Haemonetics, Corp. v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., No. 09-1557, (June 2, 2010)
Haemonetics sued Baxter on a patent relating to a compact blood centrifuge device for separating and collecting components in a liquid such as blood. The claim at issue (claim 16) recited
A centrifugal unit comprising a centrifugal component and a plurality of tubes, said unit to turn around an axis to separate the components of a liquid, blood in particular, with such plurality of tubes displaying a single tubular component wherein said unit includes:During claim construction, the district court defined “centrifugal unit” from the preamble to mean “the combination of both the vessel and the tubing.” However, the court construed the claim’s remaining two references to “centrifugal unit,” including the final one in the context of the “height” and “radius” limitations, to mean only the vessel. The court relied on claim 16’s use of identical dimensions to the patent’s other independent claims, which the parties agreed used “centrifugal unit” to refer exclusively to the vessel. The court reasoned that, because the vessel and the tubing together are always larger than the vessel alone, giving “centrifugal unit” a construction that includes the tubing in the context of the dimensional limitations “would yield an absurdity.”
. . . a plurality of channels extending radially in the base of the centrifugal unit, with each channel providing communication between a respective tube of the tubular unit and the separation chamber, with the centrifugal unit having a radius be-tween 25 and 50 mm and a height between 75 and 125% of the radius.
The defendant argued that the two different constructions were clearly inconsistent with the plain language of the claim and thus violated black-letter claim construction law. Instead, defendant argued that “centrifugal unit” should be construed to refer to the vessel and its associated tubing. As further support, defendant argued that the specification expressly disclosed such an embodiment and was necessary in order to accomplish the invention’s goal of "creating a small, portable apheresis machine."
Haemonetics countered that “centrifugal unit” in the context of the dimensional limitations refers to the vessel alone. Also, Haemonetics asserted that the claim preamble did "no more than state the claimed invention’s intended field of use" and that inclusion of the tubing "nonsensically alters the unit’s dimensional limitations; excludes every embodiment in the specification; and ignores that the invention’s goals, i.e., small size, light weight, and economic disposability, depend on the vessel having the claimed height and radius range."
The Federal Circuit sided with the defendants:
Patent claims function to delineate the precise scope of a claimed invention and to give notice to the public, including potential competitors, of the patentee’s right to exclude . . . This notice function would be undermined, however, if courts construed claims so as to render physical structures and characteristics specifically described in those claims superfluous . . . As such, we construe claims with an eye toward giving effect to all of their terms . . . even if it renders the claims inoperable or invalid, see Chef Am., Inc. v. Lamb-Weston, Inc., 358 F.3d 1371, 1374 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“[W]here, as here, claims are susceptible to only one reasonable interpretation and that interpretation results in a nonsensical construction of the claim as a whole, the claim must be invalidated.” (quoting Process Control Corp. v. HydReclaim Corp., 190 F.3d 1350, 1357 (Fed. Cir. 1999))); Elekta Instrument, 214 F.3d at 1309 (same).
In this case, claim 16’s beginning and, in our view, controlling language could hardly be clearer. Claim 16 states: “A centrifugal unit comprising a centrifugal component and a plurality of tubes . . . .” It does not merely state the intended field of use in a preamble, as Haemonetics argues. Rather, it unambiguously defines “centrifugal unit” as “comprising” two structural components: a centrifugal component and a plurality of tubes. The claim then further recites, not the centrifugal component and not a centrifugal unit, but “the centrifugal unit” as “having a radius between 25 and 50 mm and a height between 75 and 125% of the radius.” Reading “the centrifugal unit” in the context of the dimensional limitations to refer exclusively to the vessel, as the district court did, ignores the antecedent basis for “the centrifugal unit,” . . . and fails to give effect to the claim language “comprising a centrifugal component.”
[T]he district court concluded, that because the vessel with the tubing is larger than the vessel alone, construing “centrifugal unit” in the context of the dimensional limitations to include the tubing “would yield an absurdity.” . . . Maybe so, but we do not redraft claims to contradict their plain language in order to avoid a nonsensical result.
REVERSED IN PART, VACATED IN PART, and REMANDED
Read/download the opinion here (link)