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The First Claim Construction of “Nanocomposite”: Schultz v. iGPS
Volume 11, Issue 2

Ping-Hsun Chen

U.S. Patent No. 6,745,703 claims “a composite pallet member” which uses a kind of nanocomposite to enhance the flame-retardant function. The patentee filed a complaint of patent infringement against iGPS Co. LLC and Schoeller Arca Systems, Inc. On Jan. 17, 2013, one federal district court issued an opinion, Schultz v. iGPS Co. LLC, 2013 WL 212927 (N.D. Ill. 2013), to explain the meanings of several disputed claim terms. Among those terms, the district court interpreted “nanocomposite” to mean “[a] composite material, one of whose components is some form of nanoparticle and which, in this case, is prepared by fully dispersing clay platelets into the matrix of a host polymer.” This article is intended to explore how the district court construed “nanocomposite.” Under the patent case law, the interpretation of a claim has to rely on three sources of intrinsic evidence: claims, specification, and prosecution history. Extrinsic evidence, such as expert witness, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and treatises, is helpful but cannot outweigh intrinsic evidence. In Schultz, the district court relied on the specification and prosecution history. While the patentee asserted that combining aggregates or “lumps” of clay with a plastic may form an “immiscible” nanocomposite, the court found that the specification actually stated that nanocomposites are formed by “fully dispersing or exfoliating intercalated clay platelets … into a host polymer.” So, the district court rejected the patentee’s interpretation. The court also found that during the prosecution, the applicant distinguished the claim from the prior art by focusing on the integration of clay into a polymer material as stated in the specification. In addition, the court cited two academic articles provided by the patentee to support its interpretation. As a result, the court accepted an interpretation that opposes the patentee’s position.

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