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Chrisha Creations, Ltd v. Dolgencorp

September 28, 2011

CHRISHA CREATIONS, LTD., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOLGENCORP, INC., DOLLAR GENERAL CORPORATION, AND FAMILY DOLLAR STORES, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cedarbaum, J.

OPINION

Chrisha Creations, Ltd. sues Dolgencorp., Inc., Dollar General Corp., and Family Dollar Stores, Inc. for infringing U.S. Patents Nos. 7,302,769 ("the '769 patent") and 7,216,446 ("the '446 Patent"). Because the parties do not agree on the correct construction of certain terms used in the claims of the '769 patent, I held a hearing in accordance with Markman v. Westview Instruments, 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370, 116 S. Ct. 1384, 134 L. Ed. 2d 577 (1996).

BACKGROUND

The parties market and sell cold-air inflatable displays, often used for seasonal lawn decoration, advertising, and event attraction. A cold-air inflatable display is made from a permeable fabric skin and inflated by a continuously blowing fan. Because the air blown into the display escapes through the fabric at the same rate as the new air supplied from the fan enters, the display maintains its shape without any need for a frame.

The invention claimed in the '769 patent is the fan assembly that inflates these displays. According to the background section in the '769 patent, prior displays relied on fan assemblies which are permanently affixed to the fabric.

Since the fan assembly in those displays is a permanent component, a consumer who wished to purchase multiple displays was required to buy multiple fan assemblies. Yet not every purchaser of multiple displays has a need for multiple fan assemblies. Many such purchasers exhibit only one seasonally appropriate display at a time, such as a Santa Claus around Christmas and an Uncle Sam around Independence Day. The permanent affixation of the fan assembly to the fabric prevents those consumers from buying a single fan that can be used in a number of displays. The '769 patent claims a fan assembly that solves this problem. According to the patent specification, that fan assembly is "interchangeable" between different displays, which eliminates the need to buy a new fan assembly with every new display.

On December 4, 2007, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") issued the '769 patent, entitled "Interchangeable Fan Assembly for Cold-Air Inflatable Displays," to inventor William Machala. Machala subsequently assigned the '769 patent to plaintiff Chrisha Creations. The '769 patent contains three independent claims (claims 1, 6, and 12) and ten dependent claims (claims 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 13). Plaintiff alleges that defendants' device infringes claim 6 of the '769 patent, in which the inventor describes his invention as a cold-air inflatable display comprising a permeable fabric, an interchangeable fan assembly, and a lighting arrangement.

"Although the construction of the claim is independent of the device charged with infringement, it is convenient for the court to concentrate on those aspects of the claim whose relation to the accused device is in dispute." Pall Corp. v. Hemasure Inc., 181 F.3d 1305, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Plaintiff alleges that defendants market and sell cold-air inflatable displays in which the fan assembly is attached to the display's fabric skin via a single-use cable tie. The cable tie is threaded through a sheath in the display's fabric and is then pulled taut around a groove in the housing that encases the fan. This procedure secures the fan to the fabric. Once fastened, the cable tie cannot be loosened. As a result, in order to transfer a fan between displays using the accused device, one must cut through the cable tie securing the fan to the first display and use a new cable tie to secure it to the second display.

The parties disagree about the meaning of claim 6's language, which is discussed below.

DISCUSSION

I. Canons of Claim Construction

The first step of a patent infringement analysis is determining the meaning and scope of the patent claims alleged to have been infringed. Markman, 52 F.3d at 976. This step, commonly called claim construction, is an issue of law exclusively for the court. Id. at 970--71. Its purpose is to "elaborat[e] the normally terse claim language in order to understand and explain, but not to change, the scope of the claims." DeMarini Sports, Inc. v. Worth, Inc., 239 F.3d 1314, 1322 (Fed. Cir. 2001). A court should construe "only those [claim] terms . . . that are in controversy, and only to the extent necessary to resolve the controversy." McNeil-PPC, Inc. v. Perrigo Co., 443 F. Supp. 2d 492, 501 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (alterations in original) (quoting Vivid Techs., Inc. v. Am. Science & Eng'g, Inc., 200 F.3d 795, 803 (Fed. Cir. 1999)).

Interpretation of the asserted claims begins with a review of the intrinsic evidence. Intrinsic evidence includes the claim language, the written description that precedes the claims in the patent specification, and, if in evidence, the prosecution history. DeMarini Sports, 239 F.3d at 1323. "Such intrinsic evidence is the most significant source of the legally operative meaning of disputed claim language." Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

Claim language

The Patent Act requires a patent applicant to conclude a patent specification "with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention." 35 U.S.C. § 112, para. 2. Those claims "define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). Accordingly, claim construction begins with the words of the claims themselves. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. A claim's terms are to be construed as would "a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application," understand them. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313.

Written description

Although the claims define the scope of the invention, they do not stand alone. Rather, "they are part of a fully integrated written instrument, consisting principally of a specification that concludes with the claims. For that reason, claims must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part." Id. at 1315 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). By statute, a specification must provide "a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor of carrying out his invention." 35 U.S.C. ยง 112, para. 1. This written description generally consists of an abstract of the invention, a description of the invention's background, a summary of the ...


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