Gasket on Flange Not Equivalent to Gasket on Lid
In Felix v. American Honda Motor Co. (April 10, 2009) the Federal Circuit held that the patent was not literally infringed because the accused product mounted a gasket on the automobile trunk lid, not on a flange as claimed in the patent. The patent was not infringed under the doctrine of equivalents because Felix surrendered claim scope with amendments made during USPTO prosecution.
According to the opinion by Circuit Judge Linn,
According to the opinion by Circuit Judge Linn,
On Honda’s second motion for summary judgment, the district court held that Felix was precluded under the doctrine of prosecution history estoppel from arguing that the In-Bed Trunk infringed the gasket limitation by equivalents. Equivalents Op. at 7. Felix argues that he rebutted the presumption of prosecution history estoppel by showing that the amendment giving rise to the estoppel was tangential to the equivalent in question—namely, a gasket mounted on the lid, rather than the flange of the channel. . . .
. . . Amendment-based prosecution history estoppel “arises when an amendment is made to secure the patent and the amendment narrows the patent’s scope.” Festo, 535 U.S. at 736. “A patentee’s decision to narrow his claims through amendment may be presumed to be a general disclaimer of the territory between the original claim and the amended claim.” Id. at 740. But the patentee may rebut this presumption by “demonstrat[ing] that the alleged equivalent would have been unforeseeable at the time of the narrowing amendment, that the rationale underlying the narrowing amendment bore no more than a tangential relation to the equivalent in question, or that there was ‘some other reason’ suggesting that the patentee could not reasonably have been expected to have described the alleged equivalent.” Festo Corp. v. Shoketsu Kinzoku Kogyo Kabushiki Co., Ltd., . . .
1. Presumption of Surrender
We first consider which amendment—if any—gave rise to a presumption of surrender of claim scope encompassing the equivalent at it issue. The limitation at issue here is the gasket limitation. That limitation was not contained in original independent claim 1, but was present in dependent claim 7. In Felix’s first amendment on September 10, 1999, he cancelled original claim 1 and rewrote original dependent claim 7 in independent form as claim 14 to contain all of the limitations of claims 1 and 7. J.A. 490-91. It was this first amendment that had the effect of adding the channel and gasket limitations of dependent claim 7 to the broader claim that was cancelled. “[T]he rewriting of dependent claims into independent form coupled with the cancellation of the original independent claims creates a presumption of prosecution history estoppel.” Honeywell, 370 F.3d at 1134. Thus, Felix’s decision in the first amendment to cancel original claim 1 and to rewrite original claim 7 in independent form as claim 14 gave rise to a presumption of surrender.
The interesting wrinkle in this case is that even after Felix cancelled original independent claim 1 and rewrote original dependent claim 7 in independent form, the examiner still did not allow the rewritten dependent claim. In other words, even though Felix amended the claim and thereby narrowed its scope in an effort to secure allowance, that effort did not succeed.5 It was only after claim 8 was rewritten in independent form to include the limitations of claims 1, 7, and 8 that the claim was allowed.
The fact that the first amendment did not succeed and that a further amendment was required to place the claim in allowable form, however, is of no consequence as to the estoppel. It is the patentee’s response to a rejection—not the examiner’s ultimate allowance of a claim—that gives rise to prosecution history estoppel. . . .We therefore hold that the presumption of prosecution history estoppel attaches when a patentee cancels an independent claim and rewrites a dependent claim in independent form for reasons related to patentability, even if the amendment alone does not succeed in placing the claim in condition for allowance.
It is also immaterial in this case that the cancellation and amendment were to application claims 1, 7, and 14—rather than to application claims 8 and 16, which resulted in the asserted claim. The presumption of surrender “applies to all claims containing the [added] [l]imitation, regardless of whether the claim was, or was not, amended during prosecution.” Deering, 346 F.3d at 1326. . . . To hold otherwise would be to exalt form over substance and distort the logic of this jurisprudence, which serves as an effective and useful guide to the understanding of patent claims. The fact that the [the limitation in question] was not itself amended during prosecution does not mean that it can be extended by the doctrine of equivalents to cover the precise subject matter that was relinquished in order to obtain allowance of [another claim].”). Thus, in this case, the cancellation of original independent claim 1 coupled with the rewriting of original dependent claim 7 as independent claim 14 gave rise to a presumption of surrender applicable to all limitations, found in any of the claims of the ’625 patent, that correspond to the limitations of claim 7.
We next turn to the scope of the presumptive surrender. “[W]hen a claim is rewritten from dependent into independent form and the original independent claim is cancelled . . . the surrendered subject matter is defined by the cancellation of independent claims that do not include a particular limitation and the rewriting into independent form of dependent claims that do include that limitation. Equivalents are presumptively not available with respect to that added limitation.” Honeywell, 370 F.3d at 1144. Equivalents are therefore presumptively not available as to any of the subject matter added in Felix’s first amendment. It is immaterial that Felix chose to add both the channel and the gasket limitations, rather than just one. The resulting estoppel attaches to each added limitation. See Lucent Techs., Inc. v. Gateway, Inc., 525 F.3d 1200, 1218 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (“It is not relevant to the determination of the scope of the surrender that the applicant did not need to amend the claims [as they were amended] in order to overcome the prior art.”) . . . Felix is therefore presumptively barred from relying on the doctrine of equivalents to prove that Honda’s In-Bed Trunk meets the gasket limitation—one of the two limitations added by amendment.
Felix argues that he has rebutted the presumption of prosecution history estoppel as to the gasket limitation, because “the rationale underlying the narrowing amendment bore no more than a tangential relation to the equivalent in question.” Felix argues that the first amendment “was made because the applicant thought the prior art lacked a channel,” not because of the presence or position of a gasket. Appellant’s Br. at 34. . . .
Felix relies on the language in his argument to the examiner that “the cited references do not show the channel of Claim 7, which is formed at the rim of the bed opening, in combination with the other structure of Claims 1 and 7.” J.A. 494. We reject Felix’s argument for two reasons. First, the cited language in Felix’s argument to the examiner expressly refers not only to the “channel of Claim 7” but also to the “other structure” of the claims. It is therefore not “objectively apparent” from this argument that the channel was the only reason for cancelling original claim 1 and rewriting dependent claim 7 in independent form, as Felix argues. Second, the cited language does not explain the entire amendment. If Felix had intended only to add a channel and not add a gasket, he could easily have simply amended original claim 1 to add limitation (e) and not limitation (f). Thus, Felix has identified no explanation in the prosecution history for the addition of the gasket limitation, and Felix therefore cannot meet his burden to show that the rationale for adding the gasket limitation was tangential to the presence and position of a gasket.
. . . Because we conclude that Felix is barred by the doctrine of prosecution history estoppel from relying on the doctrine of equivalents to prove that the accused In-Bed Trunk meets the gasket limitation, we also affirm the district court’s summary judgment of no infringement by equivalents.
. . . We agree with the district court that prosecution history estoppel bars Felix from relying on the doctrine of equivalents to show that Honda’s In-Bed Trunk meets the gasket limitation—“a weathertight gasket mounted on said flange and engaging said lid in its closed position.” We therefore affirm the district court’s summary judgment of no infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.