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Lane No. 1 v. Lane Masters Bowling Inc

March 22, 2011

LANE NO. 1, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LANE MASTERS BOWLING INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

This is a patent-infringement action filed by Lane No. 1 ("Plaintiff"), a manufacturer and distributor of bowling products with its principal place of business in Syracuse, New York, against Lane Masters Bowling Inc. ("Defendant"), a manufacturer, importer and distributor of bowling products with its principal place of business in Stockton, California. (Dkt. No. 1.) Currently before the Court are Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment and Plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 24, 25.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

On April 25, 2006, Plaintiff filed its Complaint in this action. (Dkt. No. 1.) Generally, in its Complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendant has violated the patent laws of the United States, including 35 U.S.C. §§ 271 et seq., by making, importing, selling and/or offering to sell two series bowling balls whose designs--specifically, the designs of their "internal weight members"--are protected by a patent owned by Plaintiff and directed toward the enhancement of the angular momentum (or spin) of the bowling ball as it travels down a lane. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 7-11.) Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting this patent-infringement claim is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

B. Defendant's Motion and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion

Generally, in support of its motion for partial summary judgment, Defendant argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff's patent is invalid for obviousness; (2) in any event, there is no infringement of Plaintiff's patent because Defendant's balls are not covered by Plaintiff's patent for three reasons (specifically, Defendant's balls have a taper that does not extend all the way to the ends of the weight block as it must, Defendant's balls have a taper that does not begin to move inward from an "intermediate axial position," which must occur at only one point (or line) of the weight block,*fn1 and/or Defendant's balls have an "internal cavity" in which is located a weight block with a density that is greater than that of the surrounding solid spherical body); and (3) Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on its counterclaim of tortious interference with business relations. (See generally Dkt. No. 24, Attach. 26 [Def.'s Memo. of Law].)

In Plaintiff's response to Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment, and in further support of its own cross-motion for partial summary judgment, Plaintiff argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff's patent is valid; (2) it is not true that Plaintiff's patent covers only balls that have weight blocks whose tapers extend all the way to the ends of their weight blocks, nor is it true that Plaintiff's patent covers only balls that have weight blocks with a density that is the same as the density of the surrounding "solid, spherical body"; and (3) Defendant's counterclaim of tortious interference with business relations is barred as a matter of law. (See generally Dkt. No. 25 [Plf.'s Response Memo. of Law].)

In its reply, in addition to reiterating previously advanced arguments, Defendant argues as follows: (1) Plaintiff's response fails to address the damaging admissions made by Plaintiff (in response to Defendant's request for admissions) on the issues of non-infringement and tortious interference with business relations, which compels the granting of Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment; and (2) Plaintiff's response does not address Defendant's argument that its balls do not infringe Plaintiff's patent because they have a taper that does not begin to move inward from an "intermediate axial position," which occurs at only one point (or line) of the weight block. (See generally Dkt. No. 26 [Def.'s Reply Memo. of Law].)

C. Undisputed Material Facts

Generally, the undisputed material facts of this case are as follows. (Compare Dkt. No. 24, Attach. 25 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 1 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

Plaintiff is the owner of U.S. Patent Reg. 35,488 ("Plaintiff's patent"), issued April 1, 1997, on an application filed August 24, 1995. Plaintiff's patent is a reissue of U.S. Patent Reg. 5,238,245, issued August 24, 1993, on an application filed August 3, 1992.

Plaintiff's patent regards a bowling ball containing essentially what is an elongated weight member that has an inward taper extending over at least a portion of its length from an intermediate axial position to each of a first end and a second end. Plaintiff's patent states that a primary object of the invention is to provide a bowling ball containing a weighted member that will optimize the ball's angular momentum for any given delivery.

The scope and content of the "prior art"*fn2 on the subject encompasses bowling balls and the weight blocks or cores employed in them to control the dynamics of the balls as they roll down a lane, and includes U.S. Patent Reg. 5,215,304, issued June 1, 1993, on an application filed April 24, 1991 (the "Pinel Patent"),*fn3 and British Patent GB 27,680 issued in 1912 (the "British Patent").*fn4

