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Morningware, Inc v. Hearthware Home Products

February 23, 2011

MORNINGWARE, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
HEARTHWARE HOME PRODUCTS, INC., DEFENDANT. IBC-HEARTHWARE, INC. D/B/A HEARTHWARE HOME PRODUCTS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MORNINGWARE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Amy J. St. Eve

Consolidated

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Court Judge:

On July 20, 2009, Plaintiff Morningware, Inc. ("Morningware"), filed its Complaint against Hearthware Home Products, Inc. ("Hearthware"), alleging that Hearthware had commercially disparaged Morningware's goods, had committed the common-law tort of unfair competition, and had violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act of Illinois, as well as the unfair-competition and product-disparagement provisions of the Lanham Act. (R. 1.) Separately, Hearthware brought an action against Morningware alleging that the latter had infringed U.S. Patent No. 6,201,217 ("the '217 patent"). (IBC-Hearthware, Inc. v. Morningware, Inc., No. 09- CV-4903 (N.D. Ill.) (R. 1).) The Court consolidated both cases on August 26, 2009. (Id. (R. 19).)

The Court construes the disputed terms as follows:

* "A cooking enclosure" means "an oven housing and a metallic oven pan supported by a base."

* "A heating unit" means "a unit that provides heat."

* "A fan chamber" means "one or more enclosed spaces, through which a fan moves air, that are in the power head and above both the cooking enclosure and the heating unit."

* "A fan" means "one or more fans."

* "A cooling manifold surrounding said opening and including a lower surface facing said upper surface outside of said cooking enclosure" means "a flange and air outlets extending from the lower portion of the power head and surrounding said opening and including a lower surface facing said upper surface outside of said cooking enclosure."

* "A cooling manifold surrounding said opening and facing said upper surface outside of said cooking enclosure" means "a flange and air outlets extending from the lower portion of the power head, and surrounding said opening and facing said upper surface outside of said cooking enclosure."

* "To direct the cooling air flow from the fan chamber toward the upper surface of the cooking enclosure to cool the upper surface" means "to guide the cooling air flow from the fan chamber in the direction of the upper surface of the cooking enclosure to cool the upper surface."

* "Wherein said heating unit is spaced from said opening to define a hot gas vent surrounding said heating unit and located between said heating unit and said air outlets to vent hot gas from the inside of the cooking enclosure for mixture with said cooling air flow from said air outlets" requires no construction.

BACKGROUND

Hearthware filed a lawsuit on August 10, 2009, alleging that Morningware had infringed the '217 patent, had violated the Lanham and Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Acts, and had engaged in unfair competition under Illinois common law. (IBC-Hearthware, Inc. v. Morningware, Inc., No. 09-CV-4903 (N.D. Ill.) (R. 1).) Hearthware alleges that Morningware's use and sale of the Halogen Convection Oven Model H0-1200 infringed the '217 patent, which is entitled "Counter-Top Electric Cooker." (Id.) In a separate lawsuit, Morningware alleged that Hearthware had commercially disparaged Morningware's products, had committed the common-law tort of unfair competition, and had violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act of Illinois and both the unfair-competition and product-disparagement provisions of the Lanham Act. (R. 1.) On August 26, 2009, the Court consolidated both cases.

The parties dispute the proper construction of a number of material terms of the '217 patent. The Court now construes those claim terms.

LEGAL STANDARD

Because the claims of a patent define the invention, claim construction-the process of giving meaning to the claim language-defines the scope of the invention. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1311-12 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (citing 35 U.S.C. § 112). Claim construction is a matter of law for the court to determine. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 391 (1996). As the Federal Circuit clarified in Phillips, the court begins claim-construction analysis with the words of the claims themselves, giving those words their ordinary and customary meaning, which is the "meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13. The law assumes that that person read the claim terms "in the context of the entire patent, including the specification." Id.

Unless the meaning of the claim language is "readily apparent even to lay judges" ( id. at 1314), the court should "rely heavily" on the written description. Id. at 1317. In addition to reading the claims in the context of the specification, district courts may also consider the prosecution history. Id. at 1317. Courts must, however, be mindful that the prosecution history represents an "ongoing negotiation," such that it "often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes." Id. Extrinsic evidence, such as dictionaries, treatises, expert testimony, and inventor testimony, can be useful in claim construction. Id. at 1317-18. Nevertheless, such evidence is, "in general[,] ... less reliable than the patent and its prosecution history in determining how to read claim terms." Id. at 1318.

Despite acknowledging the soundness of the purpose underlying the Texas Digital Sys., Inc. v. Telegenix, 308 F.3d 1193 (Fed. Cir. 2002) line of cases, which was "to avoid the danger of reading limitations from the specification into the claim," the en banc court declined to follow the Texas Digital methodology because of its "greater emphasis to dictionary definitions of claim terms" and its granting "a less prominent role to the specification and the prosecution history." Id. at 1319-24.

ANALYSIS

I. "A Cooking Enclosure" Means "An Oven Housing and a Metallic Oven Pan Supported by a Base"

The parties' first disputed term is "a cooking enclosure," which appears in Claims 1 and 3 of the '217 patent. (R. 145-1 at 1.) Hearthware submits that no construction by the Court is necessary. (Id.) In its claim-construction brief, Morningware proposes a highly detailed interpretation:

An enclosed volume defined by (i) a metallic oven pan, having an interior surface and an exterior surface defined by a cylindrical side wall and a planar bottom, and (ii) an oven housing defined by a generally cylindrical side wall that blends into a generally conically shaped side wall which in turn blends into a planar upper wall which finally blends into a generally cylindrical ring, all formed from a transparent polycarbonate material, each of the oven pan and the oven housing being supported by a base.

(R. 140 at 12.) In the final joint claim-construction chart, however, Morningware merely proposes that the Court construe the term to mean "[a]n oven housing and a metallic oven pan supported by a base." (R. 145-1 at 1.) The Local Patent Rules require the parties to file the final joint claim-construction chart, which specifies each party's proposed construction, within seven days after filing the reply claim-construction brief. N.D. Ill. L.P.R. 4.2(f). The Court will ...


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