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Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. v. Tyco Healthcare Group LP

July 26, 2006

ETHICON ENDO-SURGERY, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
TYCO HEALTHCARE GROUP LP, D/B/A UNITED STATES SURGICAL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra S. Beckwith, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER ON CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

In this patent infringement action, Plaintiff claims that Defendant's DST Series surgical stapler systems infringe Claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 4,805,823. Plaintiff claims to be the sole and exclusive assignee of the entire right, title, and interest in and to the '823 Patent. This matter is now before the Court for claim construction, as required by Markman v. Westview Investments, 52 F.3d 967 (1995), aff'd 517 U.S. 370 (1996).

The parties filed a Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement (Doc. 52). The Court held a Markman hearing on June 16, 2006, during which counsel for both parties presented cogent arguments in support of their respective positions.

The Patent At Issue.

The '823 patent issued to Rothfuss, dated March 18, 1988, is titled "Pocket Configuration for Internal Organ Staplers." The invention concerns surgical staplers used for internal surgeries. The staples used by internal organ staplers are very small. These small staples pass through what are called "guiding pockets" which generally conform to the shape of an unformed staple. The stapler uses a driver to push the staple through the pocket and onto the anvil of the stapler, where the staple is formed. The staple must move freely through the staple pocket in the correct orientation, in order to properly meet the anvil and form the stapled connection.

The background of the invention describes the prior art staple pockets as "generally rectangular." (See Col. 1, lines 14-15 and 25-26.) Those prior art pockets are more particularly described:

. . . there are generally a first pair of parallel sides which are formed along the length of the unformed staple. This first pair of parallel sides is met by a second pair of parallel sides at right angles. This second pair of parallel sides generally corresponds to the width of the staple and staple driver.

Col. 1, lines 26-31. When a staple is loaded into a pocket at an angle to the generally parallel sides, the staple can jam into the pocket, or can be misformed when the driver pushes the staple against the anvil.

The invention of the patent is directed to an improved shape for the staple pocket, to overcome the problem of jammed staples, as well as to improve manufacturing, inspection and ease of staple loading. As described in the summary, the invention is a "self-centering pocket which is able to maintain the staples in proper alignment." (Col. 1, line 68 - Col. 2, line 1.) The improved pocket . . . comprises a pair of parallel sides each connected to a pair of tapered sides. This pair of tapered sides culminates at a second pair of parallel sides, situated at right angles to the first pair of parallel sides. Thus, the improved guiding pocket takes of a generally hexagonal shape. It is this hexagonal shape which allows the staple to center itself inside the pocket. (Col. 2, lines 4-9.)

Claim 1, the only claim asserted by Ethicon in this action, states:

In a stapler having pockets through which pass staple drivers adapted to drive unformed staples, each said pocket generally conforming to the shape of one of said unformed staples, said pockets permitting said drivers to position said unformed staples on anvils for forming said staples, one of said pockets having first parallel sides generally corresponding to the length of said un-formed staples, said first parallel sides connected by second parallel sides to form said pocket, said second parallel sides generally conforming to the width of said unformed staples, the improvement comprising the addition of a tapered side to each end of each first parallel side, each said tapered side diagonally approaching one of said second parallel sides, the resulting pocket formed with a generally hexagonal shape, wherein staples within said pocket become self-aligning.

Col. 3, line 39 - Col. 4, line 13.

Claim Construction Issues.

The parties agree on the meaning of many of the terms used in Claim 1, as set forth in their Joint Statement (Doc. 52) at pg. 8. Those terms and agreements include the following:

"One of said pockets having first parallel sides generally corresponding to the length of said unformed staples" means that the length of each of the first parallel sides approximately corresponds to the length of an unformed staple.

"Parallel sides" means sides extending in the same direction and equidistant (but not with mathematical precision).

"Connected by" means "joined directly to" so that the two sets of parallel sides directly join to form the staple pocket generally ...


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