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Arctic Cat Inc. v. Bombardier Recreational Products Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 18, 2016

ARCTIC CAT INC., Plaintiff,
v.
BOMBARDIER RECREATIONAL PRODUCTS INC., and BRP U.S. INC., Defendants.

          Niall A. MacLeod, KUTAK ROCK LLP, and Annamarie A. Daley, JONES DAY, for plaintiff.

          Robert K. Goethals, LOCKE LORD LLP, Three World Financial Center, New York, NY for defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER CONSTRUING CLAIM TERMS

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM Chief Judge United States

         Plaintiff Arctic Cat Inc. (“Arctic Cat”) and Defendants Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. and BRP U.S. Inc. (collectively “BRP”) manufacture snowmobiles and other all-terrain vehicles. Arctic Cat brought this patent infringement action against BRP, alleging that BRP infringed on four of its patents relating to Arctic Cat's “two-stroke” engine technology. BRP has counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement of each asserted patent. The parties now move the Court to construe disputed claim terms.

         BACKGROUND

         This patent infringement action arises out of four patents owned by Arctic Cat - U.S. Patent No. 6, 237, 566 (“the ‘566 patent”), U.S. Patent No. 6, 371, 082 (“the ‘082 patent”), U.S. Patent No. 6, 550, 450 (“the ‘450 patent”), and U.S. Patent No. 7, 258, 107 (“the ‘107 patent”). The patents-in-suit relate to Arctic Cat's “two-stroke” engine technology, which uses sensed exhaust gas temperatures and other variables to regulate ignition timing and/or fuel injection.

         I. OVERVIEW OF TWO-STROKE ENGINE TECHNOLOGY

         The engine cycle for an internal combustion engine involves four steps: air intake, compression, expansion, and exhaust discharge. In a two-stroke engine, these steps occur in two “strokes” - a compression stroke and a power stroke. The compression stroke occurs as the piston moves up within the cylinder of the engine. During this upward movement, fuel is injected into the cylinder, air enters the cylinder through an intake port, and the resulting fuel-air mixture is compressed. The power stroke occurs immediately after the compression stroke, as the piston moves back down. The power stroke commences after the firing of the ignition source, usually a spark plug.[1] This firing causes the compressed fuel-air mixture to combust, which produces a heat release that expands and drives the piston downward, starting the power stroke. Gases generated from combustion are then discharged through an exhaust port connected to the cylinder.

         A defining characteristic of a two-stroke is that air intake and exhaust discharge occur simultaneously - air is drawn into the cylinder at the same time that exhaust gas is discharged. Altogether, the up and down piston movement within the cylinder - the compression stroke, followed by the power stroke, followed by the compression stroke, and so on - supplies power to the crankshaft, which in turn supplies power to whatever the engine is driving.

         II. ‘566, ‘082, AND ‘450 PATENTS

         The ‘566, ‘082, and ‘450 patents come from the same patent family, deriving from U.S. Patent Application No. 09/452, 657 (the “‘657 parent application”). (Decl. of Niall A. MacLeod (“MacLeod Decl.”), Ex. A (“‘082 Patent”), Ex. B (“‘450 Patent”), Ex. C (“‘566 Patent”), Dec. 8, 2015, Docket No. 233.) All three patents have the same title - “Two-Cycle Engine With Exhaust Temperature-Controlled Ignition Timing” - as well as the same inventor, Greg Spaulding. (Id.) The ‘566 patent issued first, on May 29, 2001, from the ‘657 parent application. (‘566 Patent at 2.) The ‘082 patent issued second, on April 16, 2002, from U.S. Patent Application 09/568, 449 (the “'449 application”), which is a continuation-in-part of the ‘657 parent application. (‘082 Patent at 2.) And the ‘450 patent issued third, on April 22, 2003, from U.S. Patent Application 10/123, 773, which is a continuation of the ‘449 application. (‘450 Patent at 2.) (Id.) All three patents describe a two-stroke engine that controls ignition timing based on sensed exhaust gas temperatures.

