Court Reverses Claim Construction that Placed “Too Much Emphasis on the Ordinary Meaning”

Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Corp. v. Velan, Inc. (Feb. 15, 2006: 05-1373)

By Peter Zura

Velan appealed the lower court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in part over the construction of the term “adjustable” in the claimed feature reciting “an adjustable dynamic, live loaded seat coupled to said main body.”

In the preliminary injunction order, the trial court concluded that the bias force on the live loaded seat could be changed in a manner that is “not limited by any time, place, manner or means of adjustment.” In reaching this conclusion, the trial court relied on the ordinary meaning of “adjustable” to be “capable of making a change to something or capable of being changed.” The trial court refrained from further narrowing the term, alleging that claim differentiation prohibited the court from doing so, and also alleged that further limitations would impermissibly narrow the claim to the structure of the preferred embodiment.

The Federal Circuit, while commending the lower court’s restraint, disagreed. After applying a Phillips analysis to the claims in light of the specification, the Federal Circuit concluded that the disclosure defined the term “adjustable” to mean that the dynamic, live loaded seat can be adjusted while the de-heading system is in use.

Furthermore, the Federal Circuit reasoned that the district court’s construction of “adjustable” rendered that limitation nearly meaningless:

This court finds it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any mechanical device that is not “adjustable,” under the ordinary meaning of that term adopted by the district court. Almost any mechanical device undergoes change (for instance, when dismantled to replace worn parts) when no consideration is given to the “time, place, manner, or means of adjustment.”

Thus, while the district court may have been correct that a device encompassed by claim 14 of the ’714 patent need not have an adjustment mechanism, it went too far in completely eliminating any constraints on the “adjustable” limitation. Moreover, the district court’s construction actually creates a redundancy: if “adjustable” means adjustable at any time and in any way, it is hard to imagine any meaning for the term because without limitations on time or manner of adjustment, all structures are “adjustable.”

Regarding the issue of claim differentiation between independent claims, the Federal Circuit provided that two considerations generally govern this claim construction tool when applied to two independent claims:

(1) claim differentiation takes on relevance in the context of a claim construction that would render additional, or different, language in another independent claim superfluous; and

(2) claim differentiation “can not broaden claims beyond their correct scope.

Finding that both of these considerations weighed against the district court’s construction, the preliminary injunction was vacated and the case was remanded.

(Published with permission)

3 thoughts on “Court Reverses Claim Construction that Placed “Too Much Emphasis on the Ordinary Meaning”

  1. 3

    This is a good example of how a term can be implicitly defined in the specification, a circumstance ignored by the TDS case and its progeny. With this case, the CAFC is signalling a return to Vitronics and the preference to use the specification to define a term.

  2. 2


    I think that the CAFC is increasingly adopting the British position of “purposive” analysis of patent claims. This style of analysis poses the question: What did he inventor originally intend?

    The Brits, and the Canadian courts, having disowned the “doctrine of equivalents” are now, unfortunately, applying purposive analysis to prevent patent claims from extending to unforeseen improvements in the basic invention. They mistakenly thought that purposive construction was the final answer to defining the scope of patent claims.

    I think that US jurisprudence is sufficiently robust to avoid falling into this trap.

    Best regards,

    David J. French

  3. 1

    Court Reverses Claim Construction that Placed Too Much Emphasis on the Ordinary Meaning


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