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Delta Faucet Co. v. Kohler Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 11, 2018

DELTA FAUCET COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
KOHLER CO., Defendant.

          CLAIM CONSTRUCTION ORDER

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Delta Faucet Company (“Delta Faucet”) sued defendant Kohler Company (“Kohler”) for infringement of its patent U.S. Patent No. 7, 360, 723 (“the '723 patent”). By their Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement, Dkt. 42, the parties identified five disputed claim terms.[1] A Markman hearing was held on May 11, 2018.

         The Court's construction of the disputed terms is set forth below.

         The '723 Patent

         The '723 patent, issued to Moty Lev in 2008, discloses a “showerhead system with integrated handle.” '723 Patent, at [54]. More specifically, the invention comprises two showerheads: a “fixed fluid dispensing unit, ” id. at col. 2 ll. 52-53, in effect a standard showerhead mounted to the shower wall, and a “removable fluid dispensing unit, ” id. at col. 2 l. 53, a second showerhead cum handle which the user may either attach to the first, “form[ing] an integral dispensing face[, ]” id. at col. 2 l. 57, or remove and use separately. Water may be dispensed through either or both showerheads at the user's option.

         The following four embodiments are drawn and described in the patent application:

         (Image Omitted)

Id. at figs. 2, 6-8.

         Here is the invention as practiced and marketed by Delta Faucet:

         (Image Omitted)

Pl.'s Opening Br. (Dkt. 49) 2.

         For reference, here are Kohler's accused products:

         (Image Omitted)

Def.'s Opening Br. (Dkt. 47) 3.

Id. at 4.

         The '723 patent contains 27 claims. Two are independent: claim 1, from which depend claims 2 through 18; and claim 19, from which depend claims 20 through 27. Claim 1 recites the following, with disputed terms numbered and italicized:

A showerhead system for communicating a fluid supply, said showerhead system comprising:
a fixed fluid dispensing unit supported at a location, said fixed dispensing unit comprising at least one nozzle in fluid communication with the fluid supply;
a removable fluid dispensing unit [1.] releasably secured to [2.] a receptacle established with said fixed dispensing unit forming [3.] an integral dispensing face with said fixed dispensing unit and comprising at least one additional nozzle being connected to a hose in fluid communication with the fluid supply when said removable fluid dispensing unit is dissociated from said fixed fluid dispensing unit; and
the fluid supply adapted to being in selective communication with at least one of said fixed and said removable fluid dispensing unit.

'723 Patent col. 6 ll. 5-20. Claim 5, depending from claim 1, recites the following:

The showerhead system as described in claim 1, wherein said fixed fluid dispensing unit has [4.] a recess to which is matingly engaged said removable unit.

Id. at col. 6 ll. 30-32. Claim 11, also depending from claim 1, recites the following:

The showerhead system as described in claim 1, further [5.] comprising a fluid inlet associated with said fixed dispensing unit, a fluid diverter element fluidly communicating said fluid supply with said at least one said [sic] fixed and removable dispensing units.

Id. at col. 6 ll. 49-53.

         Claim 19 recites the following:

A showerhead system for communicating a fluid supply, said showerhead system comprising:
a fixed fluid dispensing unit supported at a location, said fixed dispensing unit comprising a plurality of nozzles in fluid communication with the fluid supply;
a removable fluid dispensing unit [1.] releasably secured to [2.] a receptacle established with said fixed dispensing unit forming [3.] an integral dispensing face with said fixed dispensing unit and comprising at least one additional plurality of nozzles being connected to a hose in fluid communication with the fluid supply when said removable fluid dispensing unit is dissociated from said fixed fluid dispensing unit; and
[5.] [comprising] a fluid inlet associated with said fixed dispensing unit, a fluid diverter element fluidly communicating said fluid supply with at least one of said fixed and removable dispensing units.

Id. at col. 7 ll. 12-28. Claim 20, depending from claim 19, recites the following:

The showerhead system as described in claim 19, wherein said fixed fluid dispensing unit has [5.] a recess to which is matingly engaged said removable unit.

Id. at col. 8 ll. 1-3.

         Claim Construction Standard[2]

         Patent claims are “the portion of the patent document that defines the scope of the patentee's rights[.]” Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996). “[T]he claims made in the patent are the sole measure of the grant[.]” Aro Mfg. Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co., 365 U.S. 336, 339 (1961). “It 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.'” 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)).

