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SAFE BED TECHNOLOGIES COMPANY v. KCI USA

SAFE BED TECHNOLOGIES COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
KCI USA, INC., LOYOLA UNIVERSITY HEALTH SYSTEM, RUSH SYSTEM FOR HEALTH, SWEDISH COVENANT HOSPITAL, and SHERMAN HOSPITAL, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARTIN ASHMAN, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Safe Bed Technologies Company ("Safe Bed") charges defendants with infringing U.S. Patent No. 4,998,939 ("the `939 patent"), which covers a "Hospital Bed with Guard Rail Actuated Safety Apparatus." Safe Bed alleges that KCI USA, Inc. ("KCI") infringed the patent by making, selling, offering for sale, importing, and/or leasing certain hospital beds. Safe Bed alleges the remaining defendants infringed the `939 patent by using those hospital beds. This matter was referred to this Magistrate Judge for the purposes of construing the disputed claims of the `939 patent. The parties submitted memoranda on the issue of construction of the disputed claims, and illuminated some of their arguments in a Markman hearing the Court held on June 22, 2004. The Court's construction of the claims at issue in this case is set forth below. I. BACKGROUND

  A. Patented Invention

  The `939 patent covers improvements to a hospital bed, especially a kinetic therapy hospital bed. Such beds allow for movement of a patient from side to side for therapeutic purposes, such as the reduction of fluid build-up and bed sores. The patent describes a "guard rail actuated safety apparatus," designed with the goal of preventing patients from falling from the hospital bed. To that end, when a guard rail is lowered, the safety apparatus prevents the operation of the features of the hospital bed that move the patient, or activates an alarm.

  B. Disputed Claims

  Claims 50, 64, and 69 of the `939 patent are at issue in this case. Claim 50 is an independent claim, and reads as follows:
In a hospital bed having a frame, a patient support assembly mounted for adjustable movement relative to the frame, a pair of left and right guard rails on opposite left and right sides of the patient support assembly and means for mounting the guard rails to the frame for movement between inoperative and operative positions in which they are relatively less and more effective to restrain the patient against lateral movement off the side of the patient support assembly directly associated therewith, the improvement being a guard rail actuated safety apparatus, comprising: means for preventing adjustment of the patient support assembly relative to the frame; means for sensing when at least one of said guard rails is in an inoperative position; and means responsive to said sensing means for actuating the adjustment preventing means.
  (`939 patent, 19:58-20:6). Claim 64 is also an independent claim, and reads as follows:
 
In a bed with a frame, a patient support assembly mounted to the frame and having a pressurizable member of a medical apparatus for interacting with the patient's body resting thereon, a pair of left and right guard rails opposite left and right sides of the patient support assembly and means for mounting the guard rails for movement between relatively inoperative and operative positions in which they are relatively less and more effective to restrain a patient against lateral movement off a side of the patient support assembly directly adjacent thereto, the improvement being a guard rail actuated safety apparatus, comprising: means for depressurizing said pressurizable member; means for sensing when at least one of the guard rails is in an inoperative position; and means responsive to said sensing means detecting a guard rail in an inoperative position for actuating said depressurizing means to depressurize said pressurizable member.
  (`939 patent, 21:25-43). Claim 69 is dependent on Claim 64, and describes a "an alarm and means for actuating the alarm in response to the [sic] at least one of the guard rails being in an inoperative position." (`939 patent, 22:14-16).

  II. CLAIM CONSTRUCTION STANDARDS

  In Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995), the Federal Circuit held, and the Supreme Court later affirmed, that it is the court's responsibility to construe the claims of patents as a matter of law for the jury. 52 F.3d at 979, aff'd, 517 U.S. 370, 116 S.Ct. 1384 (1996). Claim construction is "the process of giving proper meaning to the claim language," the fundamental process that "defines the scope of the protected invention." Abtox, Inc. v. Exitron Corp., 122 F.3d 1019, 1023 (Fed. Cir. 1997). "[T]he language of the claim frames and ultimately resolves all issues of claim interpretation." Id.

