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KOITO MANUFACTURING CO., LTD v. TURN-KEY-TECH

November 14, 2002

KOITO MANUFACTURING CO., LTD, AND NORTH AMERICAN LIGHTING, INC. PLAINTIFFS
V.
TURN-KEY-TECH, L.L.C. AND JENS OLE SORENSEN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, Chief Judge

ORDER CONSTRUING CLAIMS

In this patent infringement case, Koito Manufacturing Co., Ltd and North American Lighting, Inc. (collectively, "Koito") filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement, invalidity, and unenforceability of U.S. Patent No. 5,045,268 (the '268 patent), against Turn-Key-Tech, LLC and Jens Ole Sorensen (collectively, "Turn-Key"). On March 28, 2002, Turn-Key filed an answer to the complaint in which it counterclaimed for patent infringement. On April 17, 2002, Koito filed an answer to the counterclaim. On October 15, 2002, Turn-Key filed an opening brief supporting its construction of the disputed terms of the '268 patent. On October 28, 2002, Koito filed its responsive brief, and on November 4, 2002, Turn-Key filed its reply. On November 12, 2002, the court held a hearing in accordance with Markman v. Westview Instruments Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996), to construe the disputed claims of the '268 patent. The parties seek construction of numerous limitations in claims 1 and 21, which are the two independent claims of the '268 patent. The disputed terms include "cross-laminated section," "predetermined general direction," first- and second- "direction-flow-record," "positively different," "flow channel," and "layer-defining-mold-cavity-section" This is the court's construction of the disputed claims.

I. BACKGROUND

The court draws the following facts from the complaint, the '268 patent, its prosecution history, and the submissions of the parties.

A. Background of the Technology

This case involves injection molding technology, which can be used to manufacture items ranging from plastic cups to cassette tapes to automobile tail-lights. In an injection molding process, liquid plastic is injected into a mold cavity in the shape of the desired product. The mold cavity is simply the space between two mold sections into which the liquid plastic flows. Like the interior of a waffle iron, the walls of the mold cavity determine the shape of the final product. Upon cooling, the plastic solidifies into the desired shape and is ejected from the mold. Injection molding processes generally include the following steps: (1) plasticizing the plastic material into a fluid; (2) injecting at high pressure a controlled volume of the fluid plastic into the mold cavity; (3) maintaining the system under pressure for a specified period of time; (4) solidifying the plastic in the mold; and finally (4) opening the mold and ejecting the finished product.

Products created through injection molding possess a grain running in the direction that the fluid flowed in the mold cavity. Like a wood plank, injection molded products possess more strength across than with the grain. Thus, they break more easily along the grain. This weakness can be problematic in certain applications where strong plastic layers (or strong portions of layers) are desired. Jens Sorensen, the inventor of the '268 patent, sought to solve the along-the-grain weakness problem. As more fully described below, he developed a solution using cross-lamination, which involves overlapping one or more layers with different flow directions to create a cross-laminated section with increased strength.

B. The '268 Patent

The '268 patent teaches and claims the cross-lamination injection molding process described above. Independent claim 1 of the '268 patent*fn1 recites:

A method of injection molding a plastic product, with a cross-laminated section that includes a first plastic layer and a second plastic layer, in a mold system comprising a first mold cavity with a first-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section and a second mold cavity with a second-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section with a second-cavity-section-wall, the method comprising the steps of:
(a) injecting a quantity of first plastic into the first mold cavity so that the first plastic flows in the first-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section in a first predetermined general direction,
(b) solidifying at least partly the flowed first plastic in the first-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section to thereby form said first plastic layer having a first-direction-flow-record,
(c) adjusting the mold system to thereby provide the second mold cavity with the second-cavity-section-wall including said first plastic layer,
(d) injecting a quantity of second plastic into the second mold cavity so that the second plastic flows in the second-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section in a second predetermined general direction, whereby the second plastic in the second-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section fuses with said first plastic layer,
(e) solidifying the flowed second plastic in the second-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section to thereby form said second plastic layer, so that the second plastic layer has a second-direction-flow-record which is positively different from said first-direction-flow-record, to thereby form said plastic product with said cross-laminated section that includes both the first plastic layer and the second plastic layer, and
(f) adjusting the mold system to thereby eject the product, wherein the first mold cavity comprises a first-cavity-flow-channel which is located adjacent the first-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section with a flow channel being defined as a portion of a mold cavity which is significantly thicker and wider than the adjacent mold cavity thickness for the purpose of directing the flow injected plastic, and wherein step (a) comprises the step of:
(g) directing the first plastic into the first-layer-defining-mold-cavity-section via the first-cavity-flow-channel so that the first plastic flows in the first-cavity-flow-channel in a direction which is positively different from said first predetermined general direction.

