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Stryker Corp. v. Poseidon Surgical, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 24, 2018

Stryker Corporation and Stryker Sales Corporation, Plaintiffs,
v.
Poseidon Surgical, LLC, Defendant.

          CLAIM CONSTRUCTION OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Paul L. Maloney Judge

         Plaintiff Stryker Corporation has developed the Neptune 2 Waste Management System, a portable machine that assists in the collection and disposal of medical waste. This lawsuit concerns a disposable device called a manifold, which connects to the Neptune 2. Stryker Corporation owns a patent for its manifold, titled "Removable Inlet Manifold for a Medical/Surgical Waste Collection System, " Patent Number 7, 615, 037 (Patent '037). Plaintiff Stryker Sales Corporation is the exclusive distributor for the Stryker manifold. Defendant Poseidon Surgical makes a manifold that is compatible with the Neptune 2.[1]Plaintiffs allege that Poseidon's manifold infringes Stryker Corporation's patent.

         For most patent infringement disputes, the court begins by construing the language in the patent's claims. The parties have offerd differing interpretations about certain terms and phrases in Stryker's patent. The Court has been asked to construe the two phrases in the patent, "said housing having: opposed proximal and distal ends" and "a longitudinal axis that extends between the proximal and distal ends and through the proximal section and the housing void space”. The Court has had the benefit of two sets of briefs from each side and has held two hearings.

         I.

         Patent '037 contains twenty claims: three independent claims (1, 8, and 14) and seventeen dependent claims. The disputed terms and phrases appear in all three independent claims. Claim 1 reads as follows:

A manifold for connection to a receiver of a medical/surgical waste collection system, the receiver having a rotating valve disk that selectively allows/blocks fluid flow through the receiver, the valve disk having a longitudinal axis that extends through the valve disk, said manifold including:
a housing, said housing having: opposed proximal and distal ends; a proximal section that extends forward from the proximal end, the proximal section at least partially defining a housing void space; a longitudinal axis that extends between the proximal and distal ends and through the proximal section and the housing void space and wherein, at least the proximal section is shaped to be disposed in the waste collection unit receiver and, when, in the receiver, rotate about the housing longitudinal axis;[2]

(ECF No. 1-1 Patent '037 Col. 20 Lines 60-67 PageID52 and Col. 26 Lines 1-8 PageID.53.)

         Initially, the parties focused their competing interpretations on two phrases. The parties disputed the proper interpretation of the phrase "said housing having: opposed proximal and distal ends." For this first dispute, the parties disagreed about how the word "opposed" should be interpreted. The parties also dispute the proper interpretation of the phrase "a longitudinal axis that extends between the proximal and distal ends and through the proximal section and the housing void space." For this second dispute, the parties disagreed about how the word "between" should be interpreted.

         After a hearing, the Court requested that the parties each submit additional briefs addressing the phrase "through the proximal section and the housing void space." The Court concluded that the second dispute, the competing interpretations of the word "between, " could not be resolved without interpreting the entire phrase.

         II.

         Patent infringement analysis involves two steps. In the first step, the meaning and scope of the patent claims are determined. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc) aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). In the second step, the construed claims are applied to the allegedly infringing device. Id.; see Multiform Desiccants, Inc. v. Medzam, Ltd., 133 F.3d 1473, 1476 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“Since a full and complete understanding of the scope of the claims is requisite to determining whether the patent is infringed, technical terms or words of art or special usages in the claims, if in dispute, are construed or clarified by the court before the construed claims are applied to the accused device.”).

         The first step, commonly called “claim construction, ” is a matter of law reserved exclusively for the court. Markman, 52 F.3d at 976-79. The purpose or goal of claim construction is “neither to limit nor to broaden the claims, but to define, as a matter of law, the invention that has been patented.” Netword, LLC v. Centraal Corp., 242 F.3d 1347, 1352 (Fed. Cir. 2001). “It is a 'bedrock principle' of patent law that 'the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.'” hillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys, Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has explained that an appropriate analogy for claim construction is statutory interpretation. Markman, 52 F.3d at 987 (explaining that both involve questions of law, both involve an analysis of words on a written document, both begin with a focus on the language in the document with the interpretation of the language governed by axioms and canons of construction, and in both there is only one correct interpretation).

