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Davies Innovations Inc v. SIG Sauer Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 15, 2017

Davies Innovations, Inc.
v.
SIG Sauer, Inc. and Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. Opinion No. 2017 DNH 028

          ORDER

          LANDYA MCCAFFERTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Davies Innovations, Inc. brought separate patent infringement lawsuits against SIG Sauer, Inc. (“SIG Sauer”) and Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. (“Ruger”) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division. See Davies Innovations, Inc. v. SIG Sauer, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-00281 (S.D. Tex. filed Oct. 9, 2015); Davies Innovations, Inc. v. Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-00282 (S.D. Tex. filed Oct. 9, 2015). In both actions, plaintiff alleged infringement of the same patent, United States Patent No. 7, 827, 722 (the “‘722 Patent”), which discloses a rifle.

         Defendants separately moved in their respective actions to transfer their cases to this court, and both motions were granted. Once transferred, the court consolidated the two cases for pre-trial purposes.

         Ruger moves for summary judgment of noninfringement (doc. no. 49), asserting that the ‘722 patent requires that the rifle's handguard have an “open” forward end “to permit access” to certain components of the rifle's operating system. Ruger asserts that its rifles that allegedly infringe the ‘722 patent (the “accused rifles”) lack this feature. Plaintiff objects, arguing that summary judgment is inappropriate.[1]

         Background

         The ‘722 patent issued on November 9, 2010. The patent was issued to Robert Davies, who was the President of Advance Device Design and RF Power Devices, Inc. After Mr. Davies passed away in October 2012, the ‘722 patent was assigned, first to Mr. Davies' friend, David Stanowski, and subsequently, on October 7, 2015, to Davies Innovations, Inc. (“Davies”), the plaintiff in this case. Two days after the assignment, Davies filed the instant lawsuits against SIG Sauer and Ruger, alleging that both defendants infringe the ‘722 patent by offering to sell and selling rifles covered by the patent's claims. See 35 U.S.C. § 271(a).

         The ‘722 patent generally discloses a gas-piston driven rifle having an upper receiver, a bolt carrier, a barrel, a handguard, and a gas-piston operating system that is at least partially removable through a plug in the front of a barrel coupling that serves to redirect gases from the discharge of the weapon to a piston assembly. The gases force the piston assembly rearward, causing a force to be exerted on the bolt carrier, which forces the bolt carrier rearward to eject the spent cartridge casing.

         The dispute in this summary judgment motion centers on the handguard. Every claim of the ‘722 patent requires that the rifle have a handguard with an open forward end to permit access to certain components of the rifle's operating system.[2]

         Specifically, Claim 1 of the ‘722 patent provides:

1. A rifle having an upper receiver carrying a bolt carrier and a barrel attached to the upper receiver, the rifle further comprising:
an operating system extending forwardly along the barrel and terminating in a barrel coupling including a piston assembly coupled to the barrel for receiving propelling gasses from the barrel, the piston assembly having a cylinder with an open forward end, a piston moveable between a retracted position and an extended position within the cylinder, and an end plug removably closing the open forward end of the cylinder to permit passage of the piston therethrough when the plug is removed.
a tubular handguard having a forward end, a rearward end, a central void extending between the forward end and the rearward end, and a channel extending therealong adjacent the central void, the tubular handguard received about the barrel with the channel providing clearance for the operating system and the forward end being open to permit access to the barrel coupling and end plug of the operating system; and
a barrel nut coupling the barrel to the receiver, and the tubular handguard encircling the barrel is received about and coupled to the barrel nut.

Doc. no. 1-1 at 22, Claim 1 (emphasis added). The ‘722 patent shows a view of the tubular handguard surrounding the barrel with the forward end being open to permit access to components of the operating system in Figure 9. Figure 9 is reproduced below with a graphic (rectangle) added by the court to identify the open forward end of the handguard:

         [IMAGE OMMITTED]

Doc. no. 1-1 at 7, Fig. 9.[3]

         Ruger moves for summary judgment, arguing that it does not infringe the ‘722 patent because its accused rifles do not have a handguard with “the forward end being open to permit access to the barrel coupling and end plug of the operating system.”[4]Davies disagrees with that argument. Because the construction of the claim is relevant to whether certain of SIG Sauer's rifles are covered by the patent's claims, the court allowed SIG Sauer to brief the claim construction issue, and allowed Davies to respond to SIG Sauer's brief. The court held a hearing on Ruger's motion on December 2, 2016, during which Davies, Ruger, and SIG Sauer presented argument and/or evidence.

         Standard of Review

         “Evaluation of summary judgment of noninfringement is a two-part inquiry: first, a court construes the scope and meaning of the asserted patent claims, and then compares the construed claims to the accused product.” Medgraph, Inc. v. Medtronic, Inc., 843 F.3d 942, 949 (Fed. Cir. 2016); see also Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 384-85 (1996). The construction of patent claims is a matter of law exclusively for the court. UCB, Inc. v. Yeda Research and Dev. Co., Ltd., 837 F.3d 1256, 1259 (Fed. Cir. 2016). The determination of infringement, however, is a question of fact. Bai v. L & L Wings, Inc., 160 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 1998). As such, the court should grant summary judgment of noninfringement only when it determines that, after construction of the claim and drawing all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the nonmovant, no rational factfinder could find that the accused products infringe the patent at issue. Medgraph, 843 F.3d at 949.

