Altair Engineering, Inc. v. LEDdynamics, Inc., No. 2010-1118 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2011) (Judges Dyk, Rader, and Prost) (nonprecedential opinion)

In this fairly light opinion the Federal Circuit dealt with two issues: claim construction of one term and judicial estoppel.  Altair had sued LEDdynamics for patent infringement for selling light tubes with LEDs that allegedly infringed Altair’s light tube patent.  At the trial level, the parties disputed the construction of the term “closely spaced” as it referred to LEDs.  The court held that arguments Altair made to distinguish prior art during prosecution (i.e., in the intrinsic record) were an appropriate source for a definition of the term, which did not appear in the specification and had no standard meaning.  The court affirmed the district court’s claim construction.

Altair also appealed the district court’s holding that it was judicially estopped from changing its characterization of the accused products.  In the Markman proceedings below, Altair had characterized the accused light tubes as products that contain 36 LEDs.  In its opposition to a motion for SJ, Altair changed its position and characterized the accused light tubes as containing 36 packages of 6 LEDs each.  The district court ruled that Altair was judicially estopped from characterizing the accused products differently, because the court had already adopted Altair’s definition of LEDs in the accused devices.

For judicial estoppel to apply, the party must have prevailed on a position at some earlier point in the case.  The Federal Circuit agreed with Altair that it had never actually prevailed on anything, including the definition of LED.  The court therefore reversed the holding of judicial estoppel and vacated the SJ of noninfringement, sending the infringement issue back to the trial court in light of Altair’s revised characterization of the accused product.

Read the original opinion here.