The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates, District Judge
This matter is before the Court on the issue of claim construction
relating to a patent on a swimming pool ladder. Plaintiff Intex
Recreation Corp. ("Intex") and defendant Metalast, S.A., Sociedad
Unipersonal ("Metalast") take opposing views on the meaning of a key term
employed in the claim language of the patent, and thus on the scope of
the patent. A hearing on claim construction was held on October 11,
2002, pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments. Inc., 517 U.S. 370
The Court has considered the claim language and its context, relevant
dictionary definitions, the claim prosecution history, and expert
testimony offered by the parties. As explained below, the Court concludes
that the ordinary meaning of the disputed term ——
"uninterrupted inner surfaces" — to one skilled in the relevant art
is "smooth" or "uniform."
Metalast is a Spanish corporation that is the claimed owner of U.S.
Patent No. 5,547,041 ("the `041 patent") for a ladder. Compl. ¶ 2.
Intex sells a swimming pool ladder that Metalast asserts infringes this
patent; Metalast has accordingly requested Intex to cease the manufacture
and sale of its swimming pool ladder, and to withdraw the ladder from
store inventories. Compl. ¶ 7.
In response, Intex filed this action on June 4, 2001, seeking a
declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 that the `041
patent has not been infringed by Intex, and that the `041 patent is
invalid and unenforceable.*fn1 The parties have framed the claim
construction issue for the Markman hearing through the submission of
claim charts, expert reports and depositions, legal memoranda, and the
claim history of the `041 patent.
Claim construction is a question of law for the Court. Markman, 517
at 384; accord Cybor Corp. v. Fax Techs., 138 F.3d 1448, 1456 (Fed.
Cir. 1998) (en banc); Texas Digital Sys., Inc. v. Telegenix, Inc.,
308 F.3d 1193, 1201 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The Federal Circuit has made it
very clear that the starting point for claim construction analysis must
be the language of the disputed claim provision. "We begin claim
construction analysis with the ordinary meaning of the disputed claim
term." Inverness Medical Switzerland v. Warner Lambert Co., 309 F.3d 1373,
1378 (Fed. Cir. 2002); accord Texas Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at 1206;
Interactive Gift Express, Inc. v. Compuserve, Inc., 256 F.3d 1323, 1331
(Fed. Cir. 2001) ("In construing claims, the analytical focus must begin
and remain centered on the language of the claims themselves . . .");
Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir.
1996). Hence, the Federal Circuit has stressed that:
The terms used in the claims bear a "heavy
presumption" that they mean what they say and have the
ordinary meaning that would be attributed to those
words by persons skilled in the relevant art.
Texas Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at 1202; CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick
Corp., 288 F.3d 1359, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2002).
It is, of course, "the person of ordinary skill in the field of the
invention through whose eye the claims are construed." Multiform
Desiccants, Inc. v. Medzam, Ltd., 133 F.3d 1473, 1477 (Fed. Cir. 1998).
And although the starting point is the claim language, which normally is
given its ordinary meaning, the inquiry cannot stop there, particularly
if the claim specification or prosecution history may provide a different
meaning for the claim term. See Kraft Foods, Inc. v. Int'l Trading Co.,
203 F.3d 1362, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2000). A technical term will generally be
assigned the ordinary meaning that it would be given by one skilled in
the art, unless "it is apparent from the patent and the prosecution
history that the inventor used the term with a different meaning."
Phillips Petroleum v. Huntsman Polymers, 157 F.3d 866, 871 (Fed. Cir.
1998) (quoting Hoechst Celanese Corp. v. BP Chemicals Ltd., 78 F.3d 1575,
1578 (Fed. Cir. 1996)).
