WORLD CLASS TECHNOLOGY CORPORATION, an Oregon corporation, Plaintiff,
ORMCO CORPORATION, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
JOHN V. ACOSTA, Magistrate Judge.
Presently before the court is the issue of claim construction of the language of United States Patent No. 8, 393, 896 ("the 896 Patent"). The 896 Patent is the latest in a series of patents that involve self-ligating orthodontic bracket technology. Self-ligating brackets differ from traditional brackets in that they permit attachment of the wire, known as the archwire, and the bracket without the use of traditional ligatures, such as rubber bands or additional wires. Instead, the self-ligating bracket features a slot with a sliding cover that permits an orthodontist to place the archwire in the slot and to secure it in the slot by sliding the cover into the closed position. The 896 Patent discloses an one such self-ligating bracket.
Plaintiff World Class Technology Corporation ("WCT") seeks declaratory judgment of noninfringement of five patents owned by Defendant Ormco Corporation ("Ormco"). Ormco asserts a counterclaim of infringement of its U.S. Patent No. 8, 393, 896 ("the 896 Patent"), a sixth patent now the subject of this litigation.
Ormco asserts that WCT's H4 bracket infringes claims 1, 2, 5, 7, 10, 14, and 15 of the 896 Patent. Claim 1 is an independent claim upon which claims 2-9 depend. Claim 10 is an independent claim upon which claims 11-16 depend. The parties now request that the court construe the meaning of two terms - "support surface" and "ledge."
"It is a bedrock principle' of patent law that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.'" Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). The analysis of a patent infringement action involves two steps: (1) the proper construction of the asserted claim; and (2) a determination of whether the accused method or product infringes the claims as properly construed. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd 517 U.S. 370 (1996). "To ascertain the scope and meaning of the asserted claims, we look to the words of the claims themselves, the specification, the prosecution history, and any relevant extrinsic evidence." Retractable Techs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Co., 653 F.3d 1296, (Fed. Cir. 2011) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315-1317).
In construing claim language, the words of a claim "are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning[.]" Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronics, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). The ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. "In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words." Id. at 1314.
The court looks at the words of the claims themselves, both asserted and unasserted. Id. "[T]he context in which a term is used in the asserted claim can be highly instructive." Id. For example, the Federal Circuit has consistently held that interpreting a claim term in a manner that renders subsequent claim language superfluous is improper. See Stumbo v. Eastman Outdoors, Inc., 508 F.3d 1358, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (holding that a definition that renders claim language superfluous is "a methodology of claim construction that this court has denounced"); see also Merck & Co. v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc., 395 F.3d 1364, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2005) ("A claim construction that gives meaning to all the terms of the claim is preferred over one that does not do so."). Similarly, the doctrine of claim differentiation recites the principle that the limitations in each claim are presumed to be distinct from one another. See Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 910 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (holding that the presence of a dependent claim that adds a particular limitation gives rise to a presumption that the limitation in question is not present in the independent claim).
However, the claims "do not stand alone[, ]" Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315, and "must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part." Markman, 52 F.3d at 978. Accordingly, the specification "is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. The specification is especially important because "a patentee may choose to be his own lexicographer and use terms in a manner other than their ordinary meaning, as long as the special definition of the term is clearly stated in the patent specification or file history." Id. As such, "it is always necessary to review the specification to determine whether the inventor has used any terms in a manner inconsistent with their ordinary meaning. The specification acts as a dictionary when it expressly defines terms used in the claims or when it defines terms by implication." Id.
Although the specification is relevant to claim construction, limitations found only in the specification are not to be read into the claims if the claim language is broader than the specification. See Electro Med. Sys., S.A. v. Cooper Life Sci., 34 F.3d 1048, 1054 (Fed. Cir. 1994) ("although the specifications may well indicate that certain embodiments are preferred, particular embodiments appearing in a specification will not be read into the claims when the claim language is broader than such embodiments"); see also Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N.A. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (refusing to import a limitation found in the specification even when the specification disclosed only one embodiment).
In addition to the specification, the court should consult the prosecution history of the patent, if in evidence. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. Although typically less helpful than the specification, the prosecution history may demonstrate how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the scope of the invention during prosecution to avoid reading on prior art. Id. "Under the doctrine of prosecution disclaimer, a patentee may limit the meaning of a claim term by making a clear and unmistakable disavowal of scope during prosecution." Purdue Pharma L.P. v. Endo Pharma. Inc., 438 F.3d 1123, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 2006). "A patentee could do so, for example, by clearly characterizing the invention in a way to try to overcome rejections based on prior art." Computer Docking Station Corp. v. Dell, Inc., 519 F.3d 1366, 1374 (Fed. Cir. 2008). However, "[p]rosecution disclaimer does not apply to an ambiguous disavowal." Id. at 1375.
Finally, if the ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is not apparent from the intrinsic evidence, courts are authorized to consult extrinsic evidence, which "consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Markman, 52 F.3d at 980.
I. Claim Language
For convenience, the court sets for the language of the independent claims in their entirety. Claim 1 of the 896 Patent reads:
A self-ligating orthodontic bracket for coupling an archwire with a tooth, comprising:
a bracket body configured to be mounted to the tooth, the bracket body including a support surface, a ledge, and an archwire slot including a base surface and opposing first and second slot surfaces extending from the base surface, the base surface being interposed between the opposing first and second surfaces, the support surface being acutely angled with respect to the base surface, and the ledge opposing the support surface across the archwire slot and including a surface that is generally parallel to the base surface; and
a movable member coupled with the bracket body and movable between an opened position in which the archwire is insertable into the archwire slot and a closed position in which the movable member retains the archwire in the archwire slot,
wherein the movable member comprises a first portion and a second portion extending at an acute angle from the first portion, the first portion engaging the acutely angled support surface of the bracket body when the movable member is in the closed position, the second portion being generally parallel to the base surface and extending across the archwire slot from the ...