The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kocoras, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment.
For the following reasons, the plaintiffs' motions are denied and the
defendants' motions are granted.
Plaintiff Brita Wasser—Filter—Systeme ("Brita") owns the
rights to United States Patent Number 4,969,996 ("the `996 patent").
Brita brought a patent infringement suit against Recovery Engineering,
Inc. ("Recovery"), Signature Brands, Inc. ("Signature"), and Culligan
International Company ("Culligan"). The `996 patent is entitled "Water
Purification Device with an Intake Funnel" and contains nine claims. The
abstract for the patent describes a water purification device having an
intake funnel, a sleeve which is sealingly connected to the funnel, a
filter cover, and a filter bottom in which a granulate-type filter agent
can be introduced.
In the present lawsuit, Brita asserts claims of patent infringement
against Defendants Recovery Engineering, Inc. ("Recovery"), Signature
Brands, Inc. ("Signature"), and Culligan International Company
("Culligan"). Each of the Defendants produces their own water filtration
system device. Brita alleges that all three of these filtration devices
infringe the `996 patent.
Claim 1 is the `996 patent's only independent claim. Each of the
parties' disputes involves Claim 1 of the patent, or language in a
dependent claim that matches language in Claim 1. This claim reads as
A water purification device comprising an intake
funnel, a sleeve wherein said sleeve is sealingly
connected to said funnel at an upper end of said
sleeve, said sleeve further having an opening formed
therein, an insert having approximately cylindrical
side walls, a filter cover and a filter bottom for
accommodating a granulate filter agent therein with
means defining an air collecting space, located in at
least a portion of the filter bottom, said means
defining the air collecting space extending upwardly
at least partially towards the side wall and to the
opening in said sleeve, with said filter bottom having
opening means to allow the passage of filtrate
therethrough, and with said filter cover having
opening means whereby fluid can be passed into the
The Court conducted a Markman hearing on July 8, 1998, and Issued a
written opinion interpreting that claim on August 7, 1998. See Brita
Wasser—Filter—Systeme GmbH v. Recovery Engineering, Inc.,
1998 WL 473467 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 7, 1998). The Court agreed with the parties
that no extrinsic evidence was necessary to construe the disputed terms
in the `996 patent. In that opinion, the Court made several
1. "Means defining an air collecting space"
The Court determined that the claim term "means defining an air
collecting space" is a means-plus-function element and thus must be
construed under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6. The function disclosed for
this element is a space which gathers and then removes air bubbles from
the filter bottom. The corresponding structure for this element requires
a space with both a vertical and horizontal component, though these
components are not restricted by the precise structures disclosed by the
2. "Sleeve" and "an opening formed therein"
The Court found that the word "sleeve" in Claim 1 means "a single
continuous structure with two open ends that fits over something else."
The "opening formed therein" is limited to a single opening which is a
permanent part of the sleeve.
3. "to the opening in said sleeve"
Finally, after examining the claim language and the file history, this
Court determined that the chimney portion of the air collecting space
must reach the elevation of the sleeve opening, and not merely extend in
a direction toward the opening.
The burden is initially on the movant to identify the portions of the
pleadings, depositions, and other evidence that the movant believes
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265
(1986). Where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the
movant can discharge his burden by pointing out to the district court
that there is "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's
case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Once the movant meets
its burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and introduce
affidavits or identify portions of the evidence of record showing that
there is a genuine issue of disputed fact requiring trial. See id. at
324, 106 S.Ct. 2548.
The plaintiff in a patent infringement case bears the burden of proving
that every limitation of one or more claims is met by the accused
device, either literally or by the doctrine of equivalents. See
Perkin—Elmer Corp. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 822 F.2d 1528,
1532-33 (Fed.Cir. 1987). The standard of proof is a preponderance of the
evidence. See SmithKline Diagnostics, Inc. v. Helena Laboratories Corp.,
859 F.2d 878, 889 (Fed.Cir. 1988). To avoid summary judgment of
non-infringement, the plaintiff must show that "the evidence is such that
a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the [plaintiff]." See
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Even under the doctrine of equivalents, "[w]here the
evidence is such that no reasonable jury could determine two elements to
be equivalent, district courts are obliged to grant partial or complete
summary judgement." See Warner—Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis
Chemical Co., 520 U.S. 17, n. 8, 117 S.Ct. 1040, 137 L.Ed.2d 146 (1997).
