Search the Archives           Subscribe           About this News Service           Reader Comments

Archived updates for Monday, September 26, 2005

Lack of Intrinsic Evidence Allows Reliance on Dictionary Definition

In Free Motion Fitness, Inc. v. Cybex International, Inc. (Fed. Cir.; September 19, 2005) the court held that where there was no intrinsic evidence to give the term a specialized meaning, the lower court properly looked to dictionaries for definitions of the word "adjacent" for assistance in determining the term’s meaning to one skilled in the art. The claim at issue involved an exercise apparatus [right], including a first extension arm having "a first end pivotally supported adjacent the resistance assembly at a first pivot point." According to the opinion,

"Our en banc decision in Phillips clarified the appropriate use of dictionaries in claim construction, rejecting the view that dictionary definitions govern unless contradicted by intrinsic evidence. Nonetheless Phillips confirms that courts may "‘rely on dictionary definitions when construing claim terms’" and that "[d]ictionaries . . . are often useful to assist in understanding the commonly understood meaning of words." The court must ensure that any reliance on dictionaries accords with the intrinsic evidence: the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history. Under Phillips, the rule that "a court will give a claim term the full range of its ordinary meaning," Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001), does not mean that the term will presumptively receive its broadest dictionary definition or the aggregate of multiple dictionary definitions. Rather, in those circumstances where reference to dictionaries is appropriate, the task is to scrutinize the intrinsic evidence in order to determine the most appropriate definition.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary provides several different definitions of "adjacent," two of which are possibilities here. One definition is "not distant" and the other is "relatively near and having nothing of the same kind intervening."The specification thus suggests that "adjacent" simply means "not distant." We find nothing in the intrinsic record suggesting a concern with intervening pivot points or excluding an additional pivot point between the "first pivot point" and the resistance assembly, particularly given that a "pivot point" and a "resistance assembly" are not items of the "same kind". Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa’ Per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998) ("[W]here there are several common meanings for a claim term, the patent disclosure serves to point away from the improper meanings and toward the proper meaning."). The specification thus suggests that "adjacent" simply means "not distant." Indeed, Nautilus and Cybex appeared to agree before the district court that adjacent means "near." Under this definition the district court’s judgment of non-infringement is not supported because the pivot points of the accused devices are not distant from the resistance assembly.

    (0)comment(s)     translate     More Updates     Send