  Claim construction starts with a fundamental principle: there is a "heavy presumption" that a claim term carries its ordinary and customary meaning. Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa North America Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The court's task of discerning this meaning involves perusal of the intrinsic evidence of record, including the claims, the drawings, the specification, and the prosecution history, if in evidence. Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1324. The court may also consult dictionaries and treatises in its effort to establish the meaning those skilled in the relevant art assign to a term. Texas Digital Sys., Inc. v. Telegenix, Inc., 308 F.3d 1193, 1202-03 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

  While the claim language is presumed to carry its ordinary and customary meaning, a patentee may overcome this presumption by clearly using the words in the specification, prosecution history, or both "in a manner inconsistent with its ordinary meaning." Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. v. Schering-Plough Corp., 320 F.3d 1339, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (citing Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1325-26). By doing so, a patent applicant may expand or limit the scope of the term in the context of the patent claims. Genzyme Corp. v. Transkaryotic Therapies, Inc., 346 F.3d 1094, 1098 (Fed. Cir. 2003). For example, in Teleflex, the court explained that "[o]ne purpose for examining the specification is to determine if the patentee has limited the scope of the claims." 299 F.3d at 1325. To illustrate such an instance, the court offered that "an inventor may choose to be his own lexicographer if he defines the specific terms used to describe the invention with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision." Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1325. In addition, the court also noted that the specification may be consulted to resolve ambiguity if the ordinary and customary meanings of the words used in the claims are not sufficiently clear to allow the scope of the claim to be determined from the words alone. Id. "The patentee may demonstrate an intent to deviate from the ordinary and accustomed meaning of a claim term by including in the specification expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction, representing a clear disavowal of claim scope." Id. Accordingly, of all the intrinsic evidence, courts have called the specification the "single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term," and have indicated that it is usually dispositive. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

  This might seem a fairly straightforward process, but the law governing claim construction also holds that while the claims must be read in view of the specification, limitations from the specification are not to be read into the claims. Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1326. "That claims are interpreted in light of the specification does not mean that everything expressed in the specification must be read into all the claims." Raytheon Co. v. Roper Corp., 724 F.2d 951, 957 (Fed. Cir. 1983). The Federal Circuit addressed this issue in Telegenix, where it held that:
the intrinsic record also must be examined in every case to determine whether the presumption of ordinary and customary meaning is rebutted. Indeed, the intrinsic record may show that the specification uses the words in a manner clearly inconsistent with the ordinary meaning reflected, for example, in a dictionary definition. In such a case, the inconsistent dictionary definition must be rejected. In short, the presumption in favor of a dictionary definition will be overcome where the patentee, acting as his or her own lexicographer, has clearly set forth an explicit definition of the term different from its ordinary meaning. Further, the presumption also will be rebutted if the inventor has disavowed or disclaimed scope of coverage, by using words or expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction, representing a clear disavowal of claim scope.
308 F.3d at 1204 (emphasis added, citations omitted). This suggests that the intrinsic record, including the specification, would generally "trump" the claim language in construing the claim. The court, however, went on to caution: Consulting the written description and prosecution history as a threshold step in the claim construction process, before any effort is made to discern the ordinary and customary meanings attributed to the words themselves, invites a violation of our precedent counseling against importing limitations into the claims. For example, if an invention is disclosed in the written description in only one exemplary form or in only one embodiment, the risk of starting with the intrinsic record is that the single form or embodiment so disclosed will be read to require that the claim terms be limited to that single form or embodiment. Indeed, one can easily be misled to believe that this is precisely what our precedent requires when it informs that disputed claim terms should be construed in light of the intrinsic record. But if the meaning of the words themselves would not have been understood to persons of skill in the art to be limited only to the examples or embodiments described in the specification, reading the words in such a confined way would mandate the wrong result and would violate our proscription of not reading limitations from the specification into the claims.

