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JVW Enterprises, Inc. v. Interact Accessories, Inc.
__ F.3d __ (Fed. Cir. 2005)

Interact Accessories Inc., a major video game accessories maker in the U.S., suffered a setback Monday after a lower court decision for the company was partially reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Rival company JVW Enterprises Inc. sued Interact in September 1999 in the U.S. District Court for Maryland, asserting its patent for a video game accessory that reduces physical stress on hands and wrists while operating a control device. The Federal Circuit found the district court erred in its claims construction and, as a result of the lower court’s erroneous construction, Interact’s V3 and V4 racing-wheel products were cleared of infringement in a May 2003 judgment. The products simulate driving in certain games. The Federal Circuit determined, using revised claims construction on the adjustability of the devices, that the V3 product infringes JVW’s patent, while the V4 product still does not infringe (for different reasons).

JVW’s patent covers a controller-holding device that extends from a small base between the player's legs to support a platform over the player's lap. The platform holds the controller in place. That allows the player to use both hands to operate the game controls, rather than having to hold the controller itself.

The claims construction at the heart of the decision related to the patented device’s “lockability” feature for adjusting the controller’s position and allowing interchangeability of controllers on the mounting device. The district court’s bench trial focused on that feature, finding that Interact’s accused products cannot lock and unlock because they are sealed in place. JVW sought to eliminate the word “lockably” from its patent claim to more effectively assert it against Interact’s non-locking device, but the district court rejected the argument.

With the Federal Circuit’s new interpretation of the claims construction, the accused products are found to be lockable, even though tools would be required to unlock the controller from the mount to adjust it or attach a different controller. As a result, the V3 product was found to infringe JVW’s patent. “Neither of Interact’s alternative arguments to support the [district court] judgment are persuasive. Both would require us to limit claim language to the specific embodiment disclosed in the written description. This would be improper. We do not import limitations into claims from examples or embodiments appearing only in a patent’s written description,” the court wrote. The V4 product fared better, despite the new claims construction. The court ruled that even though the district court’s finding of non-infringement for the V4 was based on an incorrect claim construction, the product’s locking ability and interchangeability with other controllers was still not similar enough to the claims in the patent.

The patent in question was issued in 1985 to an inventor for JVW in, entitled “Apparatus for playing home video games”. It was intended to solve the problem of fatigue in the wrists, experienced after holding an Atari joystick. The patent at issues is U.S. Patent Number 4,494,754.

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