IP Law Daily NASA’s robotic hands ruled non-infringing of contractor’s patent on summary judgment
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

NASA’s robotic hands ruled non-infringing of contractor’s patent on summary judgment

By Randall Holbrook, J.D.

Holder of patents for robotic hands could not show infringement by NASA after claim construction of "linear actuator."

A patent holder could not go forward with a patent infringement suit based on NASA’s use of robotic hands, following the court’s claim construction, the U.S. court of Federal Claims has held. The construction of the term "linear actuator" meant that NASA’s robotic hands did not copy the invention claimed by the patents-in-suit (Ross-Hime Designs, Inc. v. U.S., November 17, 2020, Tapp, D.).

Ross-Hime Designs, Inc., was a former NASA contractor that developed and patented hand-like robotic manipulators. Ross-Hime was the owner of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,967,580 (the ’580 Patent) and 6,658,962 (the ’962 Patent) for robotic, hand-like manipulators. Ross-Hime filed suit alleging that NASA infringed on those patents through use and manufacture of two anthropomorphic robotics systems, Robonaut 1 and Robonaut 2. Following claim construction, which determined in pertinent part that a "linear actuator" was "a device, with ends defined by a base piece and an extending piece, that converts some kind of power into linear motion such that the extending piece moves in a straight line relative to the base piece," NASA moved for summary judgment on the grounds of non-infringement and non-patentability of one of the claims in the ’580 Patent. The court found Robonaut 1 and Robonaut 2 non-infringing as to both patents and declined to reach the patentability issue.

Infringement of ’580 Patent. The section of the patent claim at issue describes a pair of linear actuators positioned between, and rotatably connected to, a "first frame extension" on one end, and a "first effector base" on the other. NASA maintained that its robotic hand had no part which fit that description. The court held that Ross-Hime had failed to identify the rotatable connection between the base end of a Robonaut 1 linear actuator and first frame extension, as required by the claim, so there was no direct infringement. The court stated as to Robonaut 2 that infringement would require more than just linear actuators causing fingers of the hand to move. In order to infringe the patent, the parts must be positioned and connected in the way described in the patent, and Ross-Hime was unable to show that they were.

Infringement of ’962 Patent. Ross-Hime failed to show a genuine question of material fact as to the ’962 Patent for similar reasons. The court stated that Robonaut 2’s linear actuators were wholly contained in and affixed to the forearm structure, so could not possibly be said to be coupled between the "base" on one end, and subbase on the opposing end, as claim test required.

Summary judgment standard. Ross-Hime argued that summary judgment could not be granted because NASA had failed to submit sworn testimony by its engineers, quoting from RCFC 56 the requirement that a summary judgment motion be supported by "depositions, documents, [ESI], affidavits, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." The court noted that Ross-Hime had failed to read the Rule correctly and in its entirety, a party may support its summary judgment motion by submitting that sort of evidence or by showing that the materials in the record do not establish a genuine dispute, as was done in this case.

This case is No. 1:11-cv-00201-DAT.

Attorneys: Vytas M. Rimas (Rimas Law Firm, PLLC) for Ross-Hime Designs, Inc. Conrad J. Dewitte, Jr., U.S. Department of Justice, for the U.S.

Companies: Ross-Hime Designs, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory Patent GCNNews

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