HAMILTON BEACH BRANDS, INC. v. F’REAL FOODS, LLC, decided November 16, 2018, Claim Interpretation

U.S. Patent No. 7,520,662 is directed to a rinseable splash shield (page 2).  The method claim recites a “nozzle oriented towards the splash shield” and uses “positionable” for other objects (page 17).  Limitations were not read in from the specification as the claim itself as the claim recites orientation of the nozzle as part of the machine, not as an act to be performed (page 18).  This suggests a fixed orientation (page 18).  Given the claim use of “positionable” for the shield indicates that the orientation is fixed (page 18).  The prior art does not teach using a fixed nozzle to clean in place (page 20). 

Hindsight:  “Positionable” for one limitation not being used in another limitation resulted in a restrictive interpretation of the other as fixed.  Adjectives in a claim may be used for all limitations to avoid this, but this approach may overly narrow the claim.  The specification may be used to indicate that lack of use of the adjective does not support the implication, such as teaching the nozzle as being either fixed or positionable.  In this case, the nozzle being fixed saved the day so the implication was a benefit.