Issue 224 | July 1, 2004
Vanderlande Industries Nederland BV et al. v. International Trade Commission et al.

In Vanderlande Industries Nederland BV et al. v. International Trade Commission et al., No. 03-1349 (Fed. Cir. May 3, 2004), the federal circuit affirmed the ITC’s finding of a section 337 violation, based on the importation of sortation systems held to infringe certain claims of Rapistan’s/Siemens’ ’510 patent.

The ‘510 patent -- owned by Rapistan and exclusively licensed to Siemens -- is directed to a positive displacement conveyor sortation system in which diverting shoes traveling with a conveyor surface laterally divert packages onto selected spur lines. At issue was the construction of the claimed recitation to “glide surface surrounding said [slat] wall.” The ITC construed this term as “not imply[ing] any points of contact or non-contact between the inner surface of the diverter shoe and the outer surface of the slat wall.” Vanderlande argued that this claim limitation refers to an inner surface of a diverter shoe that contacts the outer surface of the slat on all sides.

On appeal, the federal circuit court first looked at the intrinsic evidence, particularly the written description and the EPO counterpart prosecution history of the ‘510 patent, for guidance as to the meaning of the term “glide surface.” Based on its analysis, the court found that the term “glide surface” should be given a broader interpretation than the one argued by Vanderlande.

Looking next to the extrinsic evidence, i.e., testimony by the inventors of the ‘510 patent and by Siemens/Rapistan’s expert, the court found the term “glide surface” had no meaning in the art independent of sortation systems. The court rejected Vanderlande’s proposed definition of the terms based on a general-usage dictionary:

where evidence -- such as expert testimony credited by the factfinder, or technical dictionaries -- demonstrates that artisans would attach a special meaning to a claim term, or, as here, would attach no meaning at all to that claim term (independent of the specification), general-usage dictionaries are rendered irrelevant with respect to that term; a general-usage dictionary cannot overcome credible art-specific evidence of the meaning or lack of meaning of a claim term.

Moreover, Vanderlande’s proposed definition of “glide” concerned only one word in a two-word claim term and was considered vague and abstract, and failed to connote a particular structure. Finally, Vanderlande’s dictionary argument was seen as entirely irrelevant based on the written description contained in the ‘510 patent.

The federal circuit rejected Vanderlande’s equitable estoppel defense because of its failure to prove the first of three elements: conduct by the patentee that misleadingly suggests the patent holder will not assert his rights. As a consequence, the federal circuit did not discuss the other two elements.

To view the full decision visit http://www.aplf.org/mailer/Issue224.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.

The information contained in this email is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent legal advice. Neither the APLF nor the author intends to create an attorney client relationship by providing this information to you through this message.

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