Patent attorneys for Hill-Rom Services, Inc., Hill-Rom Company, Inc. and Hill-Rom Manufacturing, Inc. (collectively, “Hill-Rom”) filed a patent-infringement action against Stryker Corporation, doing business as Stryker Medical and Stryker Sales Corporation (collectively, “Stryker”), alleging that Stryker had infringed nine of its patents. Stryker countered, alleging non-infringement and invalidity of the patents-in-suit.
The suit, initially filed in the Western District of Wisconsin, was transferred to the Southern District of Indiana. Six of the nine patents-in-suit are currently undergoing reexamination before the United States Patent and Trade Office pursuant to Stryker’s request and the Court considered only the other patents-in-suit.
In this Order, the Court determined the scope and meaning of the asserted patent claims, a necessary step before ruling on the question of infringement. The three patents-in-suit addressed involve data transfer patents that allow hospital personnel to monitor the status of patients’ beds remotely.
Five claim terms from the three patents at issue were presented to be construed by the Court: 1) “datalink”, 2) “interface board including processor”, 3) “message”, 4) “bed condition message” and 5) “message validation information”.
In each case, Hill-Rom proposed no definition other than reiterating the precise wording of each claim term at issue, apparently relying substantially on the heavy, but rebuttable, presumption that claim terms will be afforded their full ordinary and customary meaning. In contrast, Stryker criticized Hill-Rom’s failure to expand on what a plain and ordinary meaning would be when considered in the context of the specification and prosecution history.
For “datalink”, which was both the claim term and the proposed construction by Hill-Rom, the Court adopted Stryker’s proposal exactly, construing it to mean “A cable connected to the bed that carries data”.
The Court construed “interface board including processor” to mean “A board that processes an input signal to create bed condition messages and sends those messages to a remote location via the wall interface unit. It can also receive messages through the wall interface unit.” Of all of the claim terms, the Court differed the most from Stryker’s proposal — “A board that includes the electronics that control the sending of messages to, and the receiving of messages from, a remote location.” — on the construction of this term.
The third term, “message”, again proposed to mean only “message” by Hill-Rom, was interpreted to mean “A plurality of data fields of appropriate length assembled into a defined structure. A message is distinct from an input signal.”
“Bed condition message” was construed to mean “A message not generated in response to any user request that contains the status of all conditions the bed is capable of monitoring.”
Finally, “message validation information” was construed to mean “A data field within a message that is used to verify that the message was received exactly the same as it was sent.”
The case was referred to Magistrate Judge LaRue for further proceedings.
Practice Tip #1: Hill-Rom’s interpretation of “plain and ordinary meaning” as requiring merely the repetition of the terms at issue was soundly rejected by this Court, as it has been by other courts. Instead, it is often true that, in those cases that a lawsuit is filed, the parties can expect that there will be disagreements on what constitutes a “plain and ordinary meaning.” Consequently, it is advisable for both parties to consider providing the court with additional language supporting their respective positions. Failure to do so results in the court being presented with only one alternate definition to consider when construing claims, a situation not likely to benefit the party providing no additional language.
Practice Tip #2: It appears that Hill-Rom was trying to use general language in its claims to secure for itself broad protection under its patents. While that goal is understandable, claims cannot enlarge the scope of a patent beyond what has been described in the invention. So, for example, while the use of the broad term “datalink” might seem to protect a wide range of types of data sent over different types of links, without a proper foundation elsewhere in the patent, such a term will be ineffective in providing the desired protection.