Integrated Liner Technologies, Inc. v. Specialty Silicone Products, Inc. et al
DECISION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part SSP's 68 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting in part and denying in part ILT's 69 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying ILT's 70 Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of infringement; and denying ILT's 94 Motion to Strike. A final pretrial conference will be held 12/5/2012 at 11:30am in Albany. Signed by Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles on 11/2/2012. (amt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
INTEGRATED LINER TECHNOLOGIES,
Civil Action No.
SPECIALTY SILICONE PRODUCTS, INC.
and SSP, INC.,
HESLIN, ROTHENBERG LAW FIRM DAVID P. MIRANDA, ESQ.
5 Columbia Circle
BRETT M. HUTTON, ESQ.
Albany, NY 12203
KENEALY VAIDYA LLP
515 East Braddock Road
Alexandria, VA 22314
AJIT J. VAIDYA, ESQ.
DAVID A. KIKEL, ESQ.
STOCKLI, SLEVIN LAW FIRM
90 State Street
Albany, NY 12207
MARY ELIZABETH SLEVIN, ESQ.
DAVID E. PEEBLES
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
DECISION AND ORDER
This is a patent infringement action involving two direct competitors,
both of which are engaged in the commercial manufacture of caps
primarily used to house liquid medical or scientific samples for testing.1 At
issue are two related patents – a product patent which concerns open-top
caps with elastomer septums bonded to the undersides of the caps, and a
method patent disclosing a means of adhesion for use in various settings,
including to manufacture such bonded caps.
Currently pending before the court are cross-motions for summary
judgment, directed to the issues of patent validity, infringement, and
equitable estoppel, as well as an application by the plaintiff to strike
reports proffered by an expert retained by the defendants to address the
question of patent validity and to preclude him from testifying at trial. For
the reasons set forth below, I conclude that certain of the patent claims no
longer asserted by the plaintiff, but implicated in defendants’ declaratory
judgment counterclaims, are invalid as obvious, and no reasonable juror
could conclude otherwise. With this exception, however, I deny the
pending motions and will set the matter down for trial.
The case is before me in consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c). See Dkt. No. 67.
Plaintiff Integrated Liner Technologies, Inc. (“ILT”), based in Albany,
New York, is a commercial manufacturer and seller of bonded caps for
use in the medical, health care and other related fields. Defendants
Specialty Silicone Products, Inc. and SSP, Inc. (collectively, “SSP”), both
of which are headquartered in Ballston Spa, New York, together compete
with ILT, manufacturing and selling similar bonded caps.
At issue in this case are two patents, a product patent and a method
patent, both of which list Alan R. Gee, William R. Delaney, and Paul M.
Petrosino as inventors and have been assigned to ILT. The first of those,
U.S. Patent No. 5,647,939 (the “’939 Patent”), was issued by the United
States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) on July 15, 1997, and is
entitled “Method of Bonding a Cured Elastomer to Plastic and Metal
Surfaces.” The second, U.S. Patent No. 6,234,335 (the “’335 Patent”),
was issued on May 22, 2001, and is entitled “Sealable Container and
Open Top Cap with Directly Bonded Elastomer Septum.”2 The two
patents are related, tracing their roots to a patent application filed on
The ’939 and ’335 Patents are annexed to ILT’s complaint (Dkt. No. 1) as
Exhibits A and B, respectively, and will hereinafter be cited by shorthand reference to
the patents and their columns and lines (e.g., ’939 Patent 3:1-5).
December 5, 1994, and the specifications and drawings contained in both
patents are virtually identical.
Although several of the claims of the method patent are broader, the
patents in suit generally relate to the manufacture of a cap designed to
allow the transfer of a liquid sample into and from a bottle, vial, or other
similar type of container by way of a needle inserted through a septum
located in the center of the cap. The technology disclosed in the two
patents, as it relates to the manufacture of caps, encompasses the
bonding of an elastomer, such as a silicone rubber, to the inside surface
of an inert plastic or metal cap without the intervening presence of an
adhesive or plastic material potentially capable of contaminating any
samples to be held in the vessel.
An example of the caps associated with ILT’s patented technology is
depicted in Figures 1 (top view) and 1A (cross section) of the ’939 and
’335 Patents, as follows:
In the example represented in Figures 1 and 1A, a polypropylene
cap 10 with a hole 12 in the top 14 is married to a thin layer of Teflon 21
bonded to a sheet of silicone rubber 22 by standard means such as by
pressing. Together they are then cut to form a septum 20, sized to fit
tightly within the interior of the cap 10.
The essence of the two patents involves the means by which the
elastomer septum is secured to the underside of a plastic or metal cap.
The ’939 Patent teaches a method of bonding that entails ionization of the
two surfaces to be bonded – the elastomer and the inner surface of the
plastic or metal cap – and applying pressure to form a direct bond
between the two surfaces. ’939 Patent, 1:6-7; 2:52-65. According to that
patent, the required ionization can be accomplished through a variety of
methods, including by treatment “with a flame, corona or plasma
discharge as well as by radiation or high intensity UV light.” Id. at 2:66-67.
The ’335 Patent, the sister product patent, describes the finished cap
resulting from use of the ionization bonding method disclosed in the ’939
ILT’s complaint asserts that SSP is manufacturing, using, offering
for sale and/or selling plastic bonded caps that infringe claims included
within the two patents in suit. While ILT initially claimed infringement of
other patent claims as well, the asserted claims have been narrowed to
include only Claims 1 and 4-7 of the ’335 Patent, and Claims 18-20 of the
ILT commenced this action on November 16, 2009, alleging
infringement of the two patents in suit by SSP.3 Dkt. No. 1. In its answer,
as amended, SSP has responded by generally denying plaintiff’s
infringement allegations, asserting various defenses, and interposing
counterclaims seeking a declaratory judgment on the issues of both noninfringement and patent invalidity. Dkt. No. 19.
On February 15, 2011, upon referral by the then-assigned trial
judge, Chief District Judge Gary L. Sharpe, I conducted a Markman4
hearing, in order to construe the claim terms upon which the parties were
unable to reach agreement. Following that hearing, I issued a report,
dated April 7, 2011, in which I recommended the following constructions of
Plaintiff’s complaint also named a third defendant, Streck, Inc. Dkt. No.
1. Subsequent to commencement of the action, however, plaintiff chose to voluntarily
discontinue its claims against that defendant, without prejudice, pursuant to Rule
41(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Dkt. Nos. 15, 16.
Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir.
1995), aff’d, 517 U.S. 370, 116 S. Ct. 1384 (1996).
the disputed patent terms:
a non-adhesive substance utilized as a
surface treatment that enhances bond
a substance that is capable of bonding
two or more solids together by surface
bond directly/directly bonded
joined together through surface
contact, potentially with the presence of
an intervening material
a detectable quantity of a material that
is at least partially distributed on a
That recommendation was adopted by Chief Judge Sharpe by decision
and order dated October 26, 2011. Dkt. No. 62.
Now that discovery is closed, the parties have submitted crossmotions for consideration by the court. ILT has moved for summary
judgment requesting findings of patent validity and infringement as a
matter of law. Dkt. Nos. 69, 70. For its part, SSP has similarly moved for
summary judgment, seeking a finding of patent invalidity, based upon
anticipation and obviousness, and a determination that plaintiff ILT should
be equitably estopped from asserting its claims of patent infringement.
Dkt. No. 68. In addition, ILT has interposed a non-dispositive motion,
asking the court to strike the opening and rebuttal reports of R.J. Del
Vecchio, one of defendants’ experts, and to preclude his testimony at trial.
Dkt. No. 94. Oral argument was conducted in connection with the
pending motions, all of which are actively opposed, on August 2, 2012,
following which decision was reserved.
Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike
On January 26, 2012, R.J. Del Vecchio, an expert retained by SSP,
issued a report in which he opined that a majority of the claims of the ’335
and ’939 Patents, including the claims asserted by ILT, are invalid based
upon obviousness and/or as anticipated.5 The centerpiece of Del
Vecchio’s opinions regarding anticipation and obviousness is U.S. Patent
No. 5,019,510, issued by the PTO to Chou et al. (“Chou Patent”), and
describing a method for promoting the adhesion of a first polymer surface
to a second polymer surface by treating at least one of the polymer
Del Vecchio’s opening report also opines that the ’939 and ’335 patents
are invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 112(a) and (b). Specifically, Del Vecchio opines that
both patents fail because (1) it is impossible for one skilled in the art to reliably
distinguish between an adhesive and a primer, and (2) neither patent provides an
upper time limit within which the two ionized/activated surfaces must be joined in order
to form a bond absent the use of a primer or adhesive.
surfaces with water vapor plasma, although the report goes on to cite
additional prior art to support his finding of obviousness. In his opening
report, Del Vecchio opines that Claims 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,
18, 19, 20 and 24 of the ’939 Patent and Claims 1, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14 of
the ’335 Patent are anticipated by the Chou Patent and/or obvious in light
of that patent, and that claims 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the ’939 Patent, and
Claims 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 19, 20, and 21 of the ’335 Patent are obvious
in light of the Chou Patent, in combination with other cited prior art.
On March 9, 2012, following disclosure of a report by ILT’s patent
validity expert, Del Vecchio issued a rebuttal report containing a more
comprehensive discussion regarding his invalidity opinions. In that
second report, among other things, Del Vecchio outlined the basis for his
belief that the references relied upon by him in opining upon invalidity are
analogous prior art. Plaintiff now seeks to strike both the opening and
rebuttal expert reports of that expert.6
In response to opposition papers filed on behalf of SSP, ILT submitted a
reply memorandum in further support of its motion to strike. See Dkt. No. 107.
Somewhat ironically, SSP has asked the court to strike that reply as unauthorized
under the court’s local rules governing non-dispositive motions. See N.D.N.Y.L.R.
7.1(b). In light of the significance of ILT’s motion to the substantive issue of patent
validity, and in the interest of providing the parties with a full opportunity to be heard, I
have considered plaintiff’s reply memorandum and will deny defendants’ motion to
strike that document.
The court’s analysis of ILT’s motion to strike begins with Rule 26 of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires a party to disclose
the identity of any witness that may be used at trial to present expert
testimony, and for each to provide a written report, prepared and signed
by the witness, containing, among other things, “a complete statement of
all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them. .
