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Ohio Willow Wood Co. v. Daw Industries

September 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gregory L. Frost

Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King


Case No. 2:05-cv-1038 is a patent infringement case involving The Ohio Willow Wood Company ("OWW") and Daw Industries, Incorporated ("Daw"). As in case No. 2:04-cv-1222, the parties have again requested that the Court construe various patent language pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Incorporated, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). This claims-construction decision serves that function.

I. Background

Given the procedural posture of this litigation, the Court need not and shall not describe the facts in great detail here. Of import is the fact that OWW is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 6,964,688 ("the '688 patent"). The company applied for the patent on October 15, 1999, and the patent issued on November 15, 2005. The '688 patent is titled "Tube Sock-Shaped Covering" and, like prior patents involved in related litigation, also involves technology related to coverings for amputees employing a prosthesis.*fn1 The relevant specification to the patent discloses a "liner" device that fits over a residuum, or an amputation stump, so as to provide a cushion between the stump and the artificial limb. The device employs a gel composition that is used in or formed into its various permutations.

On November 16, 2005, OWW filed suit against Daw, claiming that Daw has infringed on the '688 patent. OWW and Daw have stipulated to the meaning of various terms involved in this litigation. The parties' dispute at this juncture focuses on four terms or clauses that appear in various claims contained within '688 patent: "tube-shaped," "coated on only the inside thereof," "coated on the inside thereof," and "coated directly on the inside thereof."

After the parties completed briefing on the claim construction issues, the Court conducted a September 7, 2006 Markman hearing in which the parties presented oral argument. Having finalized the construction of the claims involved in case No. 2:05-cv-1038, the Court now issues its decision on the relevant claim language.

II. Claim Construction

A. Standards Involved

The Federal Circuit has explained that " '[i]t is a "bedrock principle" of patent law that "the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude." ' " Varco, L.P. v. Pason Systems USA Corp., No. 05-1136, 2006 WL 229926, at *4 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 1, 2006) (quoting Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004))). Consequently, the meaning and scope of a patent's claims lie at the heart of any patent dispute.

The purpose of a Markman hearing is to ascertain the meaning of a patent's claims so that it is clear precisely what has been patented and, by consequence, the protections the patent therefore affords the patent holder. See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312. See also Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 978 (Fed. Cir. 1995) ("When a court construes the claims of the patent ... the court is defining the federal legal rights created by the patent document"), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). There is no "rigid algorithm for claim construction." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1324. Rather, in construing the meaning of a patent's claims, the Court is guided by a set of principles that the Federal Circuit has described as follows:

The claim terms " 'are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning.' "

Id. (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). "The inquiry into how a person of ordinary skill in the art understands a claim term provides an objective baseline from which to begin claim interpretation." Id. "Importantly, 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. "In examining the specification for proper context, however, this court will not at any time import limitations from the specification into the claims." CollegeNet, Inc. v. Apply Yourself, Inc., 418 F.3d 1225, 1231 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (citing Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2002)).

Varco, L.P., 2006 WL 229926, at *4. The starting point in claim construction therefore lies with the language of the claims themselves. Purdue Pharma L.P. v. Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Nos. 04-1189, 04-1347, & 04-1357, 2006 WL 231480, at *11 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 1, 2006) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312). In considering a patent's language, a court should apply the plain meaning rule, presumptively giving claim terms their ordinary, plain meaning. Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1325. A court may, however, depart from a term's plain meaning if the patentee has acted as a lexicographer or otherwise limited the scope of the invention through a clear disclaimer in the specification or prosecution history. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316-17.

Of considerable import to claim construction, then, is the intrinsic evidence--the claim language, the specification, and the prosecution history as applicable. World Kitchen (GHC), LLC v. Zyliss Haushaltwaren AG, 151 Fed. Appx. 970, 972 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (citing Interactive Gift Express, Inc. v. Compuserve, Inc., 256 F.3d 1323, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2001)); Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). When this intrinsic evidence provides an unambiguous description of the scope of the invention, reliance on extrinsic evidence is improper. Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1582.

But although less significant than intrinsic evidence, extrinsic evidence is still of value to claim construction when necessary. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. This latter category encompasses such things as expert and inventor testimony, as well as texts such as treatises and dictionaries. Id. (quoting Markman , 52 F.3d 980). A court may entertain expert testimony for numerous purposes, such as to provide background on the technology at issue, to explain how an invention works, to ensure that the court's understanding of the technical aspects of the patent is consistent with that of a person of skill in the art, or to establish that a particular term in the patent or the prior art has a particular meaning in the pertinent field.

Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318. The value of expert testimony in regard to claim construction is qualified, however, as an expert cannot offer an opinion of any value that is at odds with the intrinsic evidence of a patent. Id. (quoting Key Pharms. v. Hercon Labs. Corp., 161 F.3d 709, 716 (Fed. Cir. 1998)); Playtex Prods., Inc. v. Procter & Gamble Co., 400 F.3d 901, 908 n.1 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

Finally, the Federal Circuit has recognized that "patent documents are meant to be 'a concise statement for persons in the field.' " Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313 (quoting Verve, LLC v. Crane Cams, Inc., 311 F.3d 1116, 1119 (Fed. Cir. 2002)). The parties informed the Court during the Markman hearing that they have agreed to a definition of what "one of skill in the art" means in this context. The Court accepts the following stipulation:

One of skill in the art of the '688 patent is a person that [sic] has either 1-2 years of experience in the manufacturing or design of prosthetic components involving gels; or is a person who has worked for at least a year as a certified prosthetist or orthotist; or is a person who has 2-4 years of experience training and/or working in the field of prosthetics or orthotics.

Cognizant of this definition and the foregoing governing principles, and having entertained argument as well as having reviewed the scope of the prior art, the Court shall now ...

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