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Total Rebuild Inc. v. PHC Fluid Power L.L.C.

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

June 10, 2019

TOTAL REBUILD, INC.
v.
PHC FLUID POWER, L.L.C.

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST, MAG. JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On April 4, 2019, the parties stipulated to submitting the pending claim construction for United States Patent No. 8, 146, 428 (“the '428 Patent”) on the briefs. [Doc. No. 265]. Having considered the arguments made by the parties in their briefing [Doc. Nos. 73, 78, & 83], having considered the intrinsic evidence, and having made subsidiary factual findings about the extrinsic evidence, the Court hereby issues this Claim Construction Memorandum and Order. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1314 (Fed. Cir. 2005); Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 841 (2015).

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. BACKGROUND ................................................................................................................ 3

         II. APPLICABLE LAW .......................................................................................................... 5

         III. CONSTRUCTION OF AGREED TERMS ...................................................................... 11

         IV. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS ................................................................... 12

1. “explosion-proof safety housing” ................................................................. 12
2. “closeable access opening in said housing” .................................................. 20
3. “means within said housing for coupling said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment to said high-pressure device for testing” ............................... 24
4. “means linking said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment to said control panel” ...................................................................................................... 31
5. “means for monitoring and recording” ......................................................... 40
6. “stationary housing” ..................................................................................... 45

         V. CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................. 50

         I. BACKGROUND

         The '428 Patent was filed on August 7, 2009, issued on April 3, 2012, and is titled Safety System. The '428 Patent generally relates to a safety system for testing high-pressure devices. '428 Patent at Abstract. The specification states that “[t]he testing of high-pressure devices and the various components of the high-pressure devices, by its very nature, is an inherently dangerous activity as one is in search of faults in devices that can potentially lead to disastrous.” Id. at 1:28- 31. The specification indicates that the main design problem is “the creation of a barrier that will not only stop the fragments in case the high-pressure testing equipment happens to fail but will also include safety features to help minimize the exposure of operator(s) to the high-pressure testing equipment during the testing stage.” Id. at 1:56-60.

         In one embodiment, safety system 10 includes “a stationary explosion-proof safety housing comprising a bunker housing 11 having a chamber 12 therein.” Id. at 2:49-51. Figure 1 is a schematic view of this embodiment.

         (Image Omitted)

         Id. at Figure 1. The specification states that “bunker housing 11 may be form from a plurality of materials that is able to withstand the impact of high velocity projectile/high-speed flying fragments resulting from explosion of pressure equipments including valves, piping, fittings, ruptured disks, intensifiers and pumps, as well as pressure vessels.” Id. at 2:51-56. The specification further states that “high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment [13, 14, 15] and means 12a for coupling the high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment to a high-pressure device for testing” are located entirely within chamber 12. Id. at 3:1-3. Similarly, the specification indicates that “a majority if not all associated pumps, plumbing, hoses, and bleed valves are to also be located entirely within chamber 12.” Id. at 3:35-38.

         The specification further discloses that “[s]afety system 10 also includes a control panel 16 located outside of the chamber 12 of bunker housing 11 and means linking the high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment to the control panel 16 for operating the high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment within bunker housing 11 from control panel 16.” Id. at 3:26-31. The specification indicates that this keeps “all pressure in the bunker housing 11 away from the operator.” Id. at 3:16.

         Claim 1 of the '428 Patent recite the following elements (disputed term in italics):

1. A safety system for testing high-pressure devices comprising:
an explosion-proof safety housing;
a high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment located within said housing;
a bleed valve coupled to said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment;
a closeable access opening in said housing for inserting a high-pressure device for testing within said housing;
means within said housing for coupling said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment to said high-pressure device for testing;
a control panel located remote from said housing; and means linking said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment
to said control panel for operating said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment within said safety housing from said control panel.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Claim Construction

