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Kolcraft Enterprises, Inc. v. Artsana USA, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 14, 2017

KOLCRAFT ENTERPRISES, INC. Plaintiff,
v.
ARTSANA USA, INC. d/b/a CHICCO USA, INC. Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L. ELLIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Kolcraft Enterprises Inc. (“Kolcraft”) filed this case against Artsana USA, Inc. (“Artsana”) alleging patent infringement in violation of Title 35 of the United States Code. The parties now seek construction of various terms in the claims of the subject patent, U.S. Patent No. 8, 388, 501 B2 (the “‘501 patent”), which describes “Play Gyms and Methods for Operating the Same.” The construction of the disputed claims and the Court's analysis is stated below.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “Judicial ‘construction' of patent claims aims to state the boundaries of the patented subject matter, not to change that which was invented.” Fenner Investments, Ltd. v. Cellco P'ship, 778 F.3d 1320, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2015). Not all claims require construction, only those in dispute and only to the extent necessary to resolve the dispute. Vivid Techs., Inc. v. Am. Sci. & Eng'g, Inc., 200 F.3d 795, 803 (Fed. Cir. 1999).

         Claims construction analysis begins with the intrinsic evidence which “includ[es] the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history of the patent.” Sunovion Pharms., Inc. v. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc., 731 F.3d 1271, 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). The Court first reviews the language of the claims themselves, applying a “heavy presumption that claim terms take on their ordinary meaning as viewed by one of ordinary skill in the art.” Altiris, Inc. v. Symantec Corp., 318 F.3d 1363, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (citations and quotations omitted). The presumption of ordinary meaning prevails in all but two situations: (1) “when a patentee acts as his own lexicographer” or (2) “when the patentee disavows the full scope of the claim term in the specification or during prosecution.” Poly-Am., L.P. v. API Indus., Inc., 839 F.3d 1131, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (citations omitted).

         If analysis of the intrinsic record resolves the ambiguity of a disputed term, “it is improper to rely on extrinsic evidence, ” which includes dictionary definitions, expert testimony, and other “evidence that is external to the patent and file history.” Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583-84 (Fed. Cir. 1996). The Court may consider extrinsic evidence to ensure that the Court's construction of a claim “is not inconsistent with clearly expressed, plainly apposite and widely held understandings in the pertinent technical field.” Plant Genetic Sys., N.V. v. DeKalb Genetics Corp., 315 F.3d 1335, 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2003). But it “may not be used to vary or contradict the claim language or the import of other parts of the specification.” Riverwood Int'l Corp. v. R.A. Jones & Co., 324 F.3d 1346, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (citation and quotations omitted).

         While claims must be construed in light of the specification, limitations from the preferred embodiments or specific examples in the specification typically cannot be read into the claims. Enercon GmbH v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 151 F.3d 1376, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“This court has repeatedly stated that while claims are to be construed in light of the specification, they are not necessarily limited by the specification.”) (citing Transmatic, Inc. v. Gulton Indus., Inc., 53 F.3d 1270, 1277 (Fed. Cir. 1995)). Thus, while the specification may be used to aid in the interpretation of the claims, it may not be used as a source for adding extraneous limitations. Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2001)

         Finally, if a claim describes a function without describing adequate structure for accomplishing that function, the claim falls under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6[1] and is a “mean-plus-function” claim. In such a case, the structure for performing the function is limited to a corresponding structure appearing in the specification. See Northrop Grumman Corp. v. Intel Corp., 325 F.3d 1346, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2003). There is a presumption that if a claim includes the word “means” it is a means-plus-function claim and a converse presumption that if it does not include that word, it is not a means-plus-function claim. Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, 792 F.3d 1339, 1347-1348 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (en banc). The presumption can be overcome, however, if “person of ordinary skill in the art [understands the claim] to have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure.” Id. When construing means-plus-function claims, a court first defines the particular function claimed then identifies the structure to perform that function in the specification. See JVW Enters. v. Interact Accessories, Inc., 424 F.3d 1324, 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

