Intellectual Property Keyed to Merges
Phillips v. AWH Corporation
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Phillips (Plaintiff) invented, and obtained a patent on, modular, steel-shell panels that could be welded together to form walls resistant to vandalism. Plaintiff brought a patent infringement action against AWH Corp. (AWH) (Defendant). Claim 1 of his patent (the ‘798 patent) stated: “further means disposed inside the shell for increasing its load bearing capacity comprising internal steel baffles extending inwardly from the steel shell walls.” The district court found that the allegedly infringing product did not contain “baffles” as that term was used in claim 1, and, therefore, granted summary judgment of noninfringement. On appeal, the original court of appeals panel concluded that the patent used the term “baffles” in a restrictive manner in order to exclude structures that extend at a 90-degree angle from the walls. That panel noted that the specification repeatedly referred to the ability of the claimed baffles to deflect projectiles and that it described the baffles as being “disposed at such angles that bullets which might penetrate the outer steel panels are deflected.” The panel also noted that the patent nowhere disclosed a ring-angle baffle, and that baffles oriented at 90 degrees to the wall were found in the prior art. The panel added that the patent specification “is intended to support and inform the claims, and here it makes it unmistakably clear that the invention involves baffles angled at other than 90 [degrees].” The dissenting judge argued that the panel had improperly limited the claims to the particular embodiment of the invention disclosed in the specification, rather than adopting the “plain meaning” of the term “baffles.” The court of appeals agreed to rehear the appeal en banc.
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