         III. THE ‘107 PATENT

         The ‘107 patent is entitled “Temperature-Controlled Fuel Injection System for Two-Stroke Engines, ” and was issued on August 21, 2007. (MacLeod Decl., Ex. D (“107 Patent”) at 2.) The inventors are Daniel J. Johnson, Kim Chervvestad, and Greg Spaulding. (Id.) The patent describes a two-stroke engine that controls fuel injection timing based on sensed exhaust gas temperature, crankshaft velocity, and throttle position. (Id. at 6, col. 1:49-col. 2:11.)

         IV. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Arctic Cat commenced this patent infringement action on October 19, 2012, alleging that BRP infringed on the four patents described above.[2] On January 10, 2013, BRP filed counterclaims for a declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement for each asserted patent. A claim construction hearing was originally scheduled for January 22, 2015, but the Court stayed the case after Arctic Cat filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) covering three of the four asserted patents. A claim construction hearing before the ITC was held on April 8, 2015, but before the presiding administrative law judge could issue a claim construction order, Arctic Cat voluntarily dismissed the ITC litigation. This Court then dissolved the stay and the action recommenced. On August 17, 2015, the parties submitted letter briefs to the Court seeking guidance on the number of claims requiring construction. The Court issued an order instructing the parties that it would construe the eight claim groupings outlined in BRP's letter brief.

         ANALYSIS

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Claim construction is a question of law exclusively for the Court. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 970 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). “The purpose of claim construction is to determine the meaning and scope of the patent claims that the plaintiff alleges have been infringed.” Every Penny Counts, Inc. v. Am. Express Co., 563 F.3d 1378, 1381 (Fed. Cir. 2009). Claim terms and phrases “are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning” as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention.[3] Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). However, there are “two exceptions to this general rule: 1) when a patentee sets out a definition and acts as his own lexicographer, or 2) when the patentee disavows the full scope of a claim term either in the specification or during prosecution.” Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (citing Vitrionics, 90 F.3d at 1580). In construing claims, the Court first looks to the intrinsic evidence, which includes the claim language, the specification, and the prosecution history. Vitrionics, 90 F.3d at 1582.

         The claim language “provide[s] substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. The context of the surrounding words may be instructive as to the ordinary and customary meaning of the term. Id. The Court also considers “[o]ther claims of the patent in question, both asserted and unasserted.” Id. (citing Vitrionics, 90 F.3d at 1582). “Because claim terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent, the usage of a term in one claim can often illuminate the meaning of the same term in other claims.” Id. Differences among claims can also be a useful guide, because “different words or phrases used in separate claims are presumed to indicate that the claims have different meanings and scope.” Seachange Int'l, Inc. v. C-COR Inc., 413 F.3d 1361, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (citations omitted) (quoting Karlin Tech. Inc. v. Surgical Dynamics, Inc., 177 F.3d 968, 971-72 (Fed. Cir. 1999)).

         ”[C]laims ‘must [also] be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 979). “[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 Vitrionics, 90 F.3d at 1582). The specification “may reveal a special definition given to a claim term by the patentee that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess” or it “may reveal an intentional disclaimer, or disavowal, of claim scope by the inventor.” Id. at 916. However, “the patentee need not ‘describe in the specification every conceivable and possible future embodiment of his invention.'” CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 288 F.3d 1359, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (quoting Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2001)). Moreover, “it is improper to read limitations from a preferred embodiment described in the specification - even if it is the only embodiment - into the claims absent a clear indication in the intrinsic record that the patentee intended the claims to be so limited.” Dealertrack, Inc. v. Huber, 674 F.3d 1315, 1327 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (quoting Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Applera Corp., 599 F.3d 1325, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2010)).

