United States: Federal Circuit Finds No "Way" To Support Doctrine Of Equivalents

In Akzo Nobel Coatings, Inc. v. Dow Chemical Co., the Federal Circuit upheld the district court's grant of summary judgment of no infringement under the doctrine of equivalents because the patent holder had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact under the function-way-result test. This case illustrates the scrutiny the court may apply to expert testimony cited to support infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.

The Patent At Issue

The patent at issue was U.S. Patent 6,767,956, directed to an "[e]xtrusion process." The Federal Circuit identified claim 1 as representative:

1. A process for producing a dispersion of a polymer in an aqueous medium in which the polymer is dispersed in an aqueous medium in an extruder at a temperature above 100ºC in an extruder having an outlet
wherein the pressure in the extruder is maintained above atmospheric so that the aqueous medium does not boil characterized by maintaining the pressure above atmospheric for the extruder at the outlet with a pressurized collection vessel and
wherein aqueous dispersion from the extruder has at least 25% by weight of the aqueous medium where the aqueous medium has less than 40% by weight of organic solvent and
wherein the aqueous dispersion enters the outlet and pressurized collection vessel at a pressure above atmospheric so that the aqueous medium does not boil and is subjected to the action of a cooling zone to lower the temperature of the aqueous dispersion to below 100ºC to have an aqueous dispersion with a viscosity below 10 Pa.s.

Dow's accused process, called BLUEWAVE", is summarized in the Federal Circuit decision as follows:

[BLUEWAVE"] uses an extruder to generate low viscosity polymer dispersions. In Dow's process, the dispersion exits the extruder, passes through a valve located at the extruder's outlet, and then travels through a series of pipes and heat exchangers. The dispersion then continues on through a filter and collects in a "Product Tote," an unpressurized compartment, eventually used to transport the end-product.

The District Court Decision

The district court construed "pressurized collection vessel" as as "tubing, piping, or other container where a desired material accumulates, which is maintained above atmospheric pressure." The court found no literal infringement because Dow's dispersion does not "accumulate" in its heat exchange equipment, and also found no infringement of this aspect of the claimed process under the doctrine of equivalents.

The Federal Circuit Decision

The Federal Circuit decision was authored by Judge Lourie and joined by Judges Reyna and Chen. The decision addresses several issues raised by Akzo's appeal and Dow's cross-appeal, but this article focuses on the doctrine of equivalents, because it seems like it has been a while since the court has discussed this area of law.

Akzo argued that the district court "committed legal error by applying the concept of vitiation and impermissibly creating 'a "binary choice" in which an element is either present or "not present."'" The Federal Circuit disagreed, citing the Supreme Court decision in Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17 (1997), for emphasizing the element-by-element nature of the doctrine of equivalents analysis:

A patentee must establish "equivalency on a limitation-by-limitation basis" by "particularized testimony and linking argument" as to the insubstantiality of the differences between the claimed invention and the accused device or process. .... The function-way-result test "often suffice[s] to show the substantiality of the differences." .... "[A]ll claim limitations are not entitled to an equal scope of equivalents." .... Ultimately, "many limitations warrant little, if any, range of equivalents." ....

Turning to the case before it, the Federal Circuit stated:

The claimed process operates by using a pressurized collection vessel wherein dispersion accumulates to maintain backpressure in the extruder. To state it differently, it is the accumulation of dispersion in the collection vessel that generates the backpressure. Dow's accused process, on the other hand, "uses a valve" and does not allow for accumulation in the downstream pipes. .... Thus, in order to survive summary judgment, Akzo had to show that a valve and a series of pipes and heat exchangers, wherein the dispersion flows continuously, generate backpressure in the extruder in substantially the same way to increase the boiling point of the carrier fluid. It did not do so.

The Federal Circuit cited the following expert testimony relied upon by Akzo:

Dow's and Michelman's piping and heat exchangers perform the same function (maintain the pressure) and achieve the same result (maintaining sufficient pressure to prevent boiling of the aqueous medium) in substantially the same way (by collecting the dispersed material in a contained volume) as the vessel used by the inventors in Examples 2 and 3 of the patent. J.A. 1100–01.

In addition to criticizing this testimony for being "broad and scant," the court found that "what truly undermines Akzo's reliance on the above-quoted statement is the statement's failure to articulate how Dow's accused process operates in substantially the same way." Moreover, given the claim construction dispute over the "collection" vessel, the court found it significant that "Dr. Mount ... fails to articulate which construction of "collecting" he invokes, much less articulate how the differences between the two processes are insubstantial." Concluding that "[s]uch ambiguity and generality cannot create a genuine issue of material fact," the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment.

Scrutiny Of The Evidence

In addition to shedding light (or not) on what is required to establish infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, this decision illustrates the scrutiny that the Federal Circuit may apply to expert testimony. For example, the court noted that the testimony at issue came "in the last paragraph of a fifty-one paragraph declaration," was "broad and scant," "fail[ed] to articulate how [the] accused process operates in substantially the same way," and failed to "articulate how the differences ... [were] insubstantial." While it is not possible to avoid providing some testimony "in the last paragraph," it is clear that the court was expecting a more rigorous analysis under each prong of the function-way-result test for each element alleged to be infringed under the doctrine of equivalents.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.