28 August 2020Muireann Bolger

Construction patents not infringed, rules Federal Circuit

A construction company has failed in its bid to persuade the  US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that competitors infringed its patents for its technology for developing underground structures to stabilise residential and commercial construction.

In a decision handed down yesterday, August 27, the Federal Circuit found that two of Substructure Support’s screw pile patents weren’t infringed, upholding a ruling by the US District Court for the Central District of California.

California-based  Substructure Support sued  Foundation Constructors and Foundation Pile for infringing patent US numbers 7,914,236 and 9,284,708, relating to “foundation piles”. These are tubular structures placed into the ground to provide stability for the foundations built over them.

According to the specifications of the patents, a rotational torque is applied through a “helical flight” at the tip of the foundation pile, which “draws the pile into a soil bed”, whereas the tip of the foundation pile, or pile tip, contains an end plate—a “bottom surface” that “caps off the end of the conical body of the pile tip, closing it off from the soil in which it is to be placed”.

The district court held that the accused companies’ products did not infringe the patents because they did not did not include any “end plate” to a pile tip, as claimed by Substructure Support.

On appeal, Substructure Support argued that that the district court’s ruling of noninfringement must be overturned because it incorrectly construed the claims. Specifically, the company challenged the district court’s construction of the “end plate having a substantially flat surface”.

The Federal Circuit, however, agreed with the district court, holding that, “the claimed surface cannot be an imaginary one”, and that according to Substructure Support’s logic, “that same pile tip would simultaneously infringe claims reciting an end plate with a curved surface, simply because one could”.

It concluded that the district court had been correct in its ruling that a “substantially flat surface” of the end plate does not refer to “an interior surface facing into the rest of the pile tip”.

The court also held that Substructure Support cannot manufacture a factual dispute by drawing “imaginary lines” to create an “end plate” and a “substantially flat surface” where none exist.

It concluded by stating: “Thus, the district court correctly ruled that the single, conically-shaped end piece of the accused pile tips does not meet the claimed protrusion extending outwardly from the end plate”.

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