         “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 Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). To determine the meaning of the claims, courts start by considering the intrinsic evidence. Id. at 1313; C.R. Bard, Inc. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 388 F.3d 858, 861 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Bell Atl. Network Servs., Inc. v. Covad Commc'ns Group, Inc., 262 F.3d 1258, 1267 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The intrinsic evidence includes the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314; C.R. Bard, Inc., 388 F.3d at 861. The general rule-subject to certain specific exceptions discussed infra-is that each claim term is construed according to its ordinary and accustomed meaning as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention in the context of the patent. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13; Alloc, Inc. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 342 F.3d 1361, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Azure Networks, LLC v. CSR PLC, 771 F.3d 1336, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“There is a heavy presumption that claim terms carry their accustomed meaning in the relevant community at the relevant time.”) (vacated on other grounds).

         “The claim construction inquiry . . . begins and ends in all cases with the actual words of the claim.” Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1248 (Fed. Cir. 1998). “[I]n all aspects of claim construction, ‘the name of the game is the claim.'” Apple Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 757 F.3d 1286, 1298 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (quoting In re Hiniker Co., 150 F.3d 1362, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 1998)). First, a term's context in the asserted claim can be instructive. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. Other asserted or unasserted claims can also aid in determining the claim's meaning, because claim terms are typically used consistently throughout the patent. Id. Differences among the claim terms can also assist in understanding a term's meaning. Id. For example, when a dependent claim adds a limitation to an independent claim, it is presumed that the independent claim does not include the limitation. Id. at 1314-15.

         “[C]laims ‘must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.'” Id. (quoting Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc)). “[T]he specification ‘is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.'” Id. (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)); Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002). But, “‘[a]lthough the specification may aid the court in interpreting the meaning of disputed claim language, particular embodiments and examples appearing in the specification will not generally be read into the claims.'” Comark Commc'ns, Inc. v. Harris Corp., 156 F.3d 1182, 1187 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (quoting Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices, Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1988)); see also Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323. “[I]t is improper to read limitations from a preferred embodiment described in the specification-even if it is the only embodiment-into the claims absent a clear indication in the intrinsic record that the patentee intended the claims to be so limited.” Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 913 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

         The prosecution history is another tool to supply the proper context for claim construction because, like the specification, the prosecution history provides evidence of how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) and the inventor understood the patent. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. However, “because the prosecution history represents an ongoing negotiation between the PTO and the applicant, rather than the final product of that negotiation, it often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes.” Id. at 1318; see also Athletic Alternatives, Inc. v. Prince Mfg., 73 F.3d 1573, 1580 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (ambiguous prosecution history may be “unhelpful as an interpretive resource”).

         Although extrinsic evidence can also be useful, it is “‘less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language.'” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (quoting C.R. Bard, Inc., 388 F.3d at 862). Technical dictionaries and treatises may help a court understand the underlying technology and the manner in which one skilled in the art might use claim terms, but technical dictionaries and treatises may provide definitions that are too broad or may not be indicative of how the term is used in the patent. Id. at 1318. Similarly, expert testimony may aid a court in understanding the underlying technology and determining the particular meaning of a term in the pertinent field, but an expert's conclusory, unsupported assertions as to a term's definition are entirely unhelpful to a court. Id. Generally, extrinsic evidence is “less reliable than the patent and its prosecution history in determining how to read claim terms.” Id. The Supreme Court recently explained the role of extrinsic evidence in claim construction:

In some cases, however, 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. See, e.g., Seymour v. Osborne, 11 Wall. 516, 546 (1871) (a patent may be “so interspersed with technical terms and terms of art that the testimony of scientific witnesses is indispensable to a correct understanding of its meaning”). In cases where those subsidiary facts are in dispute, courts will need to make subsidiary factual findings about that extrinsic evidence. These are the “evidentiary underpinnings” of claim construction that we discussed in Markman, and this subsidiary factfinding must be reviewed for clear error on appeal.

Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 841 (2015).

