Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Legal Principles of Claim Construction

From Leader Techs., Inc. v. Facebook, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21100 (D. Del. Mar. 9, 2010):

Claim construction is a question of law. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 977-78 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370, 388-90, 116 S. Ct. 1384, 134 L. Ed. 2d 577 (1996). When construing the claims of a patent, a court considers the literal language of the claim, the patent specification and the prosecution history.... Of these sources, the 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." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1315 (Fed. Cir. 2005)(citing Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). However, "[e]ven when the specification describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent will not be read restrictively unless the patentee has demonstrated a clear intention to limit the claim scope using 'words or expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction.'" Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 906 (Fed. Cir. 2004)(citing Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

A court may consider extrinsic evidence, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises, in order to assist it in understanding the underlying technology, the meaning of terms to one skilled in the art and how the invention works. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318-19; Markman, 52 F.3d at 979-80 (citations omitted). However, extrinsic evidence is considered less reliable and less useful in claim construction than the patent and its prosecution history. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318-19 (discussing "flaws" inherent in extrinsic evidence, and noting that extrinsic evidence "is unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of a patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence").

In addition to these fundamental claim construction principles, a court should also interpret the language in a claim by applying the ordinary and accustomed meaning of the words in the claim. Envirotech Corp. v. Al George, Inc., 730 F.2d 753, 759 (Fed. Cir. 1984). The ordinary and accustomed meaning of claim terms denotes the meaning that a person having ordinary skill in the pertinent art would ascribe to the terms in the context of the entire patent, including its specification. Phillips, 415 F.3d, at 1313. If the inventor clearly supplies a different meaning, however, then the claim should be interpreted according to the meaning supplied by the inventor. Markman, 52 F.3d at 980 (noting that patentee is free to be his own lexicographer, but emphasizing that any special definitions given to words must be clearly set forth in patent). If possible, claims should be construed to uphold validity. In re Yamamoto, 740 F.2d 1569, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (citations omitted).

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