Monday, February 29, 2016

Eon v. Silver Spring: the meaning of "portable" and "mobile" debated

From Judge Bryson's dissent:

The majority holds that “no reasonable jury could
have found that Silver Spring’s devices are ‘portable’ and
‘mobile’ in the context of the claimed invention.” I disagree.

There is no room for doubt that the accused meters
would qualify as mobile and portable under the ordinary
meaning of those terms, and the majority does not suggest

The central question in this case is whether
the specifications of the ’101 and ’491 patents demonstrate
that the patentee intended to depart from the plain
meaning of those terms, i.e., “capable of being easily and
conveniently transported,” and to adopt the meaning
proposed by Silver Spring, i.e., “capable of being easily
and conveniently moved . . . and designed to operate
without a fixed location.” The majority essentially adopts
Silver Spring’s construction, and in particular the final
clause requiring that the device be “designed to operate
without a fixed location.”2 I do not agree that the specifications
of the two patents support that restrictive definition.
Instead, I conclude that the district court properly
determined that the terms “portable” and “mobile” were
used in their ordinary sense in the patent, and that the
court properly instructed the jury to give those terms
their ordinary meaning. For that reason, I disagree with
the majority’s decision that the evidence, viewed in light
of the proper construction of the claims, was insufficient
to support the jury’s verdict.

An interesting comment:

The majority regards the presence of the retaining
ring and bolt as evidence that the meters are not portable.
In my view, the fact that the meters need to be secured to
the electrical box supports the jury’s finding that the
meters are portable or mobile. A Silver Spring employee
testified that the meters are locked down because the
utilities “don’t want the meters to be moved” or “tampered
with.” A559, at 139:4-11. Thus, the meters are locked to
the electrical box precisely because they are easy to move
and carry off, and they need to be secured in order to
reduce the risk of loss

Of ordinary meaning:

The majority also faults the district court for instructing
the jury to interpret the terms “portable” and “mobile”
according to their ordinary meanings rather than defining
the terms for the jury. Notably, even if the court erred in
that respect, the remedy would be, at most, a new trial,
not the judgment entered today, which ends the case.
Beyond that, however, I do not agree that the district
court erred by directing the jury to apply the ordinary
meaning of the terms.


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