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Ignite USA, LLC v. Pacific Market International, LLC

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

May 29, 2018

IGNITE USA, LLC, Plaintiff,


          Honorable Edmond E. Chang United States District Judge

         Ignite USA, LLC makes and sells travel mugs for hot beverages. Ignite owns Patent No. 7, 997, 442 (the '442 patent), which relates to a travel container with at least two trigger-actuated apertures in the lid, one for drinking and the other for venting pressure. Ignite alleges that Pacific Market International, LLC (which goes by its acronym, PMI) has infringed the patent.[1] The parties have briefed the construction of the patent's disputed claims, and the Court held an in-court claim-construction hearing. The construction of the disputed terms is set forth below.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History

         This case pits two competitors in the travel mug industry against each other. R. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 2, 9.[2] Ignite owns the '442 patent, which was issued in August 2011 and covers a “travel container having drinking orifice and vent aperture.” R. 121-1, Joint App'x (JA) 1 ('442 Patent). The '442 patent consists of 19 claims. Id. In February 2014, Ignite sued PMI for making products that allegedly infringed the '442 patent, specifically Claims 16-19. Compl. ¶ 14. In April 2014, PMI filed a petition for inter partes review (IPR) before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), challenging the validity of the '442 patent. R. 27, Def.'s Mot. to Stay. The PTO granted the petition for IPR in September 2014. R. 42, Notice of Institution of IPR. This action was stayed pending the IPR. R. 39, Opinion and Order (May 29, 2014). The PTO's Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued its Final Written Decision in September 2015, finding all claims for which the PTAB instituted review-Claims 1, 2, 4-10, and 14-19-to be unpatentable as obvious under 35 U.S.C. § 103.[3] R. 62, Notice of Suppl., Exh. 1 at 2, '442 Final Written Decision. Ignite then amended its complaint, alleging that PMI infringed two different claims of the '442 patent that had not been reviewed or invalidated: Claims 3 and 12. R. 73, Am. Compl ¶ 15.

         The parties identified four disputed terms for construction in Claims 3 and 12. R. 122, Def.'s Br. at 3; R. 126, Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 1. After the parties briefed the issue, the Court held a Markman hearing on June 1, 2017, R. 139, and accepted additional post-hearing submissions, R. 149, 151.

         B. The '442 Patent

         The '442 patent discloses a hot beverage travel mug that addresses the need to release hot gases or vapors inside the mug before the user takes a drink from the mug. JA 19 at 1:30-39, 1:63-2:3. The specification describes a container with at least two trigger-actuated apertures in the lid: a vent aperture and a drink aperture. Id. at 1:42-54. When the user presses the trigger, the vent aperture opens first, releasing the hot gases and vapors, and only after that does the drink aperture open. JA 19 at 1:63-2:3. This process is called “two-stage venting” or “pre-venting, ” and allows the hot vapors or gases to escape out of the vent opening instead of exiting through the drink aperture and hitting the user. JA 29 at 21:4-14, 22:50-65; Def.'s Br. at 1-2; Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 2.

         In the IPR, the PTAB invalidated all of the '442 patent's claims related to pre-venting. Def.'s Notice of Suppl., Exh. 1 at 2, '442 Final Written Decision. Claims 3 and 12 do not claim the process of pre-venting, but rather claim specific embodiments of pre-venting mugs. JA 30 at 23:52-55, 24:32-35. Claims 3 and 12 are recited below, with the disputed terms emphasized in bold italics.

Claim 3: The drinking container of claim 1, [4] further comprising a vent chamber between the vent seal and the vent aperture, the vent chamber having a cross-sectional area greater than a cross-sectional area of the vent aperture.
Claim 12: The drinking container of claim 8, [5] further comprising a vent chamber between the vent seal and the vent aperture, and wherein the trigger extends partially through the vent chamber.

         The embodiment described by these claims allows for the size of the vent chamber to be larger than the size of the vent aperture so that gas or vapor pressure may be lowered or dissipated in the vent chamber, which addresses the “chimney effect, ” where warm gases or vapors can effectively be sucked out of the vent aperture. Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 2-3.

         II. Legal Standard

         To construe claim language in a patent, courts “first look to, and primarily rely on, the intrinsic evidence, ” which “includes 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) (cleaned up).[6] When analyzing the intrinsic evidence, the Court begins with the language of the claims themselves, applying a “heavy presumption that claim terms carry 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) (cleaned up). A claim term takes on its ordinary meaning unless the patentee demonstrates an intent to deviate from that meaning, such as by “acting as his own lexicographer, ” or by “disavowing the full scope of a claim term either in the specification or during prosecution.” Starhome GmbH v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 743 F.3d 849, 856 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (cleaned up).

         “In most situations, an analysis of the intrinsic evidence alone will resolve any ambiguity in a disputed claim term.” Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1996); see also Sunovion Pharms., 731 F.3d at 1276 (noting that the intrinsic evidence is “usually dispositive”) (citations omitted). In those cases, “it is improper to rely on extrinsic evidence, ” which includes dictionary definitions, expert testimony, inventor testimony, and other “evidence which is external to the patent and file history.” Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583-84 (citations omitted). Extrinsic evidence, however, may be considered “if needed to assist in determining the meaning or scope of technical terms in the claims.” Pall Corp. v. Micron Separations, Inc., 66 F.3d 1211, 1216 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). In other words, it may be consulted to ensure that a 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) (citation and quotations omitted). Extrinsic evidence in general, however, is considered “less reliable than the patent and its prosecution history in determining how to read claim terms, ” SkinMedica, Inc. v. Histogen Inc., 727 F.3d 1187, 1195 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (citation and quotations omitted), and “may not be used to vary or contradict the claim language” and specification, Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1584 (citation omitted).

