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Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC v. TC Heartland, LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 12, 2017

KRAFT FOODS GROUP BRANDS LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
TC HEARTLAND, LLC d/b/a HEARTLAND FOOD PRODUCTS GROUP and HEARTLAND PACKAGING CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          HON. LEONARD P. STARK DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 6, 2016, Plaintiff Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC ("Kraft" or "Plaintiff) filed two Daubert Motions to Exclude the testimony of experts retained by Defendants TC Heartland, LLC and Heartland Packaging Corporation ("Heartland" or "Defendants"). (See D.I. 316, 320) The Court heard argument on these and other motions on August 30, 2016. (See D.I. 416 ("Tr."))

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597 (1993), the Supreme Court explained that Federal Rule of Evidence 702 creates "a gatekeeping role for the [trial] judge" in order to "ensur[e] that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand." Rule 702(a) requires that expert testimony "help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue." Expert testimony is admissible only if "the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data, " "the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, " and "the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case." Fed.R.Civ.P. 702(b)-(d). There are three distinct requirements for proper expert testimony: (1) the expert must be qualified; (2) the opinion must be reliable; and (3) the expert's opinion must relate to the facts. See Elcock v. Kmart Corp., 233 F.3d 734, 741 (3d Cir. 2000).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Exclude Robert Kimmel's Testimony

         Kraft seeks to exclude Dr. Robert Kimmel's non-infringement opinions concerning the asserted claims' packaging limitations. Kraft argues that Dr. Kimmel's testimony regarding the packaging limitations should be excluded because it is unreliable. (See D.I. 316 at 3) More specifically, Kraft contends that Dr. Kimmel's testimony is built on the view that Kraft's claims are limited flavored beverage concentrates that are packaged in containers that are "approximate copies" of those depicted in the '472 and '557 patent specifications. According to Kraft, this testimony violates the claim construction order, in which the Court rejected Heartland's position that the packaging claims of the '472 and '557 patents should be construed as encompassing only "approximate copies" of the embodiments disclosed in the specification. (See D.I. 198 at 23-26) Further, Kraft argues, this "approximate copies" approach is not the correct legal test for assessing infringement.

         In his deposition, Dr. Kimmel stated that Heartland's counsel instructed him to conduct his infringement analysis by not only comparing the accused products to each of the claim elements, but "in addition in this case because of the crowded nature of this field" to consider "an additional restriction to the specific embodiments that are ... clearly delineated in the patents, " i.e., the figures. (D.I. 316 at 5-6) Heartland does not dispute that it so instructed Dr. Kimmel. (See D.I. 363 at 2-5)

         At oral argument, counsel for Heartland stated that "even if. . . literal infringement is shown ..., it is a defense that the accused containers are not equivalent." (Tr. at 16) In support of this "reverse doctrine of equivalents, " Heartland refers the Court to SRI International v. Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, 775 F.2d 1107 (Fed. Cir. 1985), and. Holland Furniture Co. v. Perkins Glue Co., 277 U.S. 245, 250 (1928). (Tr. at 16-17) Kraft responds that the reverse doctrine of equivalents has never been asserted as an infringement defense in this case and, further, that Heartland is attempting to use the term to "cloak an existing argument in some different disguise." (Tr. at 20)

         "Infringement occurs when a properly construed claim of an issued patent covers an accused device." DSW, Inc. v. Shoe Pavilion, Inc., 537 F.3d 1-342, 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2008). Thus, "infringement is to be determined by comparing the asserted claim to the accused device, not by comparing the accused device to the figures of the asserted patent." Catalina Lighting, Inc. v. Lamps Plus, Inc., 295 F.3d 1277, 1286 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The reverse doctrine of equivalents is "an equitable doctrine designed to prevent unwarranted extension of the claims beyond a fair scope of the patentee's invention." Roche Palo Alto LLC v. Apotex, Inc., 531 F.3d 1372, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). Its application is limited to circumstances "where a device is so far changed in principle from a patented article that it performs the same or similar function in a substantially different way, but nevertheless falls within the literal words of the claim." Id. (emphasis original) (quoting Graver Tank & Mfg. Co. v. Linde Air Prods. Co., 339 U.S. 605, 608-609 (1950)).

         In its claim construction order, the Court rejected Heartland's legal argument that the claims asserted in this case are limited to the embodiments specifically disclosed in the specification. (D.I. 198 at 23-26) Heartland has not presented to the Court any new claim construction arguments that justify reevaluation of that position.[1] Even assuming that assertion of the reverse doctrine of equivalents defense would be appropriate and timely, the law does not permit Heartland to import limitations from the specification into the claims through expert testimony.

         Because expert testimony that is inconsistent with the Court's claim construction is unreliable and unhelpful to the finder of fact, Dr. Kimmel's infringement opinions regarding the packaging limitations of the asserted patents are STRICKEN, and Kraft's motion (D.I. 316) is GRANTED.

         B. Motion to Exclude Bradford ...


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