Law School Case Brief
Unique Concepts v. Brown - 939 F.2d 1558 (Fed. Cir. 1991)
To ascertain the meaning of patent claims, the court considers three sources: the claims, the specification, and the prosecution history.
Unique Concepts was the exclusive licensee under U.S. Patent 4,108,260 ( '260 patent), entitled “Fabric Wall Coverings”. Contrary to its title, the ‘260 patent was directed to an assembly of border pieces used to attach a fabric wall covering to a wall. The aforementioned patent claimed a framework for mounting a fabric sheet comprising linear border pieces and right angle corner border pieces. In 1986, Unique brought the present suit, alleging that certain products made by defendants Kevin Brown (d/b/a Creative Walls, Templar and Schram) and World Plastics Extruders, Inc. (collectively "Brown") – which used mitered linear pieces - infringed on the ‘260 patent. The district court ruled in favor of Brown, holding that there was no patent infringement as the language "right angle corner pieces" was limited to preformed corner pieces, whereas the mitered linear pieces used by Brown did not meet this limitation either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents. On appeal, Unique argued that the district court erred in finding that the claims did not literally cover assemblies having mitered corners.
Under the doctrine of equivalents, was the ‘260 patent infringed by Brown?
Affirming, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Brown did not infringe the ‘260 patent under the doctrine of equivalents. The district court did not clearly err in finding that Brown's accused frame does not infringe under the doctrine of equivalents because it does not perform in the same way. According to the Court, Brown’s product performed and achieved the results in a substantially different way. The Court concluded that literal infringement was precluded because the plain language of the claim included two distinct types of elements of the claimed product. The district court was correct in concluding that the claim language "right angle corner border pieces," properly construed with reference to the specification and prosecution history, requires a preformed corner piece. The district court did not clearly err in finding that the '260 patent does not literally cover Brown's corners formed by aligning two mitered straight pieces.
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