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Verbovsky v. Goodbaby Int'l Holdings Ltd.

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

September 1, 2017

Ester A.L. Verbovsky, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Goodbaby Int'l Holdings Ltd., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court upon the parties' Claim Construction Briefs (Docs.14, 15). Plaintiffs Esther A.L. Verbovsky and Hug Me Joey, LLC, filed this action on September 27, 2016, alleging patent infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6, 467, 840 (the '840 Patent) by Defendant Goodbaby (Hong Kong) Ltd. The '840 Patent is entitled “Child's Car Seat Insert” and is directed to a child car seat insert adapted for specific interaction with a child car seat and to a child car seat having such an insert. Plaintiffs allege that Goodbaby's product the GBChild Asana 35 AP Infant Car Seat infringes Claims 1-9 and 23 of the '840 Patent.

         A court's first task in determining whether an accused device infringes a patent is to construe the claims to ascertain their proper scope. Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Space Systems/Loral, Inc., 324 F.3d 1308 (Fed. Cir. 2003). The parties have articulated their positions regarding the proper construction of the disputed claim terms in their claim construction briefs, response briefs, and a joint claim construction and hearing statement. Upon consideration of the parties' briefs and arguments, the Court construes the disputed terms as set forth herein.

         ANALYSIS

         A. The law of claim construction

         “[T]he interpretation and construction of patent claims, which define the scope of the patentee's rights under the patent, is a matter of law exclusively for the court.” Markman v. Westview Instruments, 52 F.3d 967, 970-71 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). In construing claim terms, “the analytical focus must begin and remain centered on the language of the claims themselves, for it is that language that the patentee chose to use to ‘particularly point[] out and distinctly claim[] the subject matter which the patentee regards as his invention.'” Interactive Gift Express, Inc. v. Compuserve, Inc., 256 F.3d 1323, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (quoting 35 U.S.C. §112, ¶ 2). “Words of a claim ‘are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning.'” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed.Cir.2005) (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed.Cir.1996)). The ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term “is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention[.]” Id. at 1313 (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed.Cir.2004)). “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.

         Accordingly, the court first looks to the claim itself. “In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words.” Id. at 1314. In these situations, a general purpose dictionary can be helpful. Id.

         Claims must be read in view of the specification. Id. at 1315. The specification “is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.” Id. However, while the court may look to the specification to interpret the meaning of a claim term, it may not read a limitation from the written description into a claim. Id. at 1323.

         A court may also consider the patent's prosecution history when conducting claim construction. Id. at 1317. The “prosecution history can often inform the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the invention in the course of prosecution, making the claim scope narrower than it would otherwise be.” Id.; see also Chimie v. PPG Indus., Inc., 402 F.3d 1371, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 2005). Here, neither party cites to the prosecution history.

         All other evidence is considered extrinsic and may be relied upon by the court in its discretion. Markman, 52 F.3d at 980; Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. Extrinsic evidence, however, is less reliable than intrinsic evidence in determining how to read claim terms. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318. Thus, the court should restrict its reliance on extrinsic evidence to educating itself regarding the field of invention or to determining what a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood the claim terms to mean. Id. at 1319; see also Markman, 52 F.3d at 986 (“It is not ambiguity in the document that creates the need for extrinsic evidence but rather unfamiliarity of the court with the terminology of the art to which the patent is addressed.”). Extrinsic evidence may not be used to vary or contradict the terms of the claims. Markman, 52 F.3d at 981.

         As a result, a court should not place excessive reliance on dictionaries. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1321. “The main problem with elevating the dictionary to such prominence is that it focuses the inquiry on the abstract meaning of words rather than on the meaning of claim terms within the context of the patent. ... [H]eavy reliance on the dictionary divorced from the intrinsic evidence risks transforming the meaning of the claim term to the artisan into the meaning of the term in the abstract, out of its particular context, which is the specification.” Id.

         A court may not use the accused product as a form of extrinsic evidence to supply limitations for patent claim language. Wilson Sporting Goods Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 442 F.3d 1322, 1330-31 (Fed. Cir. 2006). This rule “forbids a court from tailoring a claim construction to fit the dimensions of the accused product or process and to reach a preconceived judgment of infringement or noninfringement.” Id. However, while claim construction “is independent of the device charged with infringement, it is convenient for the court to concentrate on those aspects of the claim whose relation to the accused device is in dispute.” Typhoon Touch Techs., Inc. v. Dell, Inc., 659 F.3d 1376, 1383 (Fed. Cir. 2011).

