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Heightened Written Description Standard for Negative Limitations?

Addressing the issue of negative claim limitations, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted a petition for panel rehearing, vacated its prior decision (authored by now-retired Judge O’Malley) and reversed the district court’s finding that the patent was not invalid for inadequate written description. Novartis Pharms. v. Accord Healthcare Inc., Case No. 21-1070 (Fed. Cir. June 21, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Hughes, J.) (Linn, J., dissenting).

This is the second time this Hatch-Waxman case has been before the Federal Circuit. Novartis sued HEC, alleging that HEC’s abbreviated new drug application infringed a patent directed to methods of treating remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) with fingolimod or a fingolimod salt at a daily dose of 0.5 mg without an immediately preceding loading dose. The district court found sufficient written description for the claimed 0.5 mg daily dose and no-loading dose negative limitation. In January 2022, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision finding adequate written description.

HEC petitioned for panel rehearing. The Federal Circuit granted the petition, vacated its January 2022 decision and reversed the district court’s judgment finding adequate written description for the no-loading dose negative limitation. The majority explained that “silence is generally not disclosure” because “[i]f it were, then every later-added negative limitation would be supported so long as the patent makes no mention of it.” The majority also explained that implicit disclosure cannot satisfy the written description requirement if it would render the limitation obvious to a skilled artisan. The majority emphasized that while a negative limitation need not be recited in the specification in haec verba, there generally must be something in the specification that conveys to a skilled artisan that the inventor intended the exclusion—for example, a description of a reason to exclude the relevant element. Here, the majority found that the specification made no mention of the presence or absence of a loading dose. This silence cannot support a later-added claim limitation that precludes loading doses, particularly where there was no evidence that the patentee precluded the use of a loading dose and skilled artisans agreed that loading doses are sometimes given to RRMS patients.

Judge Linn (a member of the majority in the January 2022 opinion) dissented, arguing that the majority applied a heightened written description standard requiring not only a “reason to exclude” but a showing that the negative limitation was also “necessarily excluded.” He stated that the question was not whether the patentee precluded the use of a loading dose, but whether the claim limitation that precluded a loading dose was supported by the specification’s written description that disclosed only a daily dose. Judge Linn argued that disclosure along with the testimony of Novartis’s experts implied an absence of a loading dose to a skilled artisan, and that is all that is required for adequate written description. Citing precedent and the US Patent & Trademark Office’s guidance in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, he argued that newly added claims or claim limitations may be supported [...]

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This .SUCKS: Trademark Applications for Identical Characters Is a No-Go

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (Board) decision affirming the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) refusal to register two trademark applications for “.SUCKS.” In Re: Vox Populi Registry Ltd., Case No. 21-1496 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 2, 2022) (Lourie, Dyk, Stoll, JJ.)

Vox is a domain registry operator that maintains the master database of all domain names registered in each top-level domain. Vox filed two trademark applications for identical characters, one as a standard character and the other as a stylized form of .SUCKS, as shown below.

The PTO refused Vox’s applications on the grounds that, when used in connection with the domain services, each failed to function as a trademark. Vox appealed to the Board. The Board concluded that .SUCKS, whether as a standard mark or in the stylized form, would not be perceived as a source identifier. Vox appealed the Board’s decision only with respect to the stylized form of .SUCKS.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit noted that although Vox did not appeal the rejection of the standard character application, it spent much of its opening brief arguing that the standard character functions as a mark. As such, the Court reviewed the Board’s decision with respect to the standard character mark .SUCKS under the substantial evidence standard. Substantial evidence “means only such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” The Court found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s finding that consumers will view .SUCKS as only a non-source identifying part of a domain name, rather than as a trademark. The Court cited evidence reviewed by the Board, including Vox’s website, online articles and advertisements showing that .SUCKS refers to a product rather than as an identifiable provider or service. Ultimately, the Court found that the Board reasonably weighed the evidence.

The Federal Circuit next addressed the question of whether the stylized design of .SUCKS is registerable. The Court found no error in the Board’s analysis of whether the stylized form creates a separate commercial impression, where “all of the characters in the mark are the same height and width and are merely displayed in a font style that was once mandated by the technological limitations of computer screens.” Because the stylized design was not inherently distinctive, the Court rejected Vox’s application, thus affirming the Board’s decision in full.




