Comaper v. Antec

Comaper Corp. v. Antec Inc. 596 F. 3d 1343 (2010)

Facts: Comaper has a patent claiming a cooling device that is designed to mount inside the drive bay of a computer. Comaper alleges that Antec, a manufacturer of computer components and accessories, infringed their patent. The device in question comprises a case containing an air movement device such as a fan. Openings in the case allow for movement of air between the cool air outside the computer and the warm air inside the computer. In particular, the device is meant to cool the drive bay region of the computer, where hard disk drives, optical drives, or tape drives may be installed. The defendant, Antec, is bringing this appeal because it believes its summary judgment motion and judgment as a matter of law motion should have been granted. In the alternative, Antec is arguing that it is entitled to a new trial because it claims that the district court erred in construing those terms and instructing the jury as to those terms which resulted in inconsistent findings of obviousness as to the patent claims.

Issue: Whether inconsistency in the jury’s verdicts of obviousness of patent claims warrants a new trial.

Holding: Yes.

Analysis: The Court of Appeals delves into claim construction analysis for the terms, “case”, “drive bay slot”, “second opening” in order to determine whether the district court construed them properly. In construing the term “case”, the Court of Appeals agrees with the district court that it means a “structure for containing and holding something.” Antec argues that this is to broad because a case requires some type of enclosure. The court recognizes that the embodiment in the patent includes a six-sided rectangular enclosure but “has repeatedly cautioned against limiting claims to a preferred embodiment.” The patent specification doesn’t give a definition of case therefore in order to determine the meaning of the claim term, as viewed by a person of ordinary skill in the art, it is appropriate to consult a general dictionary definition of the word. The Webster’s dictionary definition of case is “a box or receptacle to contain or hold something therefore the district court’s construction of case is appropriate.
Next the court construes the term, “drive bay slot.” The district court construed this term to mean “the relatively narrow opening in the housing of the computer that leads to the drive bay.” Antec argues that the drive bay slot is not the opening but rather the area inside the computer behind the opening. The court refuses to do this because the patent use separate terms for “drive bay” and “drive bay slot” which infers that they are different terms with different meanings. Additionally, the court finds that the meaning of the term was made clear during prosecution, during which the application was repeatedly rejected as anticipated by and obvious due to the Pollard patent. To distinguish this patent from the Pollard patent, the examiner and inventor agreed that a limitation would be added to the claims therefore the phrase “case occupies substantially the entire drive bay slot” was added to distinguish Pollard, the use of the term “slot” in Pollard is significant. Pollard describes a “slot” as the two-dimensional opening in the computer housing which makes it appropriate for the term “drive bay slot” in this patent to have a similar meaning, and we conclude that the district court correctly construed “drive bay slot” to mean “the relatively narrow opening in the housing of the computer that leads to the drive bay.”
The last term Antec challenges is “second opening” which the district court determined to mean a “separate opening that is exposed to the drive bay region.” Antec argues that term means “a separate opening in the case located so as to pull or exhaust air from the central area to the drive bay region.” Antec’s desired construction confuses “second opening” with the configuration limitation in the claims therefore the Court of Appeals finds that the district court’s construction accurately reflects the ordinary and customary meaning of the term in light of the intrinsic evidence.
As the district court’s construction the terms of the patent was not erroneous, Antec is not entitled to a new trial on this ground. The court granted Antec a new trial on the ground that the jury's finding of certain claims as obvious while others were non-obvious were inconsistent. The jury found independent claims 1 and 12 of Comaper’s patent as not obvious but it also found that claims 2 and 7, which were dependent on claim 1, and claim 13, which was dependent on claim 12, were invalid due to obviousness. These verdicts were plainly inconsistent and because the evidence could support either of the inconsistent verdicts, Third Circuit law states that the appropriate remedy is a new trial.

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