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Bradford Co. v. Afco Manufacturing

December 5, 2006

BRADFORD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AFCO MANUFACTURING, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

ORDER ON CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction ............................................... 1

I. The Patents at Issue .................................... 1

A. The '119 Patent .................................... 1

B. The '916 Patent .................................... 2

C. The '096 Patent .................................... 2

II. The Claims at Issue .................................... 3

A. The '119 Patent ..................................... 4

1. Claim 1 .......................................... 4

2. Claim 17 ......................................... 5

3. Claim 18 ......................................... 6

4. Claim 19 ......................................... 6

5. Claim 20 ......................................... 6

B. The '916 Patent ..................................... 7

1. Claim 1 .......................................... 7

2. Claim 4 .......................................... 8

3. Claim 5 .......................................... 8

C. The '096 Patent ..................................... 8

1. Claim 1 .......................................... 8

2. Claim 2 .......................................... 9

3. Claim 3 ......................................... 9

4. Claim 4 ......................................... 9

5. Claim 10 ........................................ 9

6. Claim 11 ........................................ 9

7. Claim 19 ........................................ 10

III. Claim Construction Principles ......................... 13

IV. The Court's Construction of the Claims ................. 14

A. The '119 Patent .................................... 14

1. Claim 1 - "side walls" .......................... 14

2. Claim 1 - "coupled to" .......................... 18

3. Claim 1 - "configured for being movable between an erected position for containing a product placed in the container and a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return"..... 20

4. Claim 1 - "dunnage structure" ................... 22

5. Claim 1 - "upper edge" .......................... 25

6. Claim 1 - "spanning between said side walls" .... 28

7. Claim 1 - "forming an opening" .................. 29

8. Claim 1 - "operable for flexing transversely to said longitudinal axis to relax the dunnage structure when the side walls are moved to a collapsed position such that the relaxed dunnage structure is generally positioned in the reduced size container for return" ................ 31

9. Claim 1 - "remains with" ........................ 33

10. Claim 17 - "configured for being manipulated into an erected position for containing a product placed therein during shipment and for subsequently being manipulated into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return" ................ 33

11. Claim 17 - "dunnage structure", "coupled to", and "upper edge" .................... 35

12. Claim 17 - "spanning across the body" ........... 35

13. Claim 17 - "operable for moving into an engagement position when"............ 36

14. Claim 17 - "the dunnage structure operable for flexing transversely to said longitudinal axis at the upper edge thereof and moving into a relaxedposition when the container body is collapsed so that the container and dunnage structure may be returned together for reuse" ................. 38

15. Claim 17 - "remains with" ....................... 40

16. Claim 18 - "sides" .............................. 40

17. Claim 18 - "operable for moving, alternatively, between an erected state and a collapsed state when" ............... 40

18. Claim 19 - "dunnage structure", "coupled to", and "sides" ......................... 41

19. Claim 19 - "for moving to an engagement position when the sides are erected and moving to a relaxed position when the sides are collapsed" ...................... 41

20 Claim 20 - "dunnage structure" and "pouch" ...... 41

B. The '916 Patent .................................... 41

1. Claim 1 - "frame" ............................... 42

2. Claim 1 - "top member" .......................... 44

3. Claim 1 - "legs" ................................ 45

4. Claim 1 - "extending" ........................... 45

5. Claim 1 - "configured for being moveable between an erected position for spacing the top member above the bottom member to support a product placed on the rack and a collapsed position for collapsing and reducing the size of the rack for return" .............................. 47

6. Claim 1 - "dunnage structure" ................... 48

7. Claim 1 - "operable for relaxing when the legs are in a collapsed position such that the dunnage structure is generally positioned on the reduced size rack structure for return" ................ 48

8. Claim 1 - "movably coupled to the frame and operable for being moved with respect to said erected frame to vary the position of the dunnage structure and the received product within the container" ........................... 49

9. Claim 1 - "remains with" ........................ 54

10. Claim 4 - "legs", "extend", and "top member" .... 54

11. Claim 5 - "dunnage structure" and "pouch" ....... 55

C. The '096 Patent .................................... 55

1. Claim 1 - "side structures"....................... 55

2. Claim 1 - "configured for being selectively moved into an erected position for shipment and moved into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return" ............................... 57

