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Stumbo v. Eastman Outdoors, Inc. - 508 F.3d 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2007)

Rule:

A patentee must provide particularized testimony and linking argument as to the insubstantiality of the differences between the claimed invention and the accused device or process, or with respect to the function, way, result test when such evidence is presented to support a finding of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.

Facts:

Plaintiff Steve Stumbo invented a portable and collapsible hunting shelter or blind that allowed quick and easy set-up by hunters, photographers, and other wildlife enthusiasts. The hub-style blind has four walls and a top made of fabric that was stretched taut by five foldable support members when fully assembled. He subsequently obtained a patent for the invention. The ‘338 patent claimed a “closable vertical opening” at a side edge or vertical corner through which one can enter and exit the blind. The same product involving portable and collapsible hub-style blinds was also obtained by defendants Eastman Outdoors, Inc. and Ameristep Corporation. In the defendants’ product, the opening was a triangular-shaped “loose door flap” – as opposed to Stumbo’s closable vertical opening. Asserting that the defendants’ product infringed on the ‘338 patent, Stumbo instituted a patent infringement claim. The defendants moved for summary judgement as to all of Stumbo’s claims, arguing that their products do not infringe the ‘338 patent, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents. Construing the term "closable vertical opening" as a "slit-like opening that runs straight up and down or perpendicular to the plane of the horizon," the district court concluded that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the accused products literally infringed the '338 patent given that they had triangular openings. The district court also concluded that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the accused products infringed under the doctrine of equivalents because their triangular openings did not operate in substantially the same way to create substantially the same result as the '338 patent's vertical slit. Accordingly, the summary judgment of non-infringement was granted in favor of the defendants. On appeal, Stumbo contended that the term "vertical opening" would cover any shape of opening so long as the vertical height of the opening was greater than the horizontal width. 

Issue:

Did the defendants’ product infringe on the ‘338 patent based on the alleged generality of the term “vertical opening” – as to mean any shape of opening so long as the vertical height of the opening was greater than the horizontal width?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals explained that claim construction is a question of law that it reviews de novo. Affirming, the Court held that the specification of the patent inherently required a slit-like shape for the opening. According to the Court, the district court had correctly interpreted the claims in the context of the claim language and the specification. The Court ruled that Stumbo never stated with any specificity how the openings of the respective products were substantially the same in way and result vis-a-vis safety. Furthermore, Stumbo, having failed to produce any evidence to the contrary, did not raise a genuine issue of material fact as to infringement under the doctrine of equivalents by either of defendants' accused products.

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