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American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 6, 2017

AMERICAN AXLE & MANUFACTURING, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
NEAPCO HOLDINGS LLC and NEAPCO DRIVELINES LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          LEONARD P. STARK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this Memorandum Order, the Court addresses several of the pending motions and directs the parties to meet and confer as to what modifications to the schedule are necessary in light of today's rulings and/or a scheduling conflict that has arisen.

         Reargument of Claim Construction/Leave to File Reply Brief

         1. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc.'s ("AAM") motion for reargument of the Court's claim construction ruling. (D.I. 122) In particular, AAM contends that the Court should reconsider its ruling that certain terms are indefinite. (See D.I. 113 at 9-14) For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the motion.

         2. Also before the Court is AAM's motion for leave to file a reply to Neapco's opposition to AAM's motion for reargument. (D.I. 131) AAM seeks leave to address deposition testimony taken after AAM filed its motion for reargument, some of which was discussed in Neapco's brief. The Court will grant AAM's request and deem the reply filed, as it responds to new evidence, facts, or arguments presented by Neapco. See St. Clair Intellectual Prop. Consultants, Inc. v. Samsung Elecs. Co., 291 F.R.D. 75, 80 (D. Del. 2013).[1]

         3. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1.5, a motion for reargument should be granted only sparingly. The decision to grant such a motion lies squarely within the discretion of the Court. See Dentsply Int'l, Inc. v. Kerr Mfg. Co., 42 F.Supp.2d 385, 419 (D. Del. 1999); Brambles USA, Inc. v. Blocker, 735 F.Supp. 1239, 1241 (D. Del. 1990). These types of motions should be granted only if the Court has patently misunderstood a party, made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented by the parties, or made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension. See Schering Corp. v. Amgen, Inc., 25 F.Supp.2d 293, 295 (D. Del. 1998); Brambles, 735 F.Supp. at 1241. A motion for reargument should be granted only if the movant can show at least one of the following: (i) an intervening change in controlling law; (ii) the availability of new evidence not available when the court made its decision; or (iii) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact to prevent manifest injustice. See Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). In no instance, however, should reargument be granted if it would not result in amendment of an order. See Schering Corp., 25 F.Supp.2d at 295.

         4. In its claim construction opinion, the Court determined that the claim terms that involve testing the degree of damping or determining natural frequencies of vibration are indefinite. (See D.I. 113 at 9-14) The Court found that "the patent is devoid of information and instruction as to how to assess the amount of damping in a system and how to determine the natural frequencies of a bending or torsion mode of a shaft assembly." (Id. at 11) "[T]he Court reject[ed] AAM's assertion that the relevant properties do not change based on test conditions used to measure them, " and was, instead, "persuaded that these properties - while natural properties that may not change once test conditions are fixed - may vary based on how a test is designed." (Id. at 13) The Court then found that AAM failed to "explain[] how a person of skill in the art would select appropriate conditions" or establish that "there is a standard set of conditions employed in this industry." (Id.) In sum, the Court stated:

As the record supports a finding that conditions such as temperature will impact properties such as damping or vibrational frequencies - for example, these properties are expected to change depending on whether the vehicle is being tested at 100° F or 10° F - and whether the claims are satisfied depends (in part) on such properties, yet the patent is silent as to such testing conditions (e.g., at which temperature to test), it follows that a POSA would lack reasonable certainty as to the scope of the invention.

(Id. at 13-14)

         5. AAM now contends that reargument is appropriate for three reasons: (1) the Court fundamentally misapprehended the effect of excitation-source variation; (2) new evidence confirms that a person of ordinary skill understands what boundary conditions to use when testing; and (3) new evidence confirms that a person of ordinary skill in the art would perform testing at room temperature. The Court rejects the first two grounds as bases on which to grant reconsideration, but agrees that new deposition testimony raises a fact dispute about whether an ordinarily-skilled artisan would know what temperature to use for testing.

         6. With respect to AAM's argument that the Court misapprehended the effect of variations in excitation sources on testing, the Court disagrees. AAM asserts that the claim terms recite inherent properties of a propshaft that are not affected by excitation source, as confirmed by deposition testimony of Niladri Das. (See D.I. 122 at 3) While Mr. Das does state that natural frequencies "are inherent to the product" and do not change "if the product is not changed, " he goes on to explain that "[h]ow you test them and measure them can be as varied as anything else, so if you test in two different methods, you might get two different results. It depends a lot on the boundary conditions, it depends on how you set up, how you test, so the testing results can be different." (D.I. 122 Ex. 3 at 55-56) Thus, Mr. Das' testimony is consistent with the Court's understanding that the claimed "properties - while natural properties that may not change once test conditions are fixed - may vary based on how a test is designed." (D.I. 113 at 13)

         7. AAM next asserts an argument it pressed during claim construction - "that the claims and specification make clear to one of ordinary skill in the art that the proper boundary condition is the propshaft installed in the driveline system" (id.) - and discusses new deposition testimony (see D.I. 122 at 7-8). But the Court's claim construction opinion addressed that some test conditions, such as boundary conditions, are described in the patent. (See D.I. 113 at 13) AAM's newly-cited evidence simply confirms a point that the Court had already accepted with respect to boundary conditions and found not to be conclusive because "even if some test conditions are revealed, others plainly are not." (Id.)

         8. Finally, AAM contends that recent deposition testimony shows that a person of ordinary skill in the art would know what temperature to use for testing the claimed frequencies and damping. (See D.I. 122 at 8-10) During claim construction, the Court highlighted temperature as an example of one test condition not revealed by the patent that may affect damping or vibrational frequencies. (See D.I. 113 at 13) The Court determined that the patent's lack of explication of testing conditions, in conjunction with the fact that "the evidence does not show that most or all persons of skill in the art would know to implement the same conditions" (id. at 14 n.15), indicates that an ordinarily skilled artisan would lack reasonable certainty as to the scope of the invention.

         In its motion for reargument, AAM accepts that the claimed features may depend on temperature (see D.I. 122 at 9 & n.9), a proposition that is supported by the parties' new evidence. (See D.I. 129 Ex. A at 120-21; Ex. C at 71-72; Ex. D at 60) AAM also does not challenge that the patent does not describe the testing temperature(s). Instead, AAM ...


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