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Aptargroup Inc. v. Summit Packaging Systems Inc.

October 30, 1998

APTARGROUP, INC., PLAINTIFF/CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
SUMMIT PACKAGING SYSTEMS, INC., DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.



Before Rich, Bryson, and Gajarsa, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rich, Circuit Judge.

DECISION

Summit Packaging Systems, Inc. (Summit) appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, 94-CV-2304, finding Summit was infringing six claims of AptarGroup, Inc.'s (Aptar) U.S. Patent No. 4,792,067 (the '067 patent). The patent is generally directed to mounting cups used in the manufacture of aerosol cans.

The district court held inter alia that: (1) Summit infringed the '067 patent, both literally and under the doctrine of equivalents; (2) Summit's infringement was willful; (3) Summit owed a reasonable royalty of $.75 per thousand mounting cups; (4) Aptar was not entitled to lost profits; and (5) Aptar was not entitled to attorney fees. Summit appeals the holdings on infringement and willfulness, and challenges the reasonable royalty calculation. Aptar cross-appeals the holdings denying it lost profits and attorney fees. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Summit and Aptar are both in the business of wholesaling aerosol valve assemblies for aerosol containers. An aerosol container holds a product under pressure. The container is generally constructed by assembling two parts: a can and a valve assembly. The valve assembly is generally comprised of a button or actuator, a valve and a mounting cup. Depressing a button or actuator at the top of the aerosol container serves to open the valve to release the product from the can. The mounting cup serves to cap the can and maintain the contents under pressure. The mounting cup is affixed to the can by way of a "roll" at the edge of the mounting cup, placed over a bead at the top of the can and then the mounting cup is crimped into place. The mounting cup is the component of the valve assembly at issue on appeal.

In the prior art there was a space between the cup and the bead which was filled with an injection of rubber to create a seal. As technology advanced, a laminated mounting cup covered with a plastic sealing material was developed, specifically designed to eliminate the rubber sealant step of the assembly process. However, with the old design, the bead and the roll did not have to fit together very snugly because the rubber sealant was very forgiving. With the new laminate material, the bead and the cup had to be counter-shaped to fit together snugly to avoid leaks. The `067 patent teaches altering the shape of a particular region of the mounting cup in such a way that when the mounting cup is crimped onto the annular bead, a superior seal is formed between the mounting cup and the bead.

Summit began producing a mounting cup of a laminate material. Unfortunately, they had problems with the new mounting cup leaking. They did a study of the various manufacturers' bead specifications in an attempt to solve this problem. The team studying the problem noted that the inner surface contour of a typical bead is usually flattened. Summit reshaped the inner region contour of its cup such that it was slightly flattened to match the bead. Mounting cups with this configuration were known as Digital Cups. After several years Summit re-engineered its Digital Cup to eliminate a 0.003 inch space between the cup and the can bead. It called the new mounting cup the Diamond Digital Cup. Aptar alleges that the Diamond Digital Cup infringes the '067 patent.

Aptar is the assignee of the '067 patent, entitled "Mounting Cup" and issued December 20, 1988. The patent is generally directed to the mounting cup portion of the valve assembly, designed to be crimped onto the top of an aerosol can. The claimed invention of the `067 patent provides an improved seal between the cup and the can by using a cup rim shape that is "substantially different" from the contour of the annular bead, but that conforms to the shape of the annular bead when crimped. Figures 5 and 8 are representative of the claimed invention. Figure 5 shows the mounting cup before it is placed on the aerosol can.

The improved inner region contour (41A) of the mounting cup is flattened so that the interior space (43A) has a substantially different shape than the annular bead (not shown in Figure 5). When the mounting cup is placed over the annular bead, the flattened inner region contour (41A) inhibits the complete reception of the annular bead into the interior space (43A).

Figure 8 shows a completed aerosol device, a fragment of the can being shown at 40 with an annular bead (44) to which the mounting cup is crimped.

The six claims at issue on appeal are 1, 4, 7, 10, 15, and 17. Claim 1 is representative:

"1. An improved mounting cup for sealing with a container of an aerosol dispensing device, the container having an annular bead extending about an opening in the container with the annular bead having an inner surface contour, comprising in combination:"

"a metallic mounting cup comprising a central area, a sidewall and a peripheral rim with said sidewall interconnecting said central area and said peripheral rim; said peripheral rim having an inner region contour being substantially different from the inner surface contour of the annular bead of the container for allowing only a portion of said inner region contour of said peripheral rim to contact the inner surface contour of the annular bead when said mounting cup is disposed upon the container; said inner region contour of said peripheral rim being deformed when said mounting cup is crimped to the annular bead of the container to reform said inner region contour of said peripheral rim to be substantially the same as the inner surface contour of the annular bead to provide a seal engagement between said mounting cup and the container; and said crimping of said mounting cup to the annular bead of the container being accomplished solely by an outward radial expansion of said sidewall of said mounting cup to reform said inner region contour of said peripheral rim to be substantially the same as the inner surface contour of the annular bead to provide said sealing engagement between said mounting cup and the container."

Aptar filed an action against Summit alleging patent infringement. A jury trial ensued. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the `067 patent infringement liability issues. The parties submitted the liability issues to the court on the existing record. The court heard evidence relating to damages. The court found damages based on royalty damages of $0.75 per thousand devices ($3.9 million). It found willfulness and doubled damages to approximately $7.8 million. It later awarded pre-judgment interest of approximately $762,000. The court declined to award attorney fees or lost profits to Aptar. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

I. Infringement

A literal infringement determination involves two steps. First, we determine the scope of the right to exclude by determining the metes and bounds of the claim and, second, the properly construed claim is compared with the accused device to determine whether all of the claim limitations are present. Young Dental Mfg. Co. v. Q3 Special Prods., Inc., 112 F.3d 1137, 1141, 42 USPQ2d 1589, 1592 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

We review a district court's judgment for errors of law and clearly erroneous findings of fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a). Claim construction is a question of law, which we review de novo. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976, 34 USPQ2d 1321, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (in banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996); Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1456, 46 USPQ2d 1169, 1174 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (in banc) ("[W]e review claim construction de novo on appeal including any allegedly fact-based ...


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