Al-Site Corp. v. VSI International, Inc.
174 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 1999)
Al-Site and VSI both sold
sunglasses. They each had patents on a method to allow people to try on
sunglasses in the store without having to take the tags off.
Al-Site patents included a
claim for a "means for fastening" the tags to the sunglasses
through a "rivet or a button."
VSI's patent was very
similar, but attached the tags to the sunglasses by an adhesive.
Al-Site sued VSI for infringement.
The Trial Judge found that
Al-Site's claims were means-plus-function claims. So, the jury was instructed that Al-Site's claim should
be read to mean "the fastening means ... is ether a rivet or a
button and hole arrangement ... or the structural equivalent
Means-plus-function-claims are governed by 35 U.S.C. §112 ¶6,
which says that the claim only covers the exact structure material or
acts you are claiming in the patent, or any "equivalents."
The Trial Court found for
Al-Site. VSI appealed.
The Trial Court found that
VSI's 'display member' wasn't the same as what Al-Site was claiming, but
it was the equivalent, so it
The Court found that
attaching a tag via an adhesive was also the equivalent of attaching it via a rivet or button.
Therefore VSI's method infringed on the scope of Al-Site's claim.
The Appellate Court affirmed,
but on different grounds.
The Appellate Court found
that the question of whether an adhesive was the equivalent of a rivet
was a question of fact for a jury to decide.
The Court found that Al
Site's claim with regard to the member were not means-plus-function
claims, and so shouldn't be limited
by §112 ¶6.
However, the Court found
that, even under the restricted jury instruction, the jury found that
VSI had infringed on the patents anyway under the Doctrine of
Equivalents, so there was no need to
The Doctrine of
Equivalents says that the scope of
a claim is limited to things that are "equivalents" of what