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Nailed It: Expert Must at Least Meet Ordinary Skill Level to Testify from POSITA Perspective

Addressing a US International Trade Commission (ITC) decision finding a § 337 violation as to one patent but no violation as to four other patents, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reiterated that a technical expert must at least meet the level of ordinary skill in the art of the asserted patents to testify from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art (POSITA), whether for claim construction, validity or infringement. Kyocera Senco Indus. Tools Inc. v. ITC, Case Nos. 20-1046, -2050 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 21, 2022) (Moore, C.J.; Dyk, Cunningham, JJ.)

In 2017, Kyocera filed a complaint at the ITC seeking a § 337 investigation based on infringement allegations for six patents directed to battery-powered gas spring nail guns. The investigation was assigned to the Chief Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who, in the context of a Markman order, adopted Koki Holdings America Ltd.’s uncontested level of skill in the art as including “experience in powered nailer design.” After claim construction, Kyocera dropped one patent from the investigation and went forward with infringement under the doctrine of equivalents as the sole basis for violation for four other patents.

Prior to the evidentiary hearing, Koki moved to exclude Kyocera’s expert’s testimony due to their admission during deposition that they did not have the experience in powered nailer design required by the adopted level of ordinary skill in the art. The Chief ALJ held that the Federal Circuit’s decision in AquaTex Indus. v. Techniche Sols. expressly required that Kyocera’s expert’s testimony be excluded as to infringement under the doctrine of equivalents but permitted the expert to testify as to literal infringement on one patent and on claim construction. After the evidentiary hearing, the Chief ALJ issued an initial determination that relied, in part, on Kyocera’s expert to find a particular element satisfied on the one remaining patent where literal infringement was asserted, but ultimately found no infringement due to other claim limitations. The Chief ALJ’s noninfringement decision as to the one remaining patent was then overturned on review by the full ITC, which found a § 337 violation and issued a limited exclusion order.

Kyocera appealed the Chief ALJ’s exclusion of its expert’s testimony on doctrine of equivalents, and Koki cross-appealed on the Chief ALJ’s decision to allow Kyocera’s expert to testify as to literal infringement and claim construction. The Federal Circuit reversed the ITC’s decision, holding that it was error to permit any infringement testimony from Kyocera’s expert and explaining that a witness must at least have ordinary skill in the art to offer testimony from the perspective of a skilled artisan for claim construction, validity or infringement, whether literal or under the doctrine of equivalents.

Alexander Ott was a member of Koki’s ITC trial team and the Federal Circuit appeal team in this case.




Doctrine of Equivalents Analysis Should Not Be Simple Binary Comparison

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit remanded a district court’s claim construction and grant of a defendant’s summary judgment motion of non-infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, finding that a reasonable juror could find that the accused products performed substantially the same function in substantially the same way to achieve substantially the same result as the claimed invention. Edgewell Personal Care Brands, LLC v. Munchkin, Inc., Case No. 20-1203 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2021) (Moore, J.)

Edgewell manufactures and sells the “Diaper Genie,” a diaper pail system with a replaceable cassette placed inside the pail for soiled diaper collection, forming a wrapper around the diapers. Munchkin marketed a refill cassette as compatible with Edgewell’s pails. Edgewell’s two patents at issue relate to improvements in the cassette. After claim construction, Edgewell asserted literal infringement of one patent and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents of the other patent. The district court granted Munchkin’s summary judgment motion of non-infringement against both patents. Edgewell appealed.

Edgewell’s first patent is directed to a cassette with a clearance at its bottom portion. The claim construction dispute turned on whether the claims required a clearance space after the cassette was installed. The district court construed the claim to require a space and to require that the claimed “clearance” cannot be filled by an unclaimed interfering member. The district court granted Munchkin summary judgment because Munchkin’s refill cassette had no space after the cassette was installed. The Federal Circuit reversed, explaining that an “apparatus claim is generally to be construed according to what the apparatus is, not what the apparatus does.” The Court found that without an express limitation, “clearance” should be construed to cover all uses of the claimed cassette. The Court determined that the specification and purpose of the “clearance” supported the notion that the claim does not require a clearance after insertion.

The second patent is directed to a cassette with a cover that includes a “tear-off” section. The district court’s construction of an annular cover was of a single, ring-shaped cover. Munchkin’s cassettes each include a two-part cover, and the district court granted Munchkin’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement. Although the Federal Circuit agreed with the claim constructions, the Court found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Munchkin under the doctrine of equivalents for claim element vitiation on the basis that “annular cover” and “tear-off” limitations §§would be rendered meaningless.

The vitiation doctrine ensures that applying the doctrine of equivalents “does not effectively eliminate a claim element in its entirety.” The Federal Circuit found that the district court erred in evaluating this element as a binary choice—single-component structure versus a multi-component structure. Instead, the Court explained that the district court should have evaluated the evidence to determine whether a reasonable juror could find that the accused products perform substantially the same function, in substantially the same way, achieving substantially the same result as the corresponding claim elements. Edgewell’s expert opined that Munchkin’s products performed the [...]

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Court’s Drug Patent Prescription: Unclaimed Disclosure is Dedicated

Addressing the disclosure-dedication doctrine, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that the disclosure-dedication doctrine barred a patent owner’s claim of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents because the asserted patents disclose, but do not claim, the alleged equivalent. Eagle Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Slayback Pharma LLC, Case No. 19-1924 (Fed. Cir. May 8, 2020) (Reyna, J.).

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No Splitting the Die – Federal Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment of Noninfringement

A divided panel decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a summary judgment of noninfringement, finding no disputed issues of material fact to preclude summary judgement. Plastic Omnium Advanced v. Donghee America, Inc., Case No. 2018-2087 (Fed. Cir., Nov. 21, 2019) (Reyna, J) (Clevenger, J, dissenting).

Plastic Omnium filed suit against Donghee for patent infringement of patents generally relating to manufacturing plastic fuel tanks formed by blow molding. A portion of this process, as claimed, requires “cutting and opening an extruded parison of closed cross section.” The primary dispute on appeal is the meaning of the claim term “parison.” In its claim construction order, the district court found the patentee had acted as its own lexicographer, defining the key disputed term “parison” as “referring to a plastic tube with a closed cross section that is shaped by—and has reached the end of—a die and is split either immediately upon exiting the die or at some point thereafter.” Following claim construction, the district court granted Donghee’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement as to the asserted claims. Plastic Omnium appeals the grant of summary judgment under both literally infringement and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.

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