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CANNON RUBBER LIMITED v. FIRST YEARS INC.

September 16, 2004.

CANNON RUBBER LIMITED and AVENT AMERICA, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
THE FIRST YEARS INC., Defendant.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Cannon Rubber Limited and Avent America, Inc. ("Cannon") accuse Defendant The First Years, Inc. ("TFY") of infringing United States Patent No. 5,749,850 ("the '850 patent"). On September 9, 2004, the Court conducted a hearing during which it heard argument regarding the construction of certain claim terms within Claims 1, 3, and 5 of the '850 patent. The Court's construction of the disputed claim terms 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 banc). 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. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 970-71 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'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 Eng'g, 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 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 1202-03.

  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.*fn1 Section 112, ¶ 6 allows the patentee to define the structure for performing a particular function generically 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, 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 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

  I. The '850 Patent

  Cannon is the named assignee of the '850 patent. The '850 patent discloses a handheld breast pump which operates generally as follows. The user inserts her breast into the open end of a conical attachment. '850 patent, col. 5, Ins. 12-13. The user squeezes the handle to begin the pumping cycle. Id. col. 5, Ins. 17-18. The handle pivots about a pivot point and distorts the diaphragm upwardly. Id. col. 5, Ins. 20-24. The movement of the diaphragm creates negative pressure (a vacuum) within the upper part of the body of the pump. Id. col. 5, Ins. 23-24. The negative pressure causes the valve to lift upwardly, causing it to form a seal between the wall that divides the upper part of the body and the vessel that collects the milk. Id. col. 5, Ins. 23-27. As a result, the negative pressure is maintained in the upper part of the body. Id. col. 5, Ins. 27-28. The negative pressure created within the region between the valve, the diaphragm, and the user's breast causes the breast to lactate. Id. col. 5, Ins. 30-33. The expressed milk flows from the breast into the pump. Id. col. 5, In. 33.

  When the user releases the handle, the diaphragm returns to its original position. Id. col. 5, Ins. 34-39. This causes the valve to break its seal between the upper part of the body and the milk-collecting vessel. Id. col. 5, Ins. 39-41. Gravity causes the expressed milk that is contained in the upper part of the body to flow through the aperture into the milk-collecting vessel. Id. col. 5, Ins. 41-44.

  II. The Disputed Claims

  Cannon alleges that TFY manufactures various breast pumps that infringe Claims 3 and 5 of the '850 patent. Dependent Claim 3 depends from Claim 1, and dependent Claim 5 depends from Claim 3. Accordingly, Claim 3 contains all of the limitations of Claim 1, and Claim 5 contains all of the limitations of Claim 3. 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 4.

  Claim 1 recites:
A breast pump comprising:
a body, said body having an inlet;
a breast receiving portion connected to the inlet and shaped to receive a portion of a user's breast and nipple;
means for releasably connecting an expressed milk collecting container to said body; a deformable diaphragm disposed in the body;
actuating means operatively connected to the diaphragm for cyclically moving said diaphragm to generate a negative pressure in the inlet; and
valve means mounted in the body for cyclically releasing the negative pressure which is generated in the inlet.
'850 patent, col. 8, Ins. 54-66 (emphases added). The disputed claim language is emphasized. Claim 3 recites:
A pump as claimed in claim 1, wherein the diaphragm has a connector extending upwardly therefrom and the actuating means are releasably attached thereto.
'850 patent, col. 9, Ins. 3-5 (emphasis added). Claim 5 recites:
A pump as claimed in claim 3, wherein the connector is a separate member releasably attached to the diaphragm.
'850 patent, col. 9, Ins. 8-9 (emphasis added).

  II. Prosecution History

  The application that led to the '850 patent was originally filed in the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") on March 21, 1996. It claimed priority from an earlier application that had been filed in the United Kingdom patent office on March 24, 1995.

  When Cannon filed its U.S. application, Claim 1 read as follows:
A breast pump comprising
a body with an inlet thereto to receive milk expressed from a woman's breast,
means for releasably attaching the pump to a container for collecting expressed milk,
the body mounting a deformable diaphragm which, in use, is cyclicly moved by actuating means connected thereto, and valve means in the body operable so that a negative pressure is cyclicly generated and released in the nipple region to stimulate the nipple area to cause lactation.
On June 13, 1997, the Examiner rejected all of the original claims as either indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 2 or as anticipated by prior art under 35 U.S.C. § 102. On September 18, 1997, the applicant filed an amendment in which he cancelled Claims 1-24 and added new Claims 26-46. Claim 26 replaced original Claim 1, and ultimately issued as Claim 1. The '850 patent issued on May 12, 1998.

  ANALYSIS

  I. The Disputed Claim Limitations

  The parties dispute the construction of three claim limitations: (1) "valve means mounted in the body for cyclically releasing the negative pressure which is generated in the inlet;" (2) "in the body;" and (3) "releasably attached."

  A. "Valve Means Mounted In The Body For Cyclically Releasing The Negative Pressure Which Is Generated In The Inlet"

  This claim limitation appears in Claim 1. The parties agree that Section 112, ¶ 6 applies to this limitation,*fn2 but disagree as to the definition of the recited function and the structure corresponding to the function.

  In the first step of construing a means-plus-function claim, the Court identifies the recited function that the "means" performs. Micro Chem., 194 F.3d at 1258. The construction of that function must include the limitations contained in the claim language, and only those limitations. Cardiac ...


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