving area formed therein, said counterweight being made of a first metal;
At issue were the district courts' constructions of three claim terms, two of which the courts construed differently: "eccentric weight portion" and "insert receiving area." (The courts reached the same contruction for "integral," a construction the appellate court affirmed). Based on their constructions of these terms, the two district courts granted summary judgment of noninfringement.
On appeal, the CAFC agreed fully with the Virgina court, affirming its constructions and grant of summary judgment. The Calfornia court fared slightly less well: the panel disagreed with the additional limitations the trial court added but nonetheless affirmed summary judgment of noninfringement for the two products that were also involving in the Virginia litigation, reversing and remanding for further proceedings on a third product at issue only in the California litigation.
Although much of American Piledriving comes across as a typical claim construction opinion concluding that well-established principles of claim construction supported the district courts' interpretations, the portions of American Piledriving addressing the two courts' different interpretations of "eccentric weight portion" and "insert receiving area" are somewhat noteworthy. All three courts determined that some structure provided by the specification was required; however, the CAFC concluded that the California court's constructions went beyond what the rules permitted:
While both district courts indicated that the term should be defined as extending from the face of the gear, the California court also required that the “eccentric weight portion” extend from a particular portion of the gear, extend in a specific direction, and include a receiving area formed to receive a tungsten rod. This court agrees with American Piledriving that nothing in the specification compels the reading of these additional limitations into the construction of “eccentric weight portion.”
Unfortunately, the CAFC's discussion of the differences between these two courts' analyses of the use of the structure in the specification to limit the functional claim elements is limited to this brief passage and a similar passage in its section on "insert receiving area." This is disappointing given the court's build-up at the beginning of the opinion, which held promise for a thorough dissection of where the cutoff might be in terms of how much structure from the specification should be part of the claim constuction. See Slip Op. at 10 ("In the course of construing the claims in this case, the Virginia district court carefully avoided redefining the claims and reading limitations into the claims from the written description. The California district court, however, inappropriately added several limitations not contained in the inventor’s claimed definition of the scope of his invention. This disparate treatment of the same issues before two competent and capable district courts is thus instructive."