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Luv N' Care Ltd. v. Laurain

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

April 23, 2018

LUV N' CARE LTD, Plaintiff

          DOUGHTY JUDGE.


          Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court is the issue of claim construction. The parties have fully briefed the issue. (Docs. 79, 83, 84). The parties agreed, and the Court determined, a claim construction hearing was not required. (Doc. 96).

         I. Background

         LNC filed a Complaint, as amended, against Lindsey Laurain (“Laurain”) and EZPZ for damages and injunctive relief for false advertising, false representation, unfair competition under the Lantham Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051, et seq., and the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, La. Rev. Stat. 51:1401, et seq. (Doc. 21). LNC also seeks a declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 that LNC violates no valid claim of EZPZ's[1] design patent, utility patent, or any other intellectual property right of EZPZ. (Doc. 21). The alleged intellectual property rights at issue are:

(1) On July 17, 2014, Laurain filed United States Patent Application No. 14/333, 682 (“the ‘682 Utility Application”) for Surface Contact Self-Sealing Integrated Tablewear and Dining Mat. (Doc. 21, Doc. 27).
(2) On December 3, 2014, Laurain filed a design patent application for Dining Mat with Integrated Tablewear, and on December 15, 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) issued United States Patent No. D745, 327 (“the ‘327 Design Patent”). (Doc. 21, Doc. 27).
(3) On March 17, 2016, the application for the ‘682 Utility Application published as United States Published Patent Application No. 2016/0073805, Surface Contact Self-Sealing Integrated Tablewear and Dining Mat (“the ‘805 Publication”). (Doc. 27).
(4) On October 11, 2016, the USPTO issued United States Patent No. 9, 462, 903, Surface Contact Self-Sealing Integrated Tablewear and Dining Mat (“the ‘903 Utility Patent”). (Doc. 21, Doc. 27).

         LNC seeks an injunction and damages for EZPZ's alleged acts of false advertising, false representation, and unfair competition allegedly based on false claims of infringement. (Doc. 21). LNC alleges the product giving rise to this action is a feeding mat, which is an integrated self-sealing silicone place mat with a built-in bowl or plate that attaches to the table using suction. (Doc. 21). LNC alleges EZPZ has no valid existing intellectual property right that covers any aspect of LNC's feeding mats. (Doc. 21). LNC alleges EZPZ sells competing feeding mats. (Doc. 21).

         EZPZ filed an Answer to Complaint, Answer to Amended Complaint, and Counterclaim against LNC alleging that LNC infringed the ‘903 Utility Patent and the ‘327 Design Patent, violated 15 U.S.C. § 1114 and 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and unfairly competed with EZPZ in violation of state and common law. (Doc. 27). EZPZ seeks monetary damages and a permanent injunction against LNC. (Doc. 27).

         LNC answered EZPZ's Counterclaim asserting various affirmative defenses. (Doc. 33). EZPZ amended its Counterclaim asserting claims against third party Counter-Defendants Admar International, Inc. (“Admar”) and Nouri E. Hakim (“Hakim”). (Doc. 40). Defendants Admar, Hakim, and LNC answered asserting various affirmative defenses. (Doc. 45). The parties now seek claim construction as to the disputed terms in the ‘903 patent. (Docs. 79, 83, 84).

         II. Law and Analysis

         A patent describes “the exact scope of an invention and its manufacture to ‘secure to [the patentee] all to which he is entitled, [and] to apprise the public of what is still open to them.'” Markman v. Westview, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 373 (1996) (citation omitted). The patent application contains a specification describing the invention “in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art . . . to make and use the same.” 35 U.S.C. § 112. The specification concludes with “one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the inventor . . . regards as the invention.” Id. Claims may be written in independent or dependent form. Id. Dependent claims shall be construed to incorporate by reference all the limitations of the claim to which it refers. Id. “[I]t is only fair (and statutorily required) that competitors be able to ascertain to a reasonable degree the scope of the patentee's right to exclude.” Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 978 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996).

         Patent claim construction is a question of law for the court. Markman v. Westview, Inc., 517 U.S. at 372. “Victory in an infringement suit requires a finding that the patent claim[s] ‘cover[ ] the alleged infringer's product . . .' which in turn necessitates a determination of ‘what the words in the claim[s] mean.'” Markman, 517 U.S. at 374 (citations omitted). The meaning and scope of any disputed terms and limiting expressions in the claims are determined by the court as a matter of law. Vivid Techs., Inc. v. Am. Sci. & Eng'g, Inc., 200 F.3d 795, 803 (Fed.Cir.1999) (citing Markman, 52 F.3d at 976 and EMI Group North America, Inc. v. Intel Corp., 157 F.3d 887, 891 (Fed.Cir.1998)). “[O]nly those terms need be construed that are in controversy, and only to the extent necessary to resolve the controversy.” Vivid Techs., Inc., 200 F.3d at 803 (citing U.S. Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (claim construction is for “resolution of disputed meanings”).

         “It is a ‘bedrock principle' of patent law that ‘the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.'” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Systems, Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Markman, 517 U.S. at 373-74). The goal of claim construction, then, is to give proper meaning and scope to claim language by giving claim terms their ordinary and customary meanings, according to the customary understanding of an artisan of ordinary skill at the time of the invention. Id. at 1312-13.

