Toyota Slows Hybrid Vehicle Patent Attack as Court Rules “Speed Demands” Limitation Indefinite

In a previous post, I wrote about patent attorney-inventor Conrad O. Gardner’s patent infringement suit against Toyota Motor Corp. (Toyota). 

In April 2008, Gardner sued Toyota in federal court in Seattle, accusing the automaker of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,290,627 (‘627 patent), entitled “Extended Range Motor Vehicle Having Ambient Pollutant Processing” by making and selling the second generation Prius, the Camry and the Highlander.

According to the second amended complaint (gardnercomplaint.pdf), the ‘627 patent’s early priority date (based on a parent patent application filed back in April 1992) was more than two years before Toyota began investigating the development of a commercial hybrid automobile.

Last month Toyota succeeded in knocking independent claim 6 out of the case when the court granted Toyota’s motion for partial summary judgment that the claim was invalid for indefiniteness under Section 112, paragraph 2 of the Patent Act.  This provision provides that patent claims must “particularly point[] out and distinctly claim[]” the subject matter of the invention.

The problematic language of claim 6 is “said speed demands.”  The claim reads:

6.  A hybrid motor vehicle comprising in combination:

an engine;

an electric motor;

a storage device;

said electric motor power said hybrid motor at lower speeds;

said engine powering said vehicle at high speeds; and said engine operative connected through a charging path for charging said battery at lower speeds

wherein said speed demands do not drop below 40 mph for predetermined time periods of 45 seconds.

The court held claim 6 indefinite because it is unclear what “said speed demands” refers to (gardner_order.pdf).  The claim recites both high speeds and lower speeds, however:

Nothing in claim 6 directs one of ordinary skill in the art as to which of the two earlier recited speeds provides the antecedent basis for “said speed demands.”

This is a significant win for Toyota because claim 6 was the broader of the two independent claims of the ‘627 patent.

Thanks to Stu Soffer, who brought this decision to my attention.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.