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DISPLAY TECHNOLOGIES, INC. v. PAUL FLUM IDEAS

December 9, 1999

DISPLAY TECHNOLOGIES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
PAUL FLUM IDEAS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.

  AMENDED OPINION

Defendant Paul Flum Ideas, Inc. ("Flum") has moved: (1) pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure for partial summary judgment of invalidity of Claim 1 of United States Patent No. 5,646,176 (the "'176 Patent"); and (2) pursuant to Rule 56 for summary judgment of noninfringement of the '176 Patent. For the reasons set forth below, Flum's motion for summary judgment with respect to invalidity of Claim 1 is granted. Flum's motion for summary judgment with respect to noninfringement is granted in part and denied in part.

The Parties

Plaintiff Display Technologies, Inc. ("Display") is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New York, having a principal place of business at 111-01 14th Avenue, College Point, New York 11356.

Defendant Flum is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Missouri, having corporate headquarters at 11100 Linpage Place, St. Louis, Missouri 63132.

Prior Proceedings

On August 20, 1998, Display filed a complaint against Flum alleging infringement of the '176 Patent. On May 19, 1999, Flum filed the instant motions for summary judgment. Oral argument was heard on June 24, 1999, at which time the motions were deemed fully submitted.

Facts

The facts as set forth below are derived from the complaint and the statements of the parties pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1, Local Rules of the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern District of New York and are uncontested except as noted.

A. The '176 Patent

It is undisputed that Display is the owner and assignee of the '176 Patent, entitled "Display Rack with Channel Front Member." The '176 Patent was filed with the Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") as application serial number 08/694,310 on August 8, 1996.*fn1 The '176 Patent is directed to an improved display rack for displaying and dispensing upright articles, such as beverage bottles or cans, from a refrigerated display case. The display rack of the '176 Patent generally consists of parallel channels for organizing and holding upright bottles or cans in a line, the channels being connected to each other in a side-by-side relationship. Because the underlying supporting shelf is slanted, the bottles in each channel slide forward, one at a time, as each lead bottle is dispensed by hand from the front.

  1. A display rack for supporting and displaying
  upright elongate articles, comprising:
    A. a plurality of elongate channels, each said
    channel defining:

(i) a pair of laterally spaced upstanding sidewalls

    (ii) a substantially planar article-supporting
    track connecting said sidewalls at the bottoms
    thereof, and
    (iii) a front member spaced above said track,
    secured to at least one of said sidewalls, and at
    least partially bridging the sidewalls; the bottom
    of said front member, the top of the front of said
    track and the front of said sidewalls cooperatively
    defining an aperture through which an upright
    substantial portion of a lead article in said
    channel may be viewed; and
    B. means securing said channels in side-by-side,
    longitudinally parallel and transversely adjacent
    relationship.

Figure 1 of the '176 Patent shows a front member attached to at least one side wall. The specification of the '176 Patent defines a sidewall as "extending the length of the channel."

Claims 5, 6, 18-20 and 28 require, inter alia, display racks with "transparent" front members. Transparent materials are used, according to Display, for construction of the claimed display racks so as "not [to] interfere with viewing of the leading article in the channel." Claim 18 is illustrative and provides in relevant part:

  18. A display rack for supporting and displaying
  articles, comprising:

***

    (iii) a transparent front member formed of
    polypropylene disposed forwardly of the front of
    said track [secured to at least one of said
    sidewalls]*fn3 and at least partially bridging
    said sidewalls.

For securing the article display rack onto an underlying support shelf, the '176 Patent discloses upwardly extending bottom opening recesses located on the bottoms of the channel sidewalls, for telescopically receiving the upper rod of the front wall of the support shelf. Claims 14-16, 21-26 and 28 require either recesses or means for "telescopic receipt therein" of the front or back wall of the support tray. For example, Claim 21 provides in relevant part:

  21. A display rack for supporting and displaying
  articles, for use with a supporting tray having at
  least one of a laterally extending upstanding front
  wall and laterally extending upstanding back wall,
  comprising:

(A) a plurality of elongate channels defining:

    (i) a pair of laterally spaced upstanding sidewalls
    . . . said sidewalls being configured and
    dimensioned to . . . define a plurality of
    laterally aligned and laterally spaced pairs of
    upwardly extending bottom-opening recesses adjacent
    to the front and back thereof for telescopic
    receipt therein of at least one of a tray front
    wall and a tray back wall.

As disclosed in the drawings and specification of the '176 patent, the phrase "telescopic receipt" requires that the rod of the support rack be within the recess of the sidewall.

To secure two or more channels in a side-by-side manner to form a multi-channel display rack, the '176 patent discloses what it terms a "key-and-keyhole releasable locking system." Claims 27 and 28 both require the "key-and-key hole limitation." Claim 27 provides:

  27. A key-and-keyhole releasable locking system for a
  pair of adjacent display rack channels, comprising:
    (A) a generally flat lateral projection in the
    nature of a key disposed on one sidewall of one
    pair of adjacent display rack channels, and having
    (i) an inner portion substantially flat on both the
    top and bottom surfaces thereof,
    (ii) a middle portion substantially flat on one of
    said surfaces and defining a transverse flange
    extending normal to the substantially flat surface
    thereof, and
    (iii) an outer portion substantially flat on the
    other said surfaces and defining a transverse
    flange extending normal to the substantially flat
    surface thereof, and
    (B) a through-hole in the nature of a keyway
    disposed on an adjacent sidewall on the other of
    the pair of adjacent ...

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