In Neville v. Foundation Constructors, Inc., [2020-1132] (August 27, 2020), the Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment of the asserted claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,914,236 and 9,284,708 relating to foundation piles.
The parties disputed the construction of two claim limitations relating to the “end plate,” which separate the claims at issue into two groups. The first set of claims require an “end plate having a substantially flat surface disposed perpendicular to the centerline of the tubular pile. The second set of claims require “at least one protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate.”
The district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement as to accused products having finding the accused products “lack (1) an end plate having a substantially flat surface, and (2) an end plate with at least one protrusion extending outwardly from it.
The district court reasoned that the plain meaning of “end plate having a substantially flat surface” did not encompass “an interior surface facing into the rest of the pile tip.” The district concluded that the patent applicant intended the “substantially flat surface” of the end plate to refer to the side of the end plate facing outward, citing each of the patent figures, as well as from how Plaintiff used the phrase ‘substantially flat surface’ to distinguish the claims from the prior art.
The Federal Circuit agreed that read in light of the specification, the phrase “substantially flat surface disposed perpendicular to the centerline of the tubular pile” does not refer to any interior-facing surface. As suggested by the word “end,” the relevant surface of the end plate is the external one. The Federal Circuit found that the specification reinforces the view that the invention is directed to the exterior surface of the end plate as being “substantially flat.” The Federal Circuit found that the prosecution history likewise confirms that the substantially flat surface of the end plate does not refer to an interior surface.
For similar reasons, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the accused pile tip does not include “at least one protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate.” Nothing in the specification remotely suggests that, contrary to the plain meaning of a “protrusion” and “ex-tending outwardly,” the protrusion could be an indistinguishable part of the end plate from which it protrudes.
The Federal Circuit found that the district court correctly ruled that the “single, conically-shaped” end piece of the accused pile tips does not meet the claimed “protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate.