Becton, Dickinson and Co. v. Tyco Healthcare Group (Fed. Cir. 2010)
Tyco appealed a jury verdict that its safety needles infringed BD’s US Patent No. 5,348,544. The claims require a “spring means” that is “connected to said hinged arm” and is designed “for urging said guard along said needle cannula.”
On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the infringement decision based on claim construction — holding that as a matter of English-language-logic, the claims require a spring and hinged arm that are structurally distinct.
The unequivocal language of the asserted claims . . . requires a spring means that is separate from the hinged arm. . . . Where a claim lists elements separately, “the clear implication of the claim language” is that those elements are “distinct component[s]” of the patented invention. (Quoting Gaus v. Conair Corp., 363 F.3d 1284, 1288 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). . . There is nothing in the asserted claims to suggest that the hinged arm and the spring means can be the same structure.
If the hinged arm and the spring means are one and the same, then the hinged arm must be “connected to” itself and must “extend between” itself and a mounting means, a physical impossibility. A claim construction that renders asserted claims facially nonsensical “cannot be correct.”
Because the hinged arm of the Tyco needles performed the spring function themselves (as opposed to having a separate spring), the court ruled that those needles could not infringe.
In dissent, Judge Gajarsa provides a de-construction of the majority opinion — writing that:
The majority avoids the critical issue upon which this decision turns; i.e., whether 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6 governs the claim construction of the “spring means” limitation. In a brief footnote, the majority sweeps and brushes aside the means-plus-function analysis as unnecessary in light of the “plain language of the claims.” Without having analyzed the scope of the claims, the majority somehow concludes that the claim language covers only devices having separate “spring means” and “hinged arm” structures. Then applying this simplistic claim construction to analyze the sufficiency of the evidence, the majority improperly overturns the jury’s verdict finding infringement.