Ottah v. Fiat Chrysler No. 2017-1842, 2018 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 7, 2018) (Before Newman, Hughes, and Stoll, J.) (Opinion for the court, Newman, J.)
Chikezie Ottah (“Ottah”) appeals the lower court’s grant of summary judgment of non-infringement and dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. Ottah’s patent concerns a removable book holder assembly for use by a person in a protective or mobile structure. Disputed claim 1 includes the phrase, “a book holder for removable attachment.” Ottah alleged that several auto manufacturers infringed the patent by using and making a camera holder for use in their vehicles.
A review of summary judgment for non-infringement requires analyzing both claim construction, which is reviewed without deference, and infringement, which is reviewed to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists.
The Federal Circuit found no error in construing claim 1 as requiring a removable attachment. The claim is clear on its face, and nothing in the specification suggests a different and non-ordinary meaning. The accused camera holders did not have a “removable” assembly, because tools were required, and did not literally infringe the claim. Ottah’s doctrine of equivalence argument, that a limited use of tools in “fixed amounts” was sufficiently “removable,” was unpersuasive. The prosecution history contradicted that position and emphasized the removable structure as a feature that overcame the prior art. Consequently, the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment.
Ottah was a pro se plaintiff. The Federal Circuit consequently considered the dismissal of the complaint under “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Nonetheless, pro se complaints must state a plausible claim for relief. Ottah narrowly claimed book holders, limited the scope of examination to book holders during prosecution, and discussed equivalents in the specification that were not claimed. The Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal with prejudice because a book holder cannot plausibly be construed to include or be equivalent to a camera holder, given the specification and prosecution history.
The clear ordinary meaning of a claim term will prevail over a proposed meaning contradicted by the prosecution history. A proposed non-literal equivalent that contradicts the claim language and the prosecution cannot establish infringement. Positions clearly contradicted by the record do not establish genuine issues of material fact for reversing a summary judgment of non-infringement. Likewise, a complaint that fails to state a plausible claim, as by alleging apples (book holders) encompass oranges (cameras) is properly dismissed with prejudice, despite leeway given to pro se plaintiffs.