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

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 27, 2018

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

          John W. Shaw, Jeffrey T. Castellano, and Andrew E. Russell, SHAW KELLER LLP, Wilmington, DE James R. Nuttall, Katherine H. Johnson, Randal S. Alexander, Robert F. Kappers, and John L. Abramic, STEPTOE & JOHNSON LLP, Chicago, IL Boyd Cloern, STEPTOE & JOHNSON LLP, Washington, DC Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Melanie K. Sharp and Robert M. Vrana, YOUNG CONAWAY STARGATT & TAYLOR, LLP, Wilmington, DE J. Michael Huget and Brian J. Arnold, HONIGMAN MILLER SCHWARTZ AND COHN LLP, Chicago, IL Sarah E. Waidelich, HONIGMAN MILLER SCHWARTZ AND COHN LLP, Ann Arbor, MI Attorneys for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court in this patent infringement action are the following motions:

(i) Plaintiff American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc.'s ("A AM" or "Plaintiff) Motion for Summary Judgment of Infringement (D.I. 155; see also D.I. 206);
(ii) AAM's Motion for Summary Judgment of No. Invalidity Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. §§ 101 and 102 (as to the Laskey Reference) (D.I. 159; see also D.I. 206);
(iii) AAM's Motion to Exclude Portions of the Testimony of Neapco's Technical Expert, Steven Becker, and Neapco's Damages Expert, Michael Chase (D.l. 157; see also D.I. 206);
(iv) Defendants Neapco Holdings LLC and Neapco Drivelines LLC's (collectively, 1 "Neapco" or "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment of Invalidity and/or Non-Infringement (D.I. 149);
(v) Neapco's Supplemental Motion for Summary Judgment of Invalidity and/or Non-Infringement as to the New Claims (D.I. 207); and
(vi) Neapco's Motion to Preclude Certain Expert Testimony and Evidence (D.I. 208).

         I. BACKGROUND

         AAM filed suit against Neapco on December 1.8, 2015, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 7, 774, 911 (the "'911 patent"), 8, 176, 613 (the "'613 patent"), and 8, 528, 180 (the "'180 patent"). (See D.I. 1) The pending motions are principally (if not entirely) addressed to the'911 patent.

         The '911 patent "generally relates to shaft assemblies for transmitting rotary power in a driveline and more particularly to a method for attenuating driveline vibrations transmitted through a shaft assembly." ('911 patent col. 1:4-7) The reason for attenuating such vibrations is to reduce the tonal noise that can be heard by occupants in the vehicle as a result of the vibrations. (See Id. col. 1:8-23) "Modern automotive propshafts are commonly formed of relatively thin-walled steel or aluminum tubing and as such, can be receptive to various driveline excitation sources, " which "can typically cause the propshaft to vibrate in a bending (lateral) mode, a torsion mode and a shell mode." (Id. col. 1:39-44) Several techniques existed in the prior art "to attenuate vibrations in propshafts including the use of weights and liners." (Id. col. 1:53-54) However, many of the prior art liners only attenuate shell mode vibrations and not also bending or torsion mode vibrations. (See Id. col. 2:34-38) The '911 patent purports to provide "an improved method for damping various types of vibrations in a hollow shaft, " which facilitates the damping of shell mode vibration as well as bending mode vibration and/or torsion mode vibration. (Id. col. 2:40-43)

         On April 7, 2017, the Court issued its Claim Construction Opinion (D.I. 113), which found certain claims of the '911 patent indefinite.

         On August 11, 2017, the parties filed motions with respect to the claims that remained asserted after the Court's Claim Construction Opinion. In particular, the motions were directed to '911 patent claims 22-24, 26, 27, 31, and 34-36 (the "Original Claims"). (D.I. 149, 155, 157, 159) The parties completed briefing on their initial motions on September 15, 2017.

         In the meantime, on September 6, 2017, the Court granted AAM's motion for reconsideration of the Claim Construction Opinion, finding that new evidence demonstrated that Defendants had failed to prove that any of the claims of the '911 patent were indefinite. (D.I. 180) The Court then ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefing to address how the pending motions might apply to the claims that had been initially invalidated as indefinite, but were now newly-revived in the case. In particular, the supplemental briefing relates to claims 1-6, 12, 13, and 19-21 of the '911 patent (the "New Claims, " and collectively with the Original Claims, the "Asserted Claims"). (D.I. 188) The parties submitted supplemental briefs and motions on December 1, 2017 and responsive briefs on December 18, 2017.

         Collectively, the parties filed a total of 287 pages of briefing in relation to their many motions. The Court heard oral argument on January 18, 2018. (D.I. 217 "("Tr."))

         Independent claim 22 is representative of the Original Claims and reads:

A method for manufacturing a shaft assembly of a driveline system, the driveline system further including a first driveline component and a second driveline component, the shaft assembly being adapted to transmit torque between the first driveline component and the second driveline component, the method comprising:
providing a hollow shaft member;
tuning a mass and a stiffness of at least one ...

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