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PAPST LICENSING v. SUNONWEALTH ELECTRIC MACHINE IND.

March 18, 2004.

PAPST LICENSING GmbH AND CO. KG, Plaintiff,
v.
SUNONWEALTH ELECTRIC MACHINE IND. CO., LTD., SUNON INC, AND BEYOND COMPONENTS OF ILLINOIS, INC., Defendants; SUNON INC., Counter-Plaintiff, v. PAPST LICENSING GmbH AND CO, KG, Counter-Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Papst Licensing GmbH and Co. KG ("Papst"), a German company, accuses Defendants Sunon Inc., a California corporation, and Beyond Components of Illinois, Inc., an Illinois corporation (collectively "Sunon")*fn1, of infringing United States Patent No. 4,734,015 (*the `015 patent"). On March 2, 2004, the Court conducted a hearing during which it heard evidence and argument regarding the construction of Claim 29 of the `015 patent, the only Page 2 disputed claim. The Court's construction of Claim 29 is set forth below.

LEGAL STANDARD

 I. Claim Construction

  A determination of patent infringement is a two-step process in which the Court first construes the claims. Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (en bane). Claim construction, the interpretation of the patent claims that define the scope of a patentee's rights under a patent, is a matter of law exclusively for the court. Markman v. West view Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 970-971 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), off'd 517 U.S. 370 (1996). The factfinder then compares the properly construed claims to the accused device to determine, as a question of fact, whether all of the claim limitations are present in the accused device, Cybor, 138 F.3d at 1454,

  The language of the claims is the starting point for all claim construction analysis, because it frames and ultimately resolves all issues of claim interpretation. Robotic Vision Sys., Inc. v. View Bug's, Inc., 189 F.3d 1370, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 1999); Abtox, Inc. v. Exitron Corp., 122 F.3d 1019, 1023 (Fed. Cir. 1997). In construing an asserted claim, the analytical focus of the construction must begin, and remain centered, on the language of the claims themselves. Texas Digital Sys., Inc. v. Telegenix, Inc., 308 F.3d 1193, 1201-02 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

  In the absence of an express intent by the patentee to impart a novel meaning to a claim term, the words are presumed to take on the ordinary and customary meaning attributed to them by those of ordinary skill in the art. Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The Court may determine the ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term by reviewing a variety of sources, beginning with the intrinsic evidence consisting of the claim Page 3 terms themselves, the written specification, drawings, and prosecution history. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). The Court may consult dictionaries, encyclopedias and treatises to determine the ordinary meaning of a word. Texas Digital, 308 F.3d at 1202-1203.

 II. Means-Plus-Function Claims

  A claim limitation may be expressed in means-plus-function format in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6.*fn2 Section 112, ¶ 6 allows the patentee to define the structure for performing a particular function genetically through the use of a means expression, provided that it discloses specific structure corresponding to that means in the patent specification. Kemco. Sales, Inc. v. Control Papers Co., 208 F.3d 1352, 1360-61 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Whether claim language invokes section 112, ¶ 6 is an exercise of claim construction and is therefore a question of law. Wenger Mfg., Inc. v. Coating Mach. Sys., Inc., 239 F.3d 1225, 1231 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

