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Archived updates for Wednesday, February 09, 2005

CAFC Looks to Dictionary to Define "Longitudinal Axis" as "Straight"

Figure 1 of U.S. Patent No. 6,257,553

In Alltrade Tools v. Olympia Group (Fed. Cir., Feb. 8, 2005, not citable as precedent) Alltrade marketed the Cobra Bar, a slightly curved pry bar with an hourglass-shaped cross sectional shank. In opposition to the preliminary injunction motion, Alltrade asserted that it did not meet two limitations of Olympia's patent (above):
  1. "an elongate shank having a generally oblong cross section . . . and shank having a major axis within said common plane greater than a minor axis along a direction transverse to said common plane"; and
  2. "an elongate shank . . . defining a longitudinal axis";

Circuit Judge Clevenger noted that although the district court erred in its construction of "generally oblong" by restricting the claim to an elliptical cross section, the court was correct when it found that the claim element "longitudinal axis" necessitated a shank that defined a straight reference line:

We agree with the district court that the scope of the claims should be limited to cover pry bar shanks that are straight. "Longitudinal" means "running lengthwise," Webster's, supra, at 1333, and "axis" is "a straight line about which a body or a 3-dimensional figure rotates or may be supposed to rotate," id. at 153. Other definitions of axis used in various technical fields also explicitly include a straight line. In general math parlance, a coordinate system in three dimensions has an x, y, and z axis, which are straight lines that are perpendicular to each other and used as a reference system to define points in geometric space. See id.

Requiring "longitudinal axis" to mean the strict geometrical definition of an axis of rotation or axis of symmetry would read the embodiment disclosed in Figure 1 [above] of the patent out of the claims. See '553, Figure 1 (disclosing a shank that does not have an axis of rotational symmetry). The "axis" in claim 19 does not include a requirement of rotational symmetry. An axis can simply be "a line actually drawn and used as the basis of measurements in an architectural or other working drawing" or "a main line of direction, motion, growth, or extension." Webster's, supra, at 153. These definitions incorporate the use of the word "line" and state that the line must be such that it can be used as a measurement reference or a direction. A line of reference is necessarily straight. In the specification, the axis is used to define various angles and distances, for example angle α and distances d and c in figure 1. The angle of the hook is measured in reference to the axis of the tool. Therefore, the ordinary meaning of the term "axis" as linear is supported by the specification.

Olympia argues that this meaning is contradicted by usage in the prior art, which it suggests teach axes that are not straight. The references relied on by Olympia actually teach the contrary, and show axes drawn as straight reference lines in the patent figures. See U.S. Patent No. 5,577,711, Fig. 1 ("the '711 patent" or "Shine"); U.S. Patent No. 4,844,416, Figs. 1-2 ("the '416 patent" or "Hand"). In fact, the Shine reference uses the "longitudinal axis" in measuring the length of the body of the tool, a linear dimension. '711, col. 3, ll. 5-7. The other reference that Olympia claims discloses a curved axis also shows a straight line. See '416, Fig. 1. The Hand reference actually discloses that "[c]rowbar 10 includes a reference vertical plumb line or axis 12 and a reference horizontal line or axis 14, which is disposed normal to line 12." Id. at col. 2, l. 24. This description suggests an "axis" is a line that can be vertical, horizontal, plumb, or used as a reference. These terms are used in the context of a straight line. Olympia's own references to prior art do not support its assertion that an axis, as used in the prior art, can be curved or nonlinear; rather the art uses the term for straight lines.

Finding that the axis must be linear or straight does not improperly import limitations from the specification. It only incorporates the ordinary meaning of axis found not only in the dictionary but as used in the art. Therefore, the "longitudinal axis" in claim 19 is a straight line that follows the center of the shank lengthwise. Although Olympia argues that the shank curvature of the Alltrade tool is de minimus, they never put in evidence of the deviation. Because the court correctly found that the claim required a linear axis and that this axis is not present in the Cobra Bar, the court did not err in finding that Olympia had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on infringement.

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Blogger Bill Heinze said...

From on February 10, 2005:

"Hundreds of people flocked to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Tuesday to listen to arguments in a case that could affect how patents are interpreted. The Federal Circuit addressed in an en banc hearing whether courts should rely primarily on dictionaries to define the terms that describe the scope of an invention, or look to the description in the patent itself. Phillips v. AWH, 363 F.3d 1207, is one of the most pivotal patent issues to come before the Federal Circuit, generating more than 50 amicus curiae briefs. . . ."

February 10, 2005 8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



April 07, 2009 5:36 AM  

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