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Based on the district court’s constructions for three claims terms, the parties stipulated to non-infringement.  On appeal, the district court affirmed the constructions for two of the terms, but reversed on the third term, remanding to the district court for further proceedings regarding those claims. 

On the terms it affirmed, the court rejected Columbia’s argument that the terms should have been given their plain and ordinary meaning, because the only way a court can construe a term so as not to have its plain and ordinary meaning is when the patentee acts as his or her own lexicographer or there is a disavowal.  The court, however, reiterated the rule that the specification must always be consulted because it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed claim term.  Thus, a claim term may be redefined by implication such that the meaning may be found in our ascertained by a reading of the patent documents.  But, the specification plays a more limited role where the claim language has so plain a meaning that it leaves no uncertainties as to the meaning of the term.  Here, the specification had redefined the terms by implication and therefore the district court had correctly construed them.

As to the term on which the district court erred, the district court gave the term the same meaning it had given to a different term in one of the other, unrelated patents.  The court reversed that construction, however, because these terms, being different and being in unrelated patents, should not be given the same meaning on that basis alone.  Here, other language from the claims demonstrated the difference in meaning and therefore the district court had erred. 

The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York v. Symantec Corporation, Case No. 2015-1146 (February 2, 2016); Opinion by: Prost, joined by Dyk and Hughes; Appealed From: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Spencer, J.  Read the full opinion here.

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