         B. Departing from the Ordinary Meaning of a Claim Term

         There are “only two exceptions to [the] general rule” that claim terms are construed according to their plain and ordinary meaning: “1) when a patentee sets out a definition and acts as his own lexicographer, or 2) when the patentee disavows the full scope of the claim term either in the specification or during prosecution.”[1] Golden Bridge Tech., Inc. v. Apple Inc., 758 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (quoting Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2012)); see also GE Lighting Solutions, LLC v. AgiLight, Inc., 750 F.3d 1304, 1309 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“[T]he specification and prosecution history only compel departure from the plain meaning in two instances: lexicography and disavowal.”). The standards for finding lexicography or disavowal are “exacting.” GE Lighting Solutions, 750 F.3d at 1309.

         To act as his own lexicographer, the patentee must “clearly set forth a definition of the disputed claim term, ” and “clearly express an intent to define the term.” Id. (quoting Thorner, 669 F.3d at 1365); see also Renishaw, 158 F.3d at 1249. The patentee's lexicography must appear “with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision.” Renishaw, 158 F.3d at 1249.

         To disavow or disclaim the full scope of a claim term, the patentee's statements in the specification or prosecution history must amount to a “clear and unmistakable” surrender. Cordis Corp. v. Boston Sci. Corp., 561 F.3d 1319, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2009); see also Thorner, 669 F.3d at 1366 (“The patentee may demonstrate intent to deviate from the ordinary and accustomed meaning of a claim term by including in the specification expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction, representing a clear disavowal of claim scope.”). “Where an applicant's statements are amenable to multiple reasonable interpretations, they cannot be deemed clear and unmistakable.” 3M Innovative Props. Co. v. Tredegar Corp., 725 F.3d 1315, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2013); see also Avid Tech., Inc. v. Harmonic, Inc., 812 F.3d 1040, 1045 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“When the prosecution history is used solely to support a conclusion of patentee disclaimer, the standard for justifying the conclusion is a high one.”).

         Although a statement of lexicography or disavowal must be exacting and clear, it need not be “explicit.” See Trs. of Columbia Univ. v. Symantec Corp., 811 F.3d 1359, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (“a patent applicant need not expressly state ‘my invention does not include X' to indicate his exclusion of X from the scope of his patent”). Lexicography or disavowal can be implied where, e.g., the patentee makes clear statements characterizing the scope and purpose of the invention. See On Demand Mach. Corp. v. Ingram Indus., Inc., 442 F.3d 1331, 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (“[W]hen the scope of the invention is clearly stated in the specification, and is described as the advantage and distinction of the invention, it is not necessary to disavow explicitly a different scope.”). Nonetheless, the plain meaning governs “[a]bsent implied or explicit lexicography or disavowal.” Trs. of Columbia Univ., 811 F.3d at 1364 n.2.

         C.35 U.S.C. § 112(6) (pre-AIA) / § 112(f) (AIA)[2]

         A patent claim may be expressed using functional language. See 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6; Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, 792 F.3d 1339, 1347-49 & n.3 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc in relevant portion). Section 112, Paragraph 6, provides that a structure may be claimed as a “means . . . for performing a specified function” and that an act may be claimed as a “step for performing a specified function.” Masco Corp. v. United States, 303 F.3d 1316, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

