Clamp Means Limited to Later-Developed Technology under DOE
The claims in this case generally related to an interconnect system for fabricating modular bullet deflecting devices, including
. . . clamp means releasably attached to the at least one facing strip for holding the
facing strip in secure engagement with the metallic plates adjacent the lateral
edges to apply a clamping force and thereby hold the metallic plates in rigid
connection with one another and forming a continuously bullet resistant joint. . . .
The court noted that specification and drawings of U.S. Patent No. 5,822,936 (above) disclosed structures that correspond to the claimed function of “holding the facing strip in secure engagement with the metallic plates adjacent the lateral edges to apply a clamping force and thereby hold the metallic plates in rigid connection with one another.” A nut 34 is attached to the plow bolt 22 and tightened until the backing washer 30 and the facing strip 14 are held firmly against the plates. When the nut 34 has been tightened sufficiently, the facing strip 14 and the backing washer 30 hold the plates 10 in rigid attachment.” The specification also states that the bolt extends through the channel between the plates.
Action also challenged the district court’s grant of summary judgment of non-infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.
[I]n accordance with § 112, paragraph 6, the “clamp means” limitation is
properly construed as covering these structures and their equivalents. See Micro
Chem., 194 F.3d at 1258 (“When multiple embodiments in the specification
correspond to the claimed function, proper application of § 112, ¶ 6 generally
reads the claimed element to embrace each of those embodiments.”).
"[A]n accused device literally infringes a claim element under § 112 ¶ 6 only
if it is insubstantially different from the corresponding structure in the
patent specification." Ishida Co. v. Taylor, 221 F.3d 1310, 1317 (Fed. Cir
2000). The "insubstantial difference" analysis "requires that a determination of
whether the way the accused structure performs the claimed function, and the
result of that performance, are substantially different from the way the claimed
function is performed by the corresponding structure … described in the
specification, or its result." Id. (internal quotations omitted).
The accused device utilizes "specially manufactured metal plates with holes
drilled or punched in them." Non-infringement Order at 10. In the accused device
the way the plates are held together is by passing "bolts [through] holes
drilled at the top, middle, and bottom of a facing strip, backing strip, and the
plate." Id. at 25. Further, as a result of this way of fastening the plates, the
district court found that "the plates can never fall away from one another because the bolts pass through the facing strip, backing strip, and metal plate, thereby providing a structural impediment to their separation." Id. at 25.
In contrast to the accused device, each of the embodiments disclosed in the ’936 patent requires a bolt passing through a gap between the metal plates and through a facing strip, backing washer, and a nut to clamp the plates together. As the district court correctly observed, "[i]f there was no channel, the washer, as backing means, would only butt up against one of the larger panels and therefore not exert the required clamping pressure on the two panels." Id. at 24. Furthermore, the district court found that, as a result, unlike the accused device, "[i]f one were to loosen the nuts of the ’936 patent device, the plates would fall apart." Id. at 25.
For the foregoing reasons, the accused device achieves the recited function of the "clamping means" in a substantially different manner than do the structures in the ’936 patent. Accordingly, the district court properly concluded that Porta does not
literally infringe the asserted claims of the ’936 patent.
For means-plus-function limitations, the doctrine of equivalents reduces to
whether or not there is an “insubstantial difference” between the limitation’s
corresponding structure and any after-invented technology found in the accused
device. Ishida, 221 F.3d at 1317. Where, as here, the equivalence issue does not
involve later-developed technologies, “a finding of non-equivalence …
preclude[s] a contrary finding under the doctrine of equivalents.” Chiuminatta, 145 F.3d at 1311. Thus, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment of non-infringement under the doctrine of equivalents as a matter of law.