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Sunoco Partners Marketing & Terminals L.P. v. Powder Springs Logistics, LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 26, 2019




         In this action filed by Plaintiff Sunoco Partners Marketing & Terminals L.P ("Sunoco" or "Plaintiff) against Powder Springs Logistics, LLC ("Powder Springs") and Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P. ("Magellan" and collectively with Powder Springs, "Defendants"), Sunoco alleges infringement of United States Patent Nos. 6, 679, 302 (the '"302 patent"), 7, 032, 629 (the "'629 patent"), 9, 207, 686 (the "'686 patent"), 9, 494, 948 (the "'948 patent) and 9, 606, 548 (the "'548 patent" and collectively with the other patents, "the asserted patents").[1] Presently before the Court is the matter of claim construction. The Court recommends that the District Court adopt the construction as set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Sunoco filed the instant case on October 4, 2017. (D.I. 1) The case was thereafter referred to the Court to hear and resolve all pretrial matters, up to and including case-dispositive motions. (D.I. 15)

         In the currently-operative Second Amended Complaint, Sunoco alleges that Defendants' butane blending system, which allows Defendants to inject butane into gasoline product flowing through an interstate pipeline at the Atlanta Junction facility, and Defendants' related butane blending activities, infringe claims of the asserted patents. (D.I. 149 at ¶¶ 2, 19-25) Sunoco further alleges that Magellan's blending systems and butane blending activities at several other locations infringe claims of the asserted patents. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-33) The asserted patents relate to systems and methods for the blending of butane into gasoline at any point along a petroleum pipeline. (See D.I. 171 at 1; D.I. 176 at 1)[2]

         The parties filed simultaneous opening claim construction briefs on November 20, 2018 and simultaneous responsive briefs on December 11, 2018. (D.I. 171; D.I. 176; D.I. 188; D.I. 191) The Court held a Markman hearing on January 23, 2019. (D.I. 315 (hereinafter, "Tr.")) Following the hearing, the parties submitted supplemental letters relating to inter partes review proceedings with respect to the '948 patent and the '548 patent that Defendants assert have relevance to the construction of certain disputed terms. (D.I. 277; D.I. 278; D.I. 293; D.I. 295; D.I. 307)


         It is well-understood that "[a] claim in a patent provides the metes and bounds of the right which the patent confers on the patentee to exclude others from making, using, or selling the protected invention." Corning Glass Works v. Sumitomo Elec. U.S.A., Inc., 868 F.2d 1251, 1257 (Fed. Cir. 1989). Claim construction is a generally a question of law, although subsidiary fact finding is sometimes necessary. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 837-38 (2015).

         The Court should typically assign claim terms their "ordinary and customary meaning[, ]" which is "the meaning that the term[s] would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art ['POSITA'] in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005). However, when determining the ordinary meaning of claim terms, the Court should not extract and isolate those terms from the context of the patent; rather it should endeavor to reflect their "meaning to the ordinary artisan after reading the entire patent." Id. at 1321; see also Eon Corp. IP Holdings LLC v. Silver Spring Networks, Inc., 815 F.3d 1314, 1320 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

         In proceeding with claim construction, the Court should look first and foremost to the language of the claims themselves, because "[i]t 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, 415 F.3d at 1312 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). For example, the context in which a term is used in a claim may be "highly instructive." Id. at 1314. In addition, "[o]ther claims of the patent in question, both asserted and unasserted, can ... be valuable" in discerning the meaning of a particular claim term. Id., This is "[b]ecause claim terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent, [and so] the usage of a term in one claim can often illuminate the meaning of the same term in other claims." Id. Moreover, "[differences among claims can also be a useful guide[, ]" as when "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.

         In addition to the words of the claims, the Court should look to other intrinsic evidence. For example, the Court should analyze the patent specification, which "may reveal a special definition given to a claim term . . . that differs from the meaning [that term] would otherwise possess" or may reveal an intentional disclaimer of claim scope. Id. at 1316. Even if the specification does not contain such revelations, it "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." Id. at 1315 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). That said, however, the specification "is not a substitute for, nor can it be used to rewrite, the chosen claim language." SuperGuide Corp. v. DirecTV Enters., Inc., 358 F.3d 870, 875 (Fed. Cir. 2004). And a court should also consider the patent's prosecution history, if it is in evidence, because it "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[.]" Phillips, 415 F.3dat 1317.

         Extrinsic evidence, "including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises[, ]" can also "shed useful light on the relevant art[.]" Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Overall, while extrinsic evidence may be useful, it is "less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language." Id., (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); accord Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 981 (Fed. Cir. 1995).

         In utilizing these resources during claim construction, courts should keep in mind that "[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).


         The parties currently have disputes regarding five terms or sets of terms (hereinafter, "terms"). This Report and Recommendation addresses one such term: "blending unit." The other terms will be addressed in a forthcoming Report and Recommendation(s).

         The claim term "blending unit" appears in claims 1, 17 and 36 of the '302 patent and claims 1 and 7 of'686 patent. (D.I. 166, ex. A at 3; D.I. 191 at 6) The use of the disputed term in claim 1 of the '302 patent and claim 1 of the '686 patent is representative. (See Defendants' Markman Presentation, Slides DDX-130-31) Accordingly, these claims are reproduced below, with the disputed terms highlighted:

         1. A system for blending gasoline and butane at a tank farm comprising:

a) a tank of gasoline;
b) a tank of butane;
c) a blending unit, at the tank farm, downstream of and in fluid connection with the tank of gasoline and the tank of butane;
d) a dispensing unit downstream of and in fluid connection with the blending unit; and
e) a rack, wherein the dispensing unit is located at the rack and is adapted to dispense gasoline to gasoline ...

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