         Finally, the Court construes claims in context of the prosecution history. Biogen Idec, Inc. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 713 F.3d 1090, 1094 (Fed. Cir. 2013). The prosecution history “consists of the complete record of the proceedings before the PTO and includes the prior art cited during the examination of the patent.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. The prosecution history can inform “the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention.” Biogen Idec, 713 F.3d at 1094 (quoting Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317). Further, “when the patentee unequivocally and unambiguously disavows a certain meaning to obtain a patent, the doctrine of prosecution history disclaimer narrows the meaning of the claim consistent with the scope of the claim surrendered.” Id. (citing Omega Eng'g, Inc. v. Raytek Corp., 334 F.3d 1314, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2003)). However, because the prosecution history “often lacks the clarity of the specification . . . [it] is less useful for claim construction purposes.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317.

         Although the claim language, specification and prosecution history are of primary importance in construing claims, the Court may also in certain instances consider extrinsic evidence. Id. Extrinsic evidence “consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises.” Id. (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 980). But while “extrinsic evidence ‘can shed useful light on the relevant art, ' . . . it is ‘less significant than the intrinsic record in determining “the legally operative meaning of claim language.”'” Id. (quoting C.R. Bard, Inc. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 388 F.3d 858, 862 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). Thus, “when the intrinsic evidence is unambiguous, it is improper for a court to rely on extrinsic evidence.” CAE Screenplates Inc. v. Heinrich Fiedler GmbH & Co. KG, 224 F.3d 1308, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (citing Vitrionics, 90 F.3d at 1583).

         II. CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

         A. “Ignition Pattern”

         The parties first dispute the meaning of the claim term “ignition pattern.” This term appears in multiple claims throughout the ‘566, ‘082, and ‘450 patents. Arctic Cat argues that all three patents expressly define the term as a “relationship between ignition timing and engine speed.” BRP, on the other hand, argues that the term should be construed as “a predefined set of at least two ignition timing settings that vary exclusively based on engine speeds.” Both parties assert that their proposed construction should apply to all usages of “ignition pattern” across the three patents. The Court, however, will decline to provide such an all-encompassing construction. The intrinsic evidence unique to each patent suggests that “ignition pattern” does not have a completely uniform definition. The Court will thus construe “ignition pattern” individually within each patent.

         1. “Ignition Pattern” in the ‘566 Patent

         The term “ignition pattern” (or “ignition patterns”) appears in independent Claims 1 and 8, and dependent Claims 5, 6, 12, and 13 of the ‘566 patent. As an initial matter, given that “claim terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent” and there is nothing to indicate that ignition pattern was intended to have multiple meanings within the ‘566 patent, the Court will provide a single construction. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314.

         Arctic Cat's proposed construction is premised on the argument that “ignition pattern” is expressly defined within the patent. See Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (holding that patentee may “set[] out a definition and act[] as his own lexicographer”). The Court, however, is not persuaded. While it is true that both the claim language and the specification describe “ignition pattern” as a “relationship between ignition timing and engine speed” (see ‘566 Patent at 11, col. 1:38-42; id. at 13, col. 6:38-41), both sources also provide other descriptions. Claims 1 and 8, for example, describe “ignition pattern” as a pattern “in which an ignition point during the compression movement varies with operation speed of the engine.” (Id. at 13, col. 6:36-38; id. at 14, col.7:4-6.) The specification, meanwhile, describes ignition pattern as “[t]he various combinations of ignition timings and particular engine speeds.” (Id. at 11, col. 2:53-55.) In view of these multiple descriptions, the Court is unwilling to adopt the one summarily proposed by Arctic Cat.

         BRP's proposed construction, conversely, includes three limitations: that (1) an “ignition pattern” is a predefined set of ignition timing settings, (2) each set is made up of at least two ignition timing settings, and (3) ignition timing settings vary exclusively based on engine speed. The Court will discuss each proposed limitation in turn below.