         Claim construction is required where the meaning or scope of technical words or terms of art are unclear. United States Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (1997). Claim terms must be given their plain and ordinary meaning, as those terms are understood by persons skilled in the relevant art at the time of the invention. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. But, claim construction is “not an obligatory exercise in redundancy.” Ethicon, 103 F.3d at 1568. "In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. Accordingly, a court need not “repeat or restate every claim term in order to comply with the ruling that claim construction is for the court.” Ethicon., 103 F.3d at 1568.

         When determining the proper construction of a claim, a court consults intrinsic sources and then, if necessary, extrinsic sources. Intrinsic sources consist of “the patent itself, including the claims, the specification and, if in evidence, the prosecution history.” Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996); see Netword, 242 F.3d at 1352; Markman, 52 F.3d at 979 (quoting Unique Concepts, Inc. v. Brown, 939 F.2d 1558, 1561 (Fed. Cir. 1991)). “It is well settled that . . . the court should look first to the intrinsic evidence of record . . . . Such intrinsic evidence is the most significant source of the legally operative meaning of disputed claim language.” Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1582 (internal citation omitted). The intrinsic evidence forms the “public record” of the patentee's claim. Id. at 1583. “[C]ompetitors are entitled to review the public record, apply the established rules of claim construction, ascertain the scope of the patentee's claimed invention and, thus, design around the claimed invention.” Id. "Extrinsic evidence is that evidence which is external to the patent and the file history, " including expert testimony and testimony from the inventor. Id. at 1584; see Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of America Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1360-61 (Fed. Cir. 2004). When intrinsic evidence unambiguously describes the scope of the patented invention, it would be improper for a court to rely on extrinsic evidence. Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1583; see Pall Corp. v. Micron Separation, Inc., 66 F.3d 1211, 1216 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (“Extrinsic evidence may also be considered, if needed to assist in determining the meaning or scope of technical terms in the claims.”).

         In cases where the meaning of the disputed terms and phrases appear “readily apparent even to lay judges, ” “general purpose dictionaries may be helpful.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. For claim construction, dictionaries “are worthy of special note” and “[j]udges are free to consult such resources at any time.” Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1584 n.6; see Interactive Gift Express, Inc. v. Compuserve, Inc., 256 F.3d 1323, 1332 n.1 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (“Dictionaries, which are a form of extrinsic evidence, hold a special place and may sometimes be considered along with the intrinsic evidence.”). Dictionary definitions may be considered “when construing claim terms, so long as the dictionary definition does not contradict any definition found in or ascertained by a reading of the patent documents.” Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1584 n.6. Although the Federal Circuit has “never held” that non-scientific dictionaries cannot be used, the circuit has “cautioned against” their use “'lest dictionary definitions . . . be converted into technical terms of art having legal, not linguistic significance.” Dow Chem. Co. v. Sumitomo Chem. Co., Ltd., 257 F.3d 1364, 1372-73 (Fed Cir. 2001) (collecting cases).

         When engaged in the construction of claims, courts begin by looking to the words of the claims themselves to define the scope of the patented invention. Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1582; Innova/Pure, 381 F.3d at 1116 (“[A] claim construction analysis must begin and remain centered on the claim language itself, for that is the language of the patentee has chosen 'to particularly point[ ] out and distinctly claim[ ] the subject matter which the patentee regards as his invention.'” (quoting Interactive Gift Express, 256 F.3d at 1331). “The touchstone for discerning the usage of claim language is the understanding of those terms among artisans of ordinary skill in the relevant art at the time of the invention.” Metabolite, 370 F.3d at 1360; see Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313 (“We have made clear, moreover, that the ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have had to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.”). Such inquiry provides “an objective baseline from which to begin claim construction.” Id.; see Innova/Pure, 381 F.3d at 1116 (“The inquiry into the meaning that claim terms would have to a person of skill in the art at the time of the invention is an objective one.”); Markman, 52 F.3d at 986 (“[T]he focus is on the objective test of what one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention would have understood to term to mean.”).

         The second step in claim construction is to review the patent specification. Claims must always be read in view of the specification, which “is highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed item.” Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1582; see Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315-16 (collecting cases which have “long emphasized the importance of the specification in claim construction.”). After looking at the claim language, a court must “always [ ] review the specification to determine whether the inventor has used any terms in a manner inconsistent with their ordinary meaning.” Vitronics Corp., 90 F.3d at 1582 (alteration added); see Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316 (“[T]he specification may reveal a special definition given to a claim term by the patentee that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess. In such cases, the inventor's lexicography governs.”). “[T]he specification may reveal an ...


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