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Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. v. Bel Fuse

March 18, 2008

MURATA MANUFACTURING CO., LTD., PLAINTIFF,
v.
BEL FUSE, INC., BEL FUSE, LTD., BEL STEWART, LTD., AND BEL CONNECTOR, INC. D/B/A STEWART CONNECTOR AND BEL STEWART, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan B. Gottschall United States District Judge

Joan B. Gottschall Judge

Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendants Bel Fuse, Inc. et al. (collectively "Bel") have filed a motion seeking summary judgment of noninfringement (both literal and under the doctrine of equivalents) against plaintiff Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd.'s ("Murata") U.S. Patent No. 5,069,641 ("the '641 patent-in-suit"). For the reasons set forth below, Bel's motion for summary judgment of literal noninfringement of the '641 patent-in-suit by its Family 3 MagJacks(r) is denied. Bel's motion for summary judgment of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents is also denied. Bel's motion for summary judgment of literal noninfringement of the '641 patent-in-suit by the Family 4 MagJacks(r) is granted, and its motion for summary judgment of noninfringement by the Family 4 MagJacks(r) under the doctrine of equivalents is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Murata's '641 patent-in-suit discloses "a compact and economical modular jack*fn1 which also functions as a noise suppressor." '641 patent-in-suit. Modular jacks are familiar to most individuals as the female component half of the connectors by which information-carrying lines are plugged into telephones and computers, connecting them to other devices as part of a network. However, connecting devices such as modular jacks and plugs are plagued by electromagnetic interference ("EMI") or "noise" which can be generated by current-generating sources located in the vicinity of the connection. Excessive noise degrades the signal-to-noise ratio of incoming or outgoing electrical signals and thereby decreases the utility of the device in question. It need hardly be said, therefore, that the suppression of noise is an important function of electronic circuits in information-transmitting or receiving devices. Murata's '641 patent-in-suit claims a modular jack with an integral noise suppressing element. Such a jack saves space on the main circuit board of the device in which it is located; space that would otherwise be used for noise suppression elements.

Specifically, the modular jack claimed in the '641 patent-in-suit "has a printed board containing a noise suppressing electronic element in an insulating housing." Id. Additionally, "a contactor for contacting with a plug and a terminal for connecting with a circuit board are electrically connected with the electronic element by wires on the printed board." Id. Thus, "it is possible to obtain a compact modular jack containing a noise suppressing electronic element, which modular jack hardly receives [sic] external noise." Id.

Murata has filed suit against Bel, which also manufactures modular jacks featuring integral noise suppression filters, alleging infringement of the '641 patent-in-suit. Presently before the court is Bel's motion seeking summary judgment of noninfringement. Specifically, Bel argues that its Family 3 and Family 4 MagJack(r) modular jacks (which have integral noise suppressing elements) do not infringe upon the '641 patent-in-suit, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents.

I. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Analysis

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). Summary judgment is proper against "a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The determination of whether an accused product or process infringes a patent claim is a two step analysis. Desper Products, Inc. v. QSound Labs, Inc.,157 F.3d 1325, 1332-33 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Initially, the court construes the asserted claim to determine its meaning and scope. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995). Next, the court compares the accused product or process to the properly construed claim. Id. Whether a product or process infringes the properly construed claims of a patent, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents, is a question of fact. Tanabe Seiyaku Co. v. United States Int'l Trade Comm'n, 109 F.3d 726, 731 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

B. A Genuine Question of Material fact Exists Concerning Whether the Family 3 MagJacks(r) ...


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