Silence May Be Sufficient Written Description Disclosure for Negative Limitation

Addressing the issue of written description in a Hatch-Waxman litigation, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the patent adequately described the claimed daily dose and no-loading dose negative limitation. Novartis Pharms. v. Accord Healthcare Inc., Case No. 21-1070 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 3, 2022) (Linn, O’Malley, JJ.) (Moore, CJ, dissenting).

Novartis’s Gilenya is a 0.5 mg daily dose of fingolimod hydrochloride medication used to treat relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). HEC filed an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) seeking approval to market a generic version of Gilenya. Novartis sued, alleging that HEC’s ANDA infringed a patent directed to methods of treating RRMS with fingolimod or a fingolimod salt at a daily dosage of 0.5 mg without an immediately preceding loading dose.

The specification described the results of an Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) experiment induced in Lewis rats showing that fingolimod hydrochloride inhibited disease relapse when administered daily at a dose of 0.3 mg/kg or administered orally at 0.3 mg/kg every second or third day or once a week, and a prophetic human clinical trial in which RRMS patients would receive 0.5, 1.25 or 2.5 mg of fingolimod hydrochloride per day for two to six months. The specification did not mention a loading dose associated with either the EAE experiment or the prophetic trial. It was undisputed that loading doses were well known in the prior art and used in some medications for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

The district court found that HEC had not shown that the patent was invalid for insufficient written description for the claimed 0.5 mg daily dose or the no-loading dose negative limitation. The district court also found sufficient written description in the EAE experiment and/or prophetic trial and credited the testimony of two of Novartis’s expert witnesses. HEC appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. Turning first to the daily dose limitation, the majority held that the prophetic trial described daily dosages of 0.5, 1.25 or 2.5 mg and found no clear error by the district court in crediting expert testimony converting the lowest daily rat dose described in the EAE experiment to arrive at the claimed 0.5 mg daily human dose. Reciting Ariad, the Court explained that a “disclosure need not recite the claimed invention in haec verba” and further, that “[b]laze marks” are not necessary where the claimed species is expressly described in the specification, as the 0.5 mg daily dose was here.

Turning to the no-loading dose negative limitation, the majority disagreed with HEC’s arguments that there was no written description because the specification contained zero recitation of a loading dose or its potential benefits or disadvantages, and because the district court inconsistently found that a prior art abstract (Kappos 2006) did not anticipate the claims because it was silent as to loading doses. The Court explained that there is no “new and heightened standard for negative claim limitations.” The majority acknowledged that silence alone is insufficient disclosure but emphasized that [...]

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Injunctive Relief Available Even Where Laches Bars Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition Damage Claims

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed a district court’s conclusion that laches barred an advertising and marketing company’s claims for monetary damages for trademark infringement and unfair competition, but remanded the case for assessment of injunctive relief to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between two similarly named companies operating in the advertising sector. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, Inc. v. Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group, LLC, Case No. 19-15167 (11th Cir. Aug. 2, 2021) (Branch, J.)

Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Illinois) is an Illinois-based company and owner of two registered trademarks including the name “Pinnacle.” Pinnacle Illinois learned of a Florida-based company operating under almost the same name that was also in the advertising and marketing space—Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group (Pinnacle Florida) —through potential clients and a magazine’s accidental conflation of the two unrelated companies. Several years later, Pinnacle Illinois sued Pinnacle Florida for trademark infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting. Pinnacle Florida filed a counterclaim seeking to cancel Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark registrations and also alleged that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by the doctrine of laches.

Following a jury trial, the district court granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on Pinnacle Illinois’s cybersquatting claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Pinnacle Illinois on its claims for trademark infringement and unfair competition, awarding Pinnacle Illinois $550,000 in damages. The district court then granted Pinnacle Florida’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on its laches defense, concluding that Pinnacle Illinois’s trademark infringement and unfair competition claims were barred by laches because it waited more than four years to bring suit after it should have known that it had a potential infringement claim against Pinnacle Florida. The district court also cancelled Pinnacle Illinois’s registrations because it concluded that Pinnacle Illinois’s marks were merely descriptive and lacked secondary meaning. Pinnacle Illinois appealed.