'268 Patent, col. 8, 11. 11-61 (emphases added). The emphases indicate the claim terms in dispute. Independent claim 21 is identical to claim 1, except that steps (f)-(g) recite:

(g) directing second plastic into the second-layer-defining-mold-cavity section via the second-cavity-flow-channel, so that the second plastic flows in the second-cavity-flow-channel in a direction which is positively different from said second predetermined general direction.

Id. col. 11, lines 20-35 (emphases added).

Figure 1 of the '268 patent, shown below, illustrates a sectional view of a mold cavity containing flow channel according to one of the preferred embodiments of the invention.

Mold system 7 includes two complementary mold sections 8 and 9, one of which contains a gate that allows for injection of the liquid plastic. Mold cavity 1 is the space formed between the interior walls of complementary mold sections 8 and 9. Mold cavity 1 contains a cavity flow channel 6 through which the liquid plastic passes. Because the flow channel is wide relative to the adjacent cavity area, the liquid plastic passes more easily through flow channel 6 than it does through the adjacent cavity area. Because the liquid plastic follows the path of least resistance through the mold, it travels through the flow channel before passing into the rest of the mold cavity. In addition, when the plastic flows from the flow channel into the cavity, the direction of flow alters in a predictable way. The degree of change in the flow path depends upon the relative cavity thicknesses within the mold cavity. Thus, the liquid plastic flows into the layer-defining-mold-cavity-section in a predetermined direction.

After the plastic flows into the cavity and is allowed to solidify, at least partially, into the first plastic layer 13, the mold system is adjusted as shown below in Figure 2. Mold section 9 and the first. plastic layer 13, together with new mold section 11. form mold system 10.*fn2 This mold system has a new mold cavity 3. Plastic is injected and flows into layer-defining-mold-cavity-section 4 in a predetermined direction that is different from that used to form plastic layer 13.*fn3 The second plastic solidifies and fuses with the appropriate part of plastic layer 13 to form the desired cross-laminated section.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Basic Principles of Claim Construction

The court construes the claim terms of a patent as a matter of law. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 391 (1996). Interpretation of claim terms begins with the language of the claims, the words of which are generally to be given their customary meaning as understood by one of ordinary skill in the pertinent art. Rexnord Corp., v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 134 1-42 (Fed. Cir. 2001). "[A] court must presume that the terms in the claim mean what they say, and, unless otherwise compelled, give full effect to the ordinary and accustomed meaning of claim terms." Johnson Worldwide Associates. Inc., v. Zebco Corp., 175 F.3d 985, 989 (Fed. Cir. 1999). The Federal Circuit has explained that dictionaries are of special use in determining the customary meaning of claim terms. "As resources and references to inform and aid courts and judges in the understanding of technology and terminology, it is entirely proper for both trial and appellate judges to consult these materials at any stage of a litigation, regardless of whether they have been offered by a party in evidence or not. Thus, categorizing them as 'extrinsic evidence' or even a `special form of extrinsic evidence' is misplaced and does not inform the analysis." Texas Digital Sys., Inc. v. Telegenix. Inc., 308 F.3d 1193, ___ 2002 WL 31307212 at *5 (Fed. Cir. 2002). The court should consult the intrinsic record, which includes both the specification and the prosecution history, if in evidence, in order to determine which of the various dictionary meanings is most consistent with the inventor's use of the words. Id.

After determining the plain meaning of a term to one of ordinary skill in the art, the court examines the specification "to confirm that the patentee's use of the disputed terms is consistent with the meaning given to it by the court." Rexnord, 274 F.3d at 1342. A patentee can choose to be his or her own lexicographer "by clearly setting forth an explicit definition for a claim term that could differ in scope from that which would be afforded by its ordinary meaning," and such a definition trumps the ordinary understanding of the claim term. Id. The court should also verify that the preferred embodiment falls within the scope of the construed term, "because a claim construction that would exclude the preferred embodiment `is rarely, if ever, correct and would require highly persuasive evidentiary support.'" Id. (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic. Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). Furthermore, the court should determine whether the written description and drawings indicate that the patentee has disclaimed subject matter or limited the claim scope. Id. Finally, "[a]fter examining the written description and the drawings, the same confirmatory measure must be taken with the prosecution history, since statements made during the prosecution of a patent may affect the scope of the invention." Id.

Extrinsic evidence, such as expert testimony, plays an extremely limited role in claim construction. The court can consider extrinsic evidence to construe the claims "[o]nly when the claim language remains genuinely ambiguous after consideration of the intrinsic evidence . . . ." Extrinsic evidence may not be used to contradict a clear meaning provided by the intrinsic evidence. Interactive ...


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