. .”7 Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(A)(i), see Advanced Fiber Techs. Trust v. J &
L Fiber Servs., Inc., No. 1:07-CV-1191, 2010 WL 1930569, at *2
(N.D.N.Y. May 11, 2010) (Kahn, J.). In the event of a failure to meet this
requirement, “the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to
supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure
was substantially justified or is harmless.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1).
ILT’s motion to strike implicates two issues. The first is whether the
disputed reports meet the requirements for introduction of expert
testimony at trial. The second concerns whether Del Vecchio’s rebuttal
report improperly introduced new opinions that were not disclosed in his
The scheduling order issued in the case was intended to supplement
Rule 26(a)(2), setting forth a protocol for the exchange of expert reports, pursuant to
which the party with the burden of proof on the issue addressed may submit an
opening report, the opposing party may file a response report, and the party with the
burden can then choose to file a rebuttal report. See Dkt. No. 23.
opening report, and if so whether ILT was thereby prejudiced.
Admissibility of Del Vecchio’s Opinions
The admission of expert testimony in an action pending in a federal
court is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which
[a] witness who is qualified as an expert
by knowledge, skill, experience, training,
or education may testify in the form of an
opinion or otherwise if:
the expert’s scientific, technical, or other
specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact
to understand the evidence to determine a fact
the testimony is based on sufficient facts or
the testimony is the product of reliable
principles and methods; and
the expert has reliably applied the principles
and methods to the facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702. When applying this standard to expert testimony
proffered by a party, a trial court is required to perform a gatekeeping
function to ensure “that the expert’s testimony both rests on a reliable
foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.” Daubert v. Merrell Down
Pharms, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 2799 (1993).
As a threshold matter, the trial court must examine the question of
whether the challenged opinion evidence can satisfy the requirement of
Federal Rule of Evidence 401 that evidence offered at trial be relevant to
a controverted claim or defense in the case. Amorgianos v. National R.R.
Passenger Corp., 303 F.3d 256, 265 (2d Cir. 2002). If the requisite
degree of relevance is found, the court must then proceed to determine
whether the expert opinion sought to be admitted has a sufficiently reliable
foundation to allow consideration by the factfinder. Id. This latter inquiry
is informed by various relevant factors, including whether (1) the theory or
technique can be (and has been) tested; (2) it has been subjected to peer
review and publication; (3) there is a known or potential rate of error; and
(4) the theory or technique has gained a “degree of acceptance within” the
pertinent scientific or technical community. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-94,
113 S. Ct at 2786. “‘General acceptance[,]’ [however,] is not a necessary
precondition to the admissibility of scientific evidence under the Federal
Rules of Evidence, but . . . the trial judge [has] the task of ensuring that an
expert’s testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to
the task at hand.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 587, 113 S. Ct. at 2799.
Importantly, while both Rule 702 and the Supreme Court’s decisions in
Daubert, and later in Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137,
119 S. Ct. 1167 (1999), identify specific factors bearing on the question of
reliability, courts have stressed that “the Daubert inquiry is fluid and will
necessarily vary from case to case. Amorgianos, 303 F.3d. at 266; see
also Daubert, 509 U. S. at 594, 113 S. Ct. 2797.
Rule 702 does not require rejection of opinions based solely upon
the court’s disagreement with the conclusions reached or the correctness
of the opinions offered. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595, 113 S. Ct. at 2797.
Moreover, although in the first instance the burden of establishing the
admissibility of expert testimony in question rests with the proponent, any
doubts to whether the expert’s testimony will be useful should be resolved
in favor of admissibility. Lappe v. Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 857 F.
Supp. 222, 226 (N.D.N.Y. 1994) (Hurd, M.J.).
In its motion, the defendant challenges the opinions offered by
expert Del Vecchio regarding invalidity based upon obviousness. The
focus of the obviousness inquiry is upon whether the subject matter of the
invention as a whole would have been obvious to a person of ordinary skill
in the art to which the subject matter pertains at the time of the invention.8
The legal principles associated with the obviousness inquiry is discussed
more fully below. See pp. 42-47, post.
35 U.S.C. § 103(a); see also Merck & Co. v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 395
F.3d 1364, 1372-73 (Fed. Cir. 2005). When opining on the issue of
obviousness, an expert is not required to elaborate extensively on why it
would have been obvious for a person of ordinary skill in the relevant art
combine elements from prior art sources, since the combination may be
the result of mere “common sense.” Advanced Fiber Techs. Trust, 2010
WL 1930569, at *4 (citing KSR Int’l Co. v. Teleflex, Inc., 550 U.S. 398,
418, 127 S. Ct. 1727 (2007)). To avoid the distorting effects of hindsight,
however, a jury must be presented with some evidence as to why a
person of ordinary skill in the art would have thought to combine two or
more relevant prior references in order to achieve the desired result.
Innogenetics, N.V. v. Abbott Labs., 512 F.3d 1363, 1374 (Fed. Cir. 2008);
Advanced Fiber Techs. Trust, 2010 WL 1930569, at *4.
In his opening report, Del Vecchio correctly recites the controlling
legal principles regarding anticipation and obviousness, as well as
compliance with 35 U.S.C. § 112, and ILT does not argue otherwise. Del
Vecchio then identifies the prior art upon which he relies in concluding that
certain of the ’939 and ’335 Patent claims are anticipated and/or obvious,
and describes what a person of ordinary skill in the art would have
understood at the time of the invention regarding the non-adhesive
bonding of surfaces, including cured rubber and plastic.9 The report goes
on to state the basis for concluding that certain of the patent claims are
anticipated and/or obvious, in light of either the Chou Patent alone or in
combination with other prior art.
Del Vecchio’s initial report could well be regarded as suffering to
some degree from some of the same deficiencies detected by the Federal
Circuit in Innogenetics, in that it lacks a sufficiently detailed analysis to
permit a jury to examine obviousness while avoiding the pitfalls of
hindsight. Innogenetics, 512 F.3d at 1173. Significantly, the initial Del
Vecchio report does not include the requisite analysis in sufficient detail to
allow a juror to apply the legal requirements for finding anticipation or
obviousness and determine whether or not a person of ordinary skill in the
art of the time of the invention would have understood to combine the
elements of the cited prior art references to achieve the patented result.
This potential deficiency, however, is significantly overcome when
The court has previously determined, essentially with agreement of the
parties, that a person of ordinary skill in the art in this instance should be defined as “a
person with an undergraduate degree in chemistry, materials science or a related field
with at least three to five years of practical experience in a field of applied rubber
Del Vecchio’s opening report is considered in tandem with his rebuttal
report. Together, the two reports identify the relevant prior art and discuss
the significance of the prior art to the challenges faced by the inventors in
applying the principles disclosed in prior art to manufacturing bonded
caps, explaining along the way the reasons why Del Vecchio considers
the cited prior to be analogous. Whether the factfinder accepts Del
Vecchio’s opinions, or instead the countering views of ILT’s expert,
remains to be seen. At this juncture, however, I find no basis under Rule
702 as well as Daubert and its progeny to exclude Del Vecchio’s opinions
at trial. Advanced Fiber Techs. Trust, 2010 WL 1930569, at *5.
Alleged Deficiencies In Del Vecchio Initial Report
ILT argues that even if the Del Vecchio reports, when taken
together, pass muster under Rule 702 and Daubert, the newly-added
rationales for his invalidity opinions, set forth in some detail in his rebuttal
report, should have been included in the principal report, thereby making
them potentially excludable under Rule 37(c)(1).
An expert report does not meet the requirements of Rule 26(a)(2) if
it fails to disclose the basis and reasoning underlying in stated opinions.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(A)(i); see also Advanced Fiber Techs. Trust, 2010
WL 1930569, at *2 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 26). Absent either substantial
justification or a finding that the omission is harmless, a failure to comply
with this provision should result in exclusion of an expert’s report. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 37(c)(1); see also Advanced Fiber Techs. Trust, 2010 WL 1930569
at *2. While, by its literal terms, Rule 37(c)(1) appears to be rather
stringent in its exclusionary requirements, the Second Circuit has
nonetheless softened its impact by outlining certain relevant factors to be
considered when determining whether to preclude expert testimony,
including (1) the explanation given for failing to comply with the operative
discovery order; (2) the importance of the testimony at issue; (3) whether
prejudice would suffered by the opposing party in having to respond to the
new testimony; and (4) the possibility of a continuance. Softel, Inc. v.
Dragon Medical and Scientific Commc’ns, Inc., 118 F.3d 955, 961 (2d Cir.
1997) (citing Outley v. City of New York, 837 F.2d 587, 590-91 (2d Cir.
In this instance, I view the question of prejudice to ILT as a pivotal
factor. While ILT complains of the lack of specifics in Del Vecchio’s initial
report, its expert appears to have fully understood Del Vecchio’s
reasoning for opining on the issues of anticipation and obviousness, and
responded to those arguments in his report.10 It should also be noted that
after receiving the rebuttal report from Del Vecchio, providing greater
detail that was lacking in his opening report, ILT failed to contact the court,
prior to taking the expert’s deposition, to request appropriate relief.
Moreover, when offered the option during oral argument of permitting
service of a sur-rebuttal report from its expert, ILT declined. Under these
circumstances, I discern no prejudice to the plaintiff stemming from the
fact that Del Vecchio included in his reply report a more comprehensive
analysis which should rightly have been set forth in his earlier, principal
report. See Cooper Notification, Inc. v. Twitter, Inc., No. 09-865-LPS,
2012 WL 2126903, at *11 (D. Del. May 25, 2012) (“[Plaintiff’s] silence and
inaction after receiving Defendant’s rebuttal expert reports undermine any
claims by [plaintiff] of prejudice.”) (emphasis in original)).
In sum, I find no basis to strike defendants’ invalidity expert’s initial
and rebuttal reports or to preclude his testimony at trial. Instead, the
matters raised in ILT’s motion can be fully aired through cross-
Although ILT did not file its expert’s report - except for a five-page
excerpt offered in support of its motion for summary judgment on its infringement claim
- I conclude that ILT’s expert understood Del Vecchio’s report based on ILT’s
memorandum of law, and Del Vecchio’s rebuttal report, which makes reference to
ILT’s expert’s report.
examination and presentment of competing expert testimony in order to
assist the jury in deciding the issue of invalidity.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment motions are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. Under that provision, the entry of summary
judgment is warranted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material facts and the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2509-10 (1986); Security Ins.
Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 82-83 (2d
Cir. 2004). A fact is “material” for purposes of this inquiry, if it “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248, 106 S. Ct. at 2510; see also Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426
F.3d 549, 553 (2d Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson). A material fact is
genuinely in dispute “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106
S. Ct. at 2510.
A party moving for summary judgment bears an initial burden of
demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute of material fact to be
decided with respect to any essential element of the claim in issue; the
failure to meet this burden warrants denial of the motion. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 250 n.4, 106 S. Ct. at 2511 n.4; Sec. Ins., 391 F.3d at 83. In the
event this initial burden is met, the opposing party must show, through
affidavits or otherwise, that there is a material dispute of fact for trial. Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. at 2553; Anderson,
477 U.S. at 250, 106 S. Ct. at 2511.
When deciding a summary judgment motion, a court must resolve
any ambiguities, and draw all inferences from the facts, in a light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. Jeffreys, 426 F.3d at 553; Wright v.
Coughlin, 132 F.3d 133, 137-38 (2d Cir. 1998). The entry of summary
judgment is justified only in the event of a finding that no reasonable trier
of fact could rule in favor of the non-moving party. See Bldg. Trades
Employers’ Educ. Ass’n v. McGowan, 311 F.3d 501, 507-08 (2d Cir.
2002); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S. Ct. at 2511 (finding
summary judgment appropriate only when “there can be but one
reasonable conclusion as to the verdict”). In the event this standard is
met, summary judgment may be entered in a patent case, just as in any
other type of action. Brenner v. United States, 773 F.2d 306, 307 (Fed.
Cir. 1985). In a case such as this, where the parties have interposed
cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion must be independently
assessed, using this standard as a backdrop. See Light Sources, Inc. v.
Cosmedico Light, Inc., 360 F. Supp. 2d 432, 434 (D. Conn. 2005).
In its motion, ILT claims entitlement to summary judgment on the
issue of infringement.
As a general rule, infringement occurs when one or more claims
within a patent overlay an accused party’s product. Markman, 517 U.S. at
374, 116 S. Ct. at 1388; Amstar Corp. v. Envirotech Corp., 730 F.2d 1476,
1481-82 (Fed. Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 924, 105 S. Ct. 306. The
methodology which the Federal Circuit has endorsed for determining
infringement is neither overly intricate nor particularly controversial,
comprising of two distinct steps. Ecolab, Inc. v. Envirochem, Inc., 264
F.3d 1358, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2001); Schoell v. Riegal Marine Indus., Inc.,
247 F.3d 1202, 1207 (Fed. Cir. 2001); Moore U.S.A., Inc. v. Standard
Register Co., 229 F.3d 1091, 1105 (Fed. Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S.
1008, 121 S. Ct. 1734 (2001). As a preliminary matter, the scope and
meaning of a patent’s claims, and in particular any of its terms that are
disputed, must be delineated; this step, generally referred to as claim
construction, presents a question of law to be determined by the court.
Ecolab, Inc., 264 F.3d at 1364; Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d
1448, 1451-54 (Fed. Cir. 1998); Moore U.S.A., Inc., 229 F.3d at 1105.
Once this task has been undertaken, the accused device or method must
next be compared to the patent limitations in play, as construed by the
court, to determine whether it is encompassed within one or more of the
patent holder’s claims. Ecolab, Inc., 264 F.3d at 1364; Schoell, 247 F.3d
at 1207; Cybor, 138 F.3d at 1454. This second inquiry presents an issue
of fact. Abraxis Bioscience, Inc. v. Mayne Pharma (USA), Inc., 467 F.3d
1370, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2006); Optical Disc Corp. v. Del. Mar Avionics, 208
F.3d 1324, 1333-34 (Fed. Cir. 2000).
To prove infringement, a plaintiff need only show that one claim of a
patent in issue is infringed. Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299
F.3d 1313, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2002). Infringement can be either literal, or
under the doctrine of equivalents (“DOE”).11 Moore U.S.A., Inc., 229 F.3d
at 1105; Bai v. L & L Wings, Inc., 160 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 1998).
ILT does not argue infringement under a DOE theory in this instance.
Infringement occurs under a theory of literal infringement when every
limitation of a claim is present in an accused structure or method. See
Amhil Enter., Ltd. v. Wawa, Inc., 81 F.3d 1554, 1562 (Fed. Cir. 1996)
(“Literal infringement of a claim exists . . . when the properly construed
claim reads on the accused device exactly.”)
The defendants in this action manufacture and sell open top bonded
caps in three different sizes. Those allegedly infringing caps are
manufactured from polypropylene, to which a cured elastomer/silicone
rubber septum is bonded. To bond the septum to the cap, the caps and
the silicone rubber are exposed to a flame.12 One of six different chemical
formulations is then applied to the surface of the activated silicone rubber,
and the two are joined utilizing a hydraulic press to force the activated
silicone rubber side of the septum against the activated underside of the
plastic cap. The press is heated to approximately 170 to 180 degrees
Celsius, and applies a pressure of approximately 70 to 80 pounds per
square inch in order to bond the cap and the septum together.
Central to the infringement issue is whether the formulations utilized
Flame treatment is one method of achieving ionization, as disclosed in
the ’335 and ’939 Patents. ’939 Patent, 2:66-3:2; ’335 Patent, 3:6-9.
by SSP in the process are considered primers, or instead adhesives, as
the court has construed those terms, and the meaning of the term “directly
bonded.” In support of its motion for summary judgment on the issue of
infringement, ILT raises two arguments. First, citing excerpts of
deposition testimony of R.J. Del Vecchio and Brian Bayly, as well as
opinions of its expert, Patrick T. Mather, ILT argues that use of SSP’s
formulation without ionization does not result in a durable and persistent
bond. According to ILT, it therefore follows that the substance does not
fall within the court’s definition of an adhesive. Secondly, relying
principally upon deposition testimony of SSP expert Del Vecchio, ILT
contends that a bond is to some degree formed when a flame treated cap
and flame treated septum are joined utilizing SSP’s process, but without
application of the formulation. Given this phenomenon, ILT maintains, the
formulation falls within the court’s definition of a primer, serving to
enhance the strength of that bond, rather than an adhesive.
The fact that ionization is required in order to permit bond formation
utilizing SSP’s formulations is not necessarily fatal to its claim that those
substances constitute adhesives. The court’s definition of adhesive
requires only that the substance be capable of forming a bond between
two solids. This definition does not necessarily exclude substances with
respect to which this capability can be realized only through an additional
step, such as ionization.13
ILT’s second argument is also easily discounted. As a threshold
matter, it should be noted that the record is equivocal as to whether actual
bonding in fact can be realized between a flame treated cap and a flame
treated septum without use of SSP’s formulation. Del Vecchio’s testimony
concerning whether bonding occurs when a flame treated cap and a flame
treated septum are joined is ambiguous. At one point in his deposition he
testified that no bond would form without the use of an SSP formulation.
At another, however, Del Vecchio suggested that when he conducted
tests some of the caps did show some degree of bonding.
In any event, the fact that some modest bonding can potentially
In its opposition to ILT’s motion, SSP has asked that the court expand its
construction of “adhesive.” In essence, SSP would add the qualification that an
adhesive must be capable of bonding two or more solids together by surface
attachment, either alone or in conjunction with another substance or process. It is of
course true that although preliminary Markman rulings may have issued, a court’s
claim construction can be modified at any time up until a jury’s verdict is rendered. See
Jack Guttman, Inc. v. Kopykake Enter., Inc., 302 F.3d 1352, 1361 (Fed. Cir. 2002)
(“District courts may engage in a rolling claim construction, in which the court revisits
its interpretation of the claim terms as its understanding of the technology evolves.”).
In this instance, however, having carefully considered the matter, I find no need to
modify my earlier construction of the term “adhesive.”
occur through that process does not exclude the possibility that the SSP
formulation represents an adhesive rather than a primer. It may well be
that, notwithstanding this fact, the SSP formulation is independently
capable of bonding two surfaces together, and is therefore not a mere
primer, serving only to enhance bond strength. Consider, for example, a
situation in which when either substance A or substance B is applied to
two surfaces alone, bonding may occur, whereas application of both
substances A and B together results in a stronger bond. In this example
both of those substances could properly be regarded as an adhesive,
instead of one or the other being considered as a primer.
As the foregoing reflects, the record now before the court exposes a
sharp controversy concerning whether or not SSP’s formulations
constitute an adhesive, in which case there would be no infringement, or a
primer, a conclusion which would support a finding of infringement. In the
end, which of the parties’ positions regarding the formulations utilized by
SSP should ultimately be adopted is a question ill-suited for resolution on
motion for summary judgment, instead implicating issues of fact that can
only be resolved by the trier of fact. ILT’s motion for summary judgment
on the question of infringement is therefore denied.
Among the defenses raised by SSP, in answer to ILT’s infringement
allegations, is the contention that certain of the claims of the two patents
in suit are invalid as anticipated, on the basis of obviousness, and/or for
failing to meet the requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 112. Both parties now
request the entry of summary judgment with respect to anticipation and
obviousness. In its motion for summary judgment on its invalidity defense
and counterclaim, SSP argues that Claim 1 of the ’939 Patent is
anticipated by the Chou Patent; dependent Claims 2-15 and 24 of that
patent are anticipated and/or obvious; independent Claim 18 and
dependent Claims 19-20 of the ’939 Patent are obvious; and independent
Claims 1, 6, 8 and 20 and dependent Claims 2-5, 7, 9-15, 19 and 21 of
the ’335 Patent are invalid as obvious. In its motion for summary
judgment on SSP’s invalidity defense and counterclaim, ILT argues that
none of the asserted claims, including Claims 18-20 of the ’939 Patent
and Claims 1 and 4-7 of the ’335 Patent, are either anticipated by any of
the cited prior art, or obvious. In addition, ILT seeks summary judgment
dismissing SSP’s section 112 invalidity defense and related counterclaim.
