Friday, January 15, 2010

Schindler Elevator v. Otis Elevator

The patent in this case was for an elevator system that “recognizes a user when he or she enters an entry location of a building, then dispatches an elevator to bring the user to a destination floor based on user-specific data.” (p. 2.) At issue was the district court’s claim construction of “information transmitter” and “recognition device.” The construction imposed negative limitations that required the system to work “without any sort of personal action by the passenger,” which excluded any action “other than walking into the monitored area.” (p. 7.) The question was could the user of the elevator do anything but walk into the lobby in order to make the elevators work?

The majority determined that the user could take some personal actions in order to bring the transmitter to the recognition device, such as swiping a key card. The statements in the specification and the prosecution history that system was “hands-free,” “automatic,” and “contactless” applied after user information was transferred to the recognition device. So the user could swipe a key, but then could not push buttons to call the elevator or tell it which floor to go to. The court explained that “[e]ach time those terms are used, they modify the elevator’s ‘call entry’ operation, an operation that necessarily occurs after the information transmitter has been brought within range of the recognition device and after the transmitter has been actuated by the recognition device.” (p. 13.)

Similar statements in the prosecution history were also referring to what happens after the information has been transferred. “None of [the statements about being “hands-free”] speaks to the role a user plays in bringing a transmitter within range of a recognition device; nor was the prior art distinguished on that basis.” (p. 15.) Thus, they “do not constitute a ‘clear and unmistakable’ disavowal of personal action for the limited purpose of bringing the transmitter within range of the recognition device.” (p. 16.)

Dissenting in part, Judge Dyk agreed that the district court’s construction was too narrow but felt that the majority’s decision went too far. According to Judge Dyk, the disclaimer applied to all personal action after gaining entry into a building. “Contrary to the majority, it seems to me that the action of swiping a card to call the elevator separate from the action required to gain entry to the building is clearly within the disclaimer of both the specification and prosecution history.”