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Hill-Rom Servs., Inc. v. Stryker Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

June 27, 2014

HILL-ROM SERVICES, INC., HILL-ROM COMPANY, INC., AND HILL-ROM MANUFACTURING, INC., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
STRYKER CORPORATION (doing business as Stryker Medical) AND STRYKER SALES CORPORATION, Defendants-Appellees

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in No. 11-CV-1120, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson.

DAVID K. CALLAHAN [1] , Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, of Chicago, Illinois, argued for plaintiffs-appellants. With him on the brief were MARY E. ZAUG and JOSHUA M. REED.

STEVEN E. DERRINGER, Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP, of Chicago, Illinois, argued for defendants-appellees. With him on the brief were CHRISTOPHER J. LIND and BRIAN C. SWANSON.

Before MOORE, SCHALL, and REYNA, Circuit Judges. OPINION filed by Circuit Judge MOORE. Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge REYNA.

OPINION

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Moore, Circuit Judge

Hill-Rom Services, Inc., Hill-Rom Company, Inc., and Hill-Rom Manufacturing, Inc. (collectively, Hill-Rom) appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment that Stryker Corporation and Stryker Sales Corporation (collectively, Stryker) do not infringe asserted claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,699,038 ('038 patent), 6,147,592 ('592 patent), and 7,538,659 ('659 patent). Because the district court's judgment of non-infringement was premised on erroneous claim constructions, we reverse and remand.

Background

The patents-in-suit, which claim priority to the same parent application,[2] are directed to systems and methods for enabling hospital personnel to remotely monitor the status of hospital beds. '038 patent col. 1 l. 61-col. 2 l. 38. The patents-in-suit disclose hospital beds equipped with sensors that monitor bed parameters, such as the patient's presence in the bed and the bed height. Id. col. 2 ll. 6-9, col. 5 l. 63-col. 6 l. 23. These systems send data about the status of a hospital bed to a remote location for monitoring by hospital personnel. Id. col. 2 ll. 59-65. Claim 1 of the '038 patent, from which asserted claim 13 depends, contains three of the four disputed claim limitations and is treated by the parties as representative:

A bed status information system . . . comprising:
at least one bed condition input signal generator . . .;
an interface board including a processor. . . said interface board operable for receiving said bed condition input signal and processing said input signal to create bed condition messages indicating the status of the monitored condition;
a processing station remote from the bed and coupled with said interface

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board by a datalink, the processing station operable for receiving said bed condition messages over the datalink and processing said messages . . . such that the status of the monitored condition of the patient bed is indicated to attending personnel at a location remote from the bed.

'038 patent claim 1 (emphases added). Claim 17 of the '592 patent includes the fourth disputed claim term and recites: " The patient monitoring system . . . wherein the message includes message validation information." '592 patent claim 17 (emphasis added).

Hill-Rom brought suit against Stryker alleging infringement of various claims. The parties stipulated to non-infringement based on the court's construction of the claim terms " datalink," " interface board including a processor," " message validation information," and " bed condition message." Hill-Rom appeals. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1).

Discussion

We review claim construction de novo. Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Elecs. N. Am. Corp., 744 F.3d 1272, 1276-77 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (en banc). Claim terms are generally given their plain and ordinary meanings to one of skill in the art when read in the context of the specification and prosecution history. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). " There are only two exceptions to this general rule: 1) when a patentee sets out a definition and acts as his own lexicographer, or 2) when the patentee disavows the full scope of the claim term either in the specification or during prosecution." Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2012).

A. " datalink"

The district court construed the term " datalink" to mean " a cable connected to the bed that carries data." Hill-Rom Servs., Inc. v. Stryker Corp., No. 1:11-CV-1120, 2013 WL 364568, at *8 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 30, 2013) ( District Court Decision ). Hill-Rom argues that the district court erred by limiting " datalink" to a " cable," i.e., a wired datalink. It argues that " datalink" should be given its plain and ordinary meaning, which is a link that carries data and encompasses both wired and wireless connections. Stryker argues that the district court was correct that the plain and ordinary meaning of " datalink" is limited by the specification to a wired connection. We agree with Hill-Rom.

