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Autoliv ASP, Inc. v. Hyundai Mobis Co., Ltd

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 10, 2018

AUTOLIV ASP, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
HYUNDAI MOBIS CO., LTD. and MOBIS ALABAMA, L.L.C., Defendants.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on the parties' opening, responsive, and supplemental claim construction briefs. See Docs. 37, 38, 45, 46, 94, and 95. The District Judge has referred this matter to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge “for consideration and disposition or recommendation, as may be appropriate, on all pretrial matters, including discovery, the Markman matter, and dispositive motions.” Doc. 27. On May 6, 2014, the undersigned held a Markman hearing, and, on October 19, 2017, a supplemental Markman hearing. See Docs. 49, 100. The issue of claim construction in this patent infringement suit is now ripe for recommendation to the District Judge. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the court resolve the parties' lone remaining dispute concerning the construction of claim terms by concluding that no construction of the disputed term, “terminal end, ” is required at this time, and that the term should therefore be afforded its ordinary and customary meaning in adjudicating Plaintiff's infringement suit. [1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Autoliv ASP, Inc. filed this patent infringement action against Defendants Hyundai MOBIS Co., Ltd., and MOBIS Alabama, LLC on March 4, 2013. See Doc. 1. Plaintiff, a developer of technologies “related to automobile safety restraint systems, including inflatable automotive airbags[, ]” alleged in the Complaint that Defendants infringed on two separate patents owned by it, U.S. Pat. No. 7, 347, 450 (“the 450 Patent”) and U.S. Pat. No. 7, 614, 653 (“the 653 Patent”), both of which relate to technological designs of automotive airbag systems intended to reduce injuries to out-of-position vehicle occupants affected by airbag deployments. In particular, the Complaint alleged that Defendants “made, used, offered to sell, sold, and/or imported into the United States airbags that infringe the claims of [its patents] including, but not limited to, at least the Safety Vent airbag found in the 2012 Hyundai Elantra, and continues to do so, all without authority from the patent holder.” Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 13, 21. According to the Complaint, as it relates to the 450 Patent, Defendants' allegedly infringing airbags “have safety vents formed by cinch tubes with apertures controlled by cinch cords configured so that, when [the] airbag is obstructed, the cinch tubes remain open, but when the airbag is unobstructed, the terminal ends of the cinch tubes enter the interior of the airbag and the apertures close.” Id. at ¶ 13. Furthermore, as it relates to the 653 Patent, Defendants' allegedly infringing airbags “have a safety mechanism involving a cord connected to at least one closeable vent that is configured to close upon deployment without obstruction[, ]” and the “closeable vent is configured to stay at least partially open when the airbag deploys with obstruction.” Id. at ¶ 21. On September 13, 2013, Defendants filed their Answer and Counterclaims (Doc. 20) denying any infringement on Plaintiff's patents and countersuing for a declaration that it has not so infringed and that Plaintiff's patents are invalid. Plaintiff filed its Answer (Doc. 25) to Defendants' counterclaims on October 4, 2013.

         The parties filed their Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement (Doc. 34) on February 21, 2014. In that document, the parties detailed their dispute regarding construction of several terms in the claims of the 450 and 653 patents, as well as their agreed-upon construction of two terms in claim 20 of the 450 patent. See Doc. 34-1. On March 21, 2014, the parties filed their Opening Claim Construction Briefs. See Docs. 37, 38. In its opening brief, Plaintiff argued that all of the disputed claim terms, save “cinch tube(s), ” should be given their plain and ordinary meaning. Doc. 37 at 12-38. Defendants, on the other hand, offered proposed constructions of all eight of the disputed claim terms across the 450 and 653 patents. Doc. 38 at 7-24. On April 22, 2014, the parties filed their Responsive Claim Construction Briefs. Docs. 45, 46.

