Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Effective Exploration, LLC v. Bluestone Natural Resources II, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Marshall Division

July 27, 2017

EFFECTIVE EXPLORATION, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
BLUESTONE NATURAL RESOURCES II, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

          ROY S. PAYNE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On June 9, 2017, the Court held a hearing to determine the proper construction of the disputed claim terms in United States Patent No. 8, 813, 840 (“the '840 Patent”). The Court has considered the arguments made by the parties at the hearing and in their claim construction briefs. Dkt. Nos. 67, 70, & 72.[1] The Court has also considered the intrinsic evidence and made subsidiary factual findings about the extrinsic evidence. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1314 (Fed. Cir. 2005); Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 841 (2015). The Court issues this Memorandum and Order on Claim Construction in light of these considerations.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. BACKGROUND ................................................................................................................ 3

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND ................................................................................... 12

         III. APPLICABLE LAW ........................................................................................................ 13

         IV. CONSTRUCTION OF AGREED TERMS ...................................................................... 17

         V. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS ................................................................... 18

         A. “subterranean zone of shale” / “wherein the subterranean zone is shale” ............ 18

         B. “a [first/second/third/fourth] wellbore extending from the surface . . . and a [first/second/third/fourth] substantially horizontal drainage bore ........................ 27

         C. “proximate to the subterranean zone” ................................................................... 32

         D. “extend in the subterranean zone in different directions from each other” .......... 34

         E. “extend in substantially opposite directions” ........................................................ 42

         F. “cavity” ................................................................................................................. 46

         VI. CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................. 51

         I. BACKGROUND

         The '840 Patent is titled “Method and System for Accessing Subterranean Deposits from the Surface and Tools Therefor” and names a single inventor, Joseph Z. Zupanick. The application leading to the '840 Patent was filed on August 12, 2013, and the patent issued on August 26, 2014. The '840 Patent is related through a series of continuation, continuation-in-part, and divisional applications to an application filed on November 20, 1998, which issued as U.S. Patent No. 6, 280, 000.

         In general, the '840 Patent is directed to systems and methods for recovering fluids (e.g., water, oil, gas) from subterranean geological formations, and utilizes special configurations of directed bore holes (“bores”). In its 122 columns of text and 115 figures, the '840 Patent describes diverse technology related to the drilling of wells and to the production of formation fluids. The description includes numerous examples of wells and bores (e.g., vertical, horizontal, slanted, articulated, undulated) and numerous examples of multi-well and multi-bore patterns (e.g., multi-well systems, multi-bore wells, multi-bore drainage patterns).

         The abstract of the '840 Patent provides:

According to one embodiment, a system for accessing a subterranean zone from the surface includes a well bore extending from the surface to the subterranean zone, and a well bore pattern connected to the junction and operable to drain fluid from a region of the subterranean zone to the junction.

         An example of a multi-well system is shown in Figures 1 and 3, which are reproduced below and annotated by the Court. The figures depict a vertical bore (12) and an articulated bore (3) each extending down from the surface to intersect at an enlarged cavity (20) in the target zone (15). The articulated bore is horizontal (34) at the point it intersects the vertical bore. A pattern of bores (50) are drilled beyond the junction to facilitate draining fluids from the zone, and ultimately to produce the fluids to the surface. '840 Patent at 12:42-16:8, 16:25-18:3.

         (Image Omitted)

         Figure 3 depicts the system of Figure 1 in a production configuration. A pump (80) moves water to the surface through a tubing string disposed in the vertical bore and allows gas to flow to the surface through the annulus between the tubing string and the casing (16) in the vertical bore. '840 Patent at 12:42-16:8, 16:25-18:3.

         (Image Omitted)

         Another example of a multi-well system is shown in Figure 10, which is reproduced below and annotated by the Court. The main difference between the example of Figure 1 and the example of Figure 10 is that the vertical bore (12) of Figure 1 is replaced with a bore (10012) that includes vertical (10018, 10022) and angled (10020) portions. The example of Figure 10 includes an enlarged cavity (10030) at the junction of the articulated bore (10040) and the vertical/angled bore (10012). The system further includes a bore pattern (10060) to facilitate draining fluids from the zone (10016). '840 Patent at 27:65-24:48.

         (Image Omitted)

         An example of a multi-bore well is shown in Figures 6A (drilling) and 7 (production), which are reproduced below and annotated by the Court. The figures depict a bore system that extends to the zone (6015) from a single entry point on the surface (6014). The bore system includes two connected vertical bores (6210, 6220) and two articulated bores (6230, 6235). The second vertical bore (6220) extends from the first vertical bore (6210). The first articulated bore (6230) extends from the first vertical bore, and the second articulated bore (6235) extends from the second vertical bore. The two articulated bores intersect at a cavity (6250) within the zone (6015). A bore pattern (6050) extends from the cavity to facilitate draining fluids from the zone. '840 Patent at 23:9-25:53.

