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TriMed, Inc. v. Arthrex, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 31, 2019

TRIMED, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ARTHREX, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Honorable Maryellen Noreika United"States District Judge

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the claim term of U.S. Patent No. 8, 177, 822 (“the '822 Patent”) with an agreed-upon construction is construed as follows (see D.I. 45 at 12-13):

         1. “fractures of a bone” means “a fracture or break of any bone” Further, as announced at the hearing on July 30, 2019, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the disputed claim terms of the '822 Patent are construed as follows:

1. “wrap around a terminal endpoint of the bone” means “curving or extending onto the end surface of the bone”
2. “offset” means “the difference in length between the apex of the first hook and the end of the plate opposite the hook compared to the apex of another hook and that end” and the difference in length may be zero

         Plaintiff TriMed, Inc. (“Plaintiff” or “TriMed”) and Defendant Arthrex, Inc. (“Defendant” or “Arthrex”) briefed the issues (see D.I. 45) and submitted an appendix containing both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence (see D.I. 46; see also D.I. 41). The Court carefully reviewed all submissions in connection with the parties' contentions regarding the disputed claim terms, heard oral argument and applied the following legal standards in reaching its decision:

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         “[T]he ultimate question of the proper construction of the patent [is] 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). “[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.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Although “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. Id. at 1314. “[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 . . . [as] 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). 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. “Even when the specification describes only a single embodiment, [however, ] 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) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 906 (Fed. Cir. 2004)).

         In addition to the specification, a court “should also consider the patent's prosecution history, if it is in evidence.” Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 980 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), 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, courts “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. 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.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318. 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, although 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).

         II. THE COURT'S RULING

         The Court's rulings regarding the disputed claim terms of the '822 Patent were announced from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing as follows:

At issue is U.S. Patent 8, 177, 822, titled “Contoured Bone Plate for Fracture Fixation Having Hook Members and Drill Guide for Same.” There are two terms in dispute, and as I said, I'm prepared to rule on each of those disputes. I will not be issuing a written opinion, but I will issue an order stating my rulings. I want to emphasize before I announce my decisions that, while I am not issuing a written opinion, we have followed a full and thorough process before making the decisions I am about to state. I have reviewed the '822 Patent and the portions of the prosecution history submitted. There was full briefing on each of the disputed terms, and that briefing included an appendix that explained how certain commercial devices work ...

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