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MONON CORP. v. STOUGHTON TRAILERS

February 7, 1996

MONON CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
STOUGHTON TRAILERS, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ALESIA

 Plaintiff, Monon Corporation ("Monon"), has filed a complaint for patent infringement against defendant, Stoughton Trailers, Inc. ("Stoughton"), wherein plaintiff alleges that, since at least February, 1990, the defendant has been infringing plaintiff's "plate trailer" patent (United States Letters Patent No. 4,904,017 ("the Monon patent")) by making, selling, and using trailers embodying the patented invention. Defendant Stoughton has filed its Motion for Summary Judgment of Invalidity of Monon Patent Claims 1 through 4 Based Upon the Commercial Exploitation of the Claimed Invention Prior to the Patent's Critical Date. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 Based upon the parties' filings pursuant to Local Rules 12(M) and (N), many of the facts with respect to this motion are not in dispute. The court sets them out as follows.

 For the past number of years, defendant Stoughton has manufactured certain van trailers referred to in the trailer industry as "plate trailers", which trailers are designated Stoughton Aluminum Plate Van, Model PVW Hi-Cube. Plaintiff Monon, meanwhile, alleges that it is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 4,904,017, entitled "Trailer Construction" which was issued February 27, 1990. Monon further alleges that Stoughton's plate trailers infringe the Monon Patent and has filed a complaint for patent infringement. Stoughton has made a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment of invalidity, noninfringement, and nonenforceability, and a second counterclaim for false marking.

 Monon filed its patent on February 26, 1985, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b), *fn1" a patent is barred if the invention was commercially exploited more than one year before the filing of the patent application. The purpose of this statutory bar is to encourage disclosure through the filing and prosecution of a patent application and to prevent extension of the statutory patent term. Intel Corp. v. United States Int'l Trade Comm'n, 946 F.2d 821, 830 (Fed. Cir. 1991). The critical date here for "on sale" activity relating to the Monon patent is one year before the filing of the application -- thus February 26, 1984.

 In the summer of 1983, Monon entered into negotiations with Continental Can Company of Chicago ("Continental") regarding the possible purchase by one of Continental's subsidiaries, Allpoints Trucking Company, of approximately three hundred van trailers. Continental was interested in having a new trailer produced that would increase loading capacity and concluded that Monon's then available trailers (having sidewalls made of a fiberglass reinforced plywood construction) might not be suitable. Over the latter half of 1983, Monon and Continental then began to discuss whether a trailer made from aluminum side panels would be suitable for its fleet. Continental, however, was not willing by the end of 1983 to purchase three hundred of these such trailers. It was wining to order one trailer from Monon with the intention that if it was successful, Continental's subsidiary would purchase three hundred more.

 Once Continental decided to go ahead with the order for one trailer, there began the exchange of documents between the parties. On December 19, 1983, Monon sent the following documents to Continental:

 
1. A first Monon "order confirmation" form addressed to Pete Dunn of Continental stating:
 
"We have entered your order for one trailer(s) and have assigned our Production Control Number PC #3908-C to this group of trailers"
 
3. A two-sided "Sales & Specification Confirmation Sheet." The front page of this sheet contains the same description and price as the second order confirmation form. The reverse side of this sheet includes a formal recitation of the "terms and conditions" of the sale as well as a description of the warranty to the customer.

 These documents were received by Peter Dunn of Continental on December 27, 1983. Continental thereafter completed and executed the "Sales & Specification Confirmation Sheet" by January 3, 1984. On January 17, 1984, Continental returned it to Monon.

 Soon thereafter, Monon scheduled the Continental trailer to be built on February 6, 1984. Continental took actual delivery of the trailer on or about April 1984. Later, on August 23, ...


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