Relevant Prior Act
In support of its invalidity defense and counterclaim, SSP cites
several pieces of prior art, including (1) the Chou Patent previously
referenced; (2) U.S. Patent No. 3,950,206, issued to Adachi et al. on April
13, 1976 (“Adachi Patent”); (3) U.S. Patent No. 4,499,148 issued to
Goodale et al., on February 12, 1985 (“Goodale Patent”), a patent
disclosed during the prosecution of the two patents in suit and thus
considered by the PTO; (4) U.S. Patent No. 3,088,847 issued to A.N.
Pines on May 7, 1963 (“Pines Patent”); (5) U.S. Patent No. 4,312,693,
issued to Salensky et al., on January 26, 1982 (“Salensky Patent”); and
(6) U.S. Patent No. 4,096,013, issued to Lutzmann, et al. on June 20,
1978 (“Lutzmann Patent”).14 Relying heavily upon the opening and
rebuttal expert reports of R.J. Del Vecchio, SSP argues that the Chou
Patent anticipates certain claims of the ’939 Patent and, either alone or in
combination with other pieces of art referenced, renders virtually all of the
’939 and ’335 Patent claims obvious.
SSP’s motion papers also cite U.S. Patent No. 3,108,898, issued to
Nitzsche, et al. on October 29, 1963 (“Nitzsche Patent”) and an article authored by
F.D. Egitto and L.J. Matienzo, published in the IBM JOURNAL OF RESEARCH AND
DEVELOPMENT and entitled “Plasma Modification of Polymer Surfaces for Adhesion
Improvement” (“IBM Article”) as relevant prior art. However, neither is referenced in
Del Vecchio’s reports.
The Chou Patent, which bears the title “Method for Enhancing the
Adhesion of Polymer Surfaces Bi-water Vapor Plasma Treatment,”
describes a means of promoting the adhesion of a first polymer surface to
a second polymer surface by treating at least one of the polymer surfaces
with water vapor plasma. Chou Patent, 3:16-20. The invention disclosed
in that patent relates to a process for obtaining improved peel strength of
a first polymer layer to a second polymer layer. Id. at 3:30-44.
The Adachi Patent, entitled “Method for Heat-Bonding Polyester
Films or Sheet-Like Structures and Said Polyester Films or Sheet Like
Structures,” describes a method for heat bonding a polyester film directly
with another film or shaped article of polyester at a temperature below
melting point, using a corona discharge treated polyester film. See Adachi
Patent, Abstract. The Adachi Patent generally describes corona
discharge treatment as a methodology for ionizing surfaces to make them
more receptive to bonding.
The Goodale Patent was disclosed by the inventors to the PTO as a
piece of prior art that failed to achieve the desired result. See, e.g., ’939 Patent, 1:6430
The Goodale Patent, entitled “Composite Materials of Silicone
Elastomers and Polyolefin Films, and Method of Making,” generally
involves composite materials that are formed of bonded silicone
elastomers and polyolefin films and used in a variety of settings including,
notably, for use in “catheters, closures for piercings by medical needles,
and medical containers . . . .” The Goodale Patent discloses a process
through which relatively high molecular weight silicone elastomer
compounds may be chemically bonded to normally inert polyolefin films
such as polypropylene and high or low density polyethylene.
The Pines Patent is entitled “Aminoalkyl Silicon Compounds as
Bonding Agents for Resins to Metal,” and generally describes a process of
bonding polymeric materials to metals. The patent is directed to a method
of treating metal strips, panels and wires with aminoalkyl silicone
solutions, coating them with an uncured electrical insulatory resin, and
2:25. According to the inventors the process taught in Goodale was ineffective at
consistently obtaining a strong bond between the two polyolefin surfaces involved in
light of the existence of a narrow flange on the open top caps, and further the use of
polyolefin silicone elastomer laminate, as opposed to a silicone elastomer alone, made
penetration with a needle difficult, thereby creating health and safety concerns and
interfering with the use of automatic sampling equipment. ’335 Patent, 2:1-29; ’939
then curing the resin to increase adhesion of the coating to the metal.
The Salensky Patent, entitled “Bonding of Polyurethane to Silicone
Rubber,” describes a process through which silicone rubber is treated with
certain gas plasma at low temperatures to improve the adhesion of a
polyurethane coating to a silicone rubber, in order to render the silicone
rubber more adhesive to polyurethane coatings following exposure to the
gas plasma. According to Salensky, the gas plasma specified can be
produced by any known means such as a radio frequency plasma
The Lutzmann Patent, entitled “Method for Bonding Sheets in Air by
Alternating Discharge and Apparatus for Same,” describes a process by
which two or more chemically dissimilar and non-compatible films may be
bonded together to form a composite sheet by subjecting them
simultaneously to a high voltage electric corona discharge of a selected
In his two reports, SSP’s expert opines that Claims 2 and 8 of the
’939 Patent are rendered obvious by the Chou Patent, in combination with
the Goodale and/or Lutzmann Patents; Claims 3 and 4 are rendered
obvious by the Chou Patent, in combination with the Goodale and/or
Pines Patents; Claims 5 and 6 are rendered obvious by the Chou Patent,
in combination with the Pines Patent; and Claim 7 is rendered obvious by
the Chou Patent, in combination with the Goodale and/or Lutzmann and/or
Salensky Patents. With respect to the ’335 Patent, he opines that Claims
2, 3, and 19 are rendered obvious by the Chou Patent, in combination with
the Goodale and/or Lutzmann Patents; Claims 4, 6, and 7 are rendered
obvious by the Chou Patent, in combination with the Pines and/or
Goodale Patents; Claim 5 is rendered obvious by the Chou Patent, in
combination with the Pines Patent; and Claims 8, 15, 20, and 21 are
rendered obvious by the Chou Patent, in combination with the Adachi
and/or Lutzmann Patents.
Application of Controlling Legal Principles
Presumption of Validity
The invalidity arguments raised by SSP must be analyzed against
the backdrop of the independent presumption of validity that, under 35
U.S.C. § 282, attaches to each claim contained within a regularly issued
patent. Cont’l Can Co., USA, Inc., v. Monsanto Co., 948 F.2d 1264, 1266-
67 (Fed. Cir. 1991). Given this presumption, a “party asserting invalidity
not only has the procedural burden of proceeding first and establishing a
prima facie case, but the burden of persuasion on the merits remains with
that party until final decision.” Stratoflex, Inc. v. Aeroquip Corp., 713 F.2d
1530, 1534 (Fed. Cir. 1983); see also ConMed Corp. v. Erbe
Electromedizin GmbH, 241 F. Supp. 2d 187, 192 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) (Hurd,
J.) (citing, inter alia, Stratoflex), vacated due to settlement, No. 00-CV987, 2004 WL 1576596 (N.D.N.Y. June 29, 2004). Any party seeking to
overcome this presumption of validity must do so by clear and convincing
evidence. Rosco, Inc. v. Mirror Lite Co., 304 F.3d 1373, 1377 (Fed. Cir.
2002); see also Ralston Purina Co. v. Far-Mar-Co., Inc., 772 F.2d 1570,
1573-74 (Fed. Cir. 1985).
Determination of Which Claims Remain in Issue
ILT’s complaint in this action generally alleged defendants’
infringement of the ’939 and ’335 Patents. See Complaint (Dkt. No. 1).
SSP counterclaimed, asserting that “[o]ne of more of the claims of the
’939 Patent and the ’335 Patent are invalid” inter alia, as obvious,
anticipated, or for failure to comply with the requirements of section 112.
Amended Answer (Dkt. No. 19), Counterclaim Count 2. ILT has since
winnowed down the claims in controversy in its infringement cause of
action, now asserting only infringement of Claims 1 and 4-7 of the ’335
Patent and Claims 18 through 20 of the ’939 Patent. Before turning to the
specifics of the parties’ invalidity contentions, I must first decide which of
the ’939 and ’335 Patent claims remain in issue.
In their papers and the Del Vecchio expert reports, defendants have
addressed a majority of the claims of the two patents in suit. In speaking
to the issue of validity in its motion papers, by contrast, ILT has addressed
only a limited number of claims, all of which involve the bonding of
septums and caps. A threshold question therefore exists as to whether
an actual case or controversy is presented, sufficient to confer jurisdiction
upon the court to examine the validity of the unasserted claims of the two
patents in suit.
In order to establish a basis for a court to entertain a request for
declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 2201 in a patent infringement
setting, a party must suffer from a reasonable apprehension of suit. Grain
Processing Corp. v. Am. Maize-Prods. Co., 840 F.2d 902, 905-06 (Fed.
Cir. 1988). “The actual controversy requirement precludes a declaration
about the validity of claims unless the defendant objectively has a
‘reasonable apprehension that it will face an infringement suit’ on those
claims.” Grain Processing Corp., 840 F.2d at 906 (quoting, inter alia,
Jervis v. Webb Co. v. Southern Sys., Inc., 742 F.2d 1388 (Fed. Cir. 1984).
While easily stated, this test is often difficult to apply. At one end of
the spectrum, of course, is the situation presented by the clear
abandonment of infringement allegations such as, for example, where a
covenant not to sue is given by a patentee, dispelling any “reasonable
apprehension” of suit. Grain Processing Corp., 840 F.2d at 906; see also
Lifetime Prods., Inc. v. Correll, Inc., 323 F. Supp. 2d 1129, 1151 (D. Utah
2004). Mere withdrawal of infringement claims, with no assurance against
suit in the future, however, does not suffice to divest a court of jurisdiction
to examine the validity of other claims. See Shelcore, Inc. v. Durham
Indus., Inc., 745 F.2d 621, 624 (Fed. Cir. 1984) (holding that the plaintiff’s
voluntary dismissal of one claim of the patent at issue did not remove the
court’s jurisdiction of the issue of validity as to that claim because
defendant’s validity claim “put all of the claims in issue”).
Trial courts have reached varying conclusions regarding how to
apply the Federal Circuit’s guidance concerning this issue, including
through its decisions in Grain Processing Corp. and Shelcore. When
faced with the question a district judge in Delaware concluded that absent
a formal covenant not to sue, there remains a reasonable apprehension of
suit even as to unasserted claims, providing a basis for the court to
exercise jurisdiction to entertain a declaratory judgment counterclaim.
Biacore, AB v. Thermo Bioanalysis Corp., 79 F. Supp. 2d 422, 454 (D.
