Law School Case Brief
Gentry Gallery, Inc. v. Berkline Corp. - 134 F.3d 1473 (Fed. Cir. 1998)
To fulfill the written description requirement, the patent specification must clearly allow persons of ordinary skill in the art to recognize that the inventor invented what is claimed. An applicant complies with the written description requirement by describing the invention, with all its claimed limitations.
Gentry owns the 244 patent, which is directed to a unit of a sectional sofa in which two independent reclining seats ("recliners") face in the same direction. Sectional sofas are typically organized in an L-shape with "arms" at the exposed ends of the linear sections. According to the patent specification, because recliners usually have had adjustment controls on their arms, sectional sofas were able to contain two recliners only if they were located at the exposed ends of the linear sections. Due to the typical L-shaped configuration of sectional sofas, the recliners therefore faced in different directions. In 1991, Gentry filed suit alleging that Berkline infringed the patent by manufacturing and selling sectional sofas having two recliners facing in the same direction. In the allegedly infringing sofas, the recliners were separated by a seat which has a back cushion that may be pivoted down onto the seat, so that the seat back may serve as a tabletop between the recliners. The district court held that Berkline did not infringe Gentry’s patent and declined to award attorney fees for Gentry's defense.
Did the district court err in its finding that the written description portion of the specification supported certain of Gentry’s broader claims?
On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court's holding that Berkline did not infringe Gentry's patent and the trial court's refusal to award attorney fees for the defense to Berkline’s assertion that the patent was unenforceable. The trial court correctly concluded that the claims were not infringed by Berkline and the subject matter of the asserted claims was not shown to have been obvious. However, because the trial court clearly erred in finding that the written description portion of the specification supported certain of the broader claims asserted by Gentry, the court reversed the decision that those claims were, not under 35 U.S.C.S. § 112, invalid.
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