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TBC Consoles, Inc. v. Forecast Consoles

September 29, 2009

TBC CONSOLES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
FORECAST CONSOLES, INC., DEFENDANTS.
FORECAST CONSOLES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
TBC CONSOLES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kimba M. Wood, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

In this consolidated action, Forecast Consoles, Inc. ("Forecast") alleges that TBC Consoles, Inc. ("TBC") infringed certain of its patents directed at the manufacture of a fully adjustable multimedia workstation.

The parties dispute the meaning of five terms found in certain of the claims of the relevant Forecast patents: (1) "finger"; (2) "longitudinal slot"; (3) "disposed at a downward angle with respect to [another object]" and "formed at a downward angle with respect to [another object]"; and (4) "first and second upper mounting portions." Pursuant to Markman v. Westview, 517 U.S. 370 (1996), the construction of claim terms is a question of a law for the court.

After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court finds no separate Markman hearing is necessary. The paper record, the parties agree, provides the Court with the information necessary to construe the claim terms. See CIAS, Inc. v. Alliance Gaming Corp., 424 F. Supp. 2d 678, 682 (S.D.N.Y. 2006); Interactive Gift Exp., Inc. v. Compuserve Inc., 47 U.S.P.Q.2d 1797, 1799 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), vacated on other grounds, 256 F.3d 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2001); see also Key Pharm. v. Hercon Labs. Corp., 161 F.3d 709, 716 (Fed. Cir. 1998). The Court's construction of the five disputed claim terms follows.

BACKGROUND

I. FACTS

A. The Parties

Forecast and TBC are both engaged in the manufacture and sale of technical furniture, comprised primarily of workstations designed for use in the broadcasting industry.

B. The Patents at Issue

There are three patents at issue: U.S. Patent Nos. 6,857,712 (the "'712 patent"); 7,125,088 (the "'088 patent"); and 7,406,803 (the "'803 patent") (collectively, the "Forecast patents"). The '712 patent is the original patent, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") on February 22, 2005. The applications for the '088 and '803 patents were filed as continuation or divisional applications of the original application that matured into the '712 patent.

The Forecast patents are directed at a "multi-media workstation," which uses a "master rail system" for permitting the "full horizontal adjustment of the various components of the workstation." ('712 patent; col. 1, lines 10-15.) Each of the patents contain the same written descriptions and the same drawings of the patented invention, except for minor typographical errors.

C. Background of the Invention

As described in the patent documents, the type of workstation contemplated by the Forecast patents is typically found at control centers for monitoring and controlling audiovisual equipment (e.g., in television studios and air traffic control centers). These workstations are, the patent documents contend, typically custom built and installed by the manufacturer based on the user's particular requirements. If it later becomes necessary to expand the workstation or rearrange its components, the workstation has to be rebuilt or replaced. Thus, the Forecast invention is aimed at providing a flexible modular workstation that can be easily adjusted and re-arranged.

D. Summary of the Invention

The Forecast invention is entitled "Multi-Media Workstation Having a Master Rail System." The workstation includes a console, which has two main components: a work surface and a "master rail system." The master rail system, which runs along the full length of the console, is intended to support and translate the various audiovisual equipment (such as computers, computer monitors, and television monitors), which are mounted along the length of the console.

The master rail system is compromised of two support structures called "rail extrusions." The two rail extrusions are mounted along a number of vertical steel frames spaced at intervals along the length of the console. The Forecast patents teach that the second rail extrusion is mounted to the vertical frames such that "the upper surface of the second rail extrusion is disposed at a downward angle with respect to the upper surface of the first rail extrusion."

For example, in a preferred embodiment,*fn1 a desktop unit is mounted to the first rail extrusion and a console box (for supporting a second piece of audiovisual equipment) is mounted to the second rail extrusion. In this arrangement, the console box is, for ergonomic purposes, thereby "oriented at a slight downward angle with respect to the desktop."

The various components of the workstation (e.g., the desktop unit and console box above) each include a "finger," which engages a "longitudinal slot," appearing on the upper, or lateral, surfaces of either the first or second rail extrusion. This engagement permits the component to be translated horizontally along the length of the rail extrusion (that is, along the full length of the console) as desired.

E. Claim Terms

As part of the claim construction in this case, the parties submitted a Joint Claim Construction Chart, outlining both agreed upon and proposed definitions of certain terms found in certain of the Forecast claims. The parties agreed upon definitions for the terms "lateral surface," "upper mounting surface," and "console box."

The parties, however, dispute definitions of the claim terms

(1) "finger"; (2) "longitudinal slot"; (3) "disposed at a downward angle with respect to" as well as "formed at a downward angle with respect to"; and (4) "first and second upper mounting portions."

II. Procedural History

On March 10, 2005, TBC Consoles brought an action seeking a declaratory judgment that its IntelliTRAC model workstation did not infringe the Forecast patents. On December 12, 2005, this Court ordered a stay of the proceedings pending resolution of the re-examination of the Forecast patents by the Patent Office.

On March 17, 2007 Forecast filed an action against TBC for patent infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition based upon the alleged similarity of TBC's multimedia workstations to Forecast's patented designs and trade dress.*fn2 On August 11, 2008 this Court lifted the stay, and subsequently granted the parties' joint request to consolidate the two related actions.

Pursuant to a revised scheduling order, the parties filed simultaneous initial and reply claim construction briefs on October 24, 2008 and November 4, 2008 respectively. Forecast, as the owner of the patents, seeks a broad construction of the claim terms, and TBC, as the maker of the accused device, ...


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