Del. 1999). In another case, by contrast, while finding itself bound to
follow the Federal Circuit’s decision in Shelcore, as a matter of discretion
a judge in the Eastern District of New York declined to exercise jurisdiction
over declaratory judgment counterclaims where the plaintiff did not
withdraw the claims in dispute from the infringement suit until after trial
had commenced. Mech. Plastics Corp. v. Unifast Indus. Inc., 610 F.
Supp. 1073, 1074 (E.D.N.Y. 1985).
In this case, ILT has provided no concrete assurance that it will not
pursue any of the unasserted claims against SSP in the future.
Accordingly, and notwithstanding the fact that, through its litigation
conduct, ILT has removed the unasserted claims from issue in its
infringement case, the court retains the power to examine the validity of
those unasserted claims. Shelcore, 745 F.2d at 624.
One way in which a patent claim may be held invalid is through a
finding of anticipation. A claim is invalid as anticipated if “the invention
was patented or described in a printed publication in this . . . country . . .
more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the
United States[.]” 35 U.S.C. § 102(b). Under this statutory provision, “[a]
patent is invalid for anticipation if a single prior art reference discloses
each and every limitation of the claimed invention.” Schering Corp. v.
Geneva Pharm., Inc., 339 F.3d 1373, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (citing
Lewmar Marine, Inc. v. Barient, Inc., 827 F.2d 744, 747 (Fed. Cir. 1987)).
As the Federal Circuit has noted,
invalidity by anticipation requires that the four
corners of a single, prior art document describe
every element of the claimed invention, either
expressly or inherently, such that a person of
ordinary skill in the art could practice the invention
without undue experimentation.
Advanced Display Sys., Inc. v. Kent State Univ., 212 F.3d 1272, 1282
(Fed. Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 904, 121 S. Ct. 1226 (2001). In
simplistic terms, it has been said anticipation is the mirror image of
infringement. Lenmar Marine, Inc., 827 F.2d at 748 (“The inquiry as to
anticipation is symmetrical with the inquiry as to infringement of a patent.”)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, a patented invention that
would infringe another patent, if issued later, anticipates the subject patent
if it comes first. Knapp v. Morss, 150 U.S. 221, 228, 14. S. Ct. 81, 84
(1893) (“[T]hat which infringes, if later, would anticipate, if earlier.”)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Whether a patent claim is anticipated is a question of fact.
Advanced Display Sys., Inc., 212 F.3d at 1281. And, because it
implicates invalidity and constitutes an affirmative defense, to prevail, an
accused infringer must establish the elements of anticipation by clear and
convincing evidence. See i4i Limited P’ship v. Microsoft Corp., 598, F.3d
831, 848 (Fed. Cir. 2010); Ralston Purina Co., 772 F.2d at 1574.
The ’939 Patent discloses a method of bonding a cured elastomer to
a plastic or metal surface. While, in opposition to SSP’s claim of
anticipation, ILT attempts to cabin that method to bonded caps, the first
seventeen of the twenty-four claims of that patent make no mention of a
cap. When those seventeen claims of the ’939 Patent are properly
considered as broadly written, SSP makes a fairly compelling case for
anticipation when those claims are compared to the Chou Patent. Claim 1
of the ’939 Patent, for example, discloses the following:
A method of directly bonding a previously
cured elastomer comprised primarily of rubber type
material to a plastic, comprising:
ionizing a surface upon said cured
elastomer, thereby forming a first
ionizing a surface upon said plastic,
thereby forming a second activated
placing said first activated area in
contact with said second activated
applying pressure to the first and
second activated areas in contact
thereby forming a bond directly
between said elastomer and said
plastic without the use of an intervening
layer of adhesive or plastic material.
’939 Patent 5:24-37. By comparison, Claim 1 of the Chou Patent reads as
A method comprising:
providing a first and second polymer body;
treating at least a part of the surface of at least one
of said first and said second polymer bodies with a
water vapor containing plasma; and
contacting the treated surface of at least one of
said first and said second polymer bodies with at
least a part of the surface of the other of said first
and said second polymer bodies.
Chou Patent, 10:22-30. In the ’939 Patent specification, it is noted that
while the preference is for exposure to a corona electrode in order to
effectuate ionization of the plastic and elastomer surfaces, it is
acknowledged that ionization can also be achieved by other means,
including through use of a flame, or plasma discharge. ’939 Patent, 2:663:25. Examples of the polymers referenced in the Chou Patent include
polyurethanes, phenolics, polyethylenes, polysiloxanes and
polyisobutylenes. Chou Patent, 5:51-6:19. Polysiloxanes, such as a
polydimethylsiloxane, are elastomers that constitute silicone rubber. See
SSP Exh. G (Dkt. No. 92) (Del Vecchio Report) ¶ 61. Polyisobutylene
represents an elastomer, more commonly known as butyl rubber. Id. The
’939 Patent, in turn, notes that “the term plastic refers to both
thermosetting and thermoplastic materials, examples being phenolics and
polyolefines.” ’939 Patent 3:2-4. The ’939 Patent further provides that
“[e]xamples of elastomers include, but are not limited to, silicone rubber,
SBR rubber, butyl rubber and viton rubber.” ’939 Patent, 3:13-15.
While this presents a close case, a reasonable factfinder could
conclude that if the method disclosed in Claim 1 of the Chou Patent had
come after and been practiced following the ’939 Patent, infringement
would nonetheless not be stated. Missing in Claim 1 of the Chou Patent
is application of pressure to form a bond, directly between the two
substances without any intervening layer of adhesive or plastic material as
required in Claim 1 of the ’939 Patent. For this reason I conclude that the
record demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether that
Claim 1 of the ’939 Patent, and similarly by definition those other claims of
the patent that are dependent on Claim 1, are anticipated by the Chou
Patent. Accordingly, SSP’s motion for summary judgment addressed to
the issue of anticipation is denied as to independent Claim 1 of the ’939
Patent, and dependent Claims 2-15 and 24 of that patent.
As for ILT’s motion for summary judgment, ILT seeks entry of
summary judgment dismissing SSP’s defense and counterclaim of
invalidity based on anticipation as it relates only to Claims 18-20 of the
’939 Patent and Claims 1 and 4-7 of the ’335 Patent. Notably, SSP does
not argue, however, either in its motion papers or through its expert’s
reports, that any of these particular claims are invalid as anticipated. In
any event, each of those claims specifically relates to bonding of a cured
elastomer septum to an open top cap, something that is lacking in the
Chou Patent, as well as the other asserted prior art. Accordingly,
because none of the prior art cited by SSP contains each of the limitations
contained with Claims 18-20 of the ’939 Patent and Claims 1 and 4-7 of
the ’335 Patent, by definition those claims are not anticipated, and ILT is
therefore entitled to summary judgment on this issue.
A patent claim is invalid as obvious if “the differences between the
subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the
subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the
invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which
said subject matter pertains.” 35 U.S.C. § 103(a); see also Merck & Co.,
395 F.3d at 1372-73. In considering the issue of obviousness, a factfinder
must engage in an objective analysis informed by several factors,
including (1) the scope and content of the prior art; (2) the differences
between the prior art and the claimed invention; (3) the level of ordinary
skill in the art; and (4) secondary considerations, such as commercial
success, long felt but unmet need, failure of others, and unexpected
results. Graham v. John Deere Co., 38 U.S. 1, 17, 86 S. Ct. 684, 695
(1966); see also KSR Int’l Co., 550 U.S. at 399, 127 S. Ct. at 1374 (“While
the sequence of [these factors] might be reordered in any particular case,
[they] continue to define the inquiry that controls.”); Mintz v. Dietz and
Watson, Inc., 679 F.3d 1372, 1375-76 (Fed. Cir. 2012).
Courts are encouraged to use an “expansive and flexible approach”
to determine whether an invention would have been obvious to a person
skilled in the art, guided by functionality and common sense rather than
rigidity. KSR Int’l Co., 550 U.S. at 401, 127 S. Ct. at 1739; Leapfrog
Enter., Inc. v. Fisher-Price, Inc., 485 F.3d 1157, 1161 (Fed. Cir. 2007). If
a court determines the claimed subject matter is obvious under the
Graham analysis, then the claim under review is invalid under section 103.
KSR Int’l Co., 550 U.S. at 407, 127 S. Ct. at 1734.
In cases involving the combination of familiar elements in a patent in
accordance with known methods, the Supreme Court has emphasized
that an invention likely will be obvious when it simply elicits predictable
results. Id. at 1739, 1740. Similarly, where a technique is used to
improve a device and a person of ordinary skill in the art recognizes that
similar devices would be improved in the same way, the technique is
obvious unless it is beyond that person’s skill. Id. at 1740. In other
words, “[i]f a person of ordinary skill can implement a predictable variation,
§ 103 likely bars its patentability.” Id.
A patent comprised of multiple elements, however, “is not proved
obvious merely by demonstrating that each of its elements was,
independently, known in the prior art.” Id. at 1741; see also Grain
Processing Corp., 840 F.2d at 907 (“In determining obviousness, the
inquiry is not whether each element existed in the prior art, but whether
the prior art made obvious the invention as whole for which patentability is
claimed.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). When engaging in an
obviousness analysis, a court should “identify a reason that would have
prompted a person of ordinary skill in the relevant field to combine the
elements in the way the claimed new invention does.” KSR Int’l, Co., 550
U.S. at 402, 127 S. Ct. at 1741. This necessarily may require an
examination of interrelated teachings of multiple patents, the effects of
demands experienced by the design community or existing in the
marketplace, and the background knowledge of a person with ordinary
skill in the art. Id. at 418, 1740-41. For example, a patent’s subject
matter may be considered obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art if
a known problem in the field existed at the time of the invention for which
an obvious solution is presented by the patent’s claims. Id. at 41920,1741-42. On the other hand, “[i]f the prior art teach away from
combining known elements in the manner claimed by the invention at
issue, discovering a successful way to combine them is less likely to be
obvious.” In re Omeprazole Litig., No. M-21-81, 2007 WL 1576153, at
*124 (S.D.N.Y. May 31, 2007). Neither the motivation nor the purpose of
the patentee controls whether the subject matter of a patent claim is
obvious; rather, the “objective reach” of the patent dictates the analysis.
KSR Int’l Co., 550 U.S. at 419, 127 S. Ct. at 1741-42.
To avoid the distortion of hindsight, “the decision maker must step
backward in time and into the shoes worn by [the person of ordinary skill
in the art] when the invention was unknown and just before it was made.”