  The use of the word "means" gives rise to "a presumption that the inventor used the term advisedly to invoke the statutory mandates for means-plus-function clauses." Micro Chem., Inc. v. Great Plains Chem. Co., 194 F.3d 1250, 1257 (Fed. Cir. 1999). This presumption, however, is not conclusive. For example, where a claim uses the word "means," but specifies no corresponding function for the "means," section 112, ¶ 6 does not apply. Rodime PLC v. Seagate Tech., Inc., 174 F.3d 1294, 1302 (Fed. Cir. 1999); York Prods., Inc. v. Cent. Tractor Farm & Family Ctr., 99 F.3d 1568, 1574 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Similarly, where a claim recites a function, Page 4 but then goes on to elaborate sufficient structure, material, or acts within the claim itself to perform entirely the recited function, the claim is not in means-plus-function format. Sage Prods, v. Devon Indus., Inc., 126 F.3d 1420, 1427-28 (Fed. Cir. 1997); Cole v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 102 F.3d 524, 531 (Fed. Cir. 1996),
BACKGROUND
  The `015 patent discloses an axial-flow fan having a higher efficiency than known axial-flow fans. The fan operates as follows. The fan blades (impellers) are rotated by a motor contained in the hub. The hub and motor are fixed to the fan housing by means of a motor mounting flange. The rotation of the motor and the fan blades causes air to enter the inlet side of the fan, accelerate, and blow out of the outlet side of the fan. Axial-flow fans of this type are typically used in applications where low noise, high air output, and small size are required. One such application is cooling computer equipment.
  Papst alleges that Sunon manufactures various axial-flow fans that infringe Claim 29. Claim 29 recites:
An axial-flow fan comprising
a drive motor means,
  a scroll plate means surrounding an impeller means having a hub, an inner contour of said scroll plate means having a cylindrical configuration in a vicinity of an axial median plane of the fan and extending towards an inlet side of the fan and with an outlet side of the scroll plate means formed into a polygonal profile circumscribing an impeller diameter and accompanied by formation of comer areas, and a central, coaxial core means formed by the drive motor means, the impeller hub and a mounting flange for the drive motor means, said core means having an annular surface reduced in diameter towards the inlet side, the annular surface having an axial length extending for a given distance along the length of the hub, and with respect to the axial median plane, the scroll plate means being Page 5 asymmetrical in the corner areas and being cylindrical over a longer distance from the axial medial plane to the inlet side than to the outlet side and wherein the impeller means has an outside edge which extends from an area adjacent the inlet side of the fan into the comer areas.

 `015 patent, col. 9, M. 19-39 (emphases added). The disputed claim language is emphasized. For convenience, the Court addresses each of the eleven disputed elements in the order in which they appear in Claim 29.

  ANALYSIS

  I. The Disputed Claim Terms

  A. Element 1: "Drive Motor Means"

  Element 1 contains the term "drive motor means." The use of the word "means" creates a presumption that section 112, ¶ 6 applies. Personalized Media Communications, LLC v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 161 F.3d 696, 702 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Sunon contends that section 112, ¶ 6 applies to Element 1, and that the recited "function" of the "drive motor means" is to "drive the blades of the fan." (R. 96-1, Defs.' Claim Constr. Br. at 11.) Papst argues that section 112, ¶ 6 does not apply because the claim does not recite a function that corresponds to the means. The Court agrees with Papst.

  The claim language does not state a function. Rather, the claim term "drive motor means" recites a definite structure, i.e., the drive motor. See Cole, 102 F.3d at 531; see also Pirelli Cable Corp. v. Ciena Corp., 988 F. Supp. 424, 434 (D. Del. 1997) (holding that the term "optical coupling means" recites a definite structure, "the optical coupler"). Sunon fails to identify any language within Claim 29-or anywhere else in the patent-that suggests that the term "drive motor means" has a corresponding function, and that the corresponding function is Page 6 "to drive the blades of the fan." Because there is no corresponding function for the "means," section 112, ¶ 6 does not apply to the "drive motor means" term. Rodime PLC v. Seagate Tech., Inc., 174 F.3d 1294, 1302 (Fed. Cir. 1999); Sage Prods., 126 F.3d at 1427; York Prods., 99 F.3d at 1574.

  Papst argues that the Court should define the term "drive motor means" to mean any type of electric motor that is used to drive a fan. The parties do not dispute the meaning of the word "motor," and the specification indicates that the "drive motor" is simply an electric motor that drives the fan. See `015 patent, col. 5, 11. 51-53. Papst contends that the Court should further construe the term "drive motor means" to specifically include both types of motors that are typically used to drive fans-AC motors and DC motors. Papst argues that Figure 2 of the *015 patent depicts a squirrel cage motor, which one skilled in the art would recognize as an AC motor. Nothing in the claim language or the specification, however, expressly includes or excludes any particular type of electric motor from the scope of the claim. Accordingly, the Court interprets Element 1 to mean any type of electric motor that is used to drive a fan.

