Ask each member of a jury to define the word “normally” and you might get twelve different answers. In one recent order, Judge Saylor determined that a jury would understand the ordinary meaning of the claim term “normally clamp” in a dispute involving a patent directed to a baseball cap holder.
The claim in question recited a “cap supporting device,” including a flat, triangular cap holder with an attached connector having jaws adapted to “normally clamp” the holder to a vertical spine, e.g., for display of the cap. The defendant argued that the word “normally” could take on any of at least three meanings—including the specific construction put forth by the plaintiff—and was therefore indefinite. The patent specification does not refer to the word “normally,” and claims were rejected twice during prosecution because the Examiner found the term “normally clamp” unclear. Nevertheless, the claims were later allowed to issue without amendment or explanation from the plaintiff.
Here, the court found the meaning of the term abundantly clear in the context of the claim and in light of specific examples presented in the specification. Specifically, the court determined that “normally” is intended to communicate that the default, resting position for the jaws is the clamped position and that no other interpretation of the word could be gleaned from the patent. Thus, finding no risk of jury confusion, the court declined to construe the term. This decision adroitly illustrates one of the canons of patent claim construction – that claim terms are to be viewed in context of the entire claim and interpreted in view of the patent specification.