         As with interpretations of various other written instruments, the ultimate meaning of a patent claim is a question of law reserved to the court, Markman, 365 U.S. at 372, though claim construction is a “mongrel practice, ” id. at 378, in which the trial judge may be called on to make subsidiary factual findings. Teva Pharms. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 836 (2015). A court's claim construction order should be drafted as clearly and concisely as possible, with an eye toward its use in jury instructions at trial. See AFG Indus., Inc. v. Cardinal IG Co., 239 F.3d 1239, 1247 (Fed. Cir. 2001). In this connection, it is critical that the court “not prejudge the [jury's] ultimate infringement analysis by construing claims with an aim to include or exclude an accused product . . . .” Wilson Sporting Goods Co. v. Heinrich & Bradsby Co., 442 F.3d 1322, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2006). Simply, “‘claims may not be construed with reference to the accused device.'” Id. at 1330 (quoting NeoMagic Corp. v. Trident Microsys., Inc., 287 F.3d 1062, 1074 (Fed. Cir. 2002)). “Th[is] rule, however, does not forbid awareness of the accused product . . . to supply the parameters and scope of . . . claim construction . . . [, ]” id. at 1331 (emphasis added), and it is often “‘convenient for the court to concentrate on those aspects of the claim whose relation to the accused device is in dispute.'” Id. at 1327 (quoting Pall Corp. v. Hemasure Inc., 181 F.3d 1305, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 1999)).

         “‘A court construing a patent claim seeks to accord a claim the meaning it would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention[, ]'” Phillips, 415 U.S. at 1313 (quoting Innova, 381 F.3d at 1116), the person to whom the patent is understood to be chiefly addressed. See Id. (citing Verve, LLC v. Crane Cams, Inc., 311 F.3d 1116, 1119) (Fed. Cir. 2002)). Because “a patent must describe the exact scope of an invention . . . to ‘secure to the patentee all to which he is entitled, and to apprise the public of what is still open to them[, ]'” Markman, 517 U.S. at 373 (quoting McClain v. Ortmayer, 141 U.S. 419, 424 (1891)) (alterations omitted), “it is ‘unjust to the public, as well as an evasion of the law, to construe [a patent claim] in a manner different from the plain import of its terms.'” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312 (quoting White v. Dunbar, 119 U.S. 47, 52 (1886)). The “‘ordinary and customary meaning'” of claim terms to one of ordinary skill in the art is thus the “objective baseline” of claim construction. Id. at 1312- 13 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)).

         “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, ” id. at 1314, and even to lay juries deliberating on an infringement claim. “[T]he role of a district court in construing claims is not to redefine claim recitations or to read limitations into the claims to obviate factual questions of infringement and validity . . . .” Am. Piledriving Equip., Inc. v. Geoquip, Inc., 637 F.3d 1324, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2011). District courts are thus not “required to construe every limitation present in a patent's asserted claims. . . . Rather, ‘claim construction is a matter of resolution of disputed meanings and technical scope, to clarify and when necessary to explain what the patentee covered by the claims, for use in the determination of infringement.'” O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., Ltd., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (quoting U.S. Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997)) (alteration omitted).

         Accordingly, where a limitation is not the subject of legitimate dispute or a “no construction” ruling resolves the parties' dispute, the limitation may go to the jury for application of its “plain and ordinary meaning” to the accused product, so long as the jury is not asked to choose between meanings. See, e.g., Finjan, Inc. v. Secure Computing Corp., 626 F.3d 1197, 1207 (Fed. Cir. 2010); Verizon Servs. Corp. v. Cox Fibernet Va., Inc., 602 F.3d 1325, 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2010); Biotec Biologische Naturverpackungen GmbH & Co. KG v. Biocorp, Inc., 249 F.3d 1341, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2001). By contrast, where a limitation is disputed and its “plain and ordinary meaning” is not readily apparent to a lay reader or does not resolve the parties' dispute, the court must construe it. See, e.g., O2 Micro, 521 F.3d at 1361-62 (parties disputed scope, not meaning, of term).

         When the meaning (or scope) of a claim term to one of ordinary skill in the art is not readily apparent, “the court looks to ‘those sources available to the public that show what a person of skill in the art would have understood disputed claim language to mean.'” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. Construction proceeds from the language of the claim terms read “not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent . . . .” Id. at 1313. Because “‘[i]t is the person of ordinary skill in the field of the invention through whose eyes the claims are construed, . . .the court starts the decisionmaking process by reviewing the same resources as would that person, viz., the patent ...


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