While we read claims in view of the specification, of which they are a part, we do not read limitations from the embodiments in the specification into the claims. Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 904 (Fed. Cir. 2004). We depart from the plain and ordinary meaning of claim terms based on the specification in only two instances: lexicography and disavowal. Thorner, 669 F.3d at 1365. The standards for finding lexicography and disavowal are exacting. " To act as its own lexicographer, a patentee must clearly set forth a definition of the disputed claim term other than its plain and ordinary meaning" and must " clearly express an intent to redefine the term." Id. at 1365 (quotations omitted).

" [T]his court has expressly rejected the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment." Liebel-Flarsheim, 358 F.3d at 906 (listing cases rejecting attempts to import limitations from the

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specification into the claims). The court continued, " [e]ven when the specification describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent will not be read restrictively unless the patentee has demonstrated a clear intention to limit the claim scope using 'words or expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction.'" Id. (quoting Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2002)).

Disavowal requires that " the specification [or prosecution history] make[] clear that the invention does not include a particular feature," SciMed Life Sys., Inc. v. Advanced Cardiovascular Sys., Inc., 242 F.3d 1337, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2001), or is clearly limited to a particular form of the invention, Edwards Lifesciences LLC v. Cook Inc., 582 F.3d 1322, 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (" [W]hen the preferred embodiment is described in the specification as the invention itself, the claims are not necessarily entitled to a scope broader than that embodiment." ) (quotation omitted). For example, we have held that disclaimer applies when the patentee makes statements such as " the present invention requires . . ." or " the present invention is . . ." or " all embodiments of the present invention are . . . ." See Regents of Univ. of Minn. v. AGA Med. Corp., 717 F.3d 929, 936 (Fed. Cir. 2013); Honeywell Int'l, Inc. v. ITT Indus., Inc., 452 F.3d 1312, 1316-19 (Fed. Cir. 2006); SciMed, 242 F.3d at 1343-44; Astrazeneca AB v. Hanmi USA, Inc., 554 F.App'x 912, 915 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (nonprecedential). We have also found disclaimer when the specification indicated that for " successful manufacture" a particular step was " require[d]." Andersen Corp. v. Fiber Composites, LLC, 474 F.3d 1361, 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (" Those statements are not descriptions of particular embodiments, but are characterizations directed to the invention as a whole." ). We found disclaimer when the specification indicated that the invention operated by " pushing (as opposed to pulling) forces," and then characterized the " pushing forces" as " an important feature of the present invention." SafeTCare Mfg., Inc. v. Tele-Made, Inc., 497 F.3d 1262, 1269-70 (Fed. Cir. 2007). We found disclaimer when the patent repeatedly disparaged an embodiment as " antiquated," having " inherent inadequacies," and then detailed the " deficiencies [that] make it difficult" to use. Chicago Bd. Options Exch., Inc. v. Int'l Sec. Exch., LLC, 677 F.3d 1361, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (" [T]he specification goes well beyond expressing the patentee's preference . . . and its repeated derogatory statements about [a particular embodiment] reasonably may be viewed as a disavowal . . . ." ). Likewise, we found disclaimer limiting a claim element to a feature of the preferred embodiment when the specification described that feature as a " very important feature . . . in an aspect of the present invention" and disparaged alternatives to that feature. Inpro II Licensing, S.A.R.L. v. T-Mobile USA Inc., 450 F.3d 1350, 1354-55 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

There is no such disclaimer or lexicography here. There are no words of manifest exclusion or restriction. The patents-in-suit do not describe the invention as limited to a wired datalink. There is no disclosure that, for example, the present invention " is," " includes," or " refers to" a wired datalink and there is nothing expressing the advantages, importance, or essentiality of using a wired as opposed to wireless datalink. Nor is there language of limitation or restriction of the datalink. Nothing in the specification or prosecution history makes clear that the invention is limited to use of a cable as a datalink. Absent such language, we do not import

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limitations from the specification into the claims.

