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Valinge Innovation AB v. Halstead New England Corp.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 7, 2018

VALINGE INNOVATION AB, Plaintiff,
v.
HALSTEAD NEW ENGLAND CORP. and HOME DEPOT U.S A., INC., Defendants.

          Adam W. Poff, Pilar G. Kraman, YOUNG CONAWAY STARGATT & TAYLOR LLP, Wilmington, DE, Laura Masurovsky, Sydney R. Kestle, FINNEGAN HENDERSON FARABOW GARRETT & DUNNER, Washington, DC, Daniel C. Cooley, FINNEGAN HENDERSON FARABOW GARRETT & DUNNER, Reston, VA Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Denise S. Kraft, Brian A. Biggs, DLA PIPER, Wilmington, DE Nicholas G. Papastavros, Michael Strapp, DLA PIPER, Boston, MA Melissa Reinckens, Peter Maggiore, DLA PIPER, San Diego, CA Aaron Fountain, DLA PIPER, Austin, TX Attorneys for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Valinge Innovation AB ("Plaintiff) sued Defendants Halstead New England Corporation and Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging that Defendants infringe Plaintiffs nine asserted patents by importing, selling, or offering to sell certain flooring products. (See generally D.I. 26) The patents-in-suit generally relate to flooring technologies, in particular "floorboard locking mechanisms, moisture-proof systems, methods for installing resilient floorboards, and the composition of vinyl planks and tiles." (D.I. 84.1 at 15)

         Presently before the Court are the parties' disputes over the meaning of certain claim terms in the asserted claims. The parties submitted technology tutorials (D.I. 84, 85), claim construction briefs (D.I. 86, 89, 98, 102), and expert declarations (D.I. 87, 88, 90, 91, 99, 100, 103, 104). The Court held a claim construction hearing on March 8, 2018. (See D.I. 129 ("Tr."))

         The parties have organized the nine asserted patents into four groups: (A) the "Chen patents;"[1](B) the "Nilsson patents;"[2] (C) U.S. Patent No. 7, 398, 625 ('"625 patent"); and (D) U.S. Patent No. 8, 584, 423 ('"423 patent"). The Court will do so as well.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Claim Construction

         The ultimate question of the proper construction of a patent is a question of law. See Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 837 (2015) (citing Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 388-91 (1996)). "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. AWHCorp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         "[T]here is no magic formula or catechism for conducting claim construction." Id. at 1324. Instead, the Court is free to attach the appropriate weight to appropriate sources "in light of the statutes and policies that inform patent law." Id.

         "[T]he words of a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning [which 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 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "[T]he ordinary meaning of a claim term is its meaning to the ordinary artisan after reading the entire patent." Id. at 1321 (internal quotation marks omitted). The patent 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." Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

         While "the claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms, " the context of the surrounding words of the claim also must be considered. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. Furthermore, "[o]ther claims of the patent in question, both asserted and unasserted, can also be valuable sources of enlightenment. . . [b]ecause claim terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent." Id. (internal citation omitted).

         It is likewise true that "[differences among claims can also be a useful guide.... For example, the presence of a dependent claim that adds a particular limitation gives rise to a presumption that the limitation in question is not present in the independent claim." Id. at 1314-15 (internal citation omitted). This "presumption is especially strong when the limitation in dispute is the only meaningful difference between an independent and dependent claim, and one party is urging that the limitation in the dependent claim should be read into the independent claim." SunRace Roots Enter. Co., Ltd. v. SRAM Corp., 336 F.3d 1298, 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

         It is also possible that "the specification may reveal a special definition given to a claim term by the patentee that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess. In such cases, the inventor's lexicography governs." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316. It bears emphasis that "[e]ven when the specification describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent will not be read restrictively unless the patentee has demonstrated a clear intention to limit the claim scope using words or expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction." Hill-Rom Servs., Inc. v. Stryker Corp., 755 F.3d 1367, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (quotingLiebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 906 (Fed. Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In addition to the specification, a court "should also consider the patent's prosecution history, if it is in evidence." Marhnan v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 980 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). The prosecution history, which is "intrinsic evidence, " "consists of the complete record of the proceedings before the PTO [Patent and Trademark Office] and includes the prior art cited during the examination of the patent." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. "[T]he prosecution history can often inform the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the invention in the course of prosecution, making the claim scope narrower than it would otherwise be." Id.