         (Image Omitted)

         Figure 7 depicts the system of Figure 6 as configured for production. Fluids are produced from the zone by: (1) pumping water to the surface through a tubing string (6082) using a downhole pump (6080), and (2) allowing natural gas to flow to the surface in the annulus between the tubing string and casing (6215, 6216) in the vertical bores. '840 Patent at 23:9-25:53.

         (Image Omitted)

         Another example of a multi-bore well is shown in Figure 20, which is reproduced below and annotated by the Court. The figure depicts articulated bores (20024) in zones (20022). The articulated bores extend from slant bores (20020) which in turn extend from a single vertical entry bore (20015) that extends from the surface (20011) toward the zone. '840 Patent at 38:61-39:42.

         (Image Omitted)

         Examples of single-well systems configured for production are shown in Figures 93 and 94, which are reproduced below and annotated by the Court. Figure 93 depicts a system with a vertical bore (92532) extending from the surface (92514) to the zone (92515). The vertical bore is connected to a horizontal bore (92534). The horizontal bore includes an enlarged cavity (92520) in the zone (92515). A pumping unit (92540) is disposed in the well with the pump inlet (92544) located in the cavity such that it does not capture the zone's natural gas (as separated from the other fluids) but pumps other fluids (92550) to the surface through the bores. The natural gas is allowed to flow to the surface. Figure 94 depicts a system similar to that of Figure 93 with the main difference being the location of the cavity. The cavity (92220) of Figure 94 is located in the curved bore (92236) that connects the vertical (92232) and horizontal (92234) bores. '840 Patent at 110:1-111:24.

         (Image Omitted)

         An example of a multi-well system with a specific drainage bore pattern is shown in Figure 79, which is reproduced below and annotated by the Court. This figure depicts a system of wells (75532, 75534) extending from a single drilling and production pad at the surface (75536) to the target zone underground (75540). A system of bores extending from a central well (75532) intersects with bores (75534) extending from disparate locations on the surface pad. There is a cavity (75542) at each junction of central-well bore and disparate-well bore. Each cavity is connected to a drainage bore pattern (75538). This configuration is meant to allow access to a large drainage area from a small surface area. '840 Patent at 94:53-96:8; see also, id. at 38:24-59, Figure 19.

         (Image Omitted)

         An example of an undulating bore is shown in Figure 33, which is reproduced below and annotated by the Court. This figure depicts an undulating bore (33200) “that may be included as any well bore of the systems illustrated in FIGS. 1 through 24 or a well bore of any other system that may be used to remove and/or produce water, hydrocarbons and other fluids in a layer of subterranean deposits.” The undulating bore includes a declining portion (33212), a bending portion (33208), and an inclining portion (33210). The wavelength (33214) of the undulating bore is the distance between successive like points on the bore, for example, the distance from one point where the bending portion couples to the inclining portion to the next point along the path of the bore where the bending portion couples to the inclining portion. '840 Patent at 51:5-53:10; see also, id. at 53:11-44, Figure 34.

         (Image Omitted)

         Claim 1 of the '840 Patent is an exemplary claim and recites the following elements (disputed term in italics):

1. A system for accessing a subterranean zone of shale, the system comprising:
a drilling pad at a surface;
a first wellbore extending from the surface comprising a first substantially vertical portion extending into a subterranean zone and a first substantially horizontal drainage bore extending from the first substantially vertical portion and proximate to the subterranean zone;
a second wellbore extending from the surface compromising a second substantially vertical portion extending into the subterranean zone and a second substantially horizontal drainage bore extending from the second substantially vertical portion and proximate to the subterranean zone, wherein the first and second substantially horizontal drainage bores extend in the subterranean zone in different directions from each other;
a third wellbore extending from the surface comprising a third substantially vertical portion extending into the subterranean zone and a third substantially horizontal drainage bore extending from the third substantially vertical portion and proximate to the subterranean zone;
a fourth wellbore extending from the surface comprising a fourth substantially vertical portion extending into the subterranean zone and a fourth substantially horizontal drainage bore extending from the fourth substantially vertical portion and proximate to the subterranean zone, wherein the third and fourth substantially horizontal drainage bores extend in the subterranean zone in different directions from each other;
the first, second, third and fourth wellbores each extending from non-common surface locations on the drilling pad at the surface, the surface locations closely spaced to each other on the drilling pad; wherein the subterranean zone is shale; and,
wherein the first, second, third, and
fourth wellbores each produce a fluid extracted from the subterranean zone through the substantially horizontal drainage bores.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The '840 Patent was asserted in Effective Exploration, LLC v. Classic Operating Company, LLC, No. 2:14-cv-00869 (E.D. Tex.) (“Classic case”). On August 21, 2015, the Court issued an order construing disputed terms of the '840 Patent. (Classic case, Dkt. No. 56). Plaintiff also filed cases against Atlas Barnett, LLC; Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company, LP; Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC; ARP Barnett, LLC; and Devon Energy Production Company, L.P. that were consolidated into a lead case captioned as Effective Exploration, LLC v. Atlas Barnett, LLC, No. 2:15-cv-440 (E.D. Tex.) (“Atlas case”). The Atlas case settled after briefing but prior to the Court's claim construction hearing.

