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Ledergerber Medical Innovations, LLC v. W.L. Gore & Associates

May 12, 2009

LEDERGERBER MEDICAL INNOVATIONS, LLC, AND DR. WALTER LEDERGERBER, PLAINTIFFS/COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANTS,
v.
W.L. GORE & ASSOCIATES, INC., DEFENDANT/COUNTERCLAIM PLAINTIFF.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Virginia M. Kendall, United States District Judge

Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Ledergerber Medical Innovations, LLC and Dr. Walter Ledergerber (collectively, "Plaintiffs") have sued Defendant W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. ("Gore") for infringement of United States Patent No. 6,921,418 ("the '418 patent"), entitled "Dual-Sided, Texturized Biocompatible Structure." The Court held a claims construction hearing, at which time it heard evidence and argument regarding the construction of various claims in the '418 patent. After reconsideration of the Court's first ruling, the Court's construction of these terms is set forth below.

BACKGROUND

In the mid-1980's, when surgeons insert implants into the human body, scar tissue would form over and around the surface of the implant. The scar tissue would cause hardened tissue masses in the area surrounding the implant. In addition to being unsightly, the scar tissue posed health risks to the patients who received the implants. Beginning in 1987, Dr. Ledergerber patented a series of inventions that manage scar tissue in the area surrounding an implant by providing an implant with a textured surface. To accomplish this, the implants utilize polytetrafluoroethylene in an expanded form ("ePTFE"). One side of the implant sheet has an untextured surface, while the other side has a textured surface that includes a series of channels. The structure of the implant forces the scar tissue to grow into the channels. Because scar tissue will not grow on the untextured surface, the implants direct the scar tissue away from the surface of the implant. The patent at issue, the '418 patent, includes implants used for treating hernias and brain trauma. Plaintiffs contend that several of Gore's products infringe on the '418 patent.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Claim construction resolves disputed meanings in a patent to clarify and explain what the claims cover. See Terlep v. Brinkmann Corp., 418 F.3d 1379, 1382 (Fed. Cir. 2005). The construction of the claims at issue is a legal determination to be made by the court. See id. (citing Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 970-71 (Fed. Cir. 1995)). Generally, the terms of a claim are given the ordinary and customary meaning that the terms would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the filing date of the patent application. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005). When interpreting an asserted claim, the court looks first to intrinsic evidence: the words of the claims, the patent specification, and the prosecution history. See Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

The claim language is the starting point for claim construction analysis because it frames and ultimately resolves all issues of claim interpretation. See Robotic Vision Sys., Inc. v. View Eng'g Inc., 189 F.3d 1370, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 1997). In some cases, the "ordinary and customary" meaning of the claim language may be readily apparent, even to lay judges, and the court applies the widely accepted meaning of the commonly understood words. See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. In such cases, a general purpose dictionary may be helpful. See id. In many cases, however, the court must proceed beyond the bare language of the claims and examine the patent specification. See id. at 1314-15. "The person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification." Id. at 1313. The specification is usually dispositive; "it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Id. at 1315 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). In the specification, the patentee provides a written description of the invention that allows a person of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention. See id. at 1323. At times, the patentee uses the specification to "set forth an explicit definition for a claim term that could differ in scope from that which would be afforded by its ordinary meaning." Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

The court may also look to the patent's prosecution history. See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. While the prosecution history often lacks the clarity of and is less useful than the specification, it may inform the court of the meaning of a claim term by illustrating how the inventor understood the invention as well as how the inventor may have limited the scope of the invention. See id. The prosecution history is generally relevant if a particular interpretation of the claim was considered and specifically disclaimed during the prosecution of the patent. See Schumer v. Lab. Comp. Sys., 308 F.3d 1304, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

Finally, a court may also consult "extrinsic evidence," such as dictionaries, treatises, and expert testimony, to "shed useful light on the relevant art." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317-18. Generally, extrinsic evidence is "less reliable" than intrinsic evidence and is "unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence." Id. at 1318-19. With respect to the use of dictionaries, technical or general, a court may consult such evidence "so long as the dictionary definition does not contradict any definition found in or ascertained by a reading of the patent documents." Id. at 1322-23.

DISCUSSION

I. Agreed-Upon Terms

The parties agree upon the constructions of several terms found in the '418 patent. The Court adopts the agreed-upon constructions, as set forth in the Parties' Final Joint Claim Construction Chart. At the claim construction hearing, the parties indicated that they also agree upon the construction of the terms "ePTFE" and "laminated structure." The Court also adopts the constructions agreed upon at the hearing.

II. Disputed Terms

The parties dispute the meaning of the following twelve terms and phrases used in the '418 patent: (1) "sheet"; (2) "non-textured"; (3) "textured"; (4) "continuous"; (5) "channels"; (6) "formed by cutting"; (7) "troughs"; (8) "wells"; (9) "the plane of the ridge regions"; (10) "the plane of the trough regions"; (11) "stimulate high tissue ingrowth"; and (12) "arranged to disorganize scar tissue." The former eight terms initially appear in claim 1 of the '418 patent. The ninth and tenth terms initially appear in claim 7 of the '418 patent. The eleventh and twelfth terms initially appear in claims 8 and 9 of the '418 patent, respectively.

A. "Sheet"

Claim 1 of the '418 patent describes "an implantable sheet for ...


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