Panduit Corp. v. Dennison Mfg. Co., 810 F.2d 1561, 1566 (Fed. Cir.
1987). Common sense encourages courts to consider that a person of
ordinary skill in the art will “pursue known options” where there is “‘a finite
number of identified, predictable solutions’” given that an individual of
ordinary skill is “‘a person of ordinary creativity, not an automaton.’” KSR
Int’l Co., 550 U.S. at 420-21, 127 S. Ct. At 1742. When assessing
obviousness, however, caution must be taken to avoid combining
elements of prior art through the bias of hindsight when those elements
otherwise would not have been combined but for the creativity and insight
of the inventor. Id. at 421, 1742; Graham, 383 U.S. at 36, 86 S. Ct. at
703. Consideration of the fourth Graham factor, with its focus upon
objective indicia of non-obviousness, can “help inoculate the obviousness
analysis against hindsight,” Mintz, 679 F.3d at 1378, and to “resist the
temptation to read into the prior art the teachings of the inventions in
issue[,]” Graham, 383 U.S. at 36, 86 S. Ct. 684 (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted).
SSP has set forth a plausible argument in support of its obviousness
claim, particularly with respect to the non-cap specific claims of the ’939
Patent. As was previously noted, in an effort to avoid the pitfalls of both
anticipation and obviousness, ILT has attempted to narrow the scope of
the invention in issue to specimen caps with penetrable septums. It is
clear that the need for an adhesive-free specimen cap appears to have
motivated the inventors, and led them to develop their process for
manufacturing bonded caps and to apply for the two patents in suit. While
the ’335 patent claims accordingly reference caps, however, seventeen of
the twenty-four claims contained within the ’939 Patent make no mention
of caps, instead disclosing a method of bonding a cured elastomer to a
plastics or metal surface, without limiting the usefulness of the invention to
specimen caps. Moreover, when describing the relevant art, the parties
have agreed on a formulation that addresses the physics and chemistry of
bonding without any required expertise relative to the manufacture of caps
of the type produced by ILT and SSP. This readily distinguishes the
matter from such cases as Mintz, in which the Federal Circuit criticized the
trial court for failing to appreciate the importance of familiarity or
experience with meat products in addressing a patent integrating a
stockinette into a netting to make a new type of meat encasement. See
Mintz, 679 F.3d at 1375-76.
In its motion, SSP argues that it has successfully shouldered the
burden of demonstrating that the patent claims in dispute are obvious, by
clear and convincing evidence, and that no reasonable factfinder could
conclude otherwise. As ILT argues, however, many of the prior art
references offered by SSP to support its obviousness argument are not
readily apparent as being analogous to the invention in this case, either
because they are in very different fields of endeavor or they are not
reasonably pertinent to the problem confronted by the inventors, or both.
See In re Klein, 647 F.3d at 1348 (“A reference qualifies as prior art for an
obviousness determination under § 103 only when it is analogous to the
claimed invention. Two separate tests define the scope of analogous prior
art: (1) whether the art is from the same field of endeavor, regardless of
the problem addressed, and (2) if the reference is not with the field of the
inventor’s endeavor, whether the reference is reasonably pertinent to the
particular problem with which the inventor is involved.”). The fields of
endeavor implicated in the prior art cited by SSP run the gamut, and
include microelectronics (Chou); face masks (Salensky); plastic films
(Adachi); wrapping material (Lutzman); electrical installation (Pines);
priming agents (Nitszche); and films for food packaging, electrical
installation, resins for photoresists, advance composites possessing
superior mechanical properties, and a variety of biopolymers (IBM Article).
This is a factor weighing against a finding of obviousness. See In re:
Klein, 647 F.3d at 1343, 1348 (Fed. Cir. 2011); Panduit Corp., 810 F.2d at
With respect to Claims 1-15 of the ’939 Patent, which – judging from
ILT’s motion papers – are apparently not addressed in the report
generated by its expert, no reasonable factfinder could conclude that
those claims are not obvious, either based upon the Chou Patent alone or
in combination with the other relevant cited prior art.16 Claim 1 of the
Chou Patent, for example, teaches six elements which, considered
together, describe a method of bonding two cured polymer surfaces
through use of water vapor plasma, causing ionization. In simple terms,
the Chou Patent describes a process of ionization of one or both of the
elastomer surfaces to be bonded and bringing them together under
pressure without the use of an adhesive. As is demonstrated by the Del
Vecchio report, the elements of independent Claim 1 of the ’939 Patent
would be obvious to a person of ordinary skill in light of the Chou Patent.
In addition, Claims 2-15 of the ’939 Patent, which depend directly or
indirectly upon Claim 1, would similarly be obvious to a person of ordinary
skill in the art when the Chou Patent is considered together with other
cited prior art. Claim 2, for example, recites the method of Claim 1
“wherein said first and second activated areas are placed in contact
immediately after formation of said first activated area.” ’939 Patent, 5:3840. The Goodale Patent similarly provides for bringing ionized polymer
surfaces together promptly following ionization. Claim 3 of the ’939 Patent
Interestingly, ILT did not submit a report of its expert, Patrick Mather,
Ph.D., either in support of its summary judgment motion on invalidity or in opposition to
SSP’s motion addressing the same issue.
would add a primer to the second activated area prior to contact, a matter
which is obvious when the Chou Patent is considered in combination with
the Goodale Patent and the Pines Patent, both of which reference primer
materials or coatings. Likewise, according to Del Vecchio, a person of
ordinary skill in the art would understand the concept of drying the second
activated area after adding a primer before placing it in contact with the
second activated area, as specified in Claim 4 of the ’939 Patent.
Claim 5 of the ’939 Patent is dependent upon, and narrows, Claim 3
by specifying that the “primer comprises approximately a 1% solution of
an aminosilane.” The use of such a material as a primer was not only well
known in the art at the time of the invention, but is taught by the Pines
Patent. Similarly, Claim 6, which is dependent upon Claim 5 and specifies
that the aminosilane is to be selected from a specified group, is obvious
when Chou is considered in combination with the Pines Patent.
Dependent Claim 7 of the ’939 Patent recites the method of Claim 1
and specifies that the desired ionization is achieved by a process selected
from a group of flame, corona or plasma discharge treatment. The use of
water and vapor plasma, as taught by the Chou Patent, renders
dependent Claim 7 obvious in view of that prior art.17 Dependent claim 8,
which recites the method of Claim 7 “wherein said ionization is achieved
by exposing said elastomer and said plastic to a corona discharge
electrode”, is also obvious in view of Chou, in combination with both
Goodale and Lutzmann, which teach the use of a corona discharge to
Dependent Claim 9 of the ’939 Patent, which recites the method of
Claim 1 and specifies the amount of pressure to be applied, would appear
to be obvious in view of the Chou Patent since, according to Del Vecchio,
while the Chou Patent does not describe a specific quantum of pressure
to be administered, the choice of 3.5 kg/cm2, as recited in Claim 9, would
be an obvious design choice to one skilled in the art, as evidenced by use
of that figure in the Adachi Patent. Dependent Claim 10 again recites the
method of Claim 1 and provides for the application of heat during the
course of the bonding process. The Chou Patent discloses a method of
bonding through placing ionized surfaces under both heat and pressure,
Even if not rendered obvious by the Chou Patent alone, dependent Claim
7 is obvious when the Goodale Patent, which describes the use of a corona discharge;
the Lutzmann Patent, involving “high voltage, electrical corona discharge treatment”;
and the Salensky Patent, specifying the use of “gas plasmas” using “oxygen, nitrogen,
carbon dioxide, air and helium”, are considered.
therefore rendering Claim 10 obvious.
Dependent Claim 11 of the ’939 Patent recites the method of Claim
1, providing further that the plastic involved “comprises a polyolefin.” The
Chou Patent describes the use of a polyolefin, such as a polyethylene, in
its bonding method and therefore renders dependent Claim 11 obvious.
Similarly, dependent Claim 12 recites the method of Claim 1 wherein the
plastic comprises a “phenolic plastic.” Once again, Claim 1 of the Chou
Patent describes the use of phenolics and therefore renders Claim 12 of
the ’939 Patent obvious. Similarly, dependent Claim 13 recites the
method of Claim 1 “wherein said plastic comprises a derivative of urea
compounds.” Claim 1 of the Chou Patent describes the use of
polyurethanes and therefore renders Claim 13 obvious for the same
Dependent Claim 14 of the ’939 Patent recites of method of Claim 1
wherein the rubber material involved is selected from a group consisting of
“silicone rubber, SP rubber, butyl rubber, natural rubber and viton rubber.”
As was noted above, the use of polyisobutylenes is disclosed in Claim 1 of
the Chou Patent. According to expert Del Vecchio, a polyisobutylene is
an elastomer more commonly known as butyl rubber, and
polydimethylsiloxane is a type of polysiloxane constituting silicone rubber.
Claim 14 is therefore also rendered obvious by consideration of the Chou
Patent. Similarly, Claim 15 of the ’939 Patent recites a method of Claim
14 “wherein said rubber type material comprises silicone rubber.” The
Chou Patent describes the use of a polydimethylsiloxane, which
constitutes silicone rubber. Claims 14 and 15 of the ’939 Patent are
therefore similarly rendered obvious.
In sum, I conclude that Claims 1-15 of the ’939 Patent are invalid as
obvious, and that no reasonable factfinder could conclude otherwise. As
to the remaining claims of the ’939 Patent and all claims set forth within
the ’335 Patent, however, because genuine issues of fact exist concerning
the issue of obviousness the entry of summary judgment as to those
claims is not warranted.18 The question of whether a person of ordinary
skill in the art would find it obvious to apply the principles forming the
basis of the Chou Patent to bonding septums to caps, when combined
with other pertinent prior art, presents a fact intensive inquiry. To make
that determination, the factfinder must (1) determine whether the prior art
in question is analogous, (2) examine the differences presented in the
SSP’s expert has not expressed an opinion concerning obviousness with
regard to Claims 16, 17, 21, 22 or 23 of the ’939 Patent.
prior art from the invention disclosed, (3) ascertain the reasons why the
Chou method was not applied earlier to bonded caps, and (4) consider the
commercial success associated with the practicing of the inventions
disclosed in the two patents in suit. Conspicuously absent from the
analysis of SSP’s expert is consideration of the external, objective factors
indicating non-obviousness, a factor deemed by the Federal Circuit to play
a critical role helping to avoid the influences of hindsight. Mintz, 679 F.3d
at 1378. One wonders why, for example, in the face of SSP’s
obviousness claims, the process and method disclosed in the ’335 and
’939 patents was not in earlier widespread use in the bonded cap industry
to avoid the potential for contamination by adhesives sought to be
addressed by the inventors. In a similar vein, SSP’s obviousness analysis
fails to consider the commercial success of ILT’s product embodiment of
the patent process and method. Questions of fact also exist as to
whether, at the time of the invention, there existed motivation to combine
two or more of the relevant prior art references to arrive at the result
disclosed in the disputed patents.