         Other patents which claim priority to the November 20, 1998 Application were asserted in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.[2] The court issued two claim construction decisions regarding those patents. On April 8, 2015, in the matter captioned Effective Exploration LLC v. Pennsylvania Land Holdings Company, LLC, , No. 14-cv-00845 (W.D. Penn.) (“PLHC case”), the Special Master issued a Report and Recommendation Regarding Claim Construction, and the court subsequently adopted those recommendations. Claims from earlier patents were also construed in the matter captioned CNX Gas Corp. v. CDX Gas, LLC, No. 05-cv-1574 (W.D. Penn.) (“CNX case”).

         III. APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Claim Construction

         “It is a ‘bedrock principle' of patent law that ‘the claims of a patent 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) (quoting Innova/Pure Water Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). To determine the meaning of the claims, courts start by considering the intrinsic evidence. Id. at 1313; C.R. Bard, Inc. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 388 F.3d 858, 861 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Bell Atl. Network Servs., Inc. v. Covad Commc'ns Group, Inc., 262 F.3d 1258, 1267 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The intrinsic evidence includes the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314; C.R. Bard, Inc., 388 F.3d at 861. The general rule-subject to certain specific exceptions discussed infra-is that each claim term is construed according to its ordinary and accustomed meaning as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention in the context of the patent. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13; Alloc, Inc. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 342 F.3d 1361, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2003); Azure Networks, LLC v. C S R P L C , 771 F.3d 1336, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“There is a heavy presumption that claim terms carry their accustomed meaning in the relevant community at the relevant time.”) (vacated on other grounds).

         “The claim construction inquiry . . . begins and ends in all cases with the actual words of the claim.” Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1248 (Fed. Cir. 1998). “[I]n all aspects of claim construction, ‘the name of the game is the claim.'” Apple Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 757 F.3d 1286, 1298 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (quoting In re Hiniker Co., 150 F.3d 1362, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 1998)). First, a term's context in the asserted claim can be instructive. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. Other asserted or unasserted claims can also aid in determining the claim's meaning, because claim terms are typically used consistently throughout the patent. Id. Differences among the claim terms can also assist in understanding a term's meaning. Id. For example, when a dependent claim adds a limitation to an independent claim, it is presumed that the independent claim does not include the limitation. Id. at 1314-15.

         “[C]laims ‘must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.'” Id. (quoting Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc)). “[T]he 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. (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Con-ceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)); Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002). But, “‘[a]lthough the specification may aid the court in interpreting the meaning of disputed claim language, particular embodiments and examples appearing in the specification will not generally be read into the claims.'” Comark Commc'ns, Inc. v. Harris Corp., 156 F.3d 1182, 1187 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (quoting Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices, Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1988)); see also Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323. “[I]t is improper to read limitations from a preferred embodiment described in the specification-even if it is the only em-bodiment-into the claims absent a clear indication in the intrinsic record that the patentee intended the claims to be so limited.” Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 913 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

         The prosecution history is another tool to supply the proper context for claim construction because, like the specification, the prosecution history provides evidence of how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) and the inventor understood the patent. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. However, “because the prosecution history represents an ongoing negotiation between the PTO and the applicant, rather than the final product of that negotiation, it often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes.” Id. at 1318; see also Athletic Alternatives, Inc. v. Prince Mfg., 73 F.3d 1573, 1580 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (ambiguous prosecution history may be “unhelpful as an interpretive resource”).

         Although extrinsic evidence can also be useful, it is “‘less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language.'” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (quoting C.R. Bard, Inc., 388 F.3d at 862). Technical dictionaries and treatises may help a court understand the underlying technology and the manner in which one skilled in the art might use claim terms, but technical dictionaries and treatises may provide definitions that are too broad or may not be indicative of how the term is used in the patent. Id. at 1318. Similarly, expert testimony may aid a court in understanding the underlying technology and determining the particular meaning of a term in the pertinent field, but an expert's conclusory, unsupported assertions as to a term's definition are entirely unhelpful to a court. Id. Generally, extrinsic evidence is “less reliable than the patent and its prosecution history in determining how to read claim terms.” Id. The Supreme Court recently explained the role of extrinsic evidence in claim construction:

In some cases, however, the district court will need to look beyond the patent's intrinsic evidence and to consult extrinsic evidence in order to understand, for example, the background science or the meaning of a term in the relevant art during the relevant time period. See, e.g., Seymour v. Osborne, 11 Wall. 516, 546 (1871) (a patent may be “so interspersed with technical terms and terms of art that the testimony of scientific witnesses is indispensable to a correct understanding of its meaning”). In cases where those subsidiary facts are in dispute, courts will need to make subsidiary factual findings about that extrinsic evidence. These are the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.