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Bell Helicopter Textron Inc v. Eurocopter

July 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Wilkins United States District Judge


On June 18, 2012, the Court conducted a Markman*fn1 hearing for the purpose of construing the disputed claim terms in the patent at issue in this case. The parties have submitted briefing advancing their proposed construction for each disputed term. After careful consideration of the briefs submitted by the parties, the applicable law, the arguments presented at the hearing, and the record before the Court, the Court issues the following Opinion and Order setting forth the claim constructions adopted by the Court.


At issue in this case is a patent titled "Helicopter Landing Gear with Skids," U.S. Patent. No. 5,860,621 ("the '621 patent"). The '621 patent is primarily directed to a helicopter landing gear with skids, particularly intended for light helicopters. The claimed invention overcomes many of the disadvantages of conventional landing gears by significantly reducing acceleration factors during landing, "ground resonance," and landing gear weight. '621 Patent col. 1:28-44. Eurocopter is the owner by assignment of the '621 patent.*fn3 Compl. ¶ 18. Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. ("Bell") and Eurocopter are two of the largest distributors of commercial helicopters in the world. Compl. ¶ 17.

On May 14, 2010, Bell Helicopter filed an action against Eurocopter seeking a declaratory judgment that the '621 patent is invalid and not infringed by Bell Helicopter. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12. On October 29, 2010, Eurocopter filed a counterclaim alleging infringement of the '621 patent. Answer and Countercl., ¶¶ 18-22.


The Court is guided by the principles of claim construction outlined by the Federal Circuit in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). "It is a 'bedrock principle' of patent law that 'the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.' " Id. at 1312 (quoting Innova/Pure Water Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Syy., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). The Federal Circuit has repeatedly stated that courts are to give claim terms their "ordinary and customary meaning" as understood by a "person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention." Phillips 415 F.3d at 1312-13.*fn4

The claims themselves provide substantial guidance in determining the meaning of particular claim terms; and the context in which a term is used in the asserted claim can be very instructive. Id. at 1314.

The claims do not stand alone, and "must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part." Id. at 1315 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 979). "[T]he specification is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Id. at 1315. The specification necessarily informs the proper construction of the claims because the specification may reveal that a patentee has defined his own terms or given a term a meaning that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess, or that a patentee has intended to disclaim or disavow claim scope. Id. at 1316. In addition, the specification may aid in resolving the meaning of ambiguous claim terms "where the ordinary and accustomed meaning of the words used in the claims lack sufficient clarity to permit the scope of the claim to be ascertained from the words alone." Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002). However, while the specification can aid the court in interpreting the meaning of disputed claim language, the Federal Circuit repeatedly has warned against confining the claims to the particular embodiments and examples appearing in the specification. Phillips 415 F.3d at 1323; see also Nazomi Communications, Inc. v. ARM Holdings, PLC. 403 F.3d 1364, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (claims may embrace "different subject matter than is illustrated in the specific embodiments in the specification").

In addition to consulting the claims and the specification, the court should also consider other intrinsic evidence such the prosecution history, which consists of the complete record of the proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"), including the prior art cited during the examination of the patent. Phillips 415 F.3d at 1317.

The prosecution history can provide proper context for claim construction because it "provides evidence of how the PTO and inventor understood the patent" and "can often inform the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention in the course of prosecution, making the claim scope narrower than it would otherwise be." Id. at 1317.

Courts may also consider extrinsic evidence, which "consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Id. at 1317. Although extrinsic evidence may be useful, the Federal Circuit has explained that extrinsic evidence is "less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language." Id. at 1317.

The patent-in-suit contains means-plus-function language that invokes 35 U.S.C. § 112, paragraph 6, which provides:

An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure ... in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure ... described in the specification and equivalents thereof.

Construing a means-plus-function limitation is a two-step process. First, the court must determine the claimed function. JVW Enters. v. Interact Accessories, Inc., 424 F.3d 1324, 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2005). Second, the court must identify the corresponding structure in the written description of the patent that performs that function. Id. A "structure disclosed in the specification is a corresponding structure only if the specification or prosecution history clearly links or associates that structure to the function recited in the claim." Med. Instr. & Diag. Corp. v. Elekta AB, 344 F.3d 1205, 1210 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).


The parties have asked the Court to construe certain terms in Claim 1 and Claim 7 of the '621 patent. Claims 1 and 7 the ...

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