Honeywell as Lexicographer: Heading Defined as Bearing

Honeywell v. Universal Avionics (Fed. Cir. 2007).

GulfstreamHoneywell holds a patent covering a final-approach flight warning system. The novel system was able to determine whether the flight was in its final-approach without relying upon wing flap position. Universal’s TAWS system is allegedly infringing. After claim construction, a jury found infringement.

Honeywell’s claim discussed the “heading” of the aircraft in one element of the claim. The drafter should have used “bearing” instead because the focus was on the aircraft’s relative direction.  On appeal, the CAFC determined that the specification did its job of redefining heading and thus, allowed the court to define heading as the bearing.

The specification of the ’436 patent clearly communicates the meaning the patentees have assigned to the term “heading.” It does so by describing the claimed system’s alignment determination as depending on the direction of the aircraft from the runway (i.e., what is conventionally known as the aircraft’s bearing), not the direction in which the aircraft is pointing (i.e., what is conventionally known as the aircraft’s heading).

Lessen to consider: The patentee Honeywell won here because its patent claim was narrowly defined.


  • In June 2007, another case between Honeywell and Universal was decided by the CAFC. [LINK]

4 thoughts on “Honeywell as Lexicographer: Heading Defined as Bearing

  1. 4

    Mr. Crazy;

    My comparison was the relative sizes of the patentees, not P v. D. However, Honeywell reported revenue of over $31 B last year. Contra Universal, which is apparently a private company, and doesn’t offer financial information on its website, which leads me to believe they are somewhat smaller.

    Also, it was an aggregious typo where I stated “I am” a conspiracy theorist, as opposed to ‘I am not’. But since I was concocting conspiracy theories, the shoe fit…

  2. 3

    Oh, except that Universal is also a big business. So the CAFC prefers bigger big businesses over smaller big businesses? Do you think the CAFC makes a sorted list of market caps, and the court just goes down the list to decide who will win?

  3. 2

    Could you get a better contrast that the one between Honeywell and Hutchins decisions on the same day? I’m a conspiracy theorist, but those who are could use this as Exhibit 1 alleging a pro-big business (and not merely pro-patent) bias of the Federal Circuit. In Honeywell, even thought hte claims said heading, and heading has a specific meaning to those skilled in the art, they really meant bearing, so they get the benefit of the doubt (oh, and an infringement judgment).

    On the other hand, Hutchins [did he prosecute pro se, too?] claimed a general purpose computer, and he even amended the claims to include that feature. So if the accused decive isn’t using a Intel x86 or AMD based PC-compatible machine with a screen and a QWERTY keyboard, it just isn’t a general-purpose computer; no infringement for the pro se inventor.

    I’m not saying that there are not valid reasons for the two outcomes. For example, I can envision the Hutchins court finding no infringement on narrow claim construction rather than invalidating a borderline patent, a slap to the patentee and the PTO. But results-oriented reasoning makes a mess of the law.

    [Cross-posted to Hutchins thread]

  4. 1

    Having been there, it is REALLY hard to get the inventors to read the application before it is filed.

Comments are closed.