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Leader Development Industrial Corp. v. Intercrown Enterprise, Ltd.

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

July 26, 2019

LEADER DEVELOPMENT INDUS. CORP., Plaintiff,
v.
INTERCROWN ENTERPRISE, LTD., Defendant.

          CLAIM CONSTRUCTION OPINION AND ORDER

          ROY S. PAYNEUNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this patent case, Leader Development Industrial Corp. alleges Intercrown Enterprise, Ltd., infringes certain claims of U.S. Patent 7, 832, 453. The parties now dispute the scope of six terms or phrases from the asserted claims, and Intercrown alleges two of the terms are indefinite. Having considered the parties' claim construction briefing and arguments of counsel during a June 24, 2019 hearing, the Court construes the disputed claim terms as follows.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The technology concerns window coverings, such as curtains and blinds. According to the '453 Patent, conventional bladed curtains (often commonly referred to as venetian blinds) have two adjusting mechanisms: One controls the rise of fall of the curtain, and another controls the angle of the blades once they are in the desired vertical position. But the patent describes this use of two mechanisms as difficult to assemble and expensive. '453 Patent at 1:20-33.

         To address these disadvantages, the '453 Patent teaches a single mechanism that controls both the vertical position of the curtain and the angle of the blades. Using a pulling string, the blades may be first raised or lowered to a desired position. See '453 Patent figs. 4 & 5 (showing the blades in raised and lowered positions, respectively). After the desired position is reached, the same pulling string may be used to adjust the blade angle. See Id. figs. 3 & 4 (showing the blades at different angles).

         The key to this functionality is the use of two adjacent cylindrical elements, a “winding tube” disposed with a “rubbing wheel, ” in combination with the pulling string and a suspending string. The '453 Patent teaches an end of the pulling string connected to the bottom blade.[1] The pulling string is wound around the winding tube, with the opposing end of the string either free or connected to a winder. '453 Patent fig.3 (showing a manual string 22); id. fig.4 (showing the pulling string 21 connected to a winder 2). As the string is pulled, the bottom blade changes position, either lifting or releasing the other blades as it moves up or down. Because the pulling string is wound around the winding tube, pulling the string causes the winding tube to rotate, which in turn rotates the connected rubbing wheel. And because each blade connects to a suspending string hung from the rubbing wheel, the blades rotate as well, at least until they contact one another. After the bottom blade is moved to the desired position relative to the rail, the user can move the pulling string in the opposite direction to rotate and open the blades the desired amount. See generally '453 Patent at 2:42-3:6 (describing operation of certain embodiments).

         Claim 1 recites

a winding tube rotatably disposed in an upper rail of a curtain having curtain blades;
a rubbing wheel rotatable with the winding tube;
a pulling string controlling the rise and fall of the curtain, with the pulling string having a first end and a second end, with the pulling string being wound around the winding tube such that the winding tube is intermediate the first and second ends of the pulling string, with the first and second ends of the pulling string being spaced from the winding tube, with a portion of the pulling string which is intermediate the winding tube and the second end being passed through the curtain blades, with the second end of the pulling string having different spacing from the winding tube when the pulling string is wound on the winding tube;
. . .; and
a suspending string for insertion of the curtain blades, with the suspending string having a top end hung on the rubbing wheel, thereby during the rise and fall of the curtain blades, the suspending string is capable of being actuated in the rotating direction of the winding tube, allowing for adjustment of the angle of the curtain blades, with the first end of the pulling string being pulled to rotate the winding tube to control the rise and fall of the curtain and to rotate the rubbing wheel.

'453 Patent at 3:22-4:7.

         II. GENERAL LEGAL STANDARDS

         “[T]he 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). As such, if the parties dispute the scope of the claims, the court must determine their meaning. See, e.g., Verizon Servs. Corp. v. Vonage Holdings Corp., 503 F.3d 1295, 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2007); Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 390 (1996), aff'g, 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc).

         When construing claims, “[t]here is a heavy presumption that claim terms are to be given their ordinary and customary meaning.” Aventis Pharm. Inc. v. Amino Chems. Ltd., 715 F.3d 1363, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13). Courts must therefore “look to the words of the claims themselves . . . to define the scope of the patented invention.” Id. (citations omitted). The “ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term 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, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. This “person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification.” Id.

         Intrinsic evidence is the primary resource for claim construction. See Power-One, Inc. v. Artesyn Techs., Inc., 599 F.3d 1343, 1348 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312). For certain claim terms, “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 words.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314; see also Medrad, Inc. v. MRI Devices Corp., 401 F.3d 1313, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (“We cannot look at the ordinary meaning of the term . . . in a vacuum. Rather, we must look at the ordinary meaning in the context of the written description and the prosecution history.”). But for claim terms with less-apparent meanings, courts consider “those sources available to the public that show what a person of skill in the art would have understood disputed claim language to mean . . . [including] the words of the claims themselves, the remainder of the specification, the prosecution history, and extrinsic evidence concerning relevant scientific principles, the meaning of technical terms, and the state of the art.” Id.