Pinnacle Illinois argued that the district court abused its discretion in finding that Pinnacle Illinois’s claims were barred by laches, and that even if laches did bar Pinnacle Illinois’s claims for money damages, the district court should have considered whether injunctive relief was proper to protect the public’s interest in avoiding confusion between the two companies. Pinnacle Illinois also argued that the district court erred when it cancelled its registrations without regard to the jury’s findings of distinctiveness and protectability or the presumption of distinctiveness afforded to its registered marks.

The 11th Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that laches barred Pinnacle Illinois from bringing its trademark infringement and unfair competition claims for monetary damages. Pinnacle Illinois sued after the Florida four-year statute of limitations had passed, and the Court found that the company was not excused for its delay because it did not communicate with Pinnacle Florida about the infringement until it filed suit. Pinnacle Florida also suffered economic prejudice because it invested significant time and money, including around $2 million, in developing its business under [...]

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Claim at Issue Must Be Substantively Allowable to Qualify for PTA

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed two district court decisions, finding that a patent owner who only partially prevailed in one of two appeals was not entitled to any additional patent term adjustments (PTAs) from the US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) under 35 U.S.C. § 154(b)(1)(C) during the pendency of their district court appeals. SawStop Holding LLC v. Vidal, Case No. 2021-1537 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 14, 2022) (Newman, Linn, and Chen, JJ.)

SawStop owns two patents directed to saws with a safety feature that stops a power-saw blade upon contact with flesh. During prosecution of the application for one of the patents, SawStop appealed an obviousness rejection to the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board). The Board affirmed the obviousness rejection but on new grounds. The patent ultimately issued after SawStop amended the claim at issue to overcome the obviousness rejection.

Similarly, during prosecution of the application for the second patent, independent claim 1 was rejected as being anticipated and for obviousness-type double patenting while dependent claim 2 was rejected as anticipated. SawStop appealed the rejections. The Board affirmed both rejections of claim 1 but reversed the rejection of claim 2. SawStop subsequently challenged the Board’s anticipation rejection of claim 1 before the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which reversed the anticipation rejection. SawStop did not challenge the obviousness-type double patenting rejection. On remand to the Board, SawStop cancelled claim 1 and rewrote claim 2 as an independent claim. A patent subsequently issued.

Since issuance of both patents was delayed by appeals before allowance, SawStop requested PTAs under Section 154(b)(1)(C):

Subject to the limitations under paragraph (2), if the issue of an original patent is delayed due to … (iii) appellate review by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board or by a Federal Court in a case in which the patent was issued under a decision in the review reversing an adverse determination of patentability, the term of the patent shall be extended 1 day for each day of the pendency of the proceeding, order, or review, as the case may be.

The Board granted PTA “for the delay incurred in the successful reversal of the rejection of claim 2” of the second patent but denied additional PTA for both patents resulting from the appeals. SawStop filed suits in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, challenging the Board’s decision. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the PTO in both suits. SawStop then appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that SawStop was interpreting Section 154(b)(1)(C) too broadly. SawStop argued in part that any examiner rejection overturned on appeal qualified as “a reversal of a determination of patentability.” The Court rejected this argument, explaining that the Board’s adverse determination of unpatentability remained before and after the appeal to the Board. That is, “the reversal of a ‘determination of patentability’ requires a determination that the claim in question is substantively allowable, not just free of [...]

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PTO Director Lays Out Limits on “Roadmapping” as Factor for Discretionary IPR Denials

Exercising its discretion under 35 U.S.C. § 314(a), the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) denied institution of two inter partes reviews (IPRs) based on its understanding of its own precedential 2017 decision in Gen. Plastic Indus. Co. v. Canon Kabushiki Kaisha. US Patent & Trademark Office Director Kathi Vidal subsequently reversed the Board’s ruling in a precedential sua sponte decision clarifying how to apply the seven factors set forth in General Plastic. Code200, UAB v. Bright Data, Ltd., IPR2022-00861; -00862, Paper 18 (PTAB Aug. 23, 2022) (Vidal, Dir. of PTO).

