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F'real Foods LLC v. Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 2, 2019


          Rodger D. Smith II, Michael J. Flynn, Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Guy W. Chambers, Ellen P. Liu, Peter Colosi, Sideman & Bancroft LLP, San Francisco, California Counsel for Plaintiffs.

          Francis DiGiovanni, Thatcher A. Rahmeier, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; William S. Foster, Jr., Brianna L. Silverstein, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Washington, District of Columbia Counsel for Defendants.



         Plaintiffs f real Foods, LLC and Rich Products Corporation filed this lawsuit accusing Defendants Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc. and Hershey Creamery Company of infringing four patents for commercial blenders: United States Patent Numbers 5, 803, 377 (the "#377 patent"), 7, 144, 150 (the "#150 patent"), 7, 520, 658 (the "#658 patent"), and 7, 520, 662 (the "#662 patent"). I granted summary judgment of infringement of two of the asserted claims. See D.I. 141 (claim 21 of the #662 patent); D.I. 142 (claim 15 of the #150 patent). The case was then tried to a jury, which found infringement of the remaining asserted claims in three of the four asserted patents and noninfringement of the #377 patent. See D.I. 263. The jury also found that Defendants' infringement was not willful and that certain claims were not invalid as obvious. See Id. The jury awarded damages totaling $3, 233, 869. See id.

         At trial, the parties stipulated under Rule 39(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that I would decide indefiniteness issues under 35 U.S.C. § 112 solely based on post-trial briefing, without going beyond the expert reports already submitted in connection with earlier summary judgment briefing, and without submitting an advisory verdict on any subsidiary factual questions to the jury.[1] See Tr. 11:2-12:7. In the post-trial briefing, Defendants argue-based on the requirement of "sufficient mass"-that one of the two asserted claims of the #150 patent and the five asserted claims of the #658 patent are invalid for indefmiteness. See D.I. 271; D.I. 274. The challenged claims require that the blender have a "splash shield"-which covers the top of a cup or "vessel" in which the substance is blended-with "sufficient mass" such that the splash shield is heavy enough to hold the cup in place in a cupholder rather than having the cup be propelled upward or dislodged, for example, by the force of the blades spinning. See #150 patent, claim 22; #658 patent, claims 1, 5, 6, 10, & 11. Defendants argue that "the intrinsic record provides no guidance as to where the line should be drawn between the claimed * sufficient mass' and a mass that is insufficient." See D.I. 271 at 3. I disagree. The challenged claims define the term "sufficient mass" by its function and a person of ordinary skill in the art (POSITA) could easily determine by simply observing the blender in action whether the splash shield had a "sufficient mass" to be covered by the disputed claim limitation. Accordingly, the challenged claims are not indefinite.

         I. DISCUSSION


         "[A] patent is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, read in light of the specification delineating the patent, and the prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention." Nautilus, Inc. v. BiosigInstruments, Inc., 572 U.S. 898, 901 (2014). "Indefiniteness is a matter of claim construction, and the same principles that generally govern claim construction are applicable to determining whether allegedly indefinite claim language is subject to construction." Praxair, Inc. v. ATM, Inc., 543 F.3d 1306, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2008), abrogated on other grounds by Nautilus, 572 U.S. at 901. As in claim construction, in making an indefiniteness determination, the district court may make "any factual findings about extrinsic evidence relevant to the question, such as evidence about knowledge of those skilled in the art, [which] are reviewed for clear error." See BASF Corp. v. Johnson Mattheylnc, 875 F.3d 1360, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2017). "Any fact critical to a holding on indefiniteness ... must be proven by the challenger by clear and convincing evidence." Cox Commc'ns, Inc. v. Sprint Commc'n Co. LP, 838 F.3d 1224, 1228 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (alteration in original) (quoting Intel Corp. v. VIA Techs., Inc., 319 F.3d 1357, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2003)).

         B. ANALYSIS

         The claims define the requirement that the "splash shield" have "sufficient mass" in clear functional terms. The challenged claims describe a blender that includes a "[cup]holder" for a cup or "vessel" in which a frozen substance (like a milkshake) is blended. E.g., #658 patent, claim 1, at 4:45-48. A "splash shield" sits atop the cup. E.g., #658 patent, claim 1, at 4:59-61. The claims require the "splash shield" to have "sufficient mass to retain the vessel within the holder." #150 patent, claim 22; #658 patent, claim 1; see also #658 patent, claim 5 (dependent on claim 1); #658 patent, claim 6 ("the mass of the splash shield preventing separation of the holder and the vessel during translation"); #658 patent, claims 10 & 11 (dependent on claim 6). The claims therefore define "sufficient mass" functionally: the splash shield must be heavy enough to keep the cup in the cupholder.

         Judge Sleet's claim construction captures the claims' functional definition of the "sufficient mass" term. He "adopt[ed] the plain and ordinary meaning of the term [as] proposed by Plaintiffs and the PTO":

The term "sufficient mass to retain the vessel within the holder during relative axial movement of the mixing element and vessel from the first position to the second position when liquid is present in the vessel" in the [#]658 patent is construed to be "the splash shield is heavy enough to create sufficient downward force on the vessel so as to retain the vessel within the holder when the mixing element moves upwardly in the vessel from the first position to the second position when liquid is present."

D.I. 83 at 2. This claim construction reflects the claims' requirement for the splash shield to be heavy enough that the gravitational force of the splash shield alone is "sufficient" to overcome any countervailing forces that could otherwise dislodge the cup from the cupholder, such as the upward force from the blades spinning.

         Judge Sleet's construction finds support in portions of the written description ...

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