It is with these principles in mind that we turn to the issues in this
Determining infringement involves two steps. First, the Court must
construe the asserted claims as a matter of law to ascertain their
meaning and scope. See Bai v. L & L Wings, Inc., 160 F.3d 1350, 1354
(Fed.Cir. 1998). Second, the claims as construed are compared to the
allegedly infringing device. See id. In order for a device to infringe a
claim, each claim limitation must be present in the accused device either
literally or equivalently. See Dawn Equipment Co. v. Kentucky Farms,
Inc., 140 F.3d 1009, 1014 (Fed.Cir. 1998) (citing Sofamor Danek Group,
Inc. v. De-Puy-Moteck, Inc., 74 F.3d 1216, 1220 (Fed.Cir. 1996)). "The
essential inquiry is whether `the accused product or process contains
elements identical or equivalent to each claimed element of the patented
invention.'" Litton Systems Inc. v. Honeywell Inc., 140 F.3d 1449, 1454
(Fed.Cir. 1998) (citing Warner—Jenkinson, 117 S.Ct. at 1054).
A patent may be infringed either literally or under the doctrine of
equivalents. A device literally infringes a patent claim only if every
limitation of the claim is present in the device. See
Perkin—Elmer, 822 F.2d at 1532. "[A]ny deviation from the claim
precludes a finding of literal infringement." Litton Systems Inc. v.
Honeywell Inc., 140 F.3d 1449, 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1998).
The purpose of the doctrine of equivalents is to prevent competitors
from pirating the essence of an invention while narrowly avoiding the
literal language of the claims. See Laitram, 863 F.2d at 856-57. It is
intended to prevent a competitor from making merely insubstantial
changes, but is not intended to punish legitimate "designing around" the
patent claims. See London v. Carson Pirie Scott & Co., 946 F.2d 1534, 1538
(Fed.Cir. 1991). Designing around the patent claims is encouraged,
because it stimulates invention and benefits society with new and useful
products. See id.
In determining whether a product infringes under the doctrine of
equivalents, courts are to apply an "element-by-element analytical
framework for infringement." Litton Systems, 140 F.3d at 1454. Under this
framework, "the doctrine of equivalents must be applied to individuals
elements of the claim, not to the invention as a whole." Id. (quoting
Warner—Jenkinson, 117 S.Ct. at 1049). The Supreme Court cautioned
against allowing a range of equivalents with "such broad play as to
effectively eliminate that element in its entirety." Id. (quoting
Warner—Jenkinson at. 1054).
The United States Supreme Court announced the function-way-result test
for infringement under the doctrine of equivalents in Graver Tank &
Manufacturing Co. v. Linde Air Products Co., 339 U.S. 605, 70 S.Ct. 854,
94 L.Ed. 1097 (1950). To prove infringement under the doctrine of
equivalents, the patentee must show that the accused device performs
substantially the same function, in substantially the same way, to
produce substantially the same result as the claimed invention. See Graver
Tank, 339 U.S. at 608, 70 S.Ct. 854. The functional equivalent of every
limitation must be found in the accused device or there is no
infringement. Pennwalt Corp. v. Durand—Wayland Inc., 833 F.2d 931,
I. Culligan's Motion for Summary Judgment
Culligan seeks summary judgment that its glass pitcher filter system
(the "Culligan System") does not infringe patent `996 either literally or
under the doctrine of equivalents. According to Culligan, at least two
crucial claim limitations are missing from the Culligan System. First,
the Culligan System lacks an air collecting space that "reaches to the
opening" in the sleeve. Culligan asserts that prosecution history estoppel
prevents Brita from asserting that the scope of equivalents ensnares the
notch in the side of Culligan's filter which fails to reach "to the
opening." Second, Culligan argues that the Culligan System does not have a
"means defining an air collecting space."
The Culligan System consists of a glass pitcher, in which sits a
reservoir (a "hopper") for water which has not yet passed through the
filter. A filter cartridge is inserted in a sleeve in the hopper, through
which water passes to be purified. Inlet holes on the top of the
cartridge receive water and outlet holes on the bottom emit filtered
water. On the side of the Culligan filter cartridge is a notch, which
cuts a triangle shape out of the side of the cylindrical cartridge. The
base of the notch is on the bottom of the filter cartridge, with the
triangle extending up to a point towards the middle of the cartridge. A
small hole is formed in the sleeve near the top where it attaches to the
hopper. The upper point of the triangular notch is a substantial distance
below the hole in the side of the sleeve. The bottom of the cylindrical
filter cartridge is flat, and the notch, located a distance from the
outlet holes, cuts a triangle shape out of the circular filter bottom.
Water when placed in, the hopper moves downward through the filter
cartridge and out the holes in the bottom of the cartridge, where it
falls into the pitcher. According to Culligan, the triangular notch in
the filter cartridge serves only to allow "the cartridge to be used as a
replacement filter in Brita hoppers which have a rib extending along an
interior surface of the hopper." The small hole in the side of the sleeve
"allow[s] air within the pitcher to escape when it is displaced by the
water coming through the filter cartridge." Unlike in Brita's sleeve, the
Culligan System ...