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Safespan Platform Systems, Inc. v. EZ Access

January 14, 2010

SAFESPAN PLATFORM SYSTEMS, INC., LAMBROS APOSTOLOPOULOS AND PAUL KRISTEN, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
EZ ACCESS, INC., AND ANASTASIOS G. HATSIOS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This is a patent infringement action brought by plaintiffs Safespan Platform Systems, Inc., Lambros Apostolopoulos, and Paul Kristen, Inc. (collectively "Safespan") against EZ Access, Inc. and Anastasios Hatsios (collectively "EZ Access"). On May 13, 2009, this Court held a Markman*fn1 hearing and issues this Decision and Order resolving the disputed claims.

BACKGROUND

This case involves two patents owned by Safespan: U.S. Patent Nos. 6,302,237 ("the '237 patent") and 6,135,240 ("the '240 patent"). The patents-in-suit relate to bridge platforms which are erected beneath the deck of an existing bridge to support workers performing maintenance or other work on the bridge structure. The bridge platform system involves individual flooring panels that are laid upon horizontal cables that extend beneath the bridge.

Defendant Anastasios Hatsios was employed by Safespan between 1995 and 2003, during which time Mr. Apostolopoulos applied for and was granted the patents-in-suit. Safespan alleges that when Mr. Hatsios departed in January 2003, he told Safespan that he was retiring. Rather than retire, Mr. Hatsios created a new company called EZ Access, Inc., a bridge platform company that Safespan alleges competes directly with Safespan, and uses a process that violates Safespan's patents.

A. Safespan's Patents

The dilemma sought to be addressed by the invention was the need to provide a safe and effective support system for workers performing cleaning and maintenance of the surfaces beneath the deck or roadway of a bridge. Much of the prior art for such bridge structures involved complex systems that were time consuming to erect and dismantle. Other prior art structures were limited in height by the manner in which they were attached to the bridge, or were not sufficiently rigid to perform the task.

The invention sought to provide a new and improved bridge platform and method of erecting it that: was sufficiently rigid to support workers standing and walking upon it; was quick, easy and economical to erect and dismantle; and extended for a significant portion of the length of the bridge so that the required maintenance could be performed. Both patents summarize the invention as follows:

The present invention provides a bridge platform and method of erecting the same wherein a plurality of cables extend along a section of the bridge in spaced relation below the deck or roadway and steel support structure of the bridge, which cables are supported at opposite ends by a structure of the bridge such as the space-apart vertical peers of the bridge, and wherein a plurality of platform flooring panels or sections are supported on the cables, extend laterally of the cables, are arranged side-by-side along the section of the bridge such as between the peers and are removably secured to the cables. The cables preferably are attached to the bridge piers by compression clamp structures. The platform flooring sections comprise elongated rectangular corrugated decking tiles and are arranged in end-to-end overlapping relation transversely of the cables, side-to-side overlapping relation along the bridge and with the corrugations extending transversely of the cables. The corrugations maximize the strength-to-weight ratio of the platform flooring and provide recesses or receptacles to contain debris and facilitate its collection and removal. Each of the platform flooring sections is releasably connected at spaced locations to the supporting cables on which it rests. This is provided by connector assemblies each comprising a first part which engages the upper surface of the flooring section and the cable and a second part which engages the upper surface of the flooring section, the two parts being removably connected together through a small opening in the flooring. As a result, individual flooring sections can be removed to provide access through the flooring in emergency or critical situations while at the same time allowing the remainder of the flooring to retain collected debris.

See '237 Patent, Col. 1, line 43 to Col. 2 line 6; and '240 Patent, Col. 1, line 40 to Col. 2, line 2. The following constitutes this Court's construction of the disputed claims.

DISCUSSION

I. Claims at Issue

The claims involved here are set forth below, with the disputed terms emphasized:

Claim 1 of the '237 patent

1. In combination with a bridge having a deck, a platform disposed below said bridge deck and attached to said bridge and extending along a portion of the bridge for supporting persons performing work on the bridge portion and for collecting debris resulting from the work, the platform comprising:

a) a plurality of cables extending along said bridge and in spaced relation to each other and in a plane substantially parallel to the plane of said bridge deck;

b) means at each end of said cables for securing said cables to said bridge so that the plane of the cables is at a desired distance below the bridge portion;

c) a floor comprising a plurality of flooring panels each extending transversely of said cables and resting on said cables, each of said panels having at least one means defining an opening therein; and

d) means for releasably securing said flooring panels to said cables so that said flooring panels are individually removable from said floor and so that the platform may be repeatedly assembled and disassembled, said releasably securing means including a member extending through each of said opening means and having a portion which is shaped to define with said respective panel an eyelet, said opening means being sized for passage therethrough of said eyelet portion, and said cables passing through respective ones of said eyelets.

Claim 1 of the '240 patent:

1. In combination with a bridge having a deck, a platform disposed below said bridge deck and attached to said bridge and extending along a portion of the bridge for supporting persons performing work on the bridge portion and for collecting debris resulting from the work, the platform comprising:

a) a plurality of cables extending along said bridge and in spaced relation to each other and in a plane substantially parallel to the plane of said bridge deck;

b) means at each end of said cables for securing said cables to said bridge so that the plane of the cables is at a desired distance below the bridge portion;

c) a floor comprising a plurality of flooring panels each extending transversely of said cables and resting on said cables, each of said panels having at least one means defining an opening therein; and

d) means for releasably securing said flooring panels to said cables, said releasably securing means including means defining eyelets on said flooring panels, each said opening at least partially receiving one of said eyelets, and said cables passing ...


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