Issue 223 | June 230, 2004
Edward H. Phillips v. AWH Corporation et al.

In Edward H. Phillips v. AWH Corporation et al., Nos. 03-1269, - 1286, (Fed. Cir. April 8, 2004), the federal circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment of noninfringement of Phillips' '798 patent, directed to vandalism-resistant building modules consisting of modular wall panels.

At trial, the parties stipulated to the claim term "baffle" as requiring “means for obstructing, impeding, or checking the flow of something." However, the district court concluded that the term was ambiguous because it did not "identify the substance or force the flow of which it is intended to check, impede, or obstruct." Reasoning that the claim contained means-plus-function language subject to construction under § 112, ¶ 6 and was therefore limited by the specification, the district court concluded that a "baffle," within the context of the ’798 patent: (1) was required to extend inward from the shell walls at oblique or acute angles; and (2) formed an intermediate, interlocking barrier in the interior of the wall module. Phillips conceded that he could not prove infringement under the court’s claim construction, and the court granted AWH’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement.

On appeal, the federal circuit disagreed that the term "baffle" was subject to means-plus-function construction, noting that "the claim term in question does not expressly use the word "means," thereby invoking the presumption that § 112, ¶ 6 does not apply. Moreover, the word "baffle" is a sufficient recitation of structure, which carries its ordinary meaning of "something for deflecting, checking, or otherwise regulating flow." Notwithstanding, the federal circuit agreed with the district court's interpretation of the term “baffle” because of the numerous references in the specification supporting the interpretation that baffles must be oriented at angles other than 90° and that baffles directed at 90° cannot deflect projectiles as described in the ’798 patent (and are, in any event, disclosed in the prior art).

Dissenting in part, Judge Dyk disagreed with the majority’s imposition of an additional structural limitation based upon a 'preferred embodiment' limiting baffles to structures oriented at angles other than 90º. The majority’s interpretation was seen as inconsistent with precedent (such as the recent Leibel-Flarsheim decision) rejecting the contention that the claims of a patent describing only a single embodiment must be construed as being limited to that embodiment.

To view the full decision visit http://www.aplf.org/mailer/Issue223.doc

To discuss this topic further, please feel free to contact the author Michael R. Dzwonczyk, (mdzwonczyk@sughrue.com), at Sughrue Mion, PLLC in Washington DC., USA.

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