Advanced Fiber Technologies Trust v. J&L Fiber Services, Inc.
Case #: 2011-1243
Lourie, Dyk, and Prost
Full Text Opinion: http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/images/stories/opinions-orders/11-1243.pdf
Patents: Unclear patent terms can be probative of a lack of willfulness on the part of an alleged patent infringer.
Opinion (Lourie): Advanced Fiber Technologies Trust (“AFT”) sued J&L Fiber Services, Inc. (“J&L”), claiming willful infringement under their original and reissued patent for a screening device that removed contaminants from “stock” mixtures of paper and water for the pulp and paper industry. Because the claimed terms changed significantly during AFT’s reissue prosecution, and reissue came after AFT filed its complaint, the District Court granted J&L’s motion for summary judgment on the issues of willfulness and noninfringement. AFT appealed, claiming error in the courts interpretation of “perforated” in its construction of the patent claim term “screening medium.” Rejecting the district court’s definition of “perforated,” the Court of Appeals held that AFT’s use of the words “may be punched or drilled” did not limit the screening invention to being made only by piercing or puncturing. Addressing the willfulness issue, the court found many factors showing J&L did not act willfully, including patent language leaving significant doubt to its validity, the PTO’s prior rejection of a reissue application due to it being “structurally indistinguishable” from a prior art patent, and the notion that AFT’s claim terms only became clear through their arguments during reissue litigation. Thus, the Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the summary judgment on willfulness, but REVERSED summary judgment on noninfringement because of incorrect claim construction, and remanded for further determination.