World Class Tech. v. Ormco: Constructing the term 'Support Surface'

Category: Claim Construction
By: Jesus Hernandez, Blog Editor/Contributor 
TitleWorld Class Tech. Corp. v. Ormco Corp., No. 2013-1679, 2014-1692 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 20, 2014).
IssueThe heart of the parties’ dispute is what constraints claim 1 places on the “support surface” during movement of the movable member (slide). As a complement to that issue, the parties also dispute what role is played by the “ledge” surface that lies on the other side of the wire-holding slot from the support surface.
World Class Tech. Corp., at *4.
Holding[W]e conclude that the specification makes clear that the district court correctly resolved the uncertainties in the claim language, adopting a construction that aligns with the description of the invention [which distinguishes “support surface” from a “ledge” surface, and assigns a unique operation to each term,” such that the two terms are not interchangeable].
Id. at *9 (text added).
Procedural HistoryOrmco Corporation owns U.S. Patent No. 8,393,896, which claims a bracket for orthodontic braces that avoids or reduces interference with the gums even when being mounted on a molar tooth. Ormco accuses World Class Technology Corporation of infringing the ’896 patent, and World Class Technology denies infringement. The district court construed two claim terms—“support surface” and “ledge.” In view of the court’s constructions, the parties stipulated to a judgment of non-infringement of the ’896 patent.
World Class Tech. Corp., at *2.
Legal Reasoning (TARANTO, Prost, Hughes)
Representative Claim at Issue1. A self-ligating orthodontic bracket for coupling an arch wire with a tooth, comprising: a bracket body configured to be mounted to the tooth, the bracket body including a support surface, a ledge, and an arch wire slot including a base surface and opposing first and second slot surfaces extending from the base surface, the base surface being interposed between the opposing first and second slot surfaces, the support surface being acutely angled with respect to the base surface, and the ledge opposing the support surface across the archwire slot and including a surface that is generally parallel to the base surface; and a movable member coupled with the bracket body and movable between an opened position in which the archwire is insertable into the archwire slot and a closed position in which the movable member retains the archwire in the archwire slot, wherein the movable member comprises a first portion and a second portion extending at an acute angle from the first portion, the first portion engaging the acutely angled support surface of the bracket body when the movable member is in the closed position, the second portion being generally parallel to the base surface and extending across the archwire slot from the first slot surface to the second slot surface when the movable member is in the closed position.

World Class Tech. Corp., at *3-4.
Legal Standard: Claim ConstructionWe generally give words of a claim their ordinary meaning in the context of the claim and the whole patent document; the specification particularly, but also the prosecution history, informs the determination of claim meaning in context, including by resolving ambiguities; and even if the meaning is plain on the face of the claim language, the patentee can, by acting with sufficient clarity, disclaim such a plain meaning or prescribe a special definition. See, e.g., Phil- lips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312–17 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc); Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm’t Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2012).
Id. at *6.
Construction of 'support surface' in claim 1
Unclear on its faceThe claim language does not by itself convey a clear, unambiguous meaning in the respect at issue. To begin with, while “support surface” requires a surface that provides support, and the slide is undisputedly what must be supported, the language itself does not resolve when the slide must be supported. An “engaging” must take place in the fully closed position, according to the claim. But the phrase “support surface” standing alone could mean that support must be provided generally during movement of the slide. Moreover, the claim requires two surfaces on either side of the archwire slot and gives the surfaces two different names: the “support surface” and the “ledge” surface. ’896 patent, col. 10, lines 27–53. That difference suggests that their roles are different—which points away from Ormco’s suggestion that they are interchangeable regarding the timing of contact with the slide (in Ormco’s view, either one can be contacted at the end of the sliding process, either one at the start).
World Class Tech. Corp., at *6-7.
Meaning in view of Spec
[T]he specification in this case identifies gum avoidance as the sole purpose of the acute angle the support surface must make with the slot base. See, e.g., ’896 patent, Abstract; id., col. 1, line 66, through col. 2, line 5; id., col. 2, lines 40–44. Under Ormco’s construction, however, the acute angle would not serve the sole stated purpose in the arrangement that Ormco’s construction is aimed at covering—in which the slide is inserted from the top, first moves along the ledge, and arrives at the support surface for closing after crossing the slot. In that embodiment, there is no problem of gum contact and no need for the acute angle. Such a construction is unmoored from, rather than aligned with, the description of the invention. Ormco has not identified anything in the written description or drawings that discloses an arrangement of the sort it seeks to cover, in which the slide does not contact the support surface until it approaches the closed position.
Id. at *8.
The specification also sharpens the distinction between the support surface and the ledge surface that is suggested by the use of two different terms for the two surfaces. Whereas the support surface is linked with slide movement, the ledge is not. It is mentioned in a single paragraph. That paragraph explains that when the slide is closed, one end of the slide “abuts the labial surface of [the] ledge.” Id., col. 7, lines 29–32 (figure reference numbers removed). The rest of the paragraph then describes a portion of the bracket connected to the ledge that covers the end of the slide, protecting the slide against food and acting as a stop for the slide’s movement (depicted as item 34 in Figure 3). Id., col. 7, lines 32–38.
Id. at *9.
Claim 6 and Claim Differentiation
Language in dependent claim 6Claim 6, which depends on claim 1, adds the limitations that “the support surface intersects one of the opposing first and second slot surfaces to define an edge of the archwire slot and the support surface defines a translation plane that intersects the other of the opposing first and second slot surfaces.” ’896 patent, col. 11, lines 1–5. Since the phrase “the support surface defines a translation plane” appears explicitly in claim 6, Ormco argues, we should not read claim 1 as itself limiting the support surface to supporting and guiding the slide during “translation.” We conclude, however, that this difference is not sufficient to support Ormco’s broad view of claim 1.
World Class Tech. Corp., at *9-10.
Claim DifferentiationThe doctrine of claim differentiation creates a presumption that distinct claims, particularly an independent claim and its dependent claim, have different scopes. See Kraft Foods, Inc. v. Int’l Trading Co., 203 F.3d 1362, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2000). But our construction of “support surface” does not give claim 1 the same scope as claim 6. At a minimum, claim 6 requires that the support surface form a corner (edge) with one side of the slot. That requirement is not implicit in claim 1 under our construction of “support surface.” To provide support for the slide throughout its movement, the support surface need not come directly up to the slot (or, therefore, form a corner with a slot side), but could stop short of the slot. With claim 6 having independent significance, we see no basis for reading into its use of “translation” an impli- cation that, but for the limitations claim 6 adds to claim 1, the slide need not move along the support surface.
Id. at *10.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the district court’s decision.
World Class Tech. Corp., at *11.
Image Attribution Statement: FIGS. 1 and 3 of U.S. Patent No. 8,393,896. 
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