         III. Analysis A. Vent Chamber

         The first dispute is over the meaning of the claim term “vent chamber.” Ignite proposes construing the term as “a space having an entrance and an exit for lowering the pressure of vapor or gas.” Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 5. PMI proposes construing it as “a space to lower the pressure of vapor or gas.” Def.'s Br. at 4. The parties' dispute therefore centers on whether the construction should include the structural elements, “an entrance and an exit.” For the following reasons, the Court adopts PMI's proposed construction.

         Ignite argues that its proposed definition is taken directly from the specification and should be read into the claims. Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 5 (quoting JA 27 at 17:59-64) (“The vent chamber 738 has a first entrance aperture 739 at one end that provides an entrance to the vent chamber 738 from the liquid receptacle 516 of the container body 512 [and] a second exit aperture (the vent aperture 682) …”); Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 7 (quoting JA 25 at 13:18-23) (“Gas and/or liquid flows through the third aperture 180 (the entrance) in the lower lid 168 and into the vent chamber 238 for dispelling through the vent hole 182 (the exit) in the upper lid 166.”) (cleaned up). It is true that claims are to be read in light of the specification, which provides the most important context for a person of ordinary skill in the art. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005). And all embodiments described in the specification have an aperture through which vapor or gas enters the vent chamber and an aperture through which it exits. See JA 25 at 13:18-23 (describing the embodiment depicted in Figures 1-12); JA 27 at 17:59-64 (describing the embodiment depicted in Figures 13-18); see also R. 142, 6/1/17 Hr'g Tr. 22:17-24:12 (describing how the vent chamber in each embodiment discussed contains an entrance and exit for gas). That said, Ignite's argument fails for several reasons.

         Simply because “claims are interpreted in light of the specification does not mean that everything expressed in the specification must be read into all the claims.” Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted); see also SRI Int'l v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 775 F.2d 1107, 1121 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (“If everything in the specification were required to be read into the claims, or if structural claims were to be limited to devices operated precisely as a specification-described embodiment is operated, there would be no need for claims.”). The patent itself notes that the “present examples and embodiments, therefore, are to be considered in all respects as illustrative and not restrictive, and the invention is not to be limited to the details given herein.” JA 30 at 23:23-26. Nowhere in the patent's 19 claims is “vent chamber” defined as “having an entrance and an exit.” Similarly, nowhere in the specification is vent chamber definitively defined as “a space having an entrance and an exit for lowering the pressure of vapor or gas”: it does not use specific terms “with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision” to demonstrate that the inventor chose to be his own lexicographer and limit the scope of the claims, Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1325, so that “having an entrance and exit” must be read into the definition of “vent chamber.” Doing so would improperly limit the claims.

         What's more, the specification describes one embodiment where the vent chamber contains more than just one entrance and one exit. The same embodiment that Ignite cites as support for defining vent chamber as “having an entrance and an exit, ” Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 5 (quoting JA 27 at 17:59-64), also has a third aperture through which the trigger enters the vent chamber. JA 27 at 17:62-64 (describing the vent chamber as having a “third access aperture 743 to provide access to the interior of the lid assembly 514 for the trigger 610.”). Although the third access aperture does not act as an entrance or exit specifically for vapor or gas, its existence as an “entrance” into the vent chamber in that embodiment renders it inappropriate to construe vent chamber as “having an entrance and an exit.”[7]

         There also is no reason that “entrance and exit” should be read into the definition of “vent chamber” any more than other structural elements of the vent chamber, like its walls. But including all-or any-structural elements would serve only to burden the claim definitions and would be unnecessary for a person of ordinary skill in the art to understand what was meant by “vent chamber.” See, e.g., U.S. Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (“Claim construction is a matter of resolution of disputed meanings and technical scope, to clarify and when necessary to explain what the patentee covered by the claims, for use in the determination of infringement. It is not an obligatory exercise in redundancy.”) (emphasis added).

         It is true that sometimes including a component element in a definition of a larger structure is appropriate. PMI argues otherwise, contending that it would be nonsensical to construe vent chamber as having an “entrance and exit” because the term “vent aperture” (the exit) is a separate element in Claims 3 and 12. But there is no general ban on defining a claim term by its component elements-so long as doing so does not impermissibly limit the claim. See, e.g., Net Results, Inc. v. United States, 112 Fed.Cl. 133, 147-48 (2013). PMI relies on Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Texas Sys. v. BENQ Am. Corp., 533 F.3d 1362, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2008), to argue that two claim terms cannot have the same meaning. Def.'s Br. at 5. The patentee in Bd. of Regents argued that the two different terms used in the claim at issue were equivalent. 533 F.3d at 1371. But here Ignite does not argue that “vent chamber” and “vent aperture”-the vent chamber's exit-are equivalent. Rather, Ignite argues that the exit (here, the vent aperture) is an element of a vent chamber. Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 6. Including an element of a structure in the definition of the structure does not equate the entire structure with that one element, as PMI argues. For example, as the Court pointed out during the claim-construction hearing, a “courtroom” can be defined as comprising four walls, a floor, a ceiling, and a door. The door is part of the courtroom, but by defining a courtroom as having a door does not mean the courtroom only consists of a door. So too here: a vent chamber may have an exit, but including exit in the definition of vent chamber does not mean a vent chamber now only consists of an exit aperture. The exit is merely a part of the whole vent chamber.

         That said, interpreting “vent chamber” as “having an entrance and an exit” not only improperly limits it, but also is unnecessary. Ignite argues that including “an entrance and an exit” in the claim term “helps to characterize the chamber as a ‘vent' chamber rather than a mere ‘chamber.'” Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 7. But the term “vent” in “vent chamber” is sufficient to notify a person of ordinary skill in the art[8]that the chamber has at least one aperture through which ...

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