 308 F.3d at 1204-05 (emphasis added, citations omitted).

  The `939 patent employs two claim forms that implicate additional construction standards. One is the "means-plus-function" claim form. The means-plus-function form allows a patentee to define an invention as a means or a step for performing a specified function:
An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.
35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6. When a patentee uses the word "means" in a claim, it triggers a presumption that the limitation at issue is expressed as a means-plus-function limitation. Personalized Media Communications, LLC v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 161 F.3d 696, 703 (Fed. Cir. 1998). In construing a means-plus-function claim limitation, the court first identifies the function recited within that limitation. ACTV Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 346 F.3d 1082, 1087 (Fed. Cir. 2003). Then, the court must then identify the corresponding structure that performs the recited function. Northrop Grumman Corp. v. Intel Corp., 325 F.3d 1346, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2003). As it does so, the court must bear in mind that:
structure disclosed in the specification is `corresponding' structure `only if the specification or the prosecution history clearly links or associates that structure to the function recited in the claim.' A court may not import into the claim features that are unnecessary to perform the claimed function. Features that do not perform the recited function do not constitute corresponding structure and thus do not serve as claim limitations.
Northrop Grumman, 352 F.3d at 1352 (citations omitted). While section 112, ¶ 6 allows the patentee to use "means" expressions without the burden of reciting of all the possible means that might be used in a claimed apparatus, the price of that convenience is limitation of the claim to the means specified in the written description and equivalents thereof. Medical Instrumentation and Diagnostics Corp. v. Elekta AB, 344 F.3d 1205, 1211 (Fed. Cir. 2003); O.I. Corp. v. Tekmar Co., 115 F.3d 1576, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

  The other claim form used in the `939 patent is the Jepson form. Generally, a Jepson claim follows this format: "(1) a preamble comprising a general description of all the elements or steps of the claimed combination which are conventional or known, (2) a phrase such as `wherein the improvement comprises,' and (3) those elements, steps, and/or relationships which constitute that portion of the claimed combination which the applicant considers as the new or improved portion." 37 C.F.R. § 1.75(e) (1996). While the Jepson form allows a patentee to use the preamble to recite "elements or steps of the claimed invention which are conventional or known," Kegel Co. v. AMF Bowling, Inc., 127 F.3d 1420, 1426 (Fed. Cir. 1997), "[w]hen this form is employed, the claim preamble defines not only the context of the claimed invention, but also its scope." Rowe v. Dror, 112 F.3d 473, 479 (Fed. Cir. 1997). The fact that the patentee has chosen the Jepson form of the claim evidences the intention "to use the preamble to define, in part, the structural elements of his claimed invention." Id.; Kegel, 127 F.3d at 1426, 44 USPQ2d at 1127. Thus, the preamble is a limitation in a Jepson-type claim. Epcon Gas Systems, Inc. v. Bauer Compressors, Inc., 279 F.3d 1022, 1029 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

  III. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED CLAIMS

  A. Claim 50

  1. "a patient support assembly"

  The parties' dispute of the construction of this claim element focuses on what "a patient support assembly" includes.

 
Safe Bed: KCI:
"A patient support assembly" is a "A patient support assembly" must include conventional mattress or other assembly for at least one conventional mattress and an supporting a patient directly or indirectly. underlying patient support frame. (KCI's (Safe Bed's Memorandum in Support of its Memorandum in Support of its Claim Claim Construction ("Safe Bed's Mem."), at Construction ("KCI's Mem."), at 6). 7). While the parties disagree over the construction of this claim element, both sides support their proposed construction by reference to the same language in the patent specification. (Safe Bed's Mem., at 7; KCI's Mem., at 7). The pertinent portion of the specification reads:
Supported by the frame 10 is a patient support assembly 12 including one or more conventional mattresses 12A, possibly, an optional overlying pressurizable member 12A' and an underlying patient support frame 12B.
(`939 patent, 5:15-18). While Safe Bed submits that "a patient support assembly" could be interpreted as nothing more than "one conventional mattress," KCI argues that the use of the word "assembly" dictates that the term require more. According to KCI, it must, at a minimum, include not only one conventional mattress, but an underlying patient support frame as well. The Court agrees with KCI's construction of this claim.