In General Plastic, the Board addressed the practice of filing seriatim petitions attacking the same patent, where each petition raises a new ground for invalidity. The Board considers the General Plastic factors when determining whether to deny IPR institution to ensure efficient post-grant review procedures and prevent inequity. The seven factors are as follows:

  1. Whether the same petitioner previously filed a petition directed to the same claims of the same patent
  2. Whether at the time of filing of the first petition the petitioner knew of the prior art asserted in the second petition or should have known of it
  3. Whether at the time of filing of the second petition the petitioner had already received the patent owner’s preliminary response to the first petition or had received the Board’s decision on whether to institute review in the first petition
  4. The length of time that elapsed between the time the petitioner learned of the prior art asserted in the second petition and the filing of the second petition
  5. Whether the petitioner provided adequate explanation for the time elapsed between the filings of multiple petitions directed to the same claims of the same patent
  6. The finite resources of the Board
  7. The requirement under 35 U.S.C. § 316(a)(11) to issue a final determination no later than one year after the date on which the PTO Director notices institution of review.

In denying institution in this case, the Board explained that the petitioner’s failure to stipulate that it would not pursue the same grounds in district court “weigh[ed] strongly in favor of exercising discretion to deny institution and outweigh[ed] the fact that the Board did not substantively address the merits of the prior petition.” Director Vidal disagreed, reasoning that when a first petition is not decided on its merits, a follow-on petition affords a petitioner the opportunity to receive substantive consideration. Director Vidal further explained that factor 1 “must be read in conjunction with factors 2 and 3.” Application of factor 1 in a vacuum strips context from a petitioner’s challenges and creates an inappropriate bright-line rule for denying institution.

Proper application of the General Plastic factors requires consideration of the potential for abuse by a petitioner. Director Vidal noted the problem of “roadmapping” raised in General Plastic (i.e., using one or more Board decisions to create a roadmap for follow-on filings until the petitioner finds a ground that results in institution). A denial decision based solely on the [...]

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If You Come for the Prince, You Best Not Miss

In a precedential decision, the Trademark Trial & Appeal Board (Board) granted two opposers’ motions for partial judgment on their claim of false suggestion of a connection under Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act based on a trademark application to register the mark PURPLE RAIN. NPG Records, LLC, and Paisley Park Enterprises, LLC v. JHO Intellectual Property Holdings LLC, Opp. No. 91269739 (TTAB Aug. 23, 2022) (Kuczma, Adlin, Johnson, Administrative Trademark Judges) (per curiam).

JHO Intellectual Property Holdings sought to register the mark PURPLE RAIN on the Principal Register in standard characters for several dietary and supplemental energy drinks and for “Energy drinks; Isotonic drinks; Non-alcoholic drinks, namely, energy shots, Sports drinks.” Paisley Park opposed, claiming to own rights in the name, image and likeness of famed musical artist Prince. NPG also opposed, claiming to own registered and common law rights in the trademark PURPLE RAIN. Paisley Park and NPG moved for summary judgment based on an assertion of false suggestion of a connection with Prince under Trademark Act Section 2(a). JHO admitted that its proposed mark was identical to Paisley Park and NPG’s marks and that its use of such mark was without consent or permission.

“Purple Rain” is associated (and often synonymous) with Prince. Paisley Park and NPG presented as evidence, for example, that PURPLE RAIN is a certified “13x Platinum” album selling millions worldwide, the 143rd Greatest Song of All Time according to Rolling Stone magazine, and the title of an Academy-Award-winning motion picture scored by and starring Prince. Paisley Park and NPG showed that unauthorized use of PURPLE RAIN is far from unusual, citing 17 unauthorized uses in December 2021. Paisley Park and NPG also had expert surveys conducted that established the connection between Prince and “Purple Rain.” JHO’s rebuttal included conclusory statements that the surveys conducted by Paisley Park and NPG’s expert did not ask respondents about the association of “Purple Rain” with energy drinks or supplements. JHO also pointed to a list from the US Patent & Trademark Office’s databases of third-party applications and registrations that includes PURPLE RAIN or its homophone PURPLE REIGN.

In view of Paisley Park and NPG’s evidence, the Board first found that there was no genuine dispute that the opposition was within reach of the Paisley Park and NPG’s zone of interests, and they were thus entitled to oppose registration of the mark.

