The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a jury verdict based on a claim construction issue, finding Ford Motor Company did not infringe Waner’s patent for a fender liner used on dual rear wheel trucks. In addition, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Waner’s unjust enrichment claim on summary judgement. Waner v. Ford Motor Co. , Case Nos. 02-1184, -1185 (Fed. Cir. June 4, 2003).
The Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court’s construction of the claim term "flange." Relying on a dictionary definition as well as intrinsic evidence (i.e., the "structure of the language of the claim"), the Court decided that the claimed fender liner must have a "flange" that is a raised or projecting edge and that the flange must exist prior to installation of the fender liner. Because Ford’s fender liner was a single planar sheet before installation, the Federal Circuit ruled that no reasonable jury could have found infringement. Accordingly, the district court’s denial of a judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) for Ford was reversed.
The Court also affirmed the denial of Waner’s summary judgment motion for unjust enrichment in favor of Ford. The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that, according to applicable state law, Waner’s had no protectable property interest during the time his invention was in the public domain. Waner sold his fender liners both to Ford and to the public at a horse show. At the time of the sales, Waner had no corresponding patent, nor did he have a confidentiality agreement with Ford. Because there was no dispute that Waner’s invention was in the public domain at that time, his claim of unjust enrichment was properly dismissed.
Judge Newman, in dissent, thought that the claim construction issue was a "close question" and argued for deference to the jury verdict. Judge Newman further argued that the complaint presented a course of action for "unjust enrichment," not trade secret violation as analyzed the majority, and should not have been dismissed.
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Trademarks and design rights are a woeful but combustible combination. Another day and another trademark infringement suit is commenced to circumvent the lack of effective design protection rights in the United States.