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Nexeon Ltd. v. Eaglepicher Technologies LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 25, 2018

NEXEON LIMITED, Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLEPICHER TECHNOLOGIES LLC, et al. Defendants.

          Mary Matterer, MORRIS JAMES LLP, Wilmington, DE; Stephen R. Carden (argued), Ann C. Palma, and James V. Suggs, MCDONNELL BOEHNEN HULBERT & BERGHOFF LLP, Chicago, IL. Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Thomas C. Grimm and Jeremy A. Tigan, MORRIS, NICHOLS, ARSHT & TUNNELL, Wilmington, DE; Jennifer Hayes (argued), NIXON PEABODY LLP, Los Angeles, CA. Attorneys for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court is the issue of claim construction of multiple terms in U.S. Patent Nos. 8, 940, 437 ("the '437 patent"); 8, 597, 831 ("the '831 patent"); and 9, 583, 762 ("the '762 patent").[1] The Court has considered the Parties' Joint Claim Construction Brief. (Civ. Act. No. 15-cv-915-RGA;D.I. 104). The Court heard oral argument on December 21, 2017. (D.I. 127).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The asserted patents relate to methods for fabricating silicon-based fibers and particles for use in rechargeable lithium ion batteries.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         "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) (citation omitted). '"[T]here is no magic formula or catechism for conducting claim construction.' Instead, the court is free to attach the appropriate weight to appropriate sources 'in light of the statutes and policies that inform patent law.'" SoftView LLC v. Apple Inc., 2013 WL 4758195, at *1 (D. Del. Sept. 4, 2013) (quoting Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1324) (alteration in original). When construing patent claims, a court considers the literal language of the claim, the patent specification, and the prosecution history. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979-80 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), affd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). Of these sources, "the 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." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315.

         "[T]he words of a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning. . . . [This is] the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application." Id. at 1312-13. "[T]he ordinary meaning of a claim term is its meaning to [an] ordinary artisan after reading the entire patent." Id. at 1321. "In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words." Id. at 1314.

         When a court relies solely upon the intrinsic evidence-the patent claims, the specification, and the prosecution history-the court's construction is a determination of law. See Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 841 (2015). The court may also make factual findings based upon consideration of extrinsic evidence, which "consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317-19. Extrinsic evidence may assist the court in understanding the underlying technology, the meaning of terms to one skilled in the art, and how the invention works. Id. Extrinsic evidence, however, is less reliable and less useful in claim construction than the patent and its prosecution history. Id.

         "A claim construction is persuasive, not because it follows a certain rule, but because it defines terms in the context of the whole patent." Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa 'per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998). It follows that "a claim interpretation that would exclude the inventor's device is rarely the correct interpretation." Osram GMBH v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 505 F.3d 1351, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         III. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS

         The asserted patents claim methods for fabricating silicon or silicon-based materials and their use in electrodes in rechargeable lithium ion batteries. Claim 1 of the '831 patent reads as follows:

1. An electrode for an electrochemical cell, the electrode comprising an electrically interconnected mass comprising:
elongated structures, wherein the elongated structures are capable of being reversibly charged and discharged and at least some of the elongated structures cross over each other to provide intersections and a porous structure, and wherein the elongated structures comprise silicon;
at least one of a binder and an electronic additive;
wherein the elongated structures and the at least one of the binder and the electronic additive cooperate to define a porous composite electrode layer.

('831 patent, claim 1) (disputed terms italicized).

         Claim 17 of the '762 patent reads as follows:

         17. A method of forming a lithium-ion battery electrode, the method comprising:

depositing a plurality of crystalline silicon-comprising elongated elements, the elongated elements being capable of lithium insertion and removal, wherein when deposited at least some of the elongated elements cross over other elongated elements many times along their length to form multiple intersections thereby forming a porous structure; and
charging the porous structure, wherein the charging welds the elongated elements to one another at the intersections by forming amorphous silicon-containing structures between disrupted crystalline structures of the silicon-comprising elongated elements at the intersections.

('762 patent, claim 17) (disputed terms italicized). Dependent claim 19 of the '762 patent depends from claim 17 and reads as follows:

19. A method of forming a lithium-ion battery electrode as claimed in claim 17, further comprising:
recharging the lithium-ion battery electrode a plurality of times;
wherein each of the recharging operations increases the structural strength of the electrode.

('762 patent, claim 19) (disputed terms italicized).

         Claim 21 of the '437 patent reads as follows:

21. A plurality of discrete particles wherein each particle comprises silicon and includes a particle core and a plurality of silicon-comprising pillars extending outwardly therefrom from a first end to a second end, wherein each pillar in the plurality of pillars is attached to the core at the first end of the pillar, and the second end of each pillar is an unattached free end, wherein in each particle, the fraction of the surface area of the particle core occupied by the pillars is in the range of 0.10 to 0.50.
('437 patent, claim 21) (disputed terms italicized). Dependent claim 22 of the '437 patent depends from claim 21 and reads as follows:
22. A plurality of discrete particles as claimed in claim 21 wherein the pillars are int ...

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