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Claims Encompass Embodiments Described In The Specification Unless Precluded By Prosecution History


Where claims can reasonably be interpreted to include a specific embodiment, it is incorrect to construe the claims to exclude that embodiment, unless there is probative evidence of disclaimer or estoppel during prosecution of the patent, a Federal Circuit panel decides in Oatey Co., v. IPS Corp. (No. 2007-1214; January 30, 2008).

Oatey owns a patent on a washing machine outlet box, comprising a housing with a bottom wall and first and second juxtaposed drain ports in the bottom wall, and a common tailpiece for both drain ports extending from the bottom wall. The lower court construed the claimed drain ports to mean two separate identifiable physical elements that are adjacent each other. This construction excluded the IPS outlet box, which has a single opening divided by a wall in the attached tailpiece.

The panel vacates and remands the judgment of non-infringement, concluding that the claims include an oblong opening in the bottom wall with a divider in the tailpiece. IPS argued that such construction encompasses the prior art, having a single drain port. The panel disagrees, because the specification explicitly discloses two drain ports defined by one opening in conjunction with the divider, and nothing in the prosecution precludes such construction.

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