         After the court held the Markman hearing on May 6, 2014, Defendants filed, on July 8, 2014, a Motion to Stay this matter pending inter partes review of the subject patents by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”). Doc. 53. On July 29, 2014, the undersigned entered an Order (Doc. 62) granting Defendants' motion for stay. On July 21, 2017, after completion of inter partes review by the PTAB and appellate review by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the patentability of all relevant claims of the 450 patent was affirmed, the undersigned entered an Order (Doc. 89) lifting the stay and directing the parties to file supplemental claim construction briefs. Defendants filed their supplemental brief (Doc. 94) on August 11, 2017, while Plaintiff filed its supplemental brief (Doc. 95) on August 28, 2017. As recounted in the supplemental briefs, after inter partes review and further discussions, there remains only one claim construction dispute from the parties' original dispute. See Doc. 94 at 1-3. Defendants now contend that the term “terminal end(s), ” which appears in several claims in the 450 patent, “represents a fundamental disagreement about the scope of the asserted claims of the 450 patent, ” and therefore requires construction. Id. at 3. Defendants also propose a construction of “terminal end(s).” Id. at 4. Plaintiff, on the other hand, maintains that “terminal end(s)” should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. Doc. 95 at 7-16. On October 19, 2017, the undersigned held the supplemental Markman hearing at which the parties presented further argument regarding their positions on the lone remaining disputed claim term.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Plaintiff alleges infringement of two of its patents. Before the court may take up the issue of infringement, the meaning of the words used in the claims of the subject patents must be determined. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 374 (1996). As such, the first step in adjudicating an infringement dispute is claim construction. See Union Oil Co. of Cal. v. Atl. Richfield Co., 208 F.3d 989, 995 (Fed. Cir. 2000). Claim construction is a question of law to be decided by the court. Markman, 517 U.S. at 390. Importantly, construction of claim terms is required only when the “parties present a fundamental dispute regarding the scope of a claim term[.]” O2 Micro Int'l, Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2008). However, “a court need not attempt the impossible task of resolving all questions of meaning with absolute, univocal finality.” Eon Corp. IP Holdings v. Silver Spring Networks, 815 F.3d 1314, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2016). That is, “‘a sound claim construction need not always purge every shred of ambiguity.'” Id. (quoting Accumed LLC v. Stryker Corp., 483 F.3d 800, 806 (Fed. Cir. 2007)). Moreover, because claim construction is concerned only with the scope of the claims, the court “should not resolve questions that do not go to claim scope, but instead go to infringement[, ]” under the guise of claim construction. Id. (citing Lazare Kaplan Int'l, Inc. v. Photoscribe Techs, Inc., 628 F.3d 1359, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2010)).

         Where the court is required to construe claim terms, “the interpretation to be given to a term can only be determined and confirmed with a full understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to envelop with the claim.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (quoting Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998)). Thus, the court's construction should “stay[] true to the claim language and most naturally align[] with the patent's description of the invention.” Id. “It is a ‘bedrock principle' of patent law that ‘the claims of a patent define the invention[.]'” Id. at 1312 (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). Claim terms should normally be given their “customary and ordinary meaning, ” which is the “meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention[.]” Id. at 1312-13. Indeed, a party seeking construction must overcome “a heavy presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning.” Aventis Pharm. Inc. v. Amino Chem. Ltd., 715 F.3d 1363, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2013).

         “In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood terms.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314 (citing Brown v. 3M, 265 F.3d 1349, 1352 (Fed. Cir. 2001)). However, “determining the ordinary and customary meaning of the claim” often “requires examination of terms that have a particular meaning in a field of art. Because the meaning of a claim term as understood by persons of skill in the art is often not immediately apparent, and because patentees frequently use terms idiosyncratically, ” the court first considers the publicly-available intrinsic evidence of the scope of the invention. Id. (citation omitted). In order of importance as intrinsic evidence, the court considers the claim terms themselves, the patent's specification, and the patent's prosecution history. Id.

         “[T]he claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms.” Id. (citation omitted). Importantly, the court must consider the context in which the disputed claim terms appear as well as other claims of the patent in determining the ordinary and customary meaning of the claim terms. Id. Beyond the claim terms, the specification “‘is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.'” Id. at 1315 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). Courts “normally do not interpret claim terms in a way that excludes disclosed examples in the specification.” Verizon Servs. Corp. v. Vonage Holdings Corp., 503 F.3d 1295, 1305 (Fed. Cir. 2007). However, courts are instructed not to read into the claim terms limitations from the specification. Comark Commc'ns, Inc. v. Harris Corp., 156 F.3d 1182, 1186 (Fed. Cir. 1998). In other words, the specification should be considered “for the purpose of better understanding the meaning of the claim; but not for the purpose of changing it, and making it different from what it is.” White v. Dunbar, 119 U.S. 47, 51 (1886). Finally, if in evidence, the patent's prosecution history should also be considered. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. While the “prosecution history provides evidence of how the PTO and the inventor understood the patent[, ]” it “represents an ongoing negotiation between the PTO and the applicant, rather than the final product of that negotiation[.]” Id. Thus, “it often lacks the clarity of the specification and this is less useful for claim construction purposes.” Id.

         Apart from the above more significant and reliable sources of intrinsic evidence, the court may look to extrinsic evidence, “including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises, ” to “shed useful light on the relevant art.” Id. (quotation omitted). However, while useful, extrinsic evidence is viewed “in general as less reliable than the patent and its prosecution history in determining how to read claim terms” because it is not part of the patent, it may not accurately “reflect the understanding of a skilled artisan in the field of the patent, ” and because, if created for the purposes of litigation, it may be the product of bias. Id. at 1318. “In sum, extrinsic evidence may be useful to the court, but it is unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence.” Id. at 1319.

         III. DISCUSSION

         As noted above, the only remaining claim term under dispute is “terminal end.” Defendants submit that this term must be construed because the parties fundamentally dispute “the scope of the asserted claims of the patent.” Doc. 94 at 4. In general, “terminal end” describes one end of a “cinch tube” that is a component of Plaintiff's patented ...


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