AFG Industries v. Cardianl IG Co

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Writing for the CourtBefore MICHEL, LOURIE, and BRYSON; MICHEL
Citation239 F.3d 1239,57 USPQ2d 1776
Parties(Fed. Cir. 2001) AFG INDUSTRIES, INC. and ASAHI GLASS COMPANY, LTD., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CARDINAL IG COMPANY, INC. and ANDERSEN WINDOWS, INC., Defendants-Appellees. 00-1285 DECIDED:
Decision Date06 February 2001

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239 F.3d 1239 (Fed. Cir. 2001)
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
DECIDED: February 6, 2001

Appealed from: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee Judge Thomas Gray Hull

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Copyrighted Material Omitted

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Richard D. Kelly, Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, P.C., of Arlington, Virginia, argued for plaintiffs-appellants. With him on the brief were Stephen G. Baxter, William T. Enos, Andrew M. Ollis, and Mandy M. Petrocelli.

V. Bryan Medlock, Jr., Sidley & Austin, of Dallas, Texas, argued for defendants-appellees. With him on the brief was Nathanael G. Barnes.

Before MICHEL, LOURIE, and BRYSON, Circuit Judges.

MICHEL, Circuit Judge.

This is a patent infringement case. AFG Industries, Inc. and Asahi Glass Co. (collectively, "AFG") appeal from the February 25, 2000 order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee granting summary judgment of noninfringement in favor of Cardinal IG Company, Inc. ("Cardinal"). On March 23, 2000, AFG filed a timely notice of appeal to this court. We have exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1). On November 2, 2000, we heard oral arguments in this case. Because we find that the district court erred by adopting a construction of the terms "layer" and "interlayer" that contradicts the manner in which these terms are used in the patent specification, and because the underlying findings of the trial court and the factual record are not sufficiently clear to resolve the infringement issue in light of our revised claim construction, we vacate the court's grant of summary judgment andremand for further proceedings.


AFG and Cardinal are competing manufacturers of windows with "low-emissivity" coatings. Low-emissivity coatings generally consist of thin, alternating layers of metals coated onto a glass pane. When properly engineered, the metallic coatings are clear, or may have a desired color. These coatings, while permitting visible light to pass, reflect "radiant heat," or infrared radiation. Because warm objects in a home, such as lights, emit radiant heat, windows with low-emissivity coatings reflect that heat back into a home and reduce energy costs during the winter. In the summer these coatings help conserve energy by transmitting visible sunlight while blocking unwanted, invisible solar heat that readily passes through uncoated windows.

Prior to 1987, the prior art disclosed the use of thin layers of silver for coating glass. However, it was found that using a single layer of silver gave rise to undesirable

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qualities in the coated glass. If too thin a layer was used, the coating was not sufficiently reflective of radiant heat. If the silver layer was too thick, the window became reflective of visible light, resembling a mirror.

A. The Oyama '532 Patent

In the late 1980s, Takuji Oyama was a scientist employed by Asahi. Together with co-workers Koichi Suzuki and Mamoru Mimhashi, he was named as an inventor in a patent application filed on November 25, 1987, which eventually matured into U.S. Patent No. 4,859,532 ("the '532 patent"). The application is directed to a coating having multiple thin layers of silver, interspersed by layers of metal oxides, such as zinc oxide. By alternating layers of silver with layers of metal oxides, Oyama disclosed that the silver would become increasingly reflective of radiant heat without sacrificing its transparency to visible light. The following diagram, adapted from Cardinal's brief, illustrates the claimed coating:

Tabular or Graphical Material Omitted

In the written description of the patent application, Oyama recited that "interlayers" could be laid between the silver and metal oxide layers. Oyama disclosed that these interlayers, which are sufficiently thin to avoid substantially changing the optical properties of the silver and metal oxide layers, serve the purpose of rendering the layers more durable and increasing their adhesivity. The relevant part of the written description states:

For the purpose of improving the adhesion or durability of the coating layers, an interlayer having a thickness not to substantially affect the optical properties may be inserted at the interface with the substrate or at the interface between adjacent layers or at the interface with air.

'532 patent, col. 4, ll. 63-68. Oyama's application provides eight examples of low-emissivity

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coatings. None of these examples recite the use of interlayers.

