Judge Robinson rules on summary judgment motions

In a recent memorandum opinion, Judge Sue L. Robinson considered plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment on infringement and defendants’ cross-motion for non-infringement, in addition to defendants’ motion for summary judgment of invaldity and plaintiffs’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment of validity. INVISTA North America S.a.r.l. et al. v. M&G USA Corporation, et al., C.A. No. 11-1007-SLR-CJB (D. Del. June 25, 2013). Plaintiffs are asserting three patents—U.S. Patent Nos. 7,919,159 (“the ’159 patent”); 7,943,216 (“the ’216 patent”); and 7,879,930 (“the ’930 patent”)—each related to “plastic materials with applications in packaging for oxygen-sensitive foods.” Id. at 1. The ’216 and ’159 patents share a common specification and relate specifically to compositions (and containers and articles derived therefrom), which are alleged to possess strong gas barrier properties while yielding comparatively small amounts of yellowness and haze that traditionally accompanied compositions with similar properties. See id. at 2-4. The ’930 patent relates to “the use of certain colorants that do not completely deactivate” the transition metal catalyst in compositions such as those claimed in the ’216 and ’159 patents. See id. at 5.

With respect to the ’216 and ’159 patents, Judge Robinson granted summary judgment of no direct infringement. Id. at 19. The Court had construed the term “composition” as used in those patents to mean “a blend that contains the specified ingredients at any time from the moment the ingredients are mixed together.” Id. at 17. It was undisputed that defendants’ accused products—the PoliProtect products (“PoliProtect”)—are “manufactured as pellets” and have components that are separated into different layers. Id. at 17. Because the components were not “mixed together in a blend,” Judge Robinson found that PoliProtect did not practice the “composition” limitation. Id. at 18-19.

However, turning to indirect infringement of the ’216 patent, Judge Robinson found that the “only reasonable inference from the evidence of record is that [defendants’] customers mix the components of the pellets into blends to make their desired articles,” and “thereby necessarily practice the ‘composition’ limitation.” Id. at 20-21. Judge Robinson also found that, with the exception of one claim, PoliProtect practiced the remaining limitations of the seven asserted claims from the ’216 patent. See id. at 21-26. Further, as Judge Robinson noted, defendants “had knowledge of the ’216 patent at least from the filing of [the] lawsuit.” Id. at 26. Addressing contributory infringement, Judge Robinson found that defendants offered “no evidence to rebut [plaintiffs’] arguments that the PoliProtect products are not a staple of commerce that are suitable for noninfringing uses.” Id. at 27. With respect to induced infringement, Judge Robinson first noted that plaintiffs “established on the summary judgment record that the PoliProtect products have no substantial noninfringing uses.” Id. at 28. Moreover, Judge Robinson explained that “it is entirely appropriate to presume that one who sells a product containing a component that has no substantial noninfringing use in that product does so with intent that the component will be used to infringe.” Id. at 29 (quoting Ricoh Co. v. Quanta Computer Inc., 550 F.3d 1325, 1340, 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2008)). Judge Robinson therefore granted summary judgment of contributory and induced infringement for six of the seven asserted claims of the ’216 patent.

Judge Robinson, however, denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment with respect to indirect infringement of the ’159 patent. Id. at 31. Plaintiffs argued PoliProtect literally infringed the ’159 patent because PoliProtect’s LiSIPA-containing copolyester meets both the “polyester” and “ionic compatibilizer” limitations. Id. at 29. Judge Robinson did note that “the doctrine of equivalents may be applicable even when its application would vitiate the requirement that two components be separate elements.” Id. at 30. Judge Robinson concluded, however, that defendants raised genuine issues of material fact regarding the “polyester” limitation under the doctrine of equivalents, precluding the entry of summary judgment. Id. at 30-31.

With respect to the ’930 patent, the parties summary judgment motions addressed only indirect infringement. See id. at 31. Judge Robinson found that plaintiffs offered evidence of infringement of the limitations at issue and thus created genuine issues of material fact, precluding the entry of summary judgment of no indirect infringement. See id. at 31-35.

Turning to the validity motions, Judge Robinson noted that defendants argued that the asserted claims of the ’159 and ’216 patents are invalid as obvious and for failure to comply with 35 U.S.C. § 112’s written description and enablement requirements. Id. at 34. With respect to obviousness, defendants asserted that the ’159 and ’216 patents are obvious in light of two prior art references. Id. at 35. As Judge Robinson explained, however, defendants’ expert “never addressed the combination of the . . . references in his expert reports,” and the argument was made for the first time in defendants’ reply summary judgment brief for invalidity. Id. at 35-36. Although defendants attempted to support the new theory with an expert declaration attached to the reply brief, the new opinions in the declaration were struck in a separate order as untimely and prejudicial. Id. at 36. Without expert testimony addressing the combination of the two references, Judge Robinson granted plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment of validity on this ground. Id. at 36.

With respect to a lack of enablement, defendants first argued that the ’159 and ’216 patents recite a “metal sulfonate salt,” but did not provide any “meaningful disclosures, teachings, or supportive data” related to those salts, with the exceptions of sodium and zinc. Id. at 37. Judge Robinson found, however, that plaintiffs’ expert presented evidence that the patent specification “enables one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the claimed invention.” Id. at 39. Thus, there remained an issue of material fact, and Judge Robinson denied entering summary judgment of lack of enablement on this ground. Id. at 39. Defendants had also set forth several other similar invalidity arguments under § 112 related to the ’159 and ’216 patents, which were all premised on a similar theory that the scope of the asserted claims were “substantially broader than the small number of examples provided.” Id. at 42-43. Once again, Judge Robinson found that entry of summary judgment for invaldity on these grounds was precluded “[i]n light of the conflicting expert testimony” regarding whether the examples provided in the specification enable a person of ordinary skill in the art to make the claimed invention. Id. at 43.

Defendant also argued that plaintiffs’ specification failed to disclose the “importance of sodium acetate . . . in controlling yellowness in the compositions of the ’159 and ’216 patents,” and that the patents were therefore nonenabling and lacked a sufficient written description. Id. at 39. Judge Robinson explained, however, that “[t]he enablement and written description requirements are both based on the invention as claimed,” and “sodium acetate is not a limitation in any of the asserted claims and is not mentioned in the specification.” Id. at 40-41. Judge Robinson therefore granted plaintiffs’ partial motion for summary judgment of validity on this ground. Id. at 42.

With respect to the ’930 patent, defendants moved for summary judgment of invalidity based on an insufficient written description, non-enablement, and indefiniteness. Id. at 43. Judge Robinson denied the parties’ motions for summary judgment on these issues in light of conflicting expert testimony. See id. at 43-45.

INVISTA North America S.a.r.l. et al. v. M&G USA Corporation, et al. (D. Del. Jun. 25, 2013)

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