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Valmont Industries Inc. v. Lindsay Corp.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 22, 2018




         1. In this patent infringement action filed by Plaintiff Valmont Industries, Inc. ("Plaintiff' or "Valmont"), Defendant Lindsay Corporation ("Defendant" or "Lindsay") has filed a motion to dismiss the operative First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (the "Motion"). (D.I. 33) More specifically, Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiffs allegations of direct infringement, induced infringement, contributory infringement and willful infringement of the one patent-in-suit, United States Patent No. 7, 003, 357[1] ("the '357 patent" or the "patent-in-suit"). (D.I. 34 at l-2)[2] The instant Motion has been referred to the Court for resolution by Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark, (D.I. 5), and was fully, briefed as of August 14, 2017, (D.I. 37).[3]

         2. The standard of review here is the familiar two-part analysis applicable to motions made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Raindance Techs., Inc. v. I Ox Genomics, Inc., Civil Action No. 15-152-RGA, 2016 WL 927143, at *2 (D. Del. Mar. 4, 2016) (applying the Twomblyllqbal standard to claims of direct patent infringement filed subsequent to the December 2015 abrogation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 84 and patent pleading Form 18); see also North Star Innovations, Inc. v. Micron Tech., Inc., Civil Action No. 17-506-LPS-CJB, 2017 WL 5501489, at *1 (D. Del. Nov. 16, 2017). First, the court separates the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting "all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but [disregarding] any legal conclusions." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court determines "whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). A plausible claim does more than merely allege entitlement to relief; it must also demonstrate the basis for that "entitlement with its facts." Id. Thus, a claimant's "obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In assessing the plausibility of a claim, the court must '"construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).[4]

         3. With regard to the claims of direct infringement, Plaintiff alleges in the FAC that Defendant's FieldNet products (the "accused products") infringe claims 11 and 25-90 of the patent-in-suit, but Plaintiff makes detailed exemplary allegations about infringement of only one such claim-claim 25 (a system claim). (D.I. 31 at ¶¶ 14-24)[5] Thus, inter alia, Plaintiff needs to have pleaded facts that plausibly indicate that the accused products practice each of the limitations found in claim 25. See e.Digital Corp. v. iBaby Labs, Inc., Case No. 15-cv-05790-JST, 2016 WL 4427209, at *3-4 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 22, 2016); Raindance Techs., Inc., 2016 WL 927143, at *2-3; see also North Star, 2017 WL 5501489, at *1. After all, if it is not plausible, after reading a complaint, that the accused infringer's product reads on a limitation in the one asserted claim from a patent-in-suit on which the complaint focuses, then it is not plausible that the accused infringer actually infringes the patent claim (or the patent). See e.Digital Corp., 2016 WL 4427209, at *3; Atlas IP, LLC v. Exelon Corp, 189 F.Supp.3d 768, 775 (N.D. 111. 2016); see also North Star, 2017 WL 5501489, at *1.

         4. Claim 25 recites:

25. A remote user interface for reading a status of and controlling irrigation equipment including a pivot and at least two end-guns affixed to the pivot, comprising:
a hand-held display; a processor; wireless telemetry means for transmitting signals and data between the remote user interface and the irrigation equipment; and software operable on said processor for:
(a) displaying data received from the irrigation equipment as a plurality of graphic user interfaces (GUIs) that are configured to present said data as status information on said display, wherein said plurality of GUIs are shaped to identify particular types of irrigation equipment by comprising a pivot GUI that represents the pivot, at least two end-gun GUIs that represents the at least two end-guns affixed to the pivot, and a spray pattern GUI that represents a setting of the at least two end-guns along a pivot path; wherein the pivot GUI has a shape representing the pivot path of the pivot, the shape partitioned into a plurality of wedges; wherein the spray pattern GUI has a spray pattern representing the setting of the at least two end-guns along the pivot path;
(b) receiving a user's commands to control the irrigation equipment, through said user's manipulation of said GUIs, wherein receiving the user's commands comprises:
receiving the user's selection of a wedge; and receiving the user's selection of a change of a status of one of the least two end-guns for the selected wedge; and
(c) transmitting signals to the irrigation equipment to control the irrigation equipment in accordance with said user's commands; and
(d) displaying a changed spray pattern of the selected wedge according to the change of the status of one of the least two end-guns.

(D.I. 31, ex. B, cols. 1:63-2:37 (emphasis omitted)) Defendant asserts that Plaintiff does not adequately allege how Defendant has committed direct infringement, because the FAC does not plausibly articulate how the accused products "embody a hand-held display, a processor or wireless telemetry means, which are limitations required by all the asserted claims." (D.I. 34 at 6) Defendant's argument here is that the "accused FieldNet® product is software that uses the wireless capabilities, hand-held displays and processors of the end user's device." (Id. at 5 (certain emphasis in original, certain emphasis added)) In other words, according to Defendant, there is no single, unitary product that Defendant makes, sells, offers for sale or imports that contains all of the elements of the claimed system. (Id. at 5-6) And as for infringing uses, Defendant notes that if the FieldNet software products do not contain each and every element of the claimed system (and, instead, if other hardware products are said to satisfy certain of those claim elements), then the law requires allegations that Defendant '"control[s] the system as a whole and obtain[s] benefit from it[.]'" (Id. at 6 (quoting Centillion Data Sys., LLC v. Qwest Commc'ns Int'l, Inc., 631 F.3d 1279, 1284 (Fed. Cir. 2011)). Defendant does not believe that Plaintiff has plausibly alleged how, simply by providing the accused software to its customers, it can be said to "control" these other parts of the system. (Id.)

         5. Here, however, the Court agrees with Plaintiff that it has set out a plausible claim of direct infringement. The Court acknowledges that from the FAC's exemplary allegations, it does seem like the hand-held display, processor and wireless telemetry system are said to be provided by "an iPhone or Android smartphone or iPad tablet device"-that is, devices that download "FieldNet Mobile apps." (D.I. 31 at ¶¶ 16-17)[6] And it also seems like, in the main, it is Defendant's customers (not Defendant itself) who are likely to be the persons utilizing the devices at issue to commit alleged infringement. But based on the FAC's allegations, it does not strike the Court as implausible that there are some infringing uses in which Lindsay personnel utilize such devices to run FieldNet software (such as for testing purposes, training purposes, promotional purposes or otherwise). Indeed, the Lindsay promotional materials depicted in paragraph 15 of the FAC appear to show someone associated with Lindsay utilizing the FieldNet software on a tablet and a smartphone. (D.I. 36 at 7 (Plaintiff pointing to Linsday ...

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