         ANALYSIS

         A. “Connector” or “Connectors” in Claims 7, 11, 13, and 14

         The first disputed claim is the term “connector” or “connectors” as used in Claims 7, 11, 13, and 14. The relevant portions of the disputed claims are as follows:

Claim 7[2]: “the floor mat having a connector positioned in proximity to a perimeter edge of the floor mat, ” “the play gym having a fastener to engage the connector of the floor mat to couple the play gym to the floor mat, ” “the connector of the floor mat is positioned on an underside of the floor mat, ” and “the connector is pivotally coupled to the underside of the floor mat.”
Claim 11[3]: “a second plurality of connectors provided on the second surface of the floor mat adjacent the first plurality of connectors, ” “the play gym having a plurality of fasteners, the fasteners to couple to respective ones of the second connectors when the play gym is coupled to the floor mat”
Claim 13: “a second plurality of connectors provided on the second surface of the floor mat adjacent the first plurality of connectors;” “the play gym having a plurality of fasteners, the fasteners to couple to respective ones of the second connectors when the play gym is coupled to the floor mat, ” and “the second plurality of connectors is pivotally coupled to the second surface of the floor mat.”
Claim 14: “the floor mat defining an upper surface and a bottom surface, the bottom surface having a first connector that includes an opening to receive the fastener of the leg when the play gym is coupled to the floor mat”

         Artsana argues that the Court should construe the term “connector(s)” in these claims as “pivoting connector(s), ” because in each of these claims the connectors are described as being located on the bottom or “second surface” of the floor mat, and the specification states in one example that the connectors must be pivoted “in to their first positions so that they do not interfere with positioning the connectors within the bassinet or the play yard.” (JA-000015, col. 6, lns. 35-39 (part number omitted). Artsana argues that any non-pivoting connectors must be located on the top side of the mat and within the perimeter.

         Kolcraft counters that the specification actually contemplates fixed connectors, which may be located on the bottom side of the floor mat. The specification states, “Alternatively, the connectors may not be pivoted to the mat and/or the connectors may be located within the perimeter of the mat to permit coupling of the play gym to the mat when the mat is located within the bassinet and/or play yard.” JA-00015, col 6. lns. 48-52.

         Although the specification seems to strongly favor the use of pivoting connectors to avoid interference with the bassinet or play yard when the floor mat is placed inside either, the Court cannot import the requirement that the connection of the floor mat to the play yard or bassinet be totally without interference. Transmatic, Inc. v. Gulton Indus., Inc., 53 F.3d 1270, 1277 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (“[A] patent claim is not necessarily limited to a preferred embodiment disclosed in the patent.”). The use of pivoting connectors may be a preferred embodiment in the specification, but the claims do not require it. Furthermore, where the claims require the connectors to pivot, they are described as pivotally coupled. See Claim 7 and Claim 13. Therefore, the terms “connector” and “connectors” do not require further construction.

         B. “Connector” and in Claims 7 and 15

         Artsana argues that “connector” as used in Claims 7 and 15 is invalid pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 112, first paragraph (pre-AIA), because it is not supported by the written description and lacks enablement within the written description. The relevant portions of the disputed claims are as follows:

Claim 7: “the play gym having a fastener to engage the connector of the floor mat to couple the play gym to the floor mat, the floor mat to couple the play gym to the play yard or the bassinet when the play gym is positioned in one of the play yard or the bassinet” and ‘‘the connector is pivotally coupled to the underside of the floor mat.”
Claim 15: “the floor mat defining an upper surface and a bottom surface, the bottom surface having a first connector that includes an opening to receive the fastener of the leg when the play gym is coupled to the floor mat” and “the floor mat to couple the play gym to the play yard or the bassinet”

         Artsana, as the party asking the Court to find that a claim is invalid, bears the burden of proving lack of enablement by clear and convincing evidence. See Auto. Tech. Int'l, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 501 F.3d 1274, 1281 (Fed. Cir. 2007). The enablement requirement is met “when one skilled in the art, having read the specification, could practice the invention without ‘undue experimentation.'” Cephalon, Inc. v. ...


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