  Claim interpretation begins with the ordinary and customary meaning of the words. "Assembly" is defined as "a collection of parts [fit together] as to form a complete machine, structure, or unit." WEBSTER'S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY, at 131 (1986).*fn1 From this standpoint, then, a "patient support assembly" cannot be a single item, such as one conventional mattress, but must be a collection of more than one part. To accept Safe Bed's interpretation that the "patient support assembly" could be one mattress or other assembly would render the term "assembly" superfluous, which would violate a cannon of patent claim construction. Elekta Instrument S.A. v. O.U.R. Scientific Intern., Inc., 214 F.3d 1302, 1307 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (rejecting claim interpretation that would term superfluous).

  Safe Bed also argues that the specification cannot be grammatically read in the manner KCI suggests. According to Safe Bed:
[t]he plain English meaning of the quoted specification language is that a patient support assembly is comprised of one or more conventional mattresses. The sentence continues that the patient support assembly could "possibly" include an optional overlying pressurizable member and an underlying patient support frame . . . This refers to the pressurizable member and an underlying support frame as optional, not required elements.
(Safe Bed's Reply Memorandum on Claim Construction Issues ("Safe Bed's Reply"), at 4). To the contrary, the sentence construction suggests that only "overlying pressurizable member" is modified by "an optional." The support assembly is said to include, "possibly, an optional overlying pressurizable member and an underlying patient support frame" as opposed to "possibly, an optional overlying pressurizable member and underlying patient support frame." The second version would more readily indicate both were optional, but that is not the version in the specification. To be sure, the specification language evinces a battle with grammar, but it is more amenable to KCI's interpretation than to Safe Bed's.

  Safe Bed also points out that claim 52, which is dependent on claim 50, specifies that "`said patient support assembly has an articulated frame mounted for adjustable movement.'" (Safe Bed's Reply, at 6 (quoting `939 patent, 20:12-14)). According to Safe Bed, KCI's claim construction would import the "articulated frame" of claim 52 into claim 50, thus violating the doctrine of claim differentiation. (Safe Bed's Reply, at 6). While not a hard and fast rule of claim construction, the doctrine of claim differentiation does create a presumption that each claim in a patent has a different scope. Sunrace Roots Enterprise Co., Ltd. v. SRAM Corp., 336 F.3d 1298, 1302 (Fed. Cir. 2003). That presumption is especially strong when the limitation in dispute is the only meaningful difference between an independent and dependent claim, and one party is urging that the limitation in the dependent claim should be read into the independent claim. Ecolab Inc. v. Paraclipse, Inc., 285 F.3d 1362, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2002). This is not the case here, however. KCI is not arguing that the limitation of an articulated frame be read into claim 50, but merely an underlying support frame. The two phrases are not identical. The term "articulated" adds a meaningful difference between claim 50 and dependent claim 52: the difference between an ordinary frame and one "consisting of segments united by joints." WEBSTER'S, at 124. The specification, for example, indicates that a patient support frame might be mounted to the hospital bed frame in one fashion, while an articulated frame — which would have interconnected segments — would be mounted in another. (`939 patent, 5:19-24). Accordingly, the Court construes "patient support assembly" to include at least one conventional mattress and an underlying patient support frame.

  2. "mounted for adjustable movement relative to the frame"

  Here, the parties' dispute focuses on whether the phrase "mounted for" in this claim requires that the patient support assembly be attached to the main hospital bed frame. Safe Bed: KCI: "Mounted for adjustable movement relative "Mounted for adjustable movement relative to the frame" means the patient support to the frame" means the mounting device assembly is assembled in a manner to allow must (1) attach the patient support assembly or permit adjustable movement with respect to the main frame, and (2) allow for to the frame. (Safe Bed's Mem., at 7). adjustment of the ...


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