Enhanced Configurability Saves Patent from Invalidity but also Results in No Infringement
In Assa Abloy New Zealand Limited v Allegion (New Zealand) Limited the High Court Judge held that the respective parties infringement and invalidity claims are premised on a monopoly that does not conform to the patent’s terms...
Assa Abloy claim that Allegion’s Stella sliding door locking mechanism infringes some claims of their Latch Patent. Allegion countered that the Latch Patent is obvious and that in any event the respective mechanisms apply different mechanical principles.
In adopting a purposive approach the Judge stated that the central focal point in construing the patent is the language of the patent in light of its purpose and context. The Judge accepted Assa Abloy’s construction of the object of the invention as being to simply provide a latching mechanism which can be configured to end-use requirements. In rejecting other constructions of the object of the invention by some of the experts, the Judge cautioned against conflating the object of the invention with its advantages. Here the Judge referred to precedent noting that the advantages that will result from achieving the object of the patent need not be co-extensive with the object.
The primary claim in contention is claim 18 of the Latch Patent, which reads:
18 A latching mechanism including a movable snib, a drive member, coupled to the snib and rotatable by the snib about a first axis, a receiver including a first angular receiving area and a second angular receiving area each configured to receive a tailbar of a lock cylinder, said receiver being rotatable about a second axis independent of the drive member, and a selector adjustable by a said tailbar received in said receiver to move a lock bolt between a locking position where the snib is prevented from movement and an unlocking position where the snib is able to be moved, wherein the first and second axes are coaxial.
Allegion contended that the two drive spigots in the Stella do not constitute ‘a’ drive member. However, the Judge held that the two drive spigots can constitute a drive member since the latter can consist of more than one part or driving element. Similarly, although the Stella contains two lock pins, that still qualifies as ‘a’ lock bolt as specified in claim 18.
Nonetheless, the Judge held that the Stella does not contain a drive member coupled to the snib, since in the Stella the driver and snib are integrally formed by moulding and so are not ‘coupled’. The Judge accepted the expert evidence which found in context ‘coupled’ envisages two separate components coming together. The Judge rejected Allegion’s contention that such integral forming constitutes a minor variation that falls within a purposive construction on the basis that the integral forming inherently reduces the potential configurability of the latching mechanism, which is contrary to the object of the Latch Patent.
The question arose whether claim 18 requires a separate receiver and selector, given that these components are integrally formed in the Stella. However, in contrast to the driver and snib finding, the Judge held that claim 18 does not expressly require those components to be coupled and that a purposive construction does not obviously demand it.
Regarding the invalidity attack, the Judge held that the prior art did not contain all the elements of claim 18 and had lower configurability. Further, while the Latch consists of a combination of known elements, the Judge held that the combination has a synergistic interaction that constitutes an inventive step that would not have been obvious to a person skilled in the art at the priority date.