It is true that the specifications of the patents-in-suit use the terms " datalink 39," " cable 39," and " serial datalink 39" to describe the same component of the preferred embodiment. '038 patent col. 12 ll. 61-64, col. 6 ll. 29-33, 47-50. However, those terms are used synonymously only in describing a particular numbered component in the figure depicting the preferred embodiment, and never in describing the datalink of the invention generally. See id. This disclosed embodiment undisputedly uses a cable to convey data, and the patent does not disclose an alternative embodiment that uses a wireless datalink. However, absent some language in the specification or prosecution history suggesting that the wired connection is important, essential, necessary, or the " present invention," there is no basis to narrow the plain and ordinary meaning of the term datalink to one type of datalink--a cable. There are no magic words that must be used, but to deviate from the plain and ordinary meaning of a claim term to one of skill in the art, the patentee must, with some language, indicate a clear intent to do so in the patent. And there is no such language here.

In fact, this specification states that the figures depicting the use of a wired datalink merely " illustrate embodiments of the invention." '038 patent col. 4 ll. 59-65; see also id. col. 5 ll. 30-31 (" DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SPECIFIC EMBODIMENTS" ); id. col. 22 ll. 20-31 (the " description of various embodiments" is not intended " to restrict or in any way limit the scope of the appended claims to such detail" ). Nothing in the language of the specification suggests that datalink should be limited to the cable used in the preferred embodiment. Therefore, we see no basis for deviating from the plain and ordinary meaning.

An examiner's statement during prosecution of later unrelated U.S. Patent Application No. 13/336,044 ('044 application) that the '038 patent does " not teach . . . the bed having a wireless receiver" does not convince us that one of skill in the art at the time of filing (i.e., the effective filing date of the patents-in-suit) would understand " datalink" to be limited to wired connections. The examiner stated only that the '038 patent specification does " not teach" a wireless receiver, and he expressed no views on the meaning of the term " datalink." No doubt the patentee would agree with the examiner that the specification does not contain an embodiment that teaches use of a wireless receiver. However, a patent specification need not disclose or teach what is known in the art. Streck, Inc. v. Research & Diagnostic Sys., Inc., 665 F.3d 1269, 1288 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (" It is well-established . . . that a specification need not disclose what is well-known in the art." ); see also Hybritech Inc. v. Monoclonal Antibodies, Inc., 802 F.2d 1367, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 1986). The absence of an embodiment teaching a wireless receiver does not prevent the claimed datalink from being given its plain and ordinary meaning at the relevant time. Holding that the plain meaning of datalink at the time of the filing included both wired and wireless connections for carrying data is not inconsistent with the examiner's statement that the '038 patent does not teach a wireless receiver. We do not interpret the examiner's statement about the teachings of the specification as one about his understanding of the meaning of the term " datalink" to one of skill in the art at the time of filing.

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Indeed, the only evidence in the record of how one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of filing would understand the term " datalink" is from Hill-Rom's expert. He testified that as of the effective filing date of the patents-in-suit, " a person of ordinary skill would understand that 'datalink' does not refer solely to physical connection" and " can be established over wired, wireless, optical, or other connection." J.A. 454, 472.

Stryker does not dispute that wireless datalinks were known at the time the patent was filed, nor does it suggest that the plain meaning of datalink at the relevant time was a cable. Instead, Stryker insists that " datalink" ought to be given its plain and ordinary meaning in the context of the specification. We agree. This is not, however, a license to read limitations from the embodiments in the specification into the claims. The plain and ordinary meaning of datalink at the relevant time is a connection that ...


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