By Jason Rantanen
Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Company (Fed. Cir. 2011) (CAFC en banc denial) Download 2010-1402 en banc order
Before Rader (dissenting), Newman, Plager, Lourie, Bryson, Linn, Dyk, Prost, Moore (dissenting), O'Malley (dissenting), and Reyna.
As in the past, the Federal Circuit has again expressly declined an invitation to revisit its 1998 en banc holding in Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d 1448 that claim construction is reviewed de novo. Once again, however, that decision was not without dissent. Both Judge Moore, joined by Chief Judge Rader, and Judge O'Malley wrote to express their view that Cybor should be revisited. Professor Tun-Jeng Chiang expresses his views on this issue below.
In addition to recommending that the court reconsider the issue of deference, Judge Moore's dissent emphasizes the problematic nature of claim construction review by the Federal Circuit itself: on the one hand, "[c]laim construction is the single most important event in the course of a patent litigation"; on the other, "our rules are still ill-defined and inconsistently applied, even by us." Moore dissent at 1. This problem is especially acute in Retractable Technologies: "Retractable simply cannot be reconciled with our en banc decision in Phillips." Id. at 4. Here, Judge Moore asserts, the majority applied its own approach to claim construction, not that of Phillips, "[c]hanging the plain meaning of a claim term to tailor its scope to what the panel believes was the actual invention." Id. at 6. This is not an isolated instance, Judge Moore points out, but is a common practice that points to a fundamental split on the court about the nature of claim construction: a disagreement over whether claim scope should be limited to "what the inventor actually invented" or instead construed according to the plain meaning to one of skill in the art, a meaning that may be informed – but is not dictated – by the specification.
Note: In support of her view that the Federal Circuit's own claim construction is ill-defined and inconsistently applied, Judge Moore cited the views of several commentators who "have observed that claim construction appeals often lead to frustrating and unpredictable results for both the litigants and trial courts," including Dennis's post on the panel decision and Hal Wegner's post on Arlington Industries v. Bridgeport Fittings on IP Frontline.