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LLC v. Oceaneering International, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

August 28, 2017

WRIGHT'S WELL CONTROL SERVICES, LLC
v.
OCEANEERING INTERNATIONAL, INC.

         SECTION “R” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is defendant Oceaneering International, Inc.'s motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiff Wright's Well Control Services, LLC's patent infringement claim related to the 9, 435, 185 patent.[1] For the following reasons, the Court grants Oceaneering's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts that follow are limited to what is relevant to the motion before the Court.[2] Plaintiff Wright's Well Control Services, LLC (“WWCS”) and defendant Oceaneering International, Inc. (“Oceaneering”) both provide hydrate remediation services for the oil and gas industry. This dispute concerns a technological system that WWCS developed for removing hydrates from subsea, deepwater pipelines.[3]

         On December 24, 2010, David Wright and Jeffery Dufrene filed two U.S. non-provisional patent applications, each of which was directed to specific aspects of WWCS's remediation system.[4] According to WWCS, U.S. Patent Application No. 12/978, 486, now issued as U.S. Patent No. 8, 413, 725 (the ‘725 Patent), describes and claims the subsea separator used in WWCS's remediation system.[5] Application No. 12/978, 448, now issued as U.S. Patent No. 9, 435, 185 (the ‘185 Patent), describes aspects of the entire remediation system, focusing specifically on the system's use of a subsea hydraulic positive displacement pump.[6] The ‘185 Patent issued on September 6, 2016.[7]

         The ‘185 Patent contains thirteen claims, three independent and 10 dependent.[8] Claim 1, the main independent claim, is a method of recovering a pipeline fluid from a source located in a subsea environment by connecting a fluid-powered motor and a pump to the source of the fluid.[9] Claims 4 and 9, the other two independent claims, are a method for hydrate remediation and fluid recovery from a subsea location, and a method for acting on or removing a blockage from a pipeline fluid in a subsea environment, respectively.[10] WWCS alleges that Oceaneering's Flowline Remediation System infringes on Claims 4 and 9 of the ‘185 Patent.[11] Specifically, WWCS alleges that “Oceaneering has offered to use its Flowline Remediation System, performing each and every step of at least Claims 4 and 9, on a hydrate remediation job for at least W & T Offshore since September 6, 2016.”[12]

         Oceaneering now moves for partial summary judgment on WWCS's claim for infringement of the ‘185 Patent. Oceaneering argues that there is no evidence Oceaneering either made, used, offered to sell, or sold its Flowline Remediation System since the ‘185 Patent issued on September 6, 2016.[13] See 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) (“Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States . . . any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.”). In response, WWCS disputes whether Oceaneering has offered to sell its Flowline Remediation System.[14] WWCS points to the deposition of Oceaneering employee Chris Dyer, who testified that Oceaneering has included the use of its Flowline Remediation Systems in project bids since September 2016.[15] In its reply, Oceaneering argues that an offer to sell the Flowline Remediation System cannot give rise to patent infringement because method claims, like Claims 4 and 9 of the ‘185 Patent, can be infringed only by actual use.[16]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrain[s] from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but “unsupported allegations or affidavits setting forth ‘ultimate or conclusory facts and conclusions of law' are insufficient to either support or defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Galindo v. Precision Am. Corp., 754 F.2d 1212, 1216 (5th Cir. 1985); see also Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. “No genuine dispute of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” EEOC v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 481 (5th Cir. 2014).

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with evidence sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact, or “showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party.” Id. at 1265.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue for trial. See, e.g., id.; Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (“Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         In this motion for partial summary judgment, Oceaneering argues that WWCS's claim for infringement of the ‘185 Patent fails as a matter of law. To prove direct patent infringement, WWCS must show that Oceaneering either made, used, offered to sell, or sold WWCS's patented invention after the patent issued. See 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). The parties dispute whether Oceaneering has offered to sell the methods described in Claims 4 and 9 of the ‘185 Patent.[17] But Oceaneering contends that this dispute is immaterial because method claims can be infringed only by use, not by an offer to sell.[18]See NTP, Inc. v. Research in Motion, Ltd., 418 F.3d 1282, 1318-21 (Fed. Cir. 2005). Oceaneering further argues that because ...


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