Federal Circuit issues short opinion on claim construction, even shorter mention of claim vitiationMay 2, 2007

The Federal Circuit today issued a brief, five-page opinion regarding claim construction and infringement issues relating to a patent on insulated shipping containers. The court affirmed the lower court's claim construction and, as a result, affirmed the summary judgment of noninfringement.

The court also dispensed with the doctrine of equivalents in a single sentence, making indirect reference to claim vitiation via a case cite, rather than discussing the issue directly.

More details of the case after the jump.

Foremost In Packing Systems sued Cold Chain Technologies for infringement of its patent [ed. note: the opinion lists the patent number as 5,294,302, which is incorrect. The correct number is 5,924,302. This will likely be corrected via an errata notice in the next day or so]. The patent relates to insulated containers used for temperature-controlled transport of pharmaceuticals, tissues, and the like. The patented containers have an insulated cover and body that have areas for both the item to be transported and the coolant.

Foremost asserted claims 9, 13, and 22 were infringed by Cold Chain's competing container. Part of the dispute hinged on the requirement in claims 9 and 13 that "the insulated block [is] adapted to slidably engage the coolant cavity, thereby the coolant and the insulated block together substantially fill[] the coolant cavity." The diagram below illustrates the patented cooler (left) and the allegedly infringing cooler (right):


The district court held that in order to "slidably engage" the coolant cavity, the cover block had to be inserted into the coolant cavity. The Federal Circuit agreed, because the claim states that as a result of the engagement, "the coolant and the insulated block together substantially fill[] the coolant cavity." As a result, the insulated block on the cover must at least partially enter the coolant cavity. Cold Chain's container did not, therefore, "slidably engage," and therefore did not literally infringe claim 9 or 13.

Claim 22 requires the "insulated cover [be] adapted to engage the open end of the insulated body and having a configuration for minimizing air spaces within the cavities." The lower court decided, and the Federal Circuit agreed, that in order to "minimiz[e] air spaces within the cavities," this claim required part of the cover to extend into the coolant cavity, or air space is not minimized in the cavity. Therefore, Cold Chain's container also did not literally infringe claim 23.

The doctrine of equivalents only merited a single sentence explanation for claims 9 and 13, and another for claim 23. The court simply stated that "In these particular circumstances, Foremost cannot establish infringement by invoking the doctrine of equivalents," and "cf." cited Depuy Spine, Inc. v. Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc. While the court did not note the reason the doctrine of equivalents was unavailable, the cited portion of the Depuy case deals with claim vitiation, so it appears the court, without discussion, found that the Cold Chain container, which did not "slidably engage" or "minimiz[e] air spaces," could not be equivalent to the claimed invention, because it would vitiate the respective limitations. This is likely the correct result, but it is odd that the court did not explain its reasoning in more detail. "Claim vitiation," and the other term for the doctrine, the "all-elements rule," were not mentioned anywhere in the opinion.

To read the full decision in Foremost in Packaging Sys., Inc. v. Cold Chain Techs., Inc., click here.

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