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 theÂ second generation Prius, theÂ Camry and the Highlander.
According to theÂ second amended complaint (gardnercomplaint.pdf), the ‘627 patent’s early priority dateÂ (based on a parent patent application filed back in April 1992) wasÂ more than two years before Toyota began investigating the development of a commercial hybrid automobile.
Last month Toyota succeeded inÂ knockingÂ 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.Â This provision provides that patent claims must “particularly point out and distinctly claim” the subject matter of the invention.
The problematicÂ language of claim 6 is “said speed demands.”Â TheÂ claim reads:
6.Â A hybrid motor vehicle comprising in combination:
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).Â 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 significantÂ 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.