On July 8, 2009, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued a Notice of its decision to modify certain claim constructions made in the final initial determination; an Order remanding the case to Administrative Law Judge Theodore R. Essex to make findings regarding infringement, validity, and domestic industry that are consistent with the modified claim constructions; and an Opinion setting forth the modified claim constructions in Certain Refrigerators and Components Thereof (Inv. No. 337-TA-632).

The investigation was instituted on February 21, 2008, based on the complaint of Whirlpool Corp., Whirlpool Manufacturing Corp., Whirlpool Patent Corp., and Maytag Corp. (collectively “Whirlpool”).  The respondents are LG Electronics Corp., Inc., LG Electronics, USA, Inc., and LG Electronics Monterrey, Mexico S.A. de C.V. (collectively “LG”).

As indicated in our April 10 post, on February 26, 2009, ALJ Essex issued his ID, finding no violation of section 337 with respect to United States Patent No. 6,082,130 (“the ‘130 patent”).  As indicated in our April 30 post, on April 27, the Commission decided to review the ID in its entirety and requested briefing by the parties on the issue of claim construction.

In the 25-page July 8 Opinion, the Commission modified the ID’s claim construction for the terms “freezer compartment,” “disposed within the freezer department,” and “ice storage bin having a bottom opening.”  The Commission affirmed the ID’s construction of the term “ice maker.”

With respect to the term “freezer compartment,” the Commission found that the claim language was “somewhat ambiguous” and could support either Whirlpool’s or LG’s proposed construction.  Relying upon Phillips v. AWH Corp., the Commission analyzed the specification, prosecution history, unasserted claims of the ‘130 patent, and extrinsic evidence (including inventor testimony) to modify the ALJ’s claim construction (which had previously resulted in a finding of noninfringement by the accused LG products).

With respect to the term “disposed within the freezer department,” the Commission adopted Whirlpool's proposed construction, relying upon the specification, dictionary definitions, and the prosecution histories of the ‘130 patent and an unrelated Whirlpool patent application (filed on the same day) to modify the ALJ’s claim construction.  The Commission also addressed, and rejected, LG’s assertion that the modified construction would not be enabled by the specification of the ‘130 patent.

With respect to the term “ice storage bin having a bottom opening,” the Commission relied primarily upon the doctrine of claim differentiation to modify the ALJ’s construction and adopt a construction that is “close to Whirlpool’s broader request.”

The Commission extended the target date of the investigation by two months to September 7, 2009.