         To support its construction that ignition patterns are predefined, BRP notes that the claim language and specification repeatedly state that a particular ignition pattern is “selected” from a plurality of ignition patterns. (See id., col. 1:49-52; id., col. 2:60-63; id. at 13, col. 6:43-46.) BRP argues that it is impossible to select a pattern unless one already exists, meaning that ignition patterns must be predefined. (See Id. at 12-13, col. 4:56-col. 6:14.) BRP also notes that the ignition pattern embodiments within the specification reflect predefined sets. In spite of these arguments, however, the Court will decline to import BRP's proposed limitation. First, the term “predefined” does not appear anywhere within the intrinsic evidence. Second, the claim language itself does not expressly rule out the possibility that an ignition pattern could be modified post-selection, and the other intrinsic evidence is silent on the issue. Because claim terms are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning, the Court will not import a limitation that neither appears in the intrinsic record nor is required by the claim language. A person of ordinary skill in the art simply would not understand ignition pattern to constitute a “predefined” set of ignition points.

         BRP next seeks to include a limitation that each ignition pattern is comprised of at least two ignition points, and the Court is persuaded. First, the term ignition pattern itself suggests more than one ignition point - a single ignition point could not be considered a pattern. Second, the specification expressly describes an ignition pattern as “various combinations of ignition timings and particular engine speeds.” (Id. at 11, col. 2:53-55 (emphasis added).) Again, this language implies a pattern comprised of more than one ignition point. Third, all of the ignition pattern embodiments portray multiple ignition points. (Id. at 12-13, col. 4:56-col. 6:14.) In light of this intrinsic evidence, the Court finds that a person of ordinary skill in the art would necessarily understand that an ignition pattern includes at least two ignition points.

         BRP lastly seeks to include a limitation that ignition timing settings vary exclusively based on engine speed. To support this construction, BRP relies heavily on the claim language, specification, and prosecution history, arguing that in each of those sources, the inventor only describes ignition timing as varying with respect to engine speed. Absent another variable, BRP contends that a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand that the relationship between ignition timing and engine speed is an exclusive one. BRP also relies on the ‘107 patent, which shares a common inventor, Greg Spaulding. BRP points out that the ‘107 patent teaches a “fuel injection map” consisting of multiple input variables. (See ‘107 Patent at 7, col. 4, tbl. 1; id. at 8, col. 6:18-23.) According to BRP, this shows that if the inventor intended for “ignition pattern” in the ‘566 patent to include more than ignition timing and engine speed, he could have used the term “ignition maps.” But these arguments cannot succeed. First, the word “exclusively” never appears anywhere within the intrinsic evidence. See W.E. Hall Co., Inc. v. Atlanta Corrugating, LLC, 370 F.3d 1343, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (noting that claim construction “begins and ends in all cases with the actual words of the claim”). Second, the mere fact that the inventor described ignition pattern as involving two variables does not rule out the possibility that other variables could also be involved. Claims 1 and 8, for example, disclose that the “ignition point during the compression movement varies with operation speed of the engine” and that “ignition patterns hav[e] different relationships between ignition point and engine speed, ” respectively. (‘566 Patent at 13, col. 6:36-42; id. at 14, col. 7:3-6, 9-13.) While this claim language undoubtedly discloses a relationship between ignition timing and engine speed, nothing about it mandates exclusivity. Moreover, Claims 1 and 8 both begin with the word “comprising” (id. at 13, col. 6:26, 63), which the Federal Circuit has held “is generally understood to signify that the claims do not exclude the presence in the accused apparatus or method of factors in addition to those explicitly recited, ” Vivid Techs., Inc. v. Am. Sci. & Eng'g, Inc., 200 F.3d 795, 811 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Altogether, the Court finds that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not understand that an ignition pattern consists of ignition timing settings that vary exclusively based on engine speed.

         Based on the above, the Court construes “ignition pattern, ” as it is used within the ‘566 patent, to mean the following:

A set of at least two ignition timing settings, in which the ignition timing settings vary based on engine speed.

