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Bettcher Industries Inc. v. Hantover Inc

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

April 25, 2018

Bettcher Industries, Inc., Plaintiff
v.
Hantover, Inc., et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge.

         I. Background

         Bettcher Industries, Inc. makes Whizard® Trimmers, rotary trimming knives and accessories used for the commercial trimming of meat. Bettcher owns the patents relating to the housing and blades for these items. Bettcher's principal place of business is in Birmingham, Ohio.

         Hantover, Inc. is a Missouri corporation which also makes replacement parts for the Bettcher knives. Hantover has its principal place of business in Overland Park, Kansas. It is Hantover's manufacturing and sale of these replacement parts which Bettcher claims infringes its patents and violates a 2007 settlement agreement between Bettcher and Hantover regarding some of the same patents at issue here. Hantover's alleged infringing items were distributed by Heartland Fabrication & Machine, Inc.

         In February 2014, Bettcher initiated this ligation against Hantover and Heartland, alleging five claims of patent infringement and one claim asserting breach of a 2007 settlement agreement. Hantover asserted counterclaims seeking declaratory judgment of the invalidity of patents at issue. In its answer, Hantover did not contest venue. Two months after the suit was filed, Heartland moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Some limited discovery was conducted on this issue, and following briefing by all parties, Heartland was ultimately dismissed from the litigation in January 2015.

         Due to Heartland's dismissal, the schedule to the Patent Disclosures and Claim Construction was amended. As the claim construction briefing began, Bettcher and Hantover also attempted mediation with the Hon. Jack Zouhary, with no resolution. A Markman hearing was conducted on July 20, 2015, followed by supplemental briefing by both parties. In addition, the Court conducted several conferences regarding an ongoing discovery dispute beginning in March 2016 through January 2017.

         On August 4, 2017, Hantover filed its motion to amend the answer, to dismiss or transfer for improper venue. The parties briefed the issue with the Defendant supplementing with new controlling authority in mid-November 2017. I issued an opinion on claim construction in January 2018.

         I held a status conference on January 22, 2018, and set the matter for oral argument on Hantover's motion as to venue. I also requested the parties submit a proposed agenda for the hearing. On January 26, 2018, Bettcher filed a motion for reconsideration as to a portion of the Court's claim construction opinion.

         Oral argument on the pending motions and related issues was held on March 13, 2018. At the conclusion of the hearing, I set supplemental post-hearing briefing dates.

         This matter is before me on Hantover's motion to amend its answer to assert an improper venue defense as well as seeking to dismiss or transfer this action. (Doc. No. 57). Also before me is Plaintiff's opposition (Doc. No. 59), Defendant's reply (Doc. No. 62), Defendant's notice of new controlling authority (Doc. No. 68), and Plaintiff's response to the notice of controlling authority (Doc. No. 69). In making this determination, I consider the arguments presented at the March 13, 2018 hearing. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1338(a).

         II. Venue as to Patent Claims

         In patent disputes, venue is addressed in 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b), wherein “[a]ny civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides, or where the defendant has committed acts of infringement and has a regular and established place of business.”

         In May 2017, the state of the law on this subject was addressed by the Supreme Court in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC, 137 S.Ct. 1514 (2017), as follows:

In Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp., 353 U.S. 222, 226, 77 S.Ct. 787, 1 L.Ed.2d 786 (1957), this Court concluded that for purposes of ยง 1400(b) a domestic corporation ...

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