Cybor Corp. FAS Technologies, Inc.
138 F.3d 1448 (1998)

  • FAS invented and got a patent on a pump for squirting liquids onto semiconductors. They sued Cybor, who had a patent on a similar pump, for infringement.
    • Cybor argued that the claims of their patent were different than the claims in FAS's patent.
  • At trial, the Judge looked at the words in the claims, and told the Jury what those words should be interpreted to mean.
    • Basically, the Judge was the one who construed the meaning of the claims, not the Jury.
  • The Trial Court found for FAS and invalidated Cybor's patent. Cybor appealed.
    • Cybor argued that the Trial Court misconstrued the claims in their patent. Cybor argued that how claims should be construed was a question of fact for a jury to decide, and not a question of law for a judge to decide.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there are two steps to an infringement analysis:
      • First, the judge determines the scope and meaning of the patent claims asserted.
      • Second, the properly construed claims are compared to the allegedly infringing device.
    • The Court looked to Marksman v. Westview Instruments, Inc. (517 U.S. 370 (1996)), and found that claim construction was a question of law for a judge to decide.
      • It is arguable that that is what the US Supreme Court actually said in Marksman. More likely, the US Supreme Court found that claim construction was a mixed question of law and fact, but that for various reasons it was more practical to let a judge decide than a jury.
    • The Court looked to how the Trial Judge construed the claim construction, and agreed with his analysis.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the US Supreme Court in Marksman didn't say that claim construction was a pure matter of law, they said that it "falls somewhere between a pristine legal standard and a single historical fact."
    • The problem with assuming that claim construction is purely a question of law has to do with appellate review. Appellate courts review questions of law de novo and do not have to give any deference to what a trial court decided. If there is a question of fact, than the trial court is given some deference because they were there to actually see the witnesses and evidence.
      • That means that pretty much every loser at the trial level will appeal because they get a free 'do-over' at the appellate court, and that's inefficient.
  • In a concurrence, it was argued that since claim construction is a mixed question of law and fact, the appellate courts should grant deference to the trial courts in their judgment.