         2. “Ignition Pattern” in the ‘082 Patent

         The term “ignition pattern” (or “ignition patterns”) appears in independent Claims 1 and 8, and dependent Claims 5, 6, 12, and 13 of the ‘082 patent. Both BRP and Arctic Cat argue for the same construction that they proposed for ‘566 patent and rely on many of the same arguments. Thus, for the same reasons already explained in context of the ‘566 patent, the Court will (1) reject Arctic Cat's proposed construction, [4] and (2) accept BRP's proposed limitation that ignition patterns are made up of at least two ignition timing settings.[5] The Court will also reject BRP's other two proposed limitations - that ignition patterns are “predefined” sets and that ignition timing settings vary exclusively based on engine speed - but for reasons in addition to those already discussed.

         Regarding whether ignition patterns are “predefined” sets, the specification for the ‘082 patent expressly confirms that they need not be:

It is also possible to use the sensed temperature readings to modify a particular timing pattern that can be selected from a plurality of patterns. For example, the user may be able to select a timing pattern from a plurality of timing patterns using a switch or the like, and the sensed temperature readings can be used to modify the selected pattern appropriately.

(‘082 Patent at 12, col. 4:6-12.) As this written description makes clear, an ignition pattern that is subsequently modified based on sensed temperature readings is not, and cannot be, predefined. See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (“It is . . . entirely appropriate for a court, when conducting claim construction, to rely heavily on the written description for guidance as to the meaning of the claims.”). The Court thus rejects this proposed limitation.

         The Court also rejects the notion that ignition timing settings must vary exclusively based on engine speed, because it is belied by the claim language. As the Federal Circuit has noted, claim construction “begins and ends in all cases with the actual words of the claim.” W.E. Hall Co., 370 F.3d at 1353. And here, the claim language itself discloses a third variable besides ignition timing and engine speed: throttle position. Claim 1 of the ‘082 patent teaches “an ignition pattern in which an ignition point during the compressing movement varies with the operation speed of the engine and throttle position.” (‘082 Patent at 14, col. 7:31-33 (emphasis added).) And Claim 8 teaches “an ignition pattern in which an ignition point during the compression movement varies with operation speed of the engine and throttle position of the engine.” (Id., col. 8:19-21 (emphasis added).) Because the ‘082 patent discloses three variables, it cannot be said that the relationship between two of them, ignition timing and engine speed, is exclusive. This fact overcomes any and all of BRP's counterarguments.

         Overall, based on the above, the Court will construe “ignition pattern, ” as it is used within the ‘082 patent, to mean the following:

A set of at least two ignition timing settings, in which the ignition timing settings vary based on engine speed and throttle position.

         3. “Ignition Pattern” in the ‘450 Patent

         The term “ignition pattern” (or “ignition patterns”) appears in independent Claims 1, 9, and 17, and dependent Claims 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21 of the ‘450 patent. Both BRP and Arctic Cat again argue for the same constructions discussed above, and once more rely on many of the same arguments. Thus, for the reasons already explained, the Court will (1) reject Arctic Cat's proposed construction, [6] and (2) accept BRP's proposed limitation that ignition patterns are made up of at least two ignition timing settings.[7] The Court will also reject BRP's proposed limitation that ignition patterns are “predefined” sets.[8] And finally, the Court will reject BRP's proposed limitation that ignition timing settings vary exclusively based on engine speed, for all of the same reasons discussed in context of the ‘566 patent, as well as for one additional reason. The specification for the ‘450 patent makes clear that the relationship between ignition timing and engine speed need not be exclusive:

In some ignition systems, the ignition timing is based only on engine speed (so-called 2-dimensional systems). In other ignition systems, timing is based on engine speed and throttle position (so-called 3-dimensional ignition systems). Both are applicable to the present invention. In any case, the various combinations of ignition timings and particular engine speeds thus will form a particular ignition pattern.

(‘450 Patent at 11-12, col. 2:62-col. 3:2.) This written description illustrates why the narrowing limitation proposed by BRP is inappropriate - another variable besides engine speed, such as throttle position, ...


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