  B. Element 2: "A Scroll Plate Means Surrounding An Impeller Means Having A Hub"

  Element 2 of Claim 29 requires "a scroll plate means surrounding an impeller means having a hub." For clarity, the Court separately addresses whether section ¶ 12, ¶ 6 applies to the terms "scroll plate means" and "impeller means."

  I. Section 112, ¶ 6 Does Not Apply To Either Term

  a. "Scroll Plate Means"

  Sunon asserts that the use of the word "means" creates a presumption that section 112, ¶ 6 applies, and that the function of the "scroll plate means" is "to surround the impeller means." Page 7 (R. 96-1, Defs.' Claim Constr. Br. at 12.) The word "surrounding," however, does not specify a function. Rather, the word "surrounding" refers to a structural relationship between the fan housing, the fan blades, and the hub. Further, the term "scroll plate means" recites structure, i.e.t the scroll plate (the fan housing). Cole, 102 F.3d at 531; Piretti Cable, 988 F. Supp. at 434. Because there is no corresponding function for the "means," section 112, ¶ 6 does not apply to the "scroll plate means" term. Rodime, 174 F.3d at 1302; Sage Prods., 126 F.3d at 1427; York Prods., 99 F.3d at 1574.

  b. "Impeller Means"

  Sunon argues that the use of the word "means" creates a presumption that section 112, ¶ 6 applies, and that the function of the "impeller means" is "the impelling of air through the fan." (R. 96-1, Defs.' Claim Constr. Br. at 13.) The function of "impelling . . . air through the fan," however, does not appear in Claim 29, and the term "impeller means" recites structure, i.e., the "impeller" (the fan blades). Cole, 102 F.3d at 531; Pirelli Cable, 988 F. Supp. at 434. As the Court has already noted, where a claim uses the word "means" but specifies no corresponding function for the "means," it does not implicate section 112, ¶ 6. Rodime, 174 F.3d at 1302; Sage Prods., 126 F.3d at 1427; York Prods., 99 F.3d at 1574. Accordingly, section 112, ¶ 6 does not apply to the "impeller means" term.

  2. "A Scroll Plate Means Surrounding An Impeller Means Having A Hub"

  Papst argues that the Court should construe the claim term in its entirety to mean the fan housing that surrounds a number of fan blades attached to a hub. The Court agrees. The claim language does not limit the scroll plate means to a particular fan housing. Similarly, the specification simply refers to the scroll plate means as the "housing." `015 patent, col. 3, 11.11-12 Page 8 ("The impeller is installed into a scroll plate or housing."). The specification describes the structural relationship of the housing, fan blades, and hub. `015 patent, col. 3, 11. 60-63 ("[I]n the construction according to the present invention, the fan blades 4 are surrounded over a relatively large axial area by the cylindrical area 5 of the scroll plate 2 . . .") Further, Figures 1 and 2 of the "015 patent make clear that the housing surrounds the fan blades and the hub.

  Similarly, the claim language does not limit the impeller means to any particular structure or material.*fn3 While the specification describes the preferred structure and material of the blades, see "015 patent, col. 6, 11.42-61 and Fig. 10, neither the claim language nor the specification limits the impeller to that particular structure and material. The Court may not interpret claims by adding limitations appearing only in the specification where the specification does not clearly require it. Laitram Corp. v. Cambridge Wire Cloth Co., 863 F.2d 855, 865 (Fed. Cir. 1989).

  Accordingly, the Court interprets Element 2 to mean the housing of a fan that surrounds a number of fan blades that are attached to a hub.

  C. Element 3: "An Inner Contour Of Said Scroll Plate Means Having A

  Cylindrical Configuration In A Vicinity Of AD Axial Median Plane Of The Fan And Extending Towards An Inlet Side Of The Fan"

  Element 3 of Claim 29 requires "an inner contour of said scroll plate means having a cylindrical configuration in a vicinity of an axial median plane of the fan and extending towards an inlet side of the fan." This term refers to the inner surface of the fan housing surrounding the ...


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