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Archived updates for Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Disclosed Pivot Joint Excluded Sliding

In Minebea Co, LTD. v. Think Outside, Inc., et al. (Fed. Cir., January 25, 2006, not citable as precedent) the court held that the term "pivot" was properly construed to exclude sliding motion in U.S. Patent No. 4,433,225 (left) in connection with claim language reciting "a pair of lever arms joined at intermediate portions thereof by a pivot to form a scissors-like linkage."
n particular, the parties disagreed as to whether the "pivot" of claim 1 must be "fixed relative to the two arms." According to Circuit Judge Lourie,

In Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2005), we
noted that it is "entirely appropriate for a court, when conducting claim
construction, to rely heavily on the written description for guidance as to the
meaning of the claims." Although the dictionary definition of the term "pivot"
does not appear to exclude sliding motion, the district court properly
determined that the written description limits the scope of the claim term
"pivot" to a structure that is fixed in position relative to the lever arms, and
thus excludes sliding motion.

As the written description provides, "the levelling [sic] mechanism of the present invention utilizes a scissors-like linkage" fixed at an intermediate position relative to the lever arms. See ’225 Patent, col. 4, ll. 8-11. Because the linkage in a pair of scissors is fixed in position relative to the scissors, it necessarily follows that the central pivot of the written description must also be in a fixed position, as the district court’s claim construction requires. Moreover, a sliding central pivot would be inconsistent with the engineering principles behind the leveling mechanism disclosed by the specification. Applying basic mechanics, because the joints at the ends of the lever arms in the specification’s disclosed embodiment are capable of sliding in their respective slots, the leveling mechanism would not also need a sliding central pivot in order to allow the keytop to travel downward when it is pressed down.

In Phillips, we also stated that "[q]uite apart from the written description and the prosecution history, the claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms." 415 F.3d at 1314. There is no question in this patent that sliding and pivoting are different motions. Indeed, claim 1 provides that certain structures will "slide in addition to pivot." Such language would be superfluous if sliding motion were subsumed in pivoting motion. See id. at 1317 (explaining that the term "steel baffles" strongly implies that the term "baffles" does not inherently mean objects made of steel). Moreover, claim 1, like the written
description, requires the "pivot" to "form a scissors-like linkage." Inherent in
this language is the requirement that the "pivot" of claim 1 must have
structural characteristics that allow it to "form a scissors-like linkage." As
explained above, a structural characteristic of a pivot with "a scissors-like
linkage" is to be fixed in position relative to the lever arms.

Lastly, we find unavailing Minebea’s argument that because the district court did not construe the term "scissors-like," we too should not consider that term in our review of the court’s construction of "pivot." Such a request is tantamount to construing
claim limitations in a vacuum, and is plainly inconsistent with Phillips, which
compels us to construe claim limitations in the context of the claim in which
they appear. Id. at 1314.

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