What does “connect” mean?

If you have ever written mechanical patents or spent time analyzing them, you have probably run across the issue of how broadly should the word “connect” be interpreted.  (Similarly, you have probably contemplated the meaning of “coupled with.”)  The case of Restaurant Technologies, Inc. v. Jersey Shore Chicken, 2009-1176, (Fed. Cir. January 6, 2010) broached this issue with respect to the word “interconnecting.”   The patent at issue concerned a chicken fryer.*

The claim term at issue read:

(e) piping network interconnecting said first and second containers, said filter unit and said first and second couplings.

One of the interesting aspects of the oral argument was when Peter Lancaster of Dorsey and Whitney’s Minneapolis office made the argument that the defendant’s own patent (stipulated to describe the accused device) described the elements of the allegedly infringing product as “connected.”  [Listen].  In my review of the court’s opinion, I did not see that the panel ever addressed that argument.

The panel also noted that the doctrine of equivalents would not cover indirectly connected elements — elements are either connected or not connected.

Furthermore, the court was correct in limiting possible equivalents as a matter of law, finding that claim 8, paragraph (e), “warrant[s] few or no equivalents because there are no insubstantial or trivial changes that could be made to this limitation; the specified components are either connected or not connected to one another by a piping network.” Summary Judgment Opinion, 2007 WL 4081737 at *19.  Based on the claim construction, the court was correct in finding that Oilmatic was entitled to summary judgment of noninfringement.

You can listen to the entire oral argument here:  [Listen].

You can read the court’s opinion here: [Read].

*Appropriately, the inventors for the chicken fryer patent at issue hail from Kentucky.

Comments are closed.