Oyama's initial application contained five claims. Claim 4 of the application, which was allowed without amendment, issued as claim 1 of the '532 patent. Claim 1 of the '532 patent recites a coating "composed of" five alternating layers of zinc oxide ("ZnO") and silver ("Ag"), with no reference to interlayers. The claim, in full, reads:

1. A transparent laminated product comprising a transparent substrate and a 5-layered transparent coating composed of a first ZnO layer formed on the substrate, a second Ag layer formed on the first layer, a third ZnO layer formed on the second layer, a fourth Ag layer formed on the third layer and a fifth ZnO layer formed on the fourth layer, and having a visible ray transmission of at least 60%, wherein the thickness of each Ag layer is from 60 to 250.

Oyama cancelled the four other claims of his application after they were twice rejected by the PTO examiner. The cancelled claims, like issued claim 1, disclosed a coating "composed of" multiple metallic layers, but recited the use of a "transparent oxide" rather than specifying the use of zinc oxide. The examiner rejected these broader claims in light of the prior art.

AFG and Asahi are joint owners by assignment of the '532 patent.

B. Cardinal's Accused Products

Cardinal's low-emissivity coatings contain layers of zinc oxide and silver, although in some of Cardinal's products, multiple deposits of zinc oxide are applied sequentially on top of each other, with no intervening layers of silver. Some of the layers in Cardinal's products, moreover, are separated by thin deposits of titanium dioxide, referred to by Cardinal as "barrier" layers. And, some of Cardinal's accused products have an "overcoat" or "top coat" of a thin deposit of silicon nitride or zinc oxide on top of the other layers of the coating.

Cardinal applies its barrier layers in the following manner. After first depositing a layer of zinc oxide, Cardinal "sputters" a layer of silver onto the zinc oxide in a nonreactive argon atmosphere. Cardinal thereafter applies a relatively thin deposit of titanium metal on top of the silver, again in a nonreactive argon atmosphere. Zinc oxide is then deposited on the titanium layer in a reactive atmosphere containing oxygen. This causes the titanium to oxidize, forming titanium dioxide. Were the titanium not present, the silver layer would be exposed to the reactive atmosphere and would itself be oxidized, rendering the silver black and the product unacceptable for sale. Elemental analyses of the different regions of Cardinal's accused coatings indicate that silver and zinc oxide molecules can become incorporated into the relatively thin titanium dioxide barriers. The remainder of this opinion will not distinguish between titanium, titanium oxide, and titanium dioxide.

AFG argues that Cardinal's products infringe claim 1 of the '532 patent. AFG argues that the "barrier layers" in Cardinal's products are the same as the "interlayers" disclosed in the patent, and that the language of its claim does not exclude such interlayers. AFG also argues that its claim reads on Cardinal's accused products containing "top coats."

C. The District Court Litigation

On May 23, 1996, AFG sued Cardinal and Andersen Windows, Inc. for patent infringement in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Cardinal and Andersen counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment that the '532 patent is invalid. On September 13, 1996, the district court severed and

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stayed the action against Andersen. On January 13-14, 1998, the court held hearings in accordance with Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996), to construe disputed claim terms of the '532 patent and to resolve pending summary judgment motions. On April 7, 1998, the district court issued an order, without an express construction of the disputed claim terms, granting Cardinal's motion for summary judgment of noninfringement, and dismissing Cardinal's counterclaim as moot.

On May 7, 1998, AFG filed a notice of appeal with this court. On January 5, 1999, we vacated the district court's judgment of noninfringement, and remanded the case, directing the trial court to set forth an explicit claim construction.

On April 9, 1999, the district court issued an order directing the parties to submit further briefing on claim construction. On February 25, 2000, the court issued a memorandum opinion construing the terms "layer" and "interlayer," and granting summary judgment of noninfringement in favor of Cardinal.


A. Standard of Review

Grants of summary judgment are reviewed de novo. Mark I Mktg. Corp. v. R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co., 66 F.3d 285, 289, 36 USPQ2d 1905, 1098 (Fed. Cir. 1995). On appeal from a grant of summary judgment, we independently evaluate the evidence to determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and, if there is not, whether the party that moved for summary judgment is entitled to judgment on those facts. Hormone Research Found., Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 904 F.2d 1558, 1562, 15 USPQ2d 1039, 1042 (Fed. Cir. 1990). We draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

Claim interpretation is a matter of...

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