Firearms with detachable magazines allow the user to quickly replace the magazine when it is depleted without disassembling the firearm action. In many shooting sports where scores are based on a combination of speed and accuracy, the ability to quickly replace an empty magazine can have a significant impact on a competitor's ranking. Examples of these sports include International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) competition and "three-gun" or "multi-gun" sports in which competitors engage steel and paper targets with pistol, rifle and shotgun. Safety is paramount in the shooting sports, and in Ontario, IPSC and multi-gun matches are held at government approved ranges and carefully supervised under strict rules. The storage and transportation of firearms is also heavily regulated in Canada, with safety of the utmost concern.
However, like any tool, firearms face a potential for abuse. In Canada, magazine capacity for semiautomatic pistols is limited to ten rounds, and is limited to five rounds for other types of semiautomatic firearms. Firearms with detachable magazines have also faced increased legal restrictions across the United States in an effort to decrease the harm that could result from criminal misuse of a firearm. In line with New York and Connecticut, the California legislature recently passed a law requiring owners of so-called "military-style" rifles with detachable magazines, including the AR-15, to register such firearms. In this context, Evolusion Concepts, Inc. ("Evolusion") developed the "ARMagLock" product which converts the AR-15 into a firearm with a fixed magazine that can only be removed and replaced by disassembling the firearm action. Therefore, Evolusion asserts that with the use of ARMagLock, AR-15 owners can comply with California law without registering their AR-15. Evolusion patented the ARMagLock, which became the centre of a recent lawsuit against Juggernaut Tactical, Inc. ("Juggernaut").
Evolusion owns US Patent No. 8,756,845 (the "'845 Patent") called "Method and Device for Converting Firearm with Detachable Magazine to a Firearm with Fixed Magazine." Independent claim 15 of the '845 Patent describes a method of removing the detachable factory-installed magazine catch bar from a firearm and installing the invention described by independent claims one and eight such that the firearm is equipped with a fixed magazine. The invention described by independent claims 1 and 8 comprises of, among other components, a lower receiver, a magazine catch bar, and an upper tension bar, which render the magazine catch bar immovable, unless the various parts of the invention are manually separated from one another.
In 2018, Evolusion sued Juggernaut in the Central District of California, alleging that Juggernaut's "Hellfighter Mod Kits", which convert a firearm with a detachable magazine to a firearm with a fixed magazine, directly infringed independent claims 1 and 8 of the '845 Patent. Juggernaut's "Hellfighter Mod Kits" reuse the detachable factory-installed magazine catch bar in the process of equipping the firearm with a fixed magazine. Juggernaut's position was that their "Hellfighter Mod Kits" did not infringe the '845 Patent because the use of the word factory-installed magazine catch bar in independent claim 15 and the use of the word magazine catch bar in independent claims 1 and 8 meant that the magazine catch bar used in the invention is separate and distinct from the factory-installed magazine catch bar that is removed. Thus, Juggernaut argued that the "Hellfighter Mod Kits" did not infringe independent claims 1 and 8 of the '845 Patent because they reused the factory-installed magazine catch bar, as opposed to a separate and distinct magazine catch bar, to convert the firearm to one with a fixed magazine.
On a motion for summary judgment of direct infringement, the District Court agreed with Juggernaut. The District Court held that the term "magazine catch bar" in independent claims one and eight of the '845 Patent excludes a "factory installed magazine catch bar". An interpretation of the term otherwise would mean that the use of "factory-installed magazine catch bar" in independent claim 15 was superfluous. As such, because Juggernaut's "Hellfighter Mod Kits" retained the factory-installed magazine catch bar in the conversion of the firearm to one with a fixed magazine, Juggernaut did not infringe the '845 Patent literally or under the doctrine of equivalents. By disclosing, but not specifically claiming, the use of a factory-installed magazine catch bar in the invention, Evolusion had dedicated the use of a factory-installed magazine catch bar to the public. The District court denied Evolusion's motion for summary judgment of direct infringement and granted Juggernaut summary judgment of non-infringement.
On appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the District Court's grant of summary judgment of non-infringement and denial of summary judgment of infringement with respect to independent claims one and eight of the '845 patent. The Court reasoned that the ordinary meaning of the term "magazine catch bar" included a "factory-installed magazine catch bar" and there was no language in independent claims 1 and 8 that would appear to limit the scope of the generic term to exclude a magazine catch bar that was factory-installed. Furthermore, although use of the term "factory-installed magazine catch bar" in independent claim 15 could inform the construction of the term "magazine catch bar" in independent claims one and eight so as to limit the scope of the generic term to exclude a magazine catch bar that was factory installed, doing so did not make sense in these circumstances. As the Court explained,
"Accepting Juggernaut's position would amount to reading additional limitations into claim 15 not required by its language. Claim 15 requires only "removing" a specific type of magazine catch bar (the one installed by the manufacturer) and then installing "a magazine catch bar"… (emphasis added). It does not require, as a removal step, "discarding" the [factory-installed] catch bar. Nor does it require installing a "new" or "different" magazine catch bar."
The fact that the embodiments disclosed in the '845 Patent do not illustrate the use of a factory-installed magazine catch bar did not alter the Court's conclusion. It is an established principle of claim construction that a claim should not be limited beyond its plain meaning merely because the embodiments contain a particular limitation.
Therefore, the Court held that the term "magazine catch bar" in independent claims one and eight of the '845 Patent includes a "factory-installed magazine catch bar." Juggernaut's "Hellfighter Mod Kits", which re-use the factory-installed magazine catch bar to convert the firearm to one with a fixed magazine did directly infringe the '845 patent.
Firearm technology has evolved enormously over the course of several centuries, and continues to do so as companies constantly work to improve and refine existing designs and develop new ones. This decision shows that patent protection can provide powerful ammunition for innovators seeking to protect the value of their ideas.
Should you have any specific questions about this article or would like to discuss it further, you can contact the authors or a member of our Intellectual Property Law Group.