1. Plaintiff's Patent

Plaintiff's patent consists of nine (9) claims. Claim 1 of Plaintiff's patent is directed to a bowling ball, which is to what the Pinel Patent and the British Patent are both directed. More specifically, Claim 1 of Plaintiff's patent claims that the bowling ball consists essentially of (1) a solid body having a substantially spherical outer surface and a first homogenous density, (2) one or more concentric layers in the solid body, the inner most layer being a solid sphere and any other layers being of substantially constant thickness, surrounding and contacting the next inner layer, each of said layers being of predetermined homogenous density, and (3) a single, elongated weight member integrally positioned within and entirely surrounded by the body, which is substantially symmetrical about a central, linear axis, and which has (a) first and second terminal ends, (b) a maximum cross-section at an intermediate axial position between the first and second ends, (c) a second homogeneous density substantially greater than the first homogeneous density and the predetermined homogeneous density, (d) an inward taper extending over at least a portion of its length from the intermediate axial position to each of the first and second ends,*fn5 and (e) a non-circular cross-section in all planes parallel to the linear axis.

Claim 2 of Plaintiff's patent claims that the invention according to Claim 1 (i.e., the bowling ball with the characteristics identified in Claim 1) has a center of gravity offset from the geometric center of the ball.

Claim 3 of Plaintiff's patent claims that the invention according to Claim 1 has a center of gravity coincident with the geometric center of the ball.

Claim 4 of Plaintiff's patent claims that the first and second ends of the weight block according to Claim 1 are equidistant from the intermediate axial position.

Claim 5, which was also intended to depend from Claim 1, claims that one of the first and second terminal ends is positioned closer to the intermediate axial position than the other.

Claim 6 "depends from"*fn6 Claim 1 and claims that the weight member is of polygonal cross-section in all planes transverse to the linear axis.

Claim 7 depends from Claim 1 and claims that the weight member tapers uniformly from the intermediate axial position to each of the first and second ends.

Claim 8 depends from Claim 1 and claims that the body of the ball includes at least one blind grip hole extending from the outer surface into the body.

Claim 9 depends from Claim 1 and claims that the weight member's density is homogenous throughout.

2. The Pinel Patent

The bowling ball shown in the Pinel Patent has a spherical body and an elongated weight member that consists of a cylindrical body portion, a spherically curved head portion, and a tapered lower tip portion, with the weight member being symmetrical about its longitudinal axis and of greater density than the body. The body of the ball shown in the Pinel Patent is formed as a unitary mass of a compound such as polyester or urethane compounded to an appropriate density, and the weight member is of constant density. The Pinel Patent depicts a weight member embedded directly in the body of a ball in the same manner that a weight member is embedded in the body of the ball shown in Plaintiff's patent.

The weight member shown in Figure 1 of the Pinel Patent is a single, elongated weight member, which is embedded in the body of the ball. The head portion of the weight block shown in the Pinel Patent has a convex spherical curvature that extends from body portion to the upper end of the block.

The only differences between the claimed bowling ball (i.e., Plaintiff's patented ball) and the bowling ball shown in the Pinel Patent are the following: (1) the weight member in the claimed bowling ball does not have an extended cylindrical body portion like the weight member shown in the Pinel Patent; and (2) the weight member in the claimed bowling ball has conical tapers at both ends while the weight member shown in the Pinel Patent has a conical taper at one end and a convex spherical curvature at the other.

3. The British Patent

The bowling ball shown in the British Patent has a spherical body made of wood and a pair of conically tapered lead weights with their large ends positioned back-to-back within the body, which form an overall shape almost identical to the weight block shown in Plaintiff's patent. To prevent the weights from shifting when the wood shrinks, the weights in the ball shown in the British Patent are mounted in rubber pockets in a bore, with tapered spacers at the outer ends of the weights and a screw plug for compressing the rubber against the weights so that it can expand and keep the weights in the proper position if the wood shrinks.

The only differences between the claimed bowling ball and the bowling ball shown in the British Patent are the following: (1) the weight member in the claimed bowling ball is formed as a single piece, while the weight block in the British Patent is formed in two pieces; and (2) the weight member in the claimed bowling ball is integrally positioned within the body of the claimed ball (i.e., embedded directly in the body), rather than being encased in compressed rubber within the body.

4. Defendant's Balls

As stated above in Part I.A. of this Decision and Order, Plaintiff claims that two series of Defendant's balls--the Satisfaxion balls and the World Class balls--infringe on Plaintiff's patent.*fn7

The weight block or core in the Satisfaxion balls has untapered masses, or flip blocks, between the tapered portions and the ends of the blocks. The flip blocks on the core in the Satisfaxion balls are important in providing large ...


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