         In some cases, "the district court will need to look beyond the patent's intrinsic evidence and to consult extrinsic evidence in order to understand, for example, the background science or the meaning of a term in the relevant art during the relevant time period." Teva, 135 S.Ct. at 841. Extrinsic evidence "consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Markman, 52 F.3d at 980. For instance, technical dictionaries can assist the court in determining the meaning of a term to those of skill in the relevant art because such dictionaries "endeavor to collect the accepted meanings of terms used in various fields of science and technology." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318. In addition, expert testimony can be useful "to ensure that the court's understanding of the technical aspects of the patent is consistent with that of a person of skill in the art, or to establish that a particular term in the patent or the prior art has a particular meaning in the pertinent field." Id. Nonetheless, courts must not lose sight of the fact that "expert reports and testimony [are] generated at the time of and for the purpose of litigation and thus can suffer from bias that is not present in intrinsic evidence." Id. Overall, while extrinsic evidence "may be useful" to the court, it is "less reliable" than intrinsic evidence, and its consideration "is unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence." Id. at 1318-19. Where the intrinsic record unambiguously describes the scope of the patented invention, reliance on any extrinsic evidence is improper. See Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583).

         Finally, "[t]he construction that stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention will be, in the end, the correct construction." 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) (quoting Mo dine Mfg. Co. v. U.S. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 75 F.3d 1545, 1550 (Fed. Cir. 1996)).

         B. Indefiniteness

         A patent claim is indefinite if, "viewed in light of the specification and prosecution history, [it fails to] inform those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty." Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2120, 2129 (2014). A claim may be indefinite if the patent does not convey with reasonable certainty how to measure a claimed feature. See Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 789 F.3d 1335, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2015). But "[i]f such an understanding of how to measure the claimed [feature] was within the scope of knowledge possessed by one of ordinary skill in the art, there is no requirement for the specification to identify a particular measurement technique." Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. v. Covidien, Inc., 796 F.3d 1312, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

         II. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS[3]

         A. Chen Patents

         The Chen patents are directed to a thermoplastic plank containing multiple layers. See '345 patent at Abstract.[4] The layers include a core made up of at least one thermoplastic material, a print layer above the core, and optionally an overlay layer on top of the print layer. Id.

         1."flexible polyvinyl chloride"[5]

Plaintiff

"polyvinyl chloride that is capable of being flexed"

Defendants

"polyvinyl chloride with a plasticizer"

Court

"polyvinyl chloride containing a plasticizer or another additive that imparts flexibility"

         The parties dispute whether a plasticizer is necessary to make flexible polyvinyl chloride ("PVC"). Plaintiff contends that the patents use the plain and ordinary meaning of flexible, and a person of ordinary skill in the art ("POSA") would understand there are "other ways to make [PVC] flexible in addition to plasticizers." (D.I. 86 at 5-9) (emphasis added) Defendants contend that this is a technical phrase and a POSA would understand it to mean "flexibility at the molecular level, which occurs only when combined with a plasticizer." (D.I. 89 at 2-6) (emphasis added)

         The intrinsic evidence supports a finding that a plasticizer is just one of many additives that could be used to impart flexibility to PVC. Nothing in the claim language requires a plasticizer. Nor does the specification require the use of plasticizer to impart flexibility -although it states that a plasticizer can be used for that purpose. See '345 Patent, col. 4 11. 19-20 ("The flexibility of the thermoplastic material can be imparted by using at least one liquid or solid plasticizer ...."). The prosecution history also suggests that a plasticizer is not required to impart flexibility. (See D.I. 92 at p. 314 of 380) (applicant noting that prior art "does not teach or suggest including any plasticizer or other flexibility-imparting additive or agent in the core") (emphasis added) However, Plaintiffs construction is too broad, as it would encompass even rigid PVC. (See D.I. 90 at 13 ΒΆ 41) ...


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