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REGAL ELECTRONICS, INC. v. PULSE ENGINEERING

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division


September 1, 2004.

Regal Electronics, Inc., Plaintiff(s),
v.
Pulse Engineering, Inc., et al., Defendant(s).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES WARE, District Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT BEL FUSE INC.'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT OF NON-INFRINGEMENT
I. INTRODUCTION
This is a patent infringement suit brought by Regal Electronics, Inc. ("Regal") against Bel Fuse, Inc. ("Bel Fuse") and others. Regal claims that Bel Fuse's MagJack Series of Modular Connectors ("MagJack Connectors") infringe U.S. Patent No. 6,171,152 ("'152 Patent"), which Regal owns. Presently before this Court is Bel Fuse's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement. This Court held a hearing on August 30, 2004. Based upon all papers filed to date and the comments of counsel, this Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Bel Fuse's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement.

II. BACKGROUND

  The technologies at issue in this case are RJ-45 modular connectors used to transmit data over local area networks ("LANs"). Physically, these connectors resemble the click-together connectors used to set up telephones. One difference is that RJ-45 modular connectors are wider, in part, because they contain eight adjoining wires whereas telephone connectors contain less adjoining wires. Typically, RJ-45 connectors are mounted near the outer edge of a computer's motherboard so that they can receive matching, external RJ-45 plugs.

  The '152 Patent contains twelve claims: two independent claims and ten dependent claims. Claims 1 and 6, the two independent claims, both claim, inter alia, an RJ-45 style modular connector, comprising:

a contact spring assembly of a plurality of wires in separate circuits that pass forward through said open back end into the back of said open front end of the housing, wherein the contact spring assembly includes a plastic block that supports the plurality of wires by a right angle turn and is vertically oriented with respect to the plurality of wires, and wherein the plastic block inserts and locks into said open back end of the housing . . .
'152 Patent, Col. 6, ll. 32-40, Col. 7, ll. 15-23 (emphasis added). The emphasized language is at issue here. Bel Fuse argues that its MagJack Connectors do not include "a plastic block that supports the plurality of wires by a right angle turn." Thus, Bel Fuse argues, it is entitled to a judgment of noninfringement as a matter of law.

  On May 12, 2004, this Court issued its Order Following Claims Construction Hearing. (Order Following Claims Construction Hearing ("Claims Construction Order"), Docket No. 90.) In it, this Court construed the language at issue. This Court found that the language means: a "plastic block that holds the plurality of wires by a ninety degree change in direction of the wires." (Claims Construction Order 19.) For the reasons stated below, this Court finds that Bel Fuse's MagJack Connectors do not fall within the literal scope of this meaning. Accordingly, it grants Bel Fuse partial summary judgment of non-infringement with respect to literal infringement.

  III. STANDARDS

  A. Summary Judgment

  Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED R. CIV. P. 56(c). The purpose of summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

  1. No Genuine Issue of Material Fact

  The moving party always "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of `the pleadings, depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. If the moving party meets this burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to "designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. The non-moving party cannot defeat the moving party's properly supported motion for summary judgment simply by alleging some factual dispute between the parties. To preclude the entry of summary judgment, the non-moving party must bring forth material facts, i.e., "facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. . . . Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

  2. Judgment as a Matter of Law

  When a movant moves for summary judgment on a matter on which her opponent bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the movant may carry its burden by negating an essential element of her opponent's claim or by showing that her opponent does not have enough evidence to carry its ultimate burden of persuasion at trial. Adickes v. S.H. Dress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-60 (1970); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. It is the court's responsibility "to determine whether the . . . facts . . . are such that a rational or reasonable jury might return a verdict in its favor based on that evidence." T.W. Elec. Serv. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1997). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no `genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. In conducting its analysis, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). B. Patent Infringement

  Patent infringement analysis involves two steps. First, the claims must be interpreted to determine their meaning and scope. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.2d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc). Second, the accused product must be compared to the properly construed claims. Id. If the accused product contains every element of a patent claim, or its substantial equivalent, there is infringement. Lemelson v. U.S., 752 F.2d 1538, 1551 (Fed. Cir. 1985). Whether a product infringes the properly construed claim of a patent, literally or under the doctrine of equivalents, is a question of fact. Tanabe Seiyaku Co. v. United States Int'l Trade Comm'n, 109 F.3d 726, 731 (Fed. Cir. 1997). Thus, in order to grant summary judgment of non-infringement, the court must conclude, after resolving reasonable factual inferences in favor of the patentee, that "no reasonable jury could find infringement." IMS Tech., Inc. v. Haas Automation, Inc., 206 F.3d 1422, 1429 (Fed. Cir. 2000).