3. Claim 1 - "dunnage structure" .................... 57

4. Claim 1 - "spanning between the side structures" . 57

5. Claim 1 - "operably coupled to the side structures for" ....................... 58

6. Claim 1 - "automatically moving" ................. 58

7. Claim 1 - "with the side structures to an erected position for receiving product when the side structures are erected and" .. 61

8. Claim 1 - "moving to a collapsed position in the body when the side structures are collapsed so that the dunnage remains with the container when returned" ..... 62

9. Claim 1 - "at least one side structure" .......... 62

10. Claim 1 - "whereby a person may more efficiently and safely remove product from the container" ............................ 62

11. Claim 1 - "the container and dunnage is readily reused" ............................... 63

12. Claim 2 - "at least one side structure" .......... 65

13. Claim 2 - "frame" ................................ 65

14. Claim 2 - "top edge" ............................. 66

15. Claim 2 - "dunnage structure" and "coupled to" ... 66

16. Claim 4 - "latching structure" ................... 66

17. Claim 4 - "coupled to the body for securing at least one of said side structures in the erected position" ..................... 70

18. Claim 10 - "rails" ............................... 70

19. Claim 10 - "at its ends" ......................... 70

20. Claim 11 - "dunnage structure" ................... 70

21. Claim 11 - "slidable along" ...................... 71

22. Claim 19 - "side structures" ..................... 71

23. Claim 19 - "configured for being selectively moved into an erected position for shipment and moved into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return" .............................. 71

24. Claim 19 - "at least one side structure" ......... 72

25. Claim 19 - "frame" ............................... 72

26. Claim 19 - "dunnage structure" ................... 72

27. Claim 19 - "spanning between the side structures" 72

28. Claim 19 - "operably coupled to the open frame for moving to an erected position for receiving product when the frame is erected" ............................. 72

29. Claim 19 - "and moving to a collapsed position in the body when the frame is collapsed so that the dunnage remains with the container when returned" ............. 73

30. Claim 19 - "whereby a person may more efficiently and safely remove product from the container"............................ 73

31. Claim 19 - "the container and dunnage is readily reused" .............................. 74

Introduction

This is a patent infringement case in which Plaintiff Bradford Company ("Bradford") alleges that Defendants conTeyor Multibag System N.V. and conTeyor North America, Inc. have infringed U.S. Patents 5,725,119, 6,230,916, and 6,540,096 owned by Bradford. 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. No. 47). The Court held a Markman hearing on September 22, 2006 during which counsel for the parties presented arguments in support of their respective construction of the claims at issue.

I. The Patents At Issue

A. The '119 Patent

U.S. Patent 5,725,119, entitled "COLLAPSIBLE CONTAINER WITH INTEGRALLY SUPPORTED" (sic) ("the '119 Patent"), is dated March 10, 1998. The abstract of the '119 Patent describes the claimed invention as "[a] reusable and returnable container for holding product therein during shipment and subsequently being returned generally empty of product for reuse[.]" The body of the container is "configured for being manipulated into an erected position for containing product therein during shipment and for subsequently being manipulated into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return." Moreover, "[a]n integrated dunnage structure is coupled to the body and is operable for moving into an engagement position when the container body is erected to thereby engage a product placed in the container for shipment." "The dunnage structure is further operable for moving into a relaxed position when the container body is collapsed so that the container and dunnage structure may be returned together for reuse." Finally, "[t]he container provides reusable dunnage which is usable with the container when it is shipped and subsequently remains with the container when it is returned for being reused when the container is again shipped."

B. The '916 Patent

U.S. Patent 6,230,916, entitled "COLLAPSIBLE CONTAINER WITH INTEGRALLY SUPPORTED DUNNAGE" ("the '916 Patent"), is dated May 15, 2001. The abstract of the '916 Patent describes the claimed invention in the same manner as the '119 Patent. The '916 Patent is a divisional application of the '119 Patent and thus shares the same specification as the '119 Patent. Tr. (Doc. No. 55) at 29.

