[Updated to correct an error]
Therasense, Inc. (Abbott) v. Becton, Dickinson and Co. (Fed. Cir. 2010) (Case No. 2009-1008)
The Abbott patent covers a glucose meter designed with an additional sensor that ensures that a sufficient blood sample is obtained prior to the measurement. (Patent No. 5,628,890). Abbott sued BD and Nova Biomed for infringement. At the close of trial, the jury returned a verdict that the patent was infringed but invalid. The jury indicated that the patent was invalid for “anticipation or obviousness” and also invalid for failing the written description requirement of Section 112.
Law of Anticipation: On appeal, the Federal Circuit first determined that the jury instructions on the law of anticipation were incorrect. Notably, the district court judge had told the jury that “for anticipation, it is sufficient if the single reference would have informed those skilled in the art that all of the claimed elements could have been arranged as in the claimed invention.” (emphasis added). Of course, anticipation requires that the reference disclose the same elements in the same arrangement.
The requirement that the prior art elements themselves be “arranged as in the claim” means that claims cannot be “treated . . . as mere catalogs of separate parts, in disregard of the part-to-part relationships set forth in the claims and that give the claims their meaning.” Quoting Lindemann Maschinenfabrik GMBH v. Am. Hoist & Derrick Co., 730 F.2d 1452, 1459 (Fed. Cir. 1984).
Harmless Error: Under Federal Circuit law, erroneous jury instructions will lead to vacatur unless the error “could not have changed the result.” Here, the jury decided obviousness and anticipation together and the Federal Circuit found that the overwelming evidence of obviousness renders the error on anticipation “harmless.”
“[A]n erroneous instruction on the law of anticipation could not have changed the result in this case if claims 11 and 12 would have been obvious as a matter of law, such that no reasonable jury could have returned a verdict that the claims are not obvious.”
Obvious as a Matter of Law: The appellate panel held here that the asserted claims “would have been obvious over [the Nankai reference] as a matter of law.” The court’s approach to his holding of obviousness will be important for future summary judgment motions. In particular, Abbott’s downfall was its own broad claim language that encompassed the prior art. One clear difference between the claims and the prior art was admitted by the patentee to be “insubstantial.”
Written Description: Because the claims were obvious, the court did not consider the written description appeal.
Cross Appeal: BD filed a cross-appeal in the case asking the court to overturn the holding of infringement. The Federal Circuit rejected that cross-appeal — holding that it lacked jurisdiction. Notably, a cross-appeal is only appropriate when “a party seeks to enlarge its won rights under the judgment or to lessen the rights of its adversary under the judgment.” Here, the cross-appeal was improper because a holding of non-infringement would not change the ultimate outcome of the case.
Note: The Federal Circuit has also decided the related case No. 2008-1511 (Therasense, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Co.). That opinion focuses on obviousness and inequitable conduct.