         Discussion

         I. Claim Construction

         In construing the scope and meaning of patent claim terms, a court looks first to the evidence intrinsic to the patent. Astrazeneca AB v. Mut. Pharm. Co., Inc., 384 F.3d 1333, 1336-37 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The court begins by looking to “the claim language itself to define the scope of the patented invention, ” and to the patent's specification “[w]hen the claim language itself lacks sufficient clarity to ascertain the scope of the claims.” Chimie v. PPG Indus., Inc., 402 F.3d 1371, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Finally, the prosecution history, if in evidence, is examined “to discern the applicant's express acquiescence with or distinction of the prior art as further indication of the scope of the claims.” Id.

         Though “less significant than the intrinsic record” to claim construction, the court may also “rely on extrinsic evidence, which consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[E]vidence extrinsic to the patent is useful insofar as it ‘can shed useful light on the relevant art-and thus better allow a court to place itself in the shoes of a person of ordinary skill in the art' reading the claims alongside the rest of the specification.” Astrazeneca, 384 F.3d at 1337 (quoting Vanderlande Indus. Nederland BV v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 366 F.3d 1311, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). “Relying on extrinsic evidence to construe a claim is ‘proper only when the claim language remains genuinely ambiguous after consideration of the intrinsic evidence.'” Interactive Gift Exp., Inc. v. Compuserve Inc., 256 F.3d 1323, 1332 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (quoting Bell & Howell Document Mgmt. Prods. Co. v. Altek Sys., 132 F.3d 701, 706 (Fed. Cir. 1997)).

         Both Ruger and Davies assert that formal claim construction is unnecessary because the claim limitation of a tubular handguard with “the forward end being open to permit access to the barrel coupling and end plug of the operating system” uses common terminology, and a construction of the limitation beyond the plain and ordinary meaning of its terms would not aid the jury.[5] After considering the intrinsic evidence, the court agrees that nothing in the intrinsic evidence suggests the patentee intended those terms to carry some alternative definition beyond their plain and ordinary meaning.

         Claim construction, however, is still necessary. Although the parties agree on the definition of the terms in the “open to permit access” limitation, they dispute the scope of the limitation itself. Therefore, the court must construe the claim in order to settle the meaning of the disputed terms as they are used in the ‘722 patent and the scope of the claims in which the terms appear. See O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., Ltd., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362-63 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (Markman requires district courts to resolve disputes between the parties as to claim terms' meaning or scope).

         There are two components of the “open to permit access” limitation that are relevant to Ruger's motion: “being open” and “to permit access.” The court addresses the components separately.

         A. “Being Open”

         As discussed above, the parties agree that the phrase “being open” invokes the plain and ordinary meaning of those terms, and nothing in the intrinsic evidence suggests otherwise. The parties, however, disagree as to whether the handguard on the accused rifles is open under the plain and ordinary meaning of that term. Therefore, the court will “clarify and . . . explain what the patentee covered by the claims, for use in the determination of infringement.” U.S. Surgical v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

         During the prosecution of the ‘722 patent, the examiner twice rejected the patentee's claim as obvious in light of the combination of U.S. Patent No. 4, 244, 273 (“Langendorfer”) with other patents. See 35 U.S.C. § 103. The Langendorfer patent disclosed a rifle in which the forward end of the handguard attached to the rifle's front sight assembly. Mr. Davies, the patentee, distinguished Langendorfer on the grounds that, unlike the rifle disclosed in the ‘722 patent, the forward end of the handguard on the Langendorfer rifle was not open: “Additionally, Langendorfer does not teach an open end to the handguard. The handguards are attached at the front sight assembly. There is no provision, structure or possibility that the handguards of Langendorfer can be open at the forward end.” Doc. no. 52-16 at 12. The patentee later noted that “[e]limination of the front sight assembly to provide an open fronted handguard would render it inoperable for its intended purpose.” Id. at 13.

         The patentee's invocation of the term “open” in this manner indicates that the forward end of the handguard on the Langendorfer rifle is not open because it is attached to another portion of the rifle, i.e., the front sight assembly. It also indicates that the forward end of the handguard on the Langendorfer rifle would be open were it not attached to the front sight assembly.

         Thus, the prosecution history confirms that the plain and ordinary meaning of the phrase “being open” is properly applied to the “open to permit access” limitation. The court agrees with the parties that the phrase “being open” is clear in the context of the ‘722 patent without the need for elaboration. To the extent the parties advance an argument suggesting that the plain and ordinary meaning of the phrase “being open” is inconsistent with the prosecution history discussed above, that argument is without merit.

         B. “To Permit Access”

         The court next turns to the phrase “to permit access.” Although the parties agree that the phrase should be given its plain and ordinary meaning, they again dispute the scope of the limitation.

         Davies refers at various points in its objection to the phrase “to permit access” as meaning “does not in any way prevent access, ” doc. no. 52-1 at 15, and “without any portion of the handguard preventing access, ” Id. at 16. Thus, Davies appears to assert that the phrase “to permit ...


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