Turning to the merits, the Board explained that in order to prevail on their motion under Section 2(a), Paisley Park and NPG were required to establish there was no genuine dispute that:

  • JHO’s mark is the same or a close approximation of Prince’s name or identity.
  • The mark is uniquely and unmistakably pointed to Prince.
  • Paisley Park and NPG are not connected with JHO’s goods or activities related to the mark.
  • “Purple Rain” is sufficiently famous to establish a presumed connection with Prince.

On the first factor, the Board explained that the approximation must be “more than merely intended to refer or intended to [...]

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Claim Cancelation Limits but Doesn’t Prohibit Assignor Estoppel Defense

On remand from the Supreme Court, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reconsidered the boundaries of the doctrine of assignor estoppel. The Federal Circuit found that the patent assignor was estopped from challenging the validity of an asserted patent because the asserted claim was not materially broader than the specific claims assigned to the patent owner. Hologic, Inc. v. Minerva Surgical, Inc., Case Nos. 2019-2054; -2081 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2022) (Stoll, Clevenger, Wallach, JJ.)

Csaba Truckai filed a patent application for a device that was designed with a moisture-permeable head to treat abnormal uterine bleeding while avoiding unintended burning or ablation. Truckai assigned the pending patent application to his company, Novacept, which was later acquired by Hologic. Truckai then founded a new company, Minerva Surgical, and developed a new device that used moisture impermeability to avoid the unwanted ablation. Hologic subsequently filed a continuation application to expand the scope of its claims to encompass applicator heads in general, regardless of moisture permeability. The US Patent & Trademark Office issued a patent on the expanded claims in 2015, and Hologic subsequently sued Minerva for patent infringement.

Hologic argued that doctrine of assignor estoppel barred Minerva from challenging the validity of the patent claims. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment of infringement. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the summary judgment of no invalidity. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and declined Minerva’s request to discard the doctrine of assignor estoppel but clarified that it comes with limits, holding that “assignor estoppel applies only when an inventor says one thing (explicitly or implicitly) in assigning a patent and the opposite in litigation against the patent’s owner.” The Supreme Court remanded to the Federal Circuit to address whether Hologic’s claim was materially broader than the one Truckai assigned. The Supreme Court explained that if the asserted claim was materially broader than the assigned claim, “then Truckai could not have warranted its validity in making the assignment and without such a prior inconsistent representation, there is no basis for estoppel.”

On remand, the Federal Circuit considered whether Truckai warranted the assigned claim’s validity at the time of assignment and whether the assigned claim was materially broader than the asserted claim.

The Federal Circuit concluded that Truckai had represented that the assigned claim was valid. The Court explained that the assigned claim was initially rejected as being anticipated, but Truckai successfully argued for its allowance. The claim was then canceled in response to a restriction requirement, but such cancellation did not speak to the claim’s patentability because an assignee would understand that it could later prosecute the claim’s subject matter under standard patent practice. Therefore, cancelation did not nullify the claim, and it “remained viable for further prosecution.” Additionally, the assignment was not just to the rights to the application, but to the rights to any continuation, continuation-in-part or divisional patent applications not yet filed. When presenting the application, Truckai signed [...]

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Too Little Too Late: No Tenable Misappropriation Claim Based on 11-Year-Old Prototype

In a dispute between an employer and a former employee, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment against an employer asserting trade secret misappropriation and breach of implied-in-fact contract claims relating to an 11-year-old prototype developed by a former employee. The Court also affirmed the district court’s finding of litigation misconduct by the former employer but vacated the lower court’s award of attorneys’ fees, remanding the case for a more detailed justification for the considerable award. REXA, Inc. v. Chester, Case Nos. 20-2953; -3213; -2033 (7th Cir. July 28, 2022) (Wood, Hamilton, Brennan, JJ.)

Mark Chester is a former employee of Koso America, a manufacturer of hydraulic actuators. Chester participated in a 2002 project at Koso that sought to develop a new flow matching valve for Koso’s actuators. While the project team failed to design a new flow matching valve, they did manage to develop an experimental prototype of an actuator with solenoid valves. Koso abandoned the new design because of the improbability of commercial success, and the prototype was disassembled. Chester—who had never signed a confidentiality or employment agreement with Koso—resigned from Koso in 2003 and later joined MEA Inc. in 2012. In 2013, 11 years after developing the Koso prototype, Chester helped MEA design a new actuator with solenoid valves and an improved motor. MEA filed a patent application in 2017 claiming the actuator, and the US Patent & Trademark Office issued a notice of allowance in 2018 based on the improved motor limitations.