  IV. DISCUSSION

  A. Bel Fuse's MagJack Connectors Do Not Literally Infringe The '152 Patent

  1. There is No Genuine Issue of Material Fact

  There is no genuine issue of material fact here. Regal and Bel Fuse do not dispute the physical structure of Bel Fuse's MagJack Connectors. In fact, both Regal and Bel Fuse have independently submitted actual MagJack Connectors, as physical exhibits, to this Court. They are practically — if not completely — identical to each other. (Compare, e.g., Martin & Hess Decl. Ex. 4 with Kunz Decl. Ex. C.) Thus, there is no factual dispute as to MagJack Connectors' physical structure.

  2. Bel Fuse Is Entitled to Judgment as a Matter of Law

  The real issue here is whether Bel Fuse is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Specifically, the issue is whether Bel Fuse's MagJack Connectors contain "a plastic block that supports the plurality of wires by a right angle turn" as claimed by Regal's '152 Patent. This Court specifically construed this phrase in its Claims Construction Order. This Court found the phrase to mean: "a plastic block that holds the plurality of wires by a ninety degree change in direction of the wires." (Claims Construction Order 19, 21.) Comparing the MagJack Connector to the '152 Patent's properly construed claims, this Court can — and does — find that the MagJack Connectors do not infringe the '152 Patent as a matter of law. See D.M.I., Inc. v. Deere & Co., 755 F.2d 1570, 1573 (Fed. Cir. 1985) ("It is . . . conceivable that comparison of a properly interpreted claim with a stipulated or uncontested description of an accused device or process would reflect such an absence of material fact issue as to warrant summary judgment of . . . noninfringement").

  a. A "Plastic Block" that "Supports" the "Plurality of Wires"

  The '152 Patent specifically claims an RJ-45 style modular connector that contains "a plastic block that supports the plurality of wires. . . ." This Court construed the term "block" to mean "a firm piece of material having one or more flat sides." (Claims Construction Order 11.) This Court noted that "a person of ordinary skill of the art would understand that a `block' refers to a molded or an unmolded insert body which contains the signaling conditioning entirely within its body." (Claims Construction Order 12.) When looking at a MagJack Connector, it is readily apparent that the black, plastic, roughly L-shaped casing, which contains the signal conditioning components, is the "block." (See Raskin & Hess Decl. Ex. 3 (Parts labeled 1 and 11) and Defendant Bel Fuse Inc.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement and Memorandum in Support ("Bel Fuse's Motion") 7 (noting that the Part labeled 11 in Raskin & Hess Decl. Ex. 3 are "[t]he windings of signal conditioning components.") Furthermore, when looking at the MagJack Connector's "plastic block," it is readily apparent that the "plurality of wires" that it "supports" are the eight wires labeled as Part 4 in Raskin & Hess Decl. Ex. 3.

  However, Regal argues that the phrase "plurality of wires" encompasses all wires contained within a MagJack Connector. When one closely examines a MagJack Connector, one notices that, in addition to the plurality of eight wires (horizontally oriented), it also contains thinner wires (roughly vertically oriented) which are part of the signal conditioning components. These two sets of wires are soldered together. According to Regal, the phrase "plurality of wires" encompasses the plurality of eight wires and the thinner wires of the signal conditioning components. This Court disagrees. Regal's very own Disclosure of Asserted Claims and Preliminary Infringement Contentions and Documents ("P.I.C.") belies the argument it now makes. That document betrays Regal's understanding of the "plurality of wires." In particular, Exhibit C correlates specific elements of the '152 Patent's claims to specific parts of the MagJack Connector. Regal clearly understands the "plurality of wires" to be synonymous with the "contact spring assembly" because it labels them both as Part "D" on an accompanying exhibit. (P.I.C. Ex. C) (". . . wherein the contact spring assembly (D) includes a plastic block (E) that supports the plurality of wires (D) by a right angle turn and is vertically oriented with respect to the plurality of wires (D), . . .") (emphasis added). Exhibits 3, 4, and 5, which accompany Exhibit C, contain close-up photographs of the MagJack Connector; on Exhibits 3, 4, and 5, Regal clearly labels as "D" the same plurality of eight wires labeled as Part 4 in Raskin & Hess Decl. Ex. 3.

  b. "By a Ninety Degree Change in Direction" ("By a Right Angle Turn")

  Related to the meaning of "plurality of wires" is whether the MagJack Connector's plastic block holds the plurality of wires "by a ninety degree change in direction of the wires." (Claims Construction Order 19, 21.) Or, to use the language of the '152 Patent itself, the issue is whether the MagJack Connector's plastic block "supports the plurality of wires by a right angle turn." '152 Patent, col. 6, ll. 36-37, col. 7, ll. 19-20. It does not.

  Plainly, the plurality of eight wires in the MagJack Connector does not make a ninety degree change in direction. The MagJack Connector's plurality of wires extends horizontally beyond a vertical plane and terminates there. The wires do not bend or turn in any way, shape, or form — let alone in a ninety degree direction. Regal does not dispute this.