         But § 112, ¶ 6 does not apply to all functional claim language. There is a rebuttable presumption that § 112, ¶ 6 applies when the claim language includes “means” or “step for” terms, and that it does not apply in the absence of those terms. Masco Corp., 303 F.3d at 1326; Williamson, 792 F.3d at 1348. The presumption stands or falls according to whether one of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim with the functional language, in the context of the entire specification, to denote sufficiently definite structure or acts for performing the function. See Media Rights Techs., Inc. v. Capital One Fin. Corp., 800 F.3d 1366, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (§ 112, ¶ 6 does not apply when “the claim language, read in light of the specification, recites sufficiently definite structure” (quotation marks omitted) (citing Williamson, 792 F.3d at 1349; Robert Bosch, LLC v. Snap-On Inc., 769 F.3d 1094, 1099 (Fed. Cir. 2014))); Williamson, 792 F.3d at 1349 (§ 112, ¶ 6 does not apply when “the words of the claim are understood by persons of ordinary skill in the art to have sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure”); Masco Corp., 303 F.3d at 1326 (§ 112, ¶ 6 does not apply when the claim includes an “act” corresponding to “how the function is performed”); Personalized Media Communications, L.L.C. v. International Trade Commission, 161 F.3d 696, 704 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (§ 112, ¶ 6 does not apply when the claim includes “sufficient structure, material, or acts within the claim itself to perform entirely the recited function . . . even if the claim uses the term ‘means.'”) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         When it applies, § 112, ¶ 6 limits the scope of the functional term “to only the structure, materials, or acts described in the specification as corresponding to the claimed function and equivalents thereof.” Williamson, 792 F.3d at 1347. Construing a means-plus-function limitation involves multiple steps. “The first step . . . is a determination of the function of the means-plus-function limitation.” Medtronic, Inc. v. Advanced Cardiovascular Sys., Inc., 248 F.3d 1303, 1311 (Fed. Cir. 2001). “[T]he next step is to determine the corresponding structure disclosed in the specification and equivalents thereof.” Id. A “structure disclosed in the specification is ‘corresponding' structure only if the specification or prosecution history clearly links or associates that structure to the function recited in the claim.” Id. The focus of the “corresponding structure” inquiry is not merely whether a structure is capable of performing the recited function, but rather whether the corresponding structure is “clearly linked or associated with the [recited] function.” Id. The corresponding structure “must include all structure that actually performs the recited function.” Default Proof Credit Card Sys. v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 412 F.3d 1291, 1298 (Fed. Cir. 2005). However, § 112, ¶ 6 does not permit “incorporation of structure from the written description beyond that necessary to perform the claimed function.” Micro Chem., Inc. v. Great Plains Chem. Co., 194 F.3d 1250, 1258 (Fed. Cir. 1999).

         III.CONSTRUCTION OF AGREED TERMS

         The parties agreed to the constructions of the following terms/phrases:

Claim Term/Phrase

Agreed Construction

“control panel located remote from said housing”

“a device, positioned outside of or exterior to the housing for operating the high-pressure testing equipment”

“said sensor coupled to said bleed valve”

“a sensor in communication with the bleed valve for actuation of the bleed valve”

“activate said bleed valve to prevent pressure buildup”

“actuation of the bleed valve to prevent pressure buildup in the high-pressure testing equipment when door is open”

“portable housing”

“a housing that is movable or transportable to different testing sites”

“bleed valve coupled to said high-pressure pneumatics testing equipment”

“a valve joined or linked to testing equipment to prevent pressure buildup in testing equipment when the closable access opening is not closed”

“sensor for sensing that said access opening is closed”

“a switch capable of sensing input regarding whether the door is open or closed”

[Doc. No. 59 at 1-2].[3] In view of the parties' agreement on the proper construction of the identified terms, the Court hereby ADOPTS the parties' agreed constructions.

         IV. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS

         The parties dispute the meaning and scope of six terms/phrases of the '428 Patent.

         1. “explosion-proof safety housing”

Disputed Term

Plaintiff's Proposal

Defendant's Proposal

“explosion-proof safety housing”

“a case or enclosure to cover and protect a structure or a mechanical device able to withstand and confine shock pressure, pressure blasts, flying fragments or debris, and energy resulting from combustion”

“stationary bunker or portable housing with an enclosed space or cavity”

         a) The Parties' Positions

         The parties dispute whether the term “explosion-proof safety housing” should be construed as a “stationary bunker or portable housing with an enclosed space or cavity, ” as Defendant proposes. Plaintiff argues that the term “housing” is well understood as “[a] case or enclosure to cover and protect a structure or a mechanical device.” [Doc. No. 73 at 16] (citing Dictionary of Engineering, McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed. 2002). Plaintiff further argues that the term “housing” does not require considerable explanation and must be given its ordinary meaning. Id. at 17. Plaintiff contends that Figure 1 “shows the housing as a case or enclosure to contain ...


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