         “[T]he ‘ordinary meaning' of a claim term is its meaning to the ordinary artisan after reading the entire patent.” Id. at 1321. While “the claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms, ” the context of the surrounding words of the claim also must be considered. Id. at 1314 (citations omitted). Furthermore, “[o]ther claims of the patent in question, both asserted and unasserted, can also be valuable sources of enlightment . . . [b]ecause claim terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent . . .” Id. (internal citation omitted).

         To construe a claim, a court first looks to the intrinsic evidence of record, which is the “patent itself, including ‘the claims, the specification [or written description, ] and, if in evidence, the prosecution history'”. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (citing Markman, 52 F.3d at 979). “[T]here is no magic formula or catechism for conducting claim construction.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1324. Instead, the court is free to attach the appropriate weight to appropriate sources “in light of the statutes and policies that inform patent law.” Id. (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582).

         The court starts with the actual language of the claim. “If the claim language is clear on its face, then [the court's] consideration of the rest of the intrinsic evidence is restricted to determining if a deviation from the clear language of the claims is specified.” Interactive Gift Express, Inc. v. Compuserve, Inc. 256 F.3d 1323, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The specification always can and should be used as an important source support for claim interpretation. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315-17. In addition to the specification, a court “should also consider the patent's prosecution history, if it is in evidence.” Markman, 52 F.3d at 980. The prosecution history, which is “intrinsic evidence, ” “consists of the complete record of the proceedings before the PTO [Patent and Trademark Office] and includes the prior art cited during the examination of the patent.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. “[T]he prosecution history can often inform the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the invention in the course of prosecution, making the claim scope narrower than it would otherwise be.” Id. (citations omitted).

         Further, the well-established doctrine of prosecution disclaimer “preclud[es] patentees from recapturing through claim interpretation specific meanings disclaimed during prosecution.” Omega Eng'g Inc. v. Raytek Corp., 334 F.3d 1314, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2003). By distinguishing the claimed invention over the prior art, an applicant is indicating what the claims do not cover. Spectrum Int'l v. Sterilite Corp., 164 F.3d 1372, 1378-79 (Fed. Cir. 1988). This promotes the public notice function of the intrinsic evidence and the public's reliance on definitive statements made during prosecution. Omega Eng'g, Inc., 334 F.3d at 1324.

         When construing claims, the intrinsic evidence of the meaning of the claims are the primary resources; while helpful, extrinsic sources like dictionaries and expert testimony cannot overcome more persuasive intrinsic evidence. Finisar Corp. v. DirecTV Grp., Inc., 523 F.3d 1323, 1328 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318). “Extrinsic evidence consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (citing Markman, 52 F.3d at 980). “[H]eavy reliance on the dictionary divorced from the intrinsic evidence risks transforming the meaning of the claim term to the artisan into the meaning of the term in the abstract.” Id. at 1321. The Court should instead focus on how the patentee used the claim term in the claims, specification, and prosecution history, rather than starting with a broad definition and whittling it down. Id.

         In some cases, “the district court will need to look beyond the patent's intrinsic evidence and to consult extrinsic evidence in order to understand, for example, the background science or the meaning of a term in the relevant art during the relevant time period.” Teva Pharms. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 837 (2015). While extrinsic evidence “may be useful” to the court, it is “less reliable” than intrinsic evidence, and its consideration “is unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318-19. However, conclusory, unsupported assertions by experts as to the definition of a claim term are not useful. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318. Where the intrinsic record unambiguously describes the scope of the patented invention, reliance on any extrinsic evidence is improper. See Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583).

         “The construction that stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention will be, in the end, the correct construction.” Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Where two alternative claim constructions are equally plausible based on the instrinsic evidence, claims should be construed so as to preserve their validity. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1327-28.

         III. Construction of Disputed Claim Terms[2]

         The ‘903 patent contains 9 claims, of which 3 are independent claims (claims 1, 5, and 9), and 6 of the claims are dependent on one of the independent claims. (Docs. 79-2, 83-1). The disputed claim terms appear in claims 1, 2, 5, and 9. (Doc. 79-2, 83-1). The parties dispute whether the preambles of claims 1, 5, and 9 are limiting. (Doc. 79, 83, 84). The parties also seek claim construction of the following disputed terms: (1) “planar portion” (claims 1, 2, 5, and 9); (2) “an entirely suffuse undersurface” (claim 1); and (3) “an undersurface entirely suffuse upon the planar portion” (claims 5, and 9).[3] (Docs. 79, 83, 84).

         Claim 1 discloses:

A surface contact self-sealing integrated tableware and dining mat comprising a rubberlike planar portion having a raised perimeter delimiting at least one concavity surrounding at least one receptacle above an upper surface and an entirely suffuse undersurface upon which said mat is disposed, said sealable contact preventative of lateral displacement of the planar portion across the underlying surface, wherein said sealable contact creates a partial vacuum when attempts to separate the undersurface from the underlying surface are made except at an outer edge of the planar portion, whereby removal of the planar portion from the underlying surface is effective only be peeling the undersurface from the underlying surface starting first at the outer edge.

         Claim 2 discloses:

The surface contact self-sealing integrated tableware and dining mat of claim 1 wherein the planar portion extends laterally beyond the raised perimeter whereby the planar portion extends surrounding the at least one concavity.

         Claim ...

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