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 thereof."
      • 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 infringed.
    • 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 do anything.
        • The Doctrine of Equivalents says that the scope of a claim is limited to things that are "equivalents" of what is claimed.