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Failure To Timely Object To Jury Instructions At Trial Limits Federal Circuit Claim Construction On Appeal


When claim construction requires review of jury instructions, failure to object to those instructions before the jury retires can limit appellate reversal to situations in which plain error, affecting substantial rights and resulting in a miscarriage of justice, is shown, a Federal Circuit panel concludes in Serio-US Industries, Inc. v. Plastic Recovery Technologies Corp. (Nos. 05-1106, -1143, -1306; August 10, 2006).

Serio-US sued PRT for infringement of its patents relating to “automatic” locks which use gravity to open dumpsters as they are lifted by trash trucks. Before trial, the district court received briefing on claim construction from both parties, but held no hearing on that subject, instead issuing its constructions of various claims of the patents at issue in jury instructions. Serio-US did not object to the jury instructions. Following a jury verdict of non-infringement on both patents, the trial court entered a judgment of non-infringement in favor of PRT. On appeal, Serio-US asserts the trial court committed error, inter alia, on claim construction.

The Federal Circuit panel affirms the trial court's determination of non-infringement. Although claim construction is a question of law, reviewed de novo by the Federal Circuit, claim construction in this case requires a review of jury instructions. Fourth Circuit procedural law governs preservation of objections to jury instructions here, and provides that if a party does not object to an instruction before the jury retires, that party cannot prevail on appeal unless plain error affecting substantial rights, resulting in a miscarriage of justice, can be shown. Serio-US did not object to the jury instructions as required. Since the district court jury instructions as a whole fairly and adequately stated the pertinent legal principles, no miscarriage of justice is detected.

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