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Archived updates for Thursday, August 11, 2005

'Means Hingedly Connecting' Is More than a Hinge under §112

In Beckson Marine, Inc., et al. v. NFM, Inc. (Fed. Cir. July 28, 2005, non-precedential), the court construed "means hingedly connecting a window pane to a mounting flange" in U.S. Patent No. 4,363,350 (right) as means-plus-function language under 35 U.S.C. § 112, para. 6. The court was not persuaded that the phrase recited sufficient sufficient structure, material, or acts to overcome the presumption of means-plus-function treatment:

Indeed, claim 1 cites no structure limiting the "means hingedly connecting" language. The adverb "hingedly" doesnot recite sufficient structure despite Beckson Marine’s plea that "a hinge is a hinge, is a hinge!" The language "hingedly connecting" recites a function, not a particular defined structure. A "hinged connection" (already a stretch because this court has converted an active verb to a noun) could describe a vast number of movable links. Because claim 1 does not recite limited and definable structure performing the function of "hingedly connecting," this court affirms the district court’s construction of this language as a means-plus-function limitation.

Having identified the "specified function" of the unspecified means, the district court properly looked to the specification to define the structure corresponding to this claimed function. The only structure recited in the specification that corresponds to the "hingedly connecting" function follows:

There is also provided a molded plastic window pane 20, preferably transparent, which is hingedly connected to the mounting flange 12 as
shown in FIG. 1. The pane 20 includes a peripheral flange portion 22
having a pair of hinge lugs 24, 26 pivotally secured to cooperable hinge
lugs 32, 34, 36 by means of a spring-type hinge pin. A second pair
of hinge lugs 28, 30 is pivotally secured to cooperable hinge lugs
38, 40, 42 of the flange 12 by a hinge pin in the form of a screw 44 including a wing nut 46. ’350 patent, col. 3, ll. 19-28.

Nonetheless, the court then went on to conclude that this interpretation did not prevent the claim from reading on the accused device:

In its discussion regarding equivalents, the trial court denied infringement because, in part, "the hinge pins [in the accused device] are flattened or deformed at their ends to lock them into place, making them permanent." However, the district court’s claim construction affirmed by this court places no limit on the type of hinge pin covered by claim 1. This court finds that the "means hingedly connecting" element is literally present in the accused device. Any contrary finding by the district court was clear error.

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April 07, 2009 4:34 AM  

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