One of the primary purposes of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (C.A.F.C.) is to ensure consistent claim construction results from the several district courts. Well, good luck on that! (American Piledriving Equipment, Inc. v. Geoquip, Inc. and American Piledriving Equipment, Inc. v. Bay Machinery Corporation)
American Piledriving is the owner of a patent, the `964 patent, directed to counterweights for vibratory pile drivers which, as the name implies, are used to drive piles or support columns into the ground. Hydraulic Power Systems, Inc. is the manufacturer of certain vibratory pile drivers which are considered, by American Piledriving, to infringe the `964 patent. As might be expected, American Piledriving sued Hydraulic Power Systems. Not content with this, however, American Piledriving went on to sue six distributors and users of the Hydraulic Power Systems pile drivers – in six separate suits filed in six different courts!
Whether the accused pile drivers infringed the `964 patent largely turned on the construction of three claim terms. All seven district courts considered those three terms in rendering their claim constructions. No two construed all three terms the same way!
Two of the cases, from the Eastern District of Virginia and the Northern District of California, were combined on appeal to the C.A.F.C. The two district courts had agreed as to the construction of one of the three terms, but disagreed as to the other two. While we do not wish to be seen as somehow commenting on the merits of the courts, we note that the C.A.F.C. agreed with the Virginians on both disputed constructions and found that the Californians had “impermissibly read in” limitations to the two claim terms. Not that it made any difference. The California court had entered a summary judgment of noninfringement. After correcting the California claim construction, the C.A.F.C. affirmed the summary judgment.
THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: Claim construction remains unpredictable and inconsistent.