Following a Markman hearing on March 4, 2014, Judge Tigar issued an order construing ten disputed terms from four asserted patents in TRIC Tools, Inc. v. TT Techs., Inc., No. 12-3490 (N.D. Cal. June 23, 2014). The patents relate generally to methods and devices for replacement of underground pipes.
The court generally adopted plaintiff’s proposed constructions, finding that defendant’s proposals were too narrow, and improperly included limitations of particular embodiments. In particular, the court adopted plaintiff’s proposals for the following terms:
1. “collet” The court found that defendant’s proposed construction impermissibly imported limitations from the specification into the claims. The court rejected defendant’s proffered extrinsic evidence.
2. “a slotted cable insertion structure for the sideways insertion of said cable within said cable pulling device” In the Joint Claim Construction Statement, defendant argued that this term falls under 35 U.S.C. § 112(f). In claim construction briefing, defendant argued that the term is so vague that its construction must be confined to the disclosed embodiments. The court first found that the claim was not governed by section 112(f), because the claim sufficiently modified the term “structure” so that one of ordinary skill would understand that the structure was a slot for sideways insertion of the cable.
3. “cable engagement path in relation to said frame, such that said cable can be sideways mounted within said cable pulling frame and around said pulley and into said cable pulling device” Defendant argued that the word “path” was a substitute for “means for,” and the claim therefore was governed by section 112(f). The court disagreed, and further declined to include additional limiting language offered by defendant.
4. “cable pulling device” Defendant once again argued that this was a means-plus-function term, where the term “device” did not indicate a particular structure and the term “cable-pulling” merely recited the function. The court disagreed, finding that “‘[c]able pulling’ modifies ‘device’ to give it a ‘reasonably well-understood meaning as a name for a structure.'” However, the court found that plaintiff’s proposal was over broad, in part because the plaintiff had made “an affirmative attempt to define the ‘cable pulling device'” when it referred to the “present invention” in the specification. The court therefore modified plaintiff’s proposal to reflect the specification’s limitation of the invention.
5. “cable pulling means” As with the “cable pulling device” term, the court found that the claim provided sufficient structure to construe the term, and declined to find the term was governed by section 112(f).
6. “pulley” Because there was no intrinsic evidence defining the term, the court looked to expert testimony and dictionary definitions. The court adopted a hybrid of the parties’ proposals, excluding narrowing language proposed by the defendant, but selecting a portion of defendant’s proposal that the court determined to be less confusing than plaintiff’s proposal.
7. “cable gripping device” As with other terms discussed above, defendant argued that the term is governed by section 112(f). The court disagreed, noting that “when ‘means’ is not recited, the strong presumption against invoking § 112(f) is not easily overcome.”
The court adopted in part defendant’s construction of the following terms:
8. “frame members being configured such that said cable pulling system is adaptable for the sideways insertion of said cable into said cable insertion slot and onto said pulley” The court found that plaintiff’s proposal was not grammatically equivalent to the claim term, and excluded limitations found in the claim. However, defendant’s proposal included limitations that were not supported by the claims; the court declined to include such limitations.
9. “releasably engagable” The court found that plaintiff’s proposal “simply redefines the term with a different word order,” and was over broad because it would include engagement by means of fixation that were expressly disclaimed in the specification.
10. “retention feature” Oddly, plaintiff argued that the term was indefinite because it appears only in the claims but not in the specification. The court agreed with the defendant that the term is not a technical term and its meaning is readily apparent when the claim is read in light of the specification.