C. The '096 Patent

U.S. Patent 6,540,096, entitled "COLLAPSIBLE CONTAINER WITH INTEGRALLY SUPPORTED DUNNAGE AND SIDE ENTRY" ("the '096 Patent"), is dated April 1, 2003. The abstract of the '096 Patent describes the claimed invention as "[a] reusable and returnable container for holding product therein during shipment and then being returned for reuse[.]" The container is comprised of "a body having at least two opposing and moveable side structures, which are configured for being selectively moved into an erected position for shipment and moved into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return." "A dunnage structure spans between the side structures and is operably coupled to the side structures for moving to an erected position for receiving product when the side structures are erected and moving to a collapsed position in the body when the side structures are collapsed so that the dunnage remains with the container when returned." In this invention, "[t]he dunnage structure has an open end facing at least one side structure of the body, and the side structure defines an open area which is in alignment with the dunnage structure open end for accessing the dunnage structure and transferring product into and out of the dunnage structure from a side of the container."

II. The Claims at Issue

Bradford asserts that Defendants have infringed the following claims: Claims 1, 17, 18, 19 and 20 of the '119 Patent, Claims 1, 4 and 5 of the '916 Patent, and Claims 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, 11 and 19 of the '096 Patent. The Court below quotes the language of the claims at issue with the terms which require construction by the Court set forth in bold face type.

A. The '119 Patent

1. Claim 1 - A reusable and returnable container for holding product therein during shipment and subsequently being returned generally empty of product for reuse, comprising:

a body having a bottom and at least two side walls coupled to the bottom, the side walls configured for being moveable between an erected position for containing a product placed in the container and a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return;

a dunnage structure positioned generally inside of the body, the dunnage structure having an upper edge with a longitudinal axis spanning between said side walls and supported by the side walls, the upper edge forming an opening for receiving product placed in the container for shipment when the side walls are in an erected position;

the upper edge of the dunnage structure operable for flexing transversely to said longitudinal axis to relax the dunnage structure when the side walls are moved to a collapsed position such that the relaxed dunnage structure is generally positioned in the reduced size container for return;

which is usable with the container when it is shipped and subsequently remains with the container when it is returned for being reused when the container is again shipped.

Therefore, on Claim 1, the Court must construe the meaning of the terms "side walls"; "coupled to"; configured for being moveable between an erected position for containing a product placed in the container and a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return; "dunnage structure"; "spanning between said side walls"; "upper edge"; "forming an opening"; "operable whereby the container provides reusable dunnage for flexing transversely"; "for return"; and "remains with".

2. Claim 17 - A reusable and returnable container for holding product therein during shipment and subsequently being returned generally empty of product for reuse comprising:

a body configured for being manipulated into an erected position for containing a product placed therein during shipment and for subsequently being manipulated into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return;

a dunnage structure coupled to the body and having an upper edge with a longitudinal axis spanning across the body, the dunnage structure operable for moving into an engagement position when the container body is erected to thereby receive a product placed in the container for shipment, the dunnage structure further operable for flexing transversely to said longitudinal axis at the upper edge thereof and moving into a relaxed position when the container body is collapsed so that the container and dunnage structure may be returned together for reuse;

whereby the container provides reusable dunnage which is usable with the container when it is shipped and subsequently remains with the container when it is returned for being reused when the container is again shipped.

Therefore, with regard to Claim 17 the Court must construe the terms "a body configured for being manipulated into an erected position for containing a product placed therein during shipment and for subsequently being manipulated into a collapsed position for reducing the size of the container for return"; "spanning across the body"; "operable for moving into an engagement position when"; "operable for flexing transversely to said longitudinal axis at the upper edge thereof and moving into a relaxed position when". The terms "dunnage structure", "upper edge", and "remains with" will have the construction rendered for the same terms in Claim 1.

3. Claim 18 - The container of claim 17 wherein the body includes sides and a bottom, the sides being operable for moving, alternatively, between an erected state and a collapsed state when the body is manipulated between an erected position and a collapsed position respectively.

With regard to Claim 18, the Court must interpret the terms "sides" and "operable for moving, alternatively, between an erected state and a collapsed state when."

4. Claim 19 - The container of claim 18 wherein the dunnage structure is coupled to the sides for moving to an engagement position when the sides are erected and moving to a relaxed position when the sides are collapsed.

With regard to this claim, the parties agree that the term "for moving to an engagement position when the sides are erected and moving to a relaxed position when the sides are collapsed" means "so that the 'dunnage structure' is capable of being moved into an engagement position during the time that the 'sides' are being erected and being moved into a relaxed position during the time that the 'sides' are being collapsed."

5. Claim 20 - The container of claim 17 wherein the dunnage structure is a pouch for holding the product.

Again, "dunnage structure" will have the meaning used for this claim in the other claims. The parties agree that "pouch" means "something ...


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