Deviation from the ordinary meaning of claim terms requires clear
[I]n redefining the meaning of particular claim terms
away from the ordinary meaning, the intrinsic evidence
must "clearly set forth" or "clearly redefine" a claim
term so as to put one reasonably skilled in the art on
notice that the patentee intended to so redefine the
Bell Atlantic Network Services, Inc. v. COVAD Communications Group,
262 F.3d 1258, 1268 (Fed. Cir. 2001). It is only when it appears that the
inventor assigned a meaning to the words in a claim different than their
ordinary and accustomed meaning that a court can adopt that other
meaning. See Frank's Casing Crew v. PMR Technologies, 292 F.3d 1363, 1374
(Fed. Cir. 2002). One situation warranting defining terms of a claim
contrary to their ordinary meaning is where a patentee acts "as his own
lexicographer" and specifically defines terms with an unconventional
meaning such that "a reasonable competitor or one reasonably skilled in
the art [is put] on notice that the patentee intended to so redefine that
claim term." Elekta Instr. v. O.U.R. Scientific Int'l, 214 F.3d 1302,
1307 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (quoting Process Control Corp v. HydReclaim Corp.,
190 F.3d 1350, 1357 (Fed. Cir. 1999)); accord Kraft Foods, 203 F.3d at
In interpreting disputed claim terms, courts "should look first to the
intrinsic evidence of record i.e., the patent
itself including the
claims, the specification, and if in evidence, the prosecution history."
Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1582; accord Allen Engineering Corp v.
Bartell Industries, Inc., 299 F.3d 1336, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2002);
Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1324-25 (Fed. Cir.
2002). Hence, if the meaning of the term used in the claim is
sufficiently clear from the intrinsic evidence, that meaning shall
apply; extrinsic evidence may be considered only where the claim language
remains genuinely ambiguous after consideration of the intrinsic
evidence. Frank's Casing Crew, 292 F.3d at 1374; Bell & Howell Doc.
Mgmt. Prods. Co. v. Altek Sys., 132 F.3d 701, 705-06 (Fed. Cir. 1997).
The Federal Circuit has repeatedly, and recently, stressed that
"dictionaries . . . are particularly useful resources to assist the court
in determining the ordinary and customary meanings of claim terms." Texas
Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at 1202; accord Inverness Medical, 309 F.3d at
1378; Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1325. "Dictionaries are always available to
the court to aid in the task of determining meanings that would have been
attributed by those of skill in the relevant art to any disputed terms
used by the inventor in the claims." Texas Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at
1202; see also Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1584 n. 6. Dictionaries are
considered to be objective resources providing a reliable source of
information as to the ordinary meaning of terms, and hence "the
presumption in favor of a dictionary definition will be overcome [only]
where the patentee, acting as his or her own lexicographer, has clearly
set forth an explicit definition of the term different from its ordinary
meaning." Texas Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at 1204. If, however, there are
several possible dictionary meanings of the disputed claim term, then the
"objective and contemporaneous record provided by the intrinsic evidence"
must be consulted to assist the court in determining which meaning was
intended by the inventor. Id. at 1203; Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa'
per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998); Inverness Medical, 309
F.3d at 1378-79.
Dictionary definitions, then, are valuable resources to be used by a
court at any time to assist in determining the ordinary meaning of claim
language. See Texas Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at 1202; Vanguard Prods.
Corp. v. Parker Hannifin Corp., 234 F.3d 1370, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2000) ("A
dictionary is not prohibited extrinsic evidence, and is an available
resource of claim construction."); Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1584 n. 6
(judges are free at any time to consult dictionaries when construing
claim terms). Another important aspect of the intrinsic evidence that a
court may consult is the drawings in a patent case, which can be used as
an aid in the interpretation of the claims because drawings may
graphically support the proper interpretation of the claim language. See
Desper Products v. QSound Labs, Inc., 157 F.3d 1325, 1333 (Fed. Cir.
The claim prosecution history of the patent may also be important to
consider. "This history contains the complete record of all the
proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office, including any express
representations made by the applicant regarding the scope of the claims."
Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582; Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc.,
52 F.3d 967, 980 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). However,
it is crucial that the claim language and other intrinsic evidence
including dictionary definitions must first be consulted:
Texas Digital Sys., 308 F.3d at 1204, see Generation II Orthotics, Inc.
v. Medical Technology, Inc., 263 F.3d 1356, 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (lower
court should have construed claim limitation as controlled by ordinary
and customary meaning provided by medical dictionary before importing a
more limited embodiment). Hence, prosecution history cannot be used to
limit the scope of a claim unless that was the clear intent of the
applicant: "It is inappropriate to limit a broad definition of a claim
term based on prosecution history that is itself ambiguous." Inverness
Medical, 309 F.3d at see ...