         B. Construction of the disputed terms in Claims 1 and 23 of the '840 Patent

         At the outset, the Court notes that the briefing in this case has not been a model of clarity and that it was something of a struggle to decipher even which terms are in dispute let alone the parties' respective positions regarding the disputed terms. The Court has endeavored to do its best to interpret their arguments and determine the appropriate construction of the terms at issue.

         Claims 1 and 23 of the '840 Patent are set forth below with the disputed terms highlighted in bold italics:

1. An insert for location in a child's car seat for preventing slouching of a child adapted to be placed in the car seat wherein the car seat includes a seat portion and a backrest provided with a pair of shoulder straps that are operative to extend over the child to releasably engage a safety buckle, said insert comprising:
first and second continuous surface portions defining a solid-wedge-shaped singular body;
said first surface portion being for facing the child when placed in the child's car seat, said second surface portion being for facing the backrest and the seat portion of the child's car seat,
said first surface portion adapted for extending angularly between the seat portion and the region of a midpoint of the backrest of the child's car seat;
said first surface portion adapted for forming an obtuse cradle angle and an acute angle with the seat portion of the child's car seat;
said cradle angle being located outside of said body, said acute angle being located at least in part inside said body,
said body being for transferring weight of the child to the child's car seat.
23. Apparatus comprising:
a child seat to be placed on a vehicle seat, said child seat having a backrest and a seat portion;
an insert for location in said child seat for minimizing slouching of a child placed on said child seat;
said insert, when located in said child seat, extending between said seat portion and the region of a midpoint of said backrest, said insert comprising:
first and second continuous surface portions defining a solid wedge-shaped singular body;
said first surface portion being for facing the child in said child seat, said second surface portion being for facing said backrest and said seat portion of the child seat;
said body being for transmitting the weight of the child to the child seat; said first surface portion forming an obtuse angle of between 105" and 135" with said seat portion when said body is transmitting the weight of the child to the child seat.

         1. Terms where the parties appear to agree that the ordinary meaning applies

         For many of the claim terms in dispute, Plaintiffs make the same argument: “Plaintiffs believe[] that based on the plain and ordinary meaning and in conjunction with the practice of demarcating claim terms with punctuation (separated by semicolons) and printing style (indentation) and that it is unnecessary to parse the claim element into individual words.” (The Court will hereinafter refer to this as the “punctuation/indentation argument”). In most of these situations, they do not propose a construction of the term but instead refer to the accused product and argue that it contains the term in dispute. In some situations, they offer one or more dictionary definitions of the term, but, in general, do not identify a specific definition that they want the Court to adopt.

         The Court assumes that, with their punctuation/indentation argument, Plaintiffs are arguing that any indented phrase separated by colons is a single claim term that must be construed in its entirety and cannot be parsed into smaller portions. They cite no support for this argument, and, as Goodbaby points out, courts frequently construe terms that constitute less than an entire phrase demarcated by indentations and semicolons. In addition, the Court will not use Goodbaby's accused product to add limitations to the claim language. Wilson Sporting Goods Co. v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 442 F.3d 1322, 1330-31 (Fed. Cir. 2006). Thus, where the Plaintiffs have made the punctuation/indentation argument, the Court will assume that the Plaintiffs believe that the plain and ordinary meaning of the term applies.

         For its part, Goodbaby argues that a number of the claim terms should be given their ordinary meaning. The Court will thus begin with a list of terms where there is little, if any dispute between the parties:

         a. “Forming

         The parties agree that “forming” should be given its ordinary meaning and do not propose a construction. The Court determines that “forming” means “forming.”

         b. “When located in said child seat”

         The parties agree that this term should be given its ordinary meaning and that it means “located in the child seat.” The Court determines that “when located in said child seat” means “located in the child seat.”

         c. “When said body is transmitting the weight of the child to the child seat”

         The parties agree that this term should be given its ordinary meaning and that it means “when the body is transmitting the weight of the child to the child seat.” The Court determines that this term means “when the body is transmitting the weight of the child to the child seat.”

         d. “Angle of between 105 and 135 degrees”

         The parties agree that this term should be given its ordinary meaning and that it means “angle of between 105" and 135".” The Court agrees that this term means “angle of between 105" and 135".”

         e. ...


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