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Patent Holder, LLC v. Lone Wolf Distributors, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 27, 2018

LONE WOLF DISTRIBUTORS, INC. and LONE WOLF R&D, LLC, Defendants. Claim Term Plaintiff's Proposed Construction Defendants Proposed Construction


          David C. Nye. U.S. District Court Judge.


         The Court held a Markman hearing on August 21, 2018, to interpret the claims of Plaintiff Patent Holder, LLC's (“Patent Holder”) patent (United States Patent No. 9, 062, 700 (“‘700 patent”)). The Court's interpretation is set forth below.


         A. Procedural Background

         On August 11, 2017, Patent Holder filed suit against Defendants Lone Wolf Distributors, Inc, and Lone Wolf R&D, LLC (collectively “Lone Wolf”). In this suit, Patent Holder seeks damages and a permanent injunction against Lone Wolf for infringement of its ‘700 patent. Patent Holder alleges that Lone Wolf manufactures products which are covered by one of more claims and designs of the ‘700 patent. Lone Wolf denies infringement. The Court now engages in the first step of the two-part infringement analysis: claim construction.

         B. Patent at Issue

         The sole patent at issue in this case is the ‘700 patent. The ‘700 patent discloses “a firearm enhanced trigger control connector.” Dkt. 43-2, at 1, abstract. In layman's terms, the ‘700 patent covers an after-market firearm part that when placed in a handgun shortens the distance that the trigger must travel to discharge the firearm. Said differently, with such a product installed, the space from where a person begins to pull, or squeeze, the trigger, and the point at which the trigger actually engages the firing pin is shortened. The purpose of this device is to increase precision and accuracy in shooting.


         The Court engages here in the first step of the two-step infringement analysis- determining the scope and meaning of the patent claims at issue. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370, (1996). The construction of a patent is a matter of law for the Court to decide. Id.; see also O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (“When the parties present a fundamental dispute regarding the scope of a claim term, it is the court's duty to resolve it.”). At the same time, the Court is not required to construe every limitation present in a patent's asserted claims. O2 Micro Int'l Ltd, 521 F.3d at 1359. “In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language . . . 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 words.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1314 (Fed.Cir.2005) (en banc).

         To interpret the claims, the Court must look first to the intrinsic evidence of record, i.e., the patent itself, including the claims, the specification and, if in evidence, the prosecution history. See Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Such intrinsic evidence is the most significant source of the legally operative meaning of disputed claim language. Id.

         In evaluating the intrinsic evidence, the Court examines first the words of the claims themselves, both asserted and nonasserted, to define the scope of the patented invention. Id. Although words in a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning, a patentee may choose to be his own lexicographer and use terms in a manner other than their ordinary meaning if the special definition of the term is clearly stated in the patent specification or file history. Id.

         Intrinsic evidence also includes the prosecution history of the patent, if in evidence, which includes the complete record of all the proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), including any express representations made by the applicant regarding the scope of the claims. As such, the record before the PTO is often of critical significance in determining the meaning of the claims. Included within an analysis of the file history may be an examination of the prior art cited therein. Id.

         In most situations, an analysis of the intrinsic evidence alone will resolve any ambiguity in a disputed claim term. In such circumstances, it is improper to rely on extrinsic evidence.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         At issue here are two phrases in Claim 1, and one phrase in Claim 8 of the ‘700 patent. While there are slight nuances between the parties' proposed constructions, broadly speaking, Patent Holder alleges that the Court should construe each disputed phrase by its plain and ordinary meaning with limited alterations, or simply leave each as written. Lone Wolf, on the other hand, asserts that each phrase is invalid for indefiniteness. Alternatively, Lone Wolf's proposed construction of each disputed term seeks to clarify areas it believes are-as currently drafted-impermissibly vague and must be altered in order to aid a jury in determining infringement. The Court will address each disputed claim in turn.

         As a threshold matter, however, the Court must discuss the principle of indefiniteness as it is Lone Wolf's main argument in this case.

         Challenges of indefiniteness are often determined at summary judgment rather than claim construction; however, this is not a hard and fast rule. Whether to decide the issue of invalidity based on indefiniteness at the claim construction stage depends on the circumstances and claims at issue in a given case.

         The Federal Circuit has made clear that indefiniteness is a legal question that district courts may decide prior to trial. Personalized Media Commc'ns, LLC v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 161 F.3d 696, 705 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“A determination of claim indefiniteness is a legal conclusion that is drawn from the court's performance of its duty as the construer of patent claims.”). Whether that occurs at claim construction or summary judgment is a matter within a court's discretion. See e.g. Indus. Tech. Research Inst. v. LG Elecs. Inc., No. 3:13-CV-02016-GPC, 2014 WL 6907449, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2014) (holding that a District Court “has discretion as to when to determine indefiniteness during patent case proceedings”). Other courts in this Circuit have recognized that “it is appropriate for [district courts] to address indefiniteness issues at the claim construction stage.” Eon Corp. IP Holdings LLC v. Aruba Networks Inc., 2014 WL 938511, at *3 (N. D. Cal. Mar. 5, 2015); see also Brandywine Commc'ns Techs., LLC v. AT & T Corp., No. C 12-2494 CW, 2014 WL 1569544, at *13 (N. D. Cal. Apr. 18, 2014).

         Of the three disputed claims in this case, Lone Wolf claims that all three are indefinite. Frankly, if the Court decided not to take up indefiniteness now, the Court would not rule on any of the issues and reopen the exact same discussion at summary judgment. Furthermore, the parties have begun briefing summary judgment-albeit on a slightly different basis-and requiring them to “re-brief” these issues would ...

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