REXA, a successor company to Koso, sued Chester and MEA for misappropriation under the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA) and for breach of an implied-in-fact contract. REXA alleged that MEA and Chester misappropriated the 2002 designs by filing the 2017 patent application and by incorporating the 2002 designs into MEA’s Hawk brand actuator, and that Chester breached an implied-in-fact obligation to assign any patent rights associated with the 2017 application to REXA. Chester and MEA accused REXA of improper conduct during discovery after REXA appended a confidentiality agreement that Chester had never received to Chester’s 2002 bonus letter and used the manipulated document during Chester’s deposition. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The district court ruled for Chester and MEA and awarded them almost $2.4 million in attorneys’ fees for REXA’s litigation misconduct. REXA appealed.

Misappropriation of Trade Secrets

The Seventh Circuit first considered the trade secret misappropriation claim, specifically whether REXA had identified a trade secret with enough specificity. The ITSA requires that a plaintiff “present a specific element, or combination of elements, that is unknown to the trade and was allegedly misappropriated.” Applying this standard, the Court found that REXA had not identified any protectable trade secrets because it had broadly asserted that the “2002 designs” qualified as trade secrets without explicitly identifying an element that was not well known in the industry.

The Seventh Circuit further concluded that even if REXA had identified a specific and protectable trade secret, [...]

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Missed Connection: Avoid Claim Construction Rendering Independent Claim Narrower Than Dependent Claim

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a district court’s claim constructions concerning generic independent claims that were amended after a species restriction requirement, because the district court disregarded the doctrine of claim differentiation after incorrectly concluding that the examiner had mistakenly rejoined withdrawn claims. Littelfuse, Inc. v. Mersen USA EP Corp., Case No. 21-2013 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 4, 2022) (Prost, Bryson, Stoll, JJ.)

Littelfuse owns a patent directed to a fuse end cap for providing an electrical connection between a fuse and an electrical conductor. The specification teaches three embodiments of the invention:

  1. A single-piece machined end cap comprising a mounting cuff and a terminal
  2. A single-piece stamped end cap comprising a mounting cuff and a terminal
  3. A two-piece assembled end cap comprising a mounting cuff, a terminal and a fastening stem attaching the mounting cuff to the terminal.

The originally filed claims included independent claims covering an end cap with a mounting cuff and a terminal, and dependent claims directed to the three embodiments. The claims directed to the two-piece assembled end cap embodiment contained the limitation that the terminal is press-fit onto the fastening stem.

During prosecution, the examiner issued a restriction requirement, asserting that the independent claims were generic to the three species in the dependent claims. Littelfuse elected to prosecute the assembled end cap species and the examiner withdrew the claims directed to the other embodiments. In response to a novelty rejection, Littelfuse amended the independent claims by adding the fastening stem element without specifying that the terminal is press-fit onto the stem. After allowing the amended independent claims, the examiner concluded that the previously withdrawn claims “require all the limitations of the . . . allowable claims,” and thus rejoined them.

Littelfuse sued Mersen for selling allegedly infringing fuses. The parties asked the district court to determine whether the fastening stem element in the independent claims limited Littelfuse’s patent to multi-piece end caps, despite the rejoined dependent claims being directed to one-piece embodiments. The district court found that the claim language, the specification and the prosecution history required the invention to have a multi-piece construction. First, the district court determined that the plain meaning of “fastening stem” was “a stem that attached or joins the other two components of the apparatus.” The district court then noted that the fastening stem was only mentioned in the specification in relation to the multi-piece embodiment in which the terminal is joined to the mounting cuff by the fastening stem. While Littelfuse argued that the US Patent & Trademark Office’s rejoining of the withdrawn claims meant that the independent claims covered unitary and multi-piece embodiments, the district court reasoned that the claims were rejoined based on a “misunderstanding” because they referred to the original independent claim, which did not include a fastening stem. In light of the district court’s finding that the independent claims covered only a multi-piece apparatus, the parties stipulated to non-infringement. Littelfuse appealed.

Applying the doctrine of claim differentiation, the [...]

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