  Instead, Regal argues that, if one looks closely enough, one will discover that the MagJack Connector's plurality of eight wires does, in fact, make a ninety degree turn. Allegedly, the ninety degree turn is formed between the plurality of eight wires (horizontally oriented) and the thinner wires of the signal conditioning components (roughly vertically oriented and soldered to the plurality of eight wires). (Kunz Decl. 8) ("there would still be a true right angle at the exact point where the wires change direction" because the "right angle is formed between the contact portions of the wires and the solder joints that connect [them]"). However, Regal's argument rests upon a premise that this Court rejects — namely, that the phrase "plurality of wires" includes the plurality of eight wires and the thinner wires of the signal conditioning components.*fn1

  Moreover, the '152 Patent itself contradicts Regal's theory. The '152 Patent's claims clearly presume wires that have their own distinct physical independence. For example, the '152 Patent claims an RJ-45 connector comprising "a plastic block that supports the plurality of wires by a right angle turn." '152 Patent, col. 6, ll. 36-37, col. 7, ll. 19-20 (emphasis added). Under plain and ordinary language, an object "turns" when that object itself changes direction — not when a separate object is appended to it. This Court's very own claims construction also presumes physically distinct wires that themselves turn. This Court construed the disputed claims language to mean: "a plastic block that holds the plurality of wires by a ninety degree change in direction of the wires." (Claims Construction Order 19, 21) (emphasis added). In reaching this construction, this Court observed that "Figures 1-3 [of the '152 Patent] show a plastic block holding a plurality of wires making a 90 degree turn towards the circuit board." (Claims Construction Order 20) (emphasis added). Figures 1, 2, and 3 of the '152 Patent each depict the plurality of eight wires itself making a 90 degree turn to connect to the signal conditioning components.*fn2

  In this sense, Regal's street analogy is inapt. When individuals use the word "turn" with respect to streets, it is usually with respect to persons or objects traveling on those streets. For example, "the car turned right from Second Street onto San Carlos Street," or "the pedestrian turned left from Second Street onto San Carlos Street," or "turn left at the stop light." In all of these examples, the verb "turn" refers to an object that itself changes (or is commanded to change) directions. During oral arguments, Regal suggested that the verb "turn" can be used to describe an intersection between two streets. After all, Regal suggested, a street "turns" at an intersection. "Turn" is indeed an awkward verb to describe a street's action at an intersection — at least under plain and ordinary language. First, the verbs "intersect" or "cross" are more commonly (and precisely) used to describe intersections between streets. Second, when the verb "turn" is used in the context of streets, it is usually used to describe a change in direction in the street itself. For example, "Panoramic Way makes a hairpin turn," or "be careful up ahead because the street makes a sharp turn." Third, to the extent the verb "turn" can be used to describe a street's action at an intersection, it is only because the streets appear to be uniformly constructed. That is, they are all made of black asphalt and have white and/or yellow lines painted on them. To the naked eye, there appears to be physical uniformity between one street and an intersecting street. One could hardly say that a street "turns" at an intersection where one street is an asphalt-paved boulevard and the other street is a cobble-stoned footpath.

  Thus, even if Regal is correct, as a matter of physics, that right angles are formed between the plurality of eight wires and the thinner, roughly vertical wires of the signal conditioning components, as a matter of law, no reasonable jury could find that either set of wires "turned." In the final analysis, two wires soldered together is not the same as one wire that turns. Therefore, Bel Fuse's MagJack Connectors do not literally infringe the '152 Patent.

  B. Bel Fuse Has Failed to Satisfy its Burden for Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement on Regal's Claim of Infringement Under the Doctrine of Equivalents

  Because the parties' briefs on this motion devote considerable space to Regal's literal infringement claim, they give relatively short shrift to Regal's infringement claim under the doctrine of equivalents. Moreover, there appears to be a dispute over the legal and procedural standards this Court should use in reviewing such a motion. Since this is Bel Fuse's motion for partial summary judgment, Bel Fuse bears the burden of persuading this Court that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c) and Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Cos., Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102 (9th Cir. 2000) ("A moving party without the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial . . . has both the initial burden of production and the ultimate burden of persuasion on a motion for summary judgment"). Based upon the inadequate briefing, this Court finds that Bel Fuse fails to satisfy its burden as the movant for summary judgment. Accordingly, it denies Bel Fuse's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement on Regal's infringement claim under the doctrine of equivalents. However, the parties are free to file a separate motion on this issue in order to brief it more directly and fully.

  V. CONCLUSION

  For the reasons stated above, Bel Fuse's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement is GRANTED with respect to Regal's claim of literal infringement and DENIED with respect to Regal's claim of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.


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