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Signalquest, Inc. v. Chou

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 23, 2016

SignalQuest, Inc.,
v.
Tien-Ming Chou, OneQue Corporation, and Bravotronics Corporation Opinion No. 2016 DNH 035

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE, District Judge.

         This patent infringement action relates to tilt and vibration sensors. Defendants Tien-Ming Chou, OncQue Corporation, and defendant and counter-claimant Bravotronics Corporation, have moved for summary judgment that the patents asserted in this action by plaintiff and counter-claim defendant SignalQuest, Inc., [1] are invalid and that Bravotronics does not infringe them. Specifically, the defendants contend that SignalQuest's patents are invalid because, during a recentlyconcluded ex parte reexamination, SignalQuest cancelled a dependent claim related to the shape of the embodiment of one part of the invention, thus - defendants contend - disclaiming that particular embodiment and invaliding the patent to the extent SignalQuest contends the reissued claims cover that embodiment. And even if the patents are valid, the defendants argue, defendants do not infringe because they do not sell any of the accused products in the United States.

         This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1338 (patents) and 1331 (federal question). After hearing oral argument, the court denies the defendants' motion. As discussed more fully below, SignalQuest has submitted evidence sufficient to raise a question of material fact as to whether the defendants have made offers to sell the accused infringing devices within the United States. And the defendants have not demonstrated that they are entitled to judgment of invalidity as a matter of law.

         I. Applicable legal standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The movant bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The opposing party may defeat such a motion by presenting competent evidence of record demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The court views the evidence presented in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Id. at 255. But the court need not countenance "conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation." Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990).

         II. Background

         In this case, SignalQuest has asserted three related patents against the defendants. The defendants moved for summary judgment that they do not infringe SignalQuest's patents and that said patents are invalid in light of positions taken by SignalQuest before the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") during reexamination.

         SignalQuest's patents describe an omnidrectional tilt and vibration sensor. These sensors can be used to switch an electrical circuit ON or OFF. Tilt the sensor one way, and a free-moving conductive element comes in contact with two terminals, completing a conductive path and turning the circuit ON; tilt it another way, and the conductive element moves out of contact with one or both of the terminals, disrupting the conductive path and turning the circuit OFF.

         The SignalQuest patents were granted on June 27, 2006, and February 5, 2008. After SignalQuest amended its complaint in this action to accuse the defendants of infringing these patents, [2] the USPTO instituted an ex parte reexamination of the same. All three patents survived reexamination, though not all claims survived. SignalQuest cancelled some claims, rewrote or amended others, and added still other claims. The court stayed the instant action while the USPTO reexamined these patents. After all three patents reissued in October 2014, the court lifted that stay. The defendants then moved for summary judgment and the court held a hearing on defendants' motions on January 26, 2016.[3]

         III. Analysis

         A. Non-infringement

         The Patent Act provides that "whoever without authority... offers to sell[] or sells any patented invention, within the United States... infringes the patent." 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). Defendants seek summary judgment that they have not infringed SignalQuest's patents because they have not sold or offered any of the accused products for sale in the United States after the patents reissued and because intervening rights extinguish (document no. 1). Two months later, SignalQuest amended its complaint to assert its own patents against Chou and OncQue. See First Amended Complaint (document no. 5). SignalQuest subsequently amended its complaint three more times. The Fourth Amended Complaint (document no. 76) is operative here. SignalQuest's claims to pre-reexamination damages. See Mem. (document no. 86-1) at 10. SignalQuest concedes no sale of the accused products in the United States, but offers evidence that, it submits, raises a question of material fact as to whether defendants offered the accused products for sale both before and after its patents reissued. The court agrees.

         1. Post-reexamination offers for sale

         SignalQuest submits that defendants have offered the accused products for sale in the United States on at least two occasions after the patents reissued.[4] As evidence of this, SignalQuest has offered a quotation for the defendants' VBS-030600 product sent to a North Carolina-based company in late 2014, [5] see Plaintiff's Ex. 14, and a quotation for the same product sent to International Assembly, a company based in Texas, on or around March 25, 2015.[6] Defendants concede that both quotations were sent, but argue that neither quotation rises to the level of an "offer to sell" under § 271(a). Even if they did, defendants contend, neither offer was made "within the United States, " as that statute requires. Neither ...


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