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Lifetime Industries, Inc. v. Trim-Lok, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

July 24, 2017

LIFETIME INDUSTRIES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
TRIM-LOK, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Lifetime Industries, Inc. owns a patent on a seal used around slide-out rooms in recreational vehicles. The seal serves to prevent water and air drafts from entering the gap between the slide-out room and the wall of the RV. Lifetime filed this suit against Trim-Lok, Inc., asserting claims for direct, induced, and contributory patent infringement. Lifetime alleges that Trim-Lok manufactures a seal that, when installed on an RV, infringes the patent in question. It further alleges that Trim-Lok is liable because its employees have performed that installation in at least some cases, and have also assisted and trained its customer in installing the seal, knowing that the customer would thereby infringe. Trim-Lok has moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Lifetime failed to plausibly allege any of the claims. Its arguments are each premature, however, as they rely on matters such as the proper claim construction, the identity of specific witnesses or evidence, or the likelier of competing inferences. Each of those issues can be raised at the appropriate stage of the case, but not the pleading stage, at which Lifetime's allegations are presumed to be true and the inferences must be drawn in its favor. Accordingly, the Court denies the motion to dismiss.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Lifetime Industries, Inc. is in the business of creating custom sealing solutions for recreational vehicles, especially those with slide-out rooms. Seals are necessary around those rooms in order to prevent water, debris, or air drafts from entering the RV. Lifetime owns a patent for one such seal that it developed, United States Patent No. 6, 966, 590. Three of the claims in that patent are at issue here. Claim 1 is for a “resilient seal” used in combination with an RV having a slide-out room, where the seal includes two portions: a mounting portion that attaches to the wall of the RV, and a bulb portion that slidably connects to the mounting portion such that it maintains compressible contact between the wall of the RV and the flange of the slide-out room when the slide-out room is in its closed position. Claim 2 includes the same seal and RV as in Claim 1, but further specifies that the mounting portion and bulb portion are connected with a tongue and groove design. Notably, both of these claims are combination claims, meaning that they do not cover the seals alone, but apply only when those seals are used in combination with an RV having a slide-out room. Other claims in the patent that are not at issue here also include a separate “wiper” portion that extends from the seal to the side of the slide-out room, so as to maintain a seal between the wall of the RV and the slide-out room even as the slide-out room moves in and out.

         The patent also includes a method claim under Claim 6, which sets forth a process for installing the seal. The patented method entails the following steps: (1) affixing a mounting portion to an RV “using both adhesive and mechanical fasteners”; (2) attaching the bulb portion such that it remains in compressed engagement between the RV and the flange of the slide-out room when the slide-out is in its closed position; (3) sliding the bulb portion along the mounting portion; and (4) fastening the bulb portion to the mounting portion once it is in place.

         Lifetime alleges in this action that one of its competitors, defendant Trim-Lok, Inc., has begun selling a seal that, when installed on an RV with a slide-out room, infringes on the ‘590 patent. The seal includes a mounting portion that attaches to the side of an RV, and a bulb portion that slidably connects to the mounting portion with a tongue and groove connection. The bulb portion also includes a wiper that extends to the side, such that it can maintain contact with the side of the slide-out room as it moves in and out. While visiting the plant at which one of its customers, Forest River, assembles its RVs, a Lifetime employee saw this seal installed on an RV. A Forest River employee stated that the seal had been made by Trim-Lok. Lifetime later learned that Forest River began a seventy-five-RV build using this seal, each of which Lifetime contends would infringe on the ‘590 patent once installed.

         Lifetime alleges that Trim-Lok's own employees installed the seal on Forest River's RVs in at least some instances, and that they also provided assistance and instruction on how to install the seal so that Forest River could do so properly on its own. Lifetime notes that it is customary in the industry for seal manufacturers to be present at their customers' plants to provide training and assistance with installation of seal. In addition, particularly with new seals, the seal manufacturers will install them on RVs to prove that they work correctly and to demonstrate their proper installation. This allows them not only to demonstrate that the seals perform well, thus enhancing their sales, but also to ensure that their customers will install the seals correctly, which reduces later warranty claims. Lifetime specifically alleges that Forest River requires its seal manufacturers to be present in their facility to provide assistance with installation, and that Trim-Lok's employees performed the installation of the seal in question on an RV with a slide-out room at least once.

         Lifetime also alleges that Trim-Lok has intimate knowledge of the ‘590 patent and its claims, such that it would know that the seal in question would infringe on that patent. First, two former Lifetime employees became thoroughly familiar with the ‘590 patent and its coverage by working on that product during their employment with Lifetime. Both of those employees left Lifetime and then immediately began working for Trim-Lok, thus giving it that knowledge of the ‘590 patent. In addition, these same two parties have previously litigated over this same patent. Although the previous cases involved a different infringing product, Lifetime alleges that Trim-Lok gained a thorough knowledge of the ‘590 patent and its coverage through those actions. Thus, Lifetime alleges that Trim-Lok was aware at the time it supplied the seals in question that they would infringe on the ‘590 patent once installed on an RV with a slide-out room.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That statement must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, a plaintiff's claim need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether a plaintiff's claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Lifetime's amended complaint asserts claims for direct infringement, induced infringement, and contributory infringement. In short, Lifetime asserts that Trim-Lok directly infringement the patent when its own employees installed the seal onto an RV, and indirectly infringed when its customer performed the installations using the seals and instructions provided by Trim-Lok. Trim-Lok moves to dismiss each of the claims. The Court first addresses the claim for direct infringement, after which it addresses the claims for indirect infringement.

         A. Direct Infringement

         Lifetime first claims that Trim-Lok directly infringed its patent. Direct infringement occurs when a party “without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention.” 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). This form of infringement “is a strict-liability offense.” Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Sys., Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1920, 1926 (2015). Lifetime's direct infringement claim is somewhat narrow. It concedes that the ‘590 patent is a combination patent, meaning it requires not only the seal, but also an RV. Lifetime also concedes that Trim-Lok itself only manufactures seals, not RVs, and that its manufacturing of the seal alone does not directly infringe on the patent. Lifetime contends, though, that Trim-Lok's employees have installed the seal on ...


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