In sum, while the record demonstrates no issue of facts precluding
the entry of summary judgment declaring Claims 1-15 of the ’939 Patent
to be invalid as obvious, issues of fact preclude the entry of summary
judgment in favor of either side on the question of obviousness with
respect to the remaining claims of the two patents in suit.
Included in SSP’s defense of invalidity is a claim that the patents in
suit fail to meet the requirements of 35 U.S.C. § 112. In its summary
judgment motion, ILT urges dismissal of this portion of SSP’s invalidity
defense, arguing that the two patents in suit meet the written description
requirements of section 112 and are not impermissibly indefinite. SSP
counters, based largely upon the opinions of its expert, R.J. Del Vecchio,
that the claims of those patents are fatally indefinite since a person of
ordinary skill in the art would not necessarily readily distinguish between a
primer and adhesive, as those terms have been construed by the court.
In further support of its claim of indefiniteness, SSP also raises questions
as to whether, and if so to what extent, materials other than adhesives
and plastics can be present as part of a direct bond, and whether there is
an upper limit as to the amount of time necessary to form a bond, absent
the use of a primer.
The requirements for a patent specification are set forth in 35 U.S.C.
§ 112. That section provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
(a) In general. The specification shall contain a
written description of the invention, and of the
manner and process of making and using it, in
such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to
enable any person skilled in the art to which it
pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected,
to make and use the same, and shall set forth the
best mode contemplated by the inventor of
carrying out his invention.
(b) Conclusion. The specification shall conclude
with one or more claims particularly pointing out
and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the
applicant regards as his invention.
35 U.S.C. § 112. Section 112(a) is conventionally regarded as requiring
that a specification disclose both a written description of the invention and
the manner and process of making it, the latter requirement to be judged
by whether the specification enables a person of ordinary skill in the art to
practice the invention. See Ariad Pharm., Inc. v. Eli Lilly and Co., 598 F.3d
1336, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (“We . . . hold that § 112, first paragraph,
contains two separate and description requirements: a written description
[i] of the invention, and [ii] of the manner and process of making and using
the invention.”) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)
(emphasis in original); Univ. of Rochester, 358 F.3d at 923 (“[I]t is also
true that the [written description] requirement must still be met in some
way so as to describe the claimed invention so that one skilled in the art
can recognize what is claimed.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Section 112(b) overlays a requirement of definiteness upon a patent’s
claims. Halliburton Energy Serv., Inc. v. M-I LLC, 514 F.3d 1244, 1249
(Fed. Cir. 2008).
The focal point of SSP’s section 112 defense is the claim that the
two patents in suit fail to meet the definiteness requirement of section
112(b). That provision requires that a patent specification “shall conclude
with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming
subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention.” 35 U.S.C. §
112(b). As can be seen, unlike section 112(a), with its emphasis upon a
patent’s specification as a whole, section 112(b) requires the court to
gauge the adequacy of the claims of a particular patent claim. “A
determination that a patent claim is invalid for failing to meet the
definiteness requirement in [35 U.S.C. § 112(b)] is a legal question . . . .”
Young v. Lumenis, Inc., 492 F.3d 1336, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2007); see also
Bancorp Servs., L.L.C. v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., 359 F.3d 1367, 1371
(Fed. Cir. 2004). In light of the presumption of validity, a party seeking to
establish indefiniteness pursuant to section 112(b) must show facts
supporting that conclusion by clear and convincing evidence. Enzo
Biochem, Inc. v. Applera Corp., 599 F.3d 1325, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2010)
(citing Young, 492 F.3d at 1345); Datamize, LLC v. Plumtree Software,
Inc., 417 F.3d 1342, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2005); see also Ralston Purina Co. v.
Far-Mar-Co, Inc., 772 F.2d 1570, 1574 (Fed. Cir. 1985).
The definiteness inquiry is focused upon whether a person of
ordinary skill in the art would understand what is claimed by the patentee.
Enzo Biochem, 599 F.3d at 1332. That requirement mandates that “the
scope of [a patent’s] claims be sufficiently definite to inform the public of
the bounds of the protected invention.” Halliburton Energy Servs., 514
F.3d at 1249; see also Datamize, LLC, 417 F.3d at 1347 (“[T]he purpose
of the definiteness requirement is to ensure that the claims delineate the
scope of the invention using language that adequately notifies the public
of the patentee’s right to exclude.”) (citation omitted). This claimdefiniteness requirement is intended to ensure that patent claims are
“‘sufficiently precise to permit a potential competitor to determine whether
or not he [or she] is infringing.’” Amgen Inc. v. Hoechst Marion Roussel,
Inc., 314 F.3d 1313, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (quoting Morton Int’l, Inc. v.
Cardinal Chem. Co., 5 F.3d 1464, 1470 (Fed. Cir. 1993)). As the
Supreme Court has observed, “[i]t has long been understood that a patent
must describe the exact scope of an invention and its manufacture 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, 116 S. Ct.
at 1387 (internal quotation marks omitted) (alterations in original). A claim
satisfies the definiteness mandate when one skilled in the art understands
the claim’s parameters as read in light of the specification. Personalized
Media Commc’ns, LLC v. Int’l Trade Comm’n, 161 F.3d 696, 705 (Fed.
Cir. 1998) (“‘If the claims read in light of the specification reasonably
apprise those skilled in the art of the scope of the invention, § 112
demands no more.’”) (quoting Miles Lab., Inc. v. Shandon, Inc., 997 F.2d
879, 875 (Fed. Cir. 1993)).
Despite these well-established principles, “[t]he definiteness
requirement, however, does not compel absolute clarity. Only claims ‘not
amenable to construction’ or ‘insolubly ambiguous’ are indefinite.”
Datamize, LLC., 417 F.3d at 1347 (quoting Novo Indus., L.P. v. Micro
Molds Corp., 350 F.3d 1348, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2003)). “Thus, the
definiteness of claim terms depends on whether those terms can be given
any reasonable meaning.” Datamize, LLC., 417 F.3d at 1347; see also
Amgen, 314 F.3d at 1342 (“[A] claim is not indefinite merely because its
scope is not ascertainable from the face of the claims. Rather, a claim is
indefinite . . . if it is insolubly ambiguous, and no narrowing construction
can properly be reached.”) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). It should also be noted that the fact that claim construction
proves a formidable task does not invariably lead to a conclusion that the
definiteness requirement of section 112(b) has not been met. Halliburton,
514 F.3d at 1249 (citing Exxon Research & Eng’g Co. v. United States,
265 F.3d 1371, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2001)).
An accused infringer claiming invalidity as the basis of indefiniteness
faces a heavy burden. “[T]his standard is met where an accused infringer
shows by clear and convincing evidence that a skilled artisan could not
discern the boundaries of the claim based on the claim language, the
specification, and prosecution history, as well as her knowledge of the
relevant art area.” Halliburton, 514 F.3d at 1249-50. A finding of
indefiniteness is warranted “only if reasonable efforts of claimed
construction prove futile[.]” Bankcorp Servs., L.L.C., 359 F.3d at 1371.
Close questions concerning whether a patent claim is sufficiently definite
must be resolved in favor of the patentee. Id. “The common thread [in
Federal Circuit cases involving indefiniteness] is that claims were held
indefinite only where a person of ordinary skill in the art could not
determine the bounds of the claims, i.e., the claims were insolubly
ambiguous.” Halliburton, 514 F.3d at 1249.
In this instance, the definiteness argument now being raised by SSP
cannot be firmly addressed without resolution of disputed facts, including
those addressed in SSP’s expert reports. According to Del Vecchio, for
example, a person of ordinary skill in the art would be unable to
distinguish between an adhesive and a primer, as those terms are utilized
in the two patents in suit. As was previously noted, according to Del
Vecchio, a person of ordinary skill in the art similarly would not be able to
determine the upper time limit within which two ionized or otherwise
activated surfaces must be joined in order to form the desired bond
without the use of an adhesive. Further, Del Vecchio concludes that a
person of ordinary skill in the art would be unable to determine from the
patents themselves how much “intervening material” could be permissibly
present between the two joined surfaces in order to still qualify without
negating the presence of a “direct bond.” Given these pivotal questions I
am not prepared at this juncture to state that no reasonable factfinder
could find indefiniteness, utilizing the foregoing standard, when reviewing
the claims of the ’335 and ’939 Patents, as argued by SSP. Accordingly, I
deny ILT’s motion for summary judgment dismissing SSP’S defense of
invalidity based upon the failure to meet the requirements of section 112.
Among the affirmative defenses set forth in SSP’s answer, as
amended, is its assertion that ILT’s claims are barred, wholly or in part, by
waiver, laches, prosecution laches and/or estoppel, including equitable
estoppel. While SSP has since withdrawn its defenses of waiver, laches,
and prosecution laches, it now seeks a finding, as a matter of law, that ILT
is estopped from pursuing its claims of patent infringement in this action,
based upon its inaction, leading SSP to reasonably conclude that ILT had
abandoned its claims against SSP.
Equitable estoppel, like laches, is a defense “addressed to the
sound discretion of the trial court.” A.C. Aukerman Co. v. R.L. Chaides
Co., 960 F.2d 1020, 1041 (Fed. Cir. 1992) (en banc). The defense of
estoppel is one that may properly be resolved on a motion for summary
judgment, provided there are no genuine issues of fact surrounding its
three essential elements. A.C. Aukerman Co., 960 F.2d at 1043. If the
defense is established to the trial court’s satisfaction, a patentee may be
barred from seeking relief on a claim of patent infringement. Id. at 1041.
