In Innova/Pure Water v. Safari Water Filtration Sys. (Fed. Cir. 2004), Innova's appeal turned on the correct interpretation of the disputed claim term, "operatively connected."
According to the district court, the ordinary meaning of "said tube operatively connected to said cap" requires that the two components be "affix[ed] . . . by some tenacious means of physical engagement that results in a unitary structure." Innova challenges this construction as improperly importing a tenacious physical engagement limitation into claim language that does not require any such thing. Safari concurs with the district court. The district court erred. The asserted claims do not require that the filter tube and cap be affixed to one another in a manner that results in the two components forming a unitary structure. Neither party asserts that the term "operatively connected" is a technical term having a special meaning in the art of water filtration. Rather, it is a general descriptive term frequently used in patent drafting to reflect a functional relationship between claimed components. Generally speaking, and as used in the '759 patent, it means the claimed components must be connected in a way to perform a designated function. In the absence of modifiers, general descriptive terms are typically construed as having their full meaning. . . .For the same reasons, the district court erred in granting summary judgment of no infringement under the doctrine of equivalents based on its factual conclusion that "merely adjoining or abutting . . . is not the equivalent of affixing the tube to the cap."