         III. LEVEL OF ORDINARY SKILL IN THE ART

         The level of ordinary skill in the art is the level of skill of a hypothetical person who is presumed to have known the relevant art at the time of the invention. In resolving the level of ordinary skill, courts consider the types of and solutions to problems encountered in the art, the speed of innovation, the sophistication of the technology, and the education of workers active in the field. In re GPAC, 57 F.3d 1573, 1579 (Fed. Cir. 1995). Importantly, “[a] person of ordinary skill in the art is also a person of ordinary creativity, not an automaton.” KSR Int'l Co. v. Teleflex Inc., 550 U.S. 398, 421 (2007).

         Here, the parties dispute the proper level of ordinary skill in the art. Leader contends a person of ordinary skill must either (1) have at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, or (2) at least two years of experience in the design and analysis of mechanical devices. Pl.'s Open'g Br. [Dkt. # 56] at 3-4. Intercrown responds that a person without relevant actual experience will not understand practical design considerations for window coverings, and argues that an ordinarily skilled artisan would have at least three years of experience in the design and fabrication of blinds. Def.'s Resp. Br. [Dkt. # 60] at 6. Neither party provides any underlying rationale for the level of skill it claims is correct.

         The Court, however, need not resolve the level of ordinary skill to resolve the scope of the disputed terms, because there is no dispute presented by the parties that depends on which skill level is most proper. In other words, regardless of whether Leader's or Inter-crown's level of ordinary skill is most proper, the outcome is the same concerning construction of the disputed terms.

         IV. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS

         A. “curtain” (Claims 1-2, 4-7, 9, and 11)

Pl.'s Proposed Construction

Def.'s Proposed Construction

and ordinary meaning; no construction necessary; not indefinite.

Indefinite. To the extent this term is con-struable, a type of drapery, not a venetian blind.

         1. Whether the term is indefinite

         “Curtain” appears prolifically throughout the claims and, more generally, the '453 Patent. See, e.g., '453 Patent at (54) (“Adjusting Structure of a Curtain for Adjusting the Angle of Curtain Blade”); id. at 1:20-23 (describing conventional curtains as having adjustable curtain blades); id. at 3:22 (reciting, in the preamble of Claim 1, “[a]n adjustable structure of a curtain”). Yet despite such prolific use of the term, Intercrown contends “curtain” is indefinite. A “curtain, ” says Intercrown, is “a cloth or cloth-like material that is hung from a curtain rod, ” whereas the figures show what an ordinarily skilled artisan would consider a venetian blind with slats. Def.'s Resp. Br. [Dkt. # 60] at 28. Intercrown thus argues the claims are indefinite and, alternatively, that “curtain” excludes a venetian blind.[2]Id. at 29.

         But Intercrown's reasoning ignores the Federal Circuit's mandate not to read the claims in a vacuum. See Medrad, Inc., 401 F.3d at 1319 (“We cannot look at the ordinary meaning of the term . . . in a vacuum.”). Although “curtain” may refer, in a vacuum, to a cloth window covering without slats, there is no such vacuum here. As Intercrown acknowledges, all the figures show slats, which the patent calls “blades.” Indeed, the very purpose of the patent is to provide for altering both the vertical position and angle of the blades using a single mechanism. '453 Patent at 1:31-33. Construing “curtain” as simply cloth hung on a rod would make the purpose of the patent nonsensical. Given the content of the written description and figures, “curtain” is not indefinite.

         2. Claim scope

         Intercrown is correct that some construction is warranted. Leader contends, without support, that the term should be given its plain and ordinary meaning, but Intercrown's extrinsic evidence shows the patent uses “curtain” more broadly. See, e.g., Kollman Decl. [Dkt. # 60-2] ¶¶ 15-16 (noting that “[a] curtain does not have slats or blades that are tiltable[, ] “[a] curtain typically has curtain material that hangs from a curtain rod[, ]” and that the patent illustrates a venetian blind). Here, it is enough to say that the '453 Patent uses “curtain” to mean, more generally, a “window covering.” The type of window covering is then set forth by the claim limitations.

         The Court therefore construes “curtain” to mean “window covering.”

         B. “rubbing wheel” (Claims 1, 4-7, 9, and 11)

Pl.'s Proposed Construction

Def.'s Proposed Construction

Plain and ordinary meaning; no construction necessary.

a wheel having a diameter that is larger than a diameter of the winding tube about which the suspending string is hung to ob-tain greater friction between the suspend-ing string and the rubbing wheel. The rub-bing wheel rubs the winding tube.

         Intercrown's proposed construction for “rubbing wheel” has three components. First, Intercrown urges that the diameter of the wheel must be larger than the diameter of the winding tube. Second, Intercrown contends “rubbing wheel” must be construed such that the suspension string is hung for the purpose of obtaining greater friction. Finally, Intercrown says the rubbing wheel must rub the winding tube.

         1. Whether the rubbing wheel must have a diameter larger than a diameter of the winding tube

         Intercrown contends the proper scope of “rubbing wheel” requires this size relationship with the winding tube. To support that contention, Intercrown stresses that the patent teaches “in the present invention, the rubbing wheel is a little bigger than the winding tube.” Def.'s Resp. Br. [Dkt. # 60] at 10 (quoting '453 Patent at 3:10-13 (emphasis added)). This language, says Intercrown, makes the size requirement a critical structural requirement of the rubbing wheel. Id. Leader responds that the claims do not require a size relationship with the ...


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