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Accent Packaging, Inc. v. Leggett & Platt, Inc.

Author: Maggie Welsh

In Accent, the Federal Circuit addressed the issue of whether the district court's claim construction was correct. Accent owns U.S. Patent No. 7,373,877 ("the '877 patent") and U.S. Patent No. 7,412,992 ("the '992 patent"). Accent sued Leggett for selling an allegedly infringing product, the Leggett Pinnacle.

There were two issues of claim construction before the Federal Circuit. First, claim 1 of the '877 recites, in part (emphasis added), "said operator assembly including a pivotal shaft assembly and elongated operator bodies, with each of the operator bodies being operably coupled with a respective one of said gripper, knotter, cutting element and cover." The district court concluded that the word "each" refers to one of "four arms" (the elongated operator bodies) and assigns the machine's four arms a single function. On appeal, Accent argued that the district court's reading was incorrect because the claims were not limited to a device with four elongated operator bodies. Specifically, Accent points to a preferred embodiment in the patent's disclosure which explicitly illustrates two elongated operator bodies that are operably coupled to the knotter and the cover.

The Federal Circuit agreed with Accent that the claims did not require that each of the elongated operator bodies to correspond to only one of the gripper, knotter, cutter, and cover. Instead, "each" elongated operator body must be coupled to "a respective one" of the gripper, knotter, cutter, and cover" which does not necessarily prevent an elongated operator body from being coupled to a second or even third operator element as well. In view of the district court's error in claim constructions, the Federal Circuit remanded to the district to enter summary judgment in favor of Accent on this issue.

The second issue of claim construction relates to claim 5 of the '877 patent and all of the claims of the '992 patent. The claims of the '992 patent recite, "a mount for the cover permitting the cover to be pivoted away from said knotter . . . through a pivot arc of at least about 90 degrees." Accent argued that Pinnacle's cover could pivot ninety degrees but for the removable stopper which prevents a pivot beyond approximately sixty-eight degrees.

The Federal Circuit disagreed with Accent's arguments and noted that the stopper of the Pinnacle device cannot be ignored simply because "but for" its presence the cover could pivot ninety degrees. Further, the Federal Circuit disagreed with Accent's argument that Leggett infringes the '992 because the stopper can be removed. On this issue the court held that "a device does not infringe simply because it is possible to alter it in a way that would satisfy all limitations of a patent claim." The court referenced Pinnacle manual and marketing materials which illustrated a cover that does not pivot through an arc of more than 90 degrees because of the stopper.

In view of the Federal Circuit's review of Accent's arguments, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling granting summary judgment of non-infringement in favor of Leggett with respect to claim 5 of the '877 patent and all asserted claims of the '992 patent.