In order to support a finding of equitable estoppel an accused
infringer must establish that (1) through misleading conduct, the patentee
has led the alleged infringer to reasonably infer that it does not intend to
enforce its patent rights against the alleged infringer; (2) the accused
infringer has relied upon that conduct; and (3) as a result of its reliance
the alleged infringer will be materially prejudiced if the patentee is
permitted to proceed with its infringement claims. A.C. Aukerman Co.,
960 F.2d at 1028, 1042; Ecolab, Inc., 264 F.3d at 1371.
As can be seen, at the heart of the equitable estoppel defense is the
question of whether a person in the alleged infringer’s position could
reasonably have inferred that the patentee did not intend to pursue
infringement claims against the alleged infringer. A.C. Aukerman Co.,
960 F.2d at 1042. To succeed based upon the defense of equitable
estoppel at the summary judgment stage, an accused infringer must
establish that the inference it drew, to the affect that the patentee would
not pursue infringement claims against it, was the only possible inference
to be drawn from the circumstances presented. Id. at 1044.
The first essential element, centering upon the patentee’s conduct,
can be met through conduct taking the form of statements, actions or
inaction. A.C. Aukerman Co., 960 F.2d at 1042. The first prong of the
equitable estoppel test may also be satisfied by silence, provided “that the
silence is accompanied by another factor lending to the conclusion that
the silence was sufficiently misleading to amount to bad faith.” ABB
Robotics, Inc. v. GMFanuc Robotics Corp., 52 F.3d 1062, 1064 (Fed. Cir.
1995); A.C. Aukerman, 960 F.2d at 1041. “Silence alone will not create
an estoppel unless there was a clear duty to speak or somehow the
patentee’s continued silence re-enforces the defendant’s inference from
the plaintiff’s known acquiescence that the defendant will be unmolested.”
A.C. Aukerman, 960 F.3d at 1043-44 (citation omitted).
The essence of the first element is whether, through the patentee’s
conduct, the accused has reasonably drawn the inference that the
patentee does not intend to take action to enforce its patent rights. The
longer the delay in acting becomes, the stronger the inference of inaction
on the part of the patentee becomes. A.C. Aukerman, 960 F.3d at 1044.
Although the length of delay in filing suit may bear upon whether the
patentee’s conduct has been misleading, as SSP argues, one
distinguishing factor between laches and equitable estoppel is that the
latter defense does not require a showing of passage of an unreasonable
period of time in filing suit. Id. at 1041-42.
To prove the second element of equitable estoppel - reliance - an
“accused infringer must show that, in fact, it substantially relied on the
misleading conduct of the patentee in connection with taking some
action.” A.C. Aukerman Co., 960 F.2d at 1042-43. Although the two are
frequently confused, “[r]eliance is not the same as prejudice or harm.” Id.
at 1043. More specifically, “[t]o show reliance, the infringer must have had
a relationship or communication with the [patentee] which lulls the
infringer into a sense of security . . . .” Id.
Either of two types of prejudice can suffice to support the third
element of the equitable estoppel defense – economic prejudice or
defense prejudice. Ecolab, Inc., 264 F.3d at 1371-72. Economic
prejudice results from a change in economic position of the accused
infringer that would not have occurred, had suit been brought earlier. Id.
at 1371. Such conduct as the hiring of new employees, the purchase or
modification of equipment, and expansion of manufacturing sales and
marketing capacities related to a new line resulting from a business
decision to capitalize on a market opportunity with a belief that the
accused produce is non-infringing, however, does not represent the type
of economic prejudice necessary to support of finding of estoppel. Id. at
1371-72. Defense prejudice stems from an impairment of the ability to
present a full and fair defense on the merits based upon the delay in the
patentee’s pursuit of its claims. Id. at 1372.
SSP was first placed upon notice of ILT’s claim of infringement of
the ’335 and ’939 Patents through receipt of a “cease and desist” letter in
July 2007, demanding that SSP halt its infringing activities, provide
information regarding the number of allegedly-infringing caps sold and
revenue generated, and give assurance that it would refrain from future
infringing activities. After an ensuing exchange of letters, a meeting was
held on November 8, 2007 between representatives of the two companies,
including Alan Gee, a principal in ILT and a co-inventor listed on the ’335
and ’939 Patents, to address ILT’s claims of infringement. During that
meeting SSP’s representatives generally described the process utilized in
its manufacture of bonded caps, but declined ILT’s request for information
concerning the specific chemical formulations involved. SSP’s counsel
subsequently wrote to ILT’s attorneys on November 13, 2007, suggesting
that the information provided by SSP during the meeting should allow ILT
to conclude that SSP’s products were non-infringing, and closing as
Thus, we ask that ILT formally withdraw its
infringement claims as soon as possible. We
would appreciate receiving written confirmation of
ILT’s agreement to withdraw its claims against
SSP no later than Wednesday, November 28,
Defendants’ Exhibits (Dkt. No. 68) Exh. G. ILT did not respond to this
Following the November 2007 meeting, ILT continued its
investigation of SSP’s products. To further that investigation ILT’s
president, Paul Petrosino, placed an order with SSP in March of 2008 to
purchase bonded caps. Alan Gee Decl. (Dkt. No. 85-2) ¶ 4. SSP,
however, failed to fill that order. Id. As a result, ILT was forced to obtain
SSP bonded caps from certain of its customers in order to test the caps
for the presence of any adhesive between the cap and the septum. Id. ¶
5. When independent testing failed to detect the presence of any
adhesive in the SSP caps, ILT determined that it had sufficient evidence
of infringement, and commenced this action on November 16, 2009.
SSP likens its situation to the circumstances presented in Scholle
Corp. v. Black Hawk Molding Co., Inc., 133 F.3d 1469 (Fed. Cir. 1998), a
case in which the Federal Circuit upheld a district court’s finding of
equitable estoppel. The course of conduct by the parties in that case,
however, is materially distinguishable from the situation presented in this
action. In Scholle Corp., the accused infringer, after receiving a letter in
December of 1991 threatening suit for patent infringement, immediately
began efforts to design around the patentee’s patent with an eye toward
producing a non-infringing substitute product. In October 1992, the
accused infringer filed a patent application for the new product, and in
February of 1993 began marketing that product. At a meeting held in April
of 1993, the accused infringer’s chairman and president provided samples
of the new product to the patentee’s chief executive officer, and informed
him that the accused infringer considered the new cap to be outside of the
scope of the patentee’s patent, and that it intended to market the cap and
would consider the new product as non-infringing unless the patentee
advised the accused infringer otherwise. Samples of the new product
were later forwarded to patentee’s chairman, and by July of 1993 both the
patentee’s patent counsel and the patent inventor were aware of the
accused infringer’s product. Despite these circumstances, and multiple
intervening contacts between high-level corporate officials from both
companies, the patentee offered no response to the accused infringer’s
inquiry between the 1993 meeting and February 22, 1996, when the
patentee filed suit for patent infringement. In granting summary judgment
the district court found, and the Federal Circuit agreed, that the patentee’s
conduct consisted of more than mere silence, and instead also included
affirmative action such as prior threats to sue the accused infringer and
regular discussions regarding the patentee’s patent infringement litigation
against another competitor, concluding that the totality of circumstances
indicated a course of dealings whereby the accused infringer was
reasonably led to believe that the patentee did not intend to press
infringement claims based upon the new product. Scholle Corp., 133 F.3d
In this instance, by contrast, based upon the record now before the
court, I am unable to conclude that the “only possible inference” to be
drawn by SSP from ILT’s inaction is that it had abandoned its intention to
pursue infringement claims against SSP. A.C. Auckerman Co., 960 F.2d
at 1044 (emphasis in original). Accordingly, I deny SSP’s motion for
summary judgment precluding plaintiff’s infringement claims on the basis
of equitable estoppel.19
SUMMARY AND ORDER
The pending motions in this patent infringement action, present a
variety of issues, both procedural and substantive. Addressing first the
procedural aspects, I conclude that ILT’s motion to strike the expert the
reports of R.J. Del Vecchio, an expert retained by SSP, and to preclude
him from testifying at trial, should be denied based upon ILT’s failure to
demonstrate that the testimony would not appropriately be admitted under
Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence together with Daubert and its
progeny, and the lack of any prejudice associated with the fact that his
expert opinions may have been described in far greater detail in his
rebuttal report than in the initial report disclosed to ILT. Turning to the
parties’ substantive motions, I find that genuine, triable issues of material
fact exist and preclude of the entry of summary judgment on the questions
of infringement, invalidity, and equitable estoppel, except as to Claims 115 of the ’939 Patent, which I find to be invalid as obvious, as a matter of
In light of my finding of issues of fact surrounding the first element I have
not addressed whether SSP has proven that it relied upon ILT’s inaction, and no
reasonable factfinder could conclude otherwise, nor have I reviewed SSP’s assertion
of economic prejudice to determine whether it meets the governing standard under the
third element of the controlling test.
law; Claims 18-20 of the ’939 Patent, and Claims 1 and 4-7 of the ’335
Patent, which I find, as a matter of law, not to be invalid as anticipated.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED as follows:
SSP’s motion to strike ILT’s reply memorandum (Dkt. No. 107)
as unauthorized under the court’s local rules is DENIED.
ILT’S motion to strike the opening and rebuttal reports of R.J.
Del Vecchio (Dkt. No. 94) is DENIED.
ILT’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of
infringement (Dkt. No. 70) is DENIED.
SSP’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of equitable
estoppel (Dkt. No. 68) is DENIED.
SSP’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of invalidity
(Dkt. No. 68) is GRANTED, in part, the court finding that Claims 1-15 of
the ’939 Patent are invalid as obvious, but is otherwise DENIED.
ILT’s motion for summary judgment on the question of patent
invalidity (Dkt. No. 69) is GRANTED, to the extent that SSP’s defense and
counterclaim of invalidity based upon anticipation is DISMISSED with
respect to Claims 18-20 of the ’939 Patent and Claims 1 and 4-7 of the
’335 Patent (Dkt. No. 69), but is otherwise DENIED.
A final pretrial conference will be held in this action on
December 5, 2012 at 11:30 a.m. at the United States Courthouse in
Albany, New York. The parties should be prepared during that pretrial
conference to discuss the anticipated length, date and appropriate
location regarding a trial in this action, as well as any issues anticipated to
arise during trial.
November 2, 2012
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