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Polaris Industries, Inc. v. Arctic Cat Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 14, 2017

POLARIS INDUSTRIES INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ARCTIC CAT INC. and ARCTIC CAT SALES INC., Defendants. TABLE II

          WILLIAM F. BULLARD AND DENNIS C. BREMER, CARLSON CASPERS VANDENBURGH LINDQUIST& SCHUMAN PA, FOR PLAINTIFF.

          JOHN C. ADKISSON, JOSEPH A. HERRIGES, AND CONRAD A. GOSEN, FISH & RICHARDSON PC, FOR DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER CONSTRUING CLAIM TERMS

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Polaris Industries Inc. (“Polaris”) and Defendants Arctic Cat Inc. and Arctic Cat Sales Inc. (collectively “Arctic Cat”) manufacture off-road vehicles. Polaris brought these patent infringement actions against Arctic Cat, alleging Arctic Cat infringed its U.S. Patent No. 8, 944, 449 (“ '449 Patent”) and U.S. Patent No. 9, 217, 501 (“ '501 Patent”). The parties now move the Court to construe disputed claim terms. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will construe the disputed claim terms as follows:

Term

Construction

'449 Patent

[Claim 1]

“the middle portion is positioned rearward of a rear end of the frame”

“the middle of the sway bar is rearward of the rear end of the frame where the middle portion is positioned on the frame”

'449 Patent

[Claim 1]

“spaced apart from an interior region of the generally U-shaped sway bar”

“when viewed from above, located outside an area defined by the interior region of the generally U-shaped sway bar”

'501 Patent

[Claims 1, 10]

“communicate ambient air to an interior of” the CVT unit or engine

Plain and ordinary meaning

'501 Patent

[Claim 11]

“a center of gravity of the vehicle”

Plain and ordinary meaning

         BACKGROUND

         This series of patent cases arises from the entry of Arctic Cat into the market for 4x4 Trail Recreational Off-Road Vehicles (“4x4 Trial ROV”). Prior to 2013, Polaris had 90 percent market share in the 4x4 Trail ROV market. Polaris Indus. Inc. v. Arctic Cat Inc., No. 15-4475, 2017 WL 1180426, at *1 (D. Minn. Mar. 29, 2017). In 2013, Arctic Cat introduced a competing product - the Wildcat Trial - which allegedly reduced Polaris's market share by 10 percent. Id.

         In response, between 2013 and 2015, Polaris filed five separate patent infringement cases against Arctic Cat. Id. In February 2015 and January 2017, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found the patents relied upon in the first three cases to be invalid. Id. at *2-3. The fourth case (No. 15-4129), filed November 16, 2015, alleges certain Arctic Cat vehicles infringe the '449 Patent. Id. at *2. The fifth case (No. 15-4475), filed December 22, 2015, alleges Arctic Cat's Wildcat Trail infringes the '501 Patent - which Polaris obtained through an accelerated process. Id.

         On February 10, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Claim Construction Statement agreeing “that the terms of the patents-in-suit other than those identified . . . should be given their plain and ordinary meaning consistent with Federal Circuit Law.” (Joint Claim Construction Statement (“J. Claim Constr.”) at 2, Feb. 10, 2017, Docket No. 109.) The parties also offered six phrases where “the parties offer[ed] competing proposals.” (Id. at 2 & Exs. A-B.) During the course of briefing for the claim construction hearing, Arctic Cat withdrew its proposed construction for the phrase “supported by the plurality of ground engaging members.” (Decl. of Shelleaha L. Jonas (“Jonas Decl.”), Ex. W at 619, [1] Mar. 31, 2017, Docket No. 138.) The parties further agreed on a construction of the phrase “means for rotatably coupling the sway bar to the frame” before filing their response briefs. (Polaris's Reply Claim Construction Br. at 25, Apr. 21, 2017, Docket No. 149; see also Suppl. Joint Claim Construction Statement (“Suppl. J. Claim Constr.”) at 1-2, May 19, 2017, Docket No. 167 (memorializing agreement to claim terms).) The Court is left the construing four phrases within the '449 Patent and '501 Patents.

         I. '449 PATENT

         The parties ask the Court to construe Claim 1 in the '449 Patent. Claim 1 of the '449 Patent, in relevant part, states:

A vehicle, comprising: . . . a generally U-shaped sway bar having a first end portion coupled to the first suspension, a second end portion coupled to the second suspension, and a middle portion supported by the frame, the first end portion and the second end portion are longitudinally positioned between the seating and the middle portion, the generally U-shaped sway bar being rotatably coup☺led to the frame and the middle portion is a continuous section which extends across a central longitudinal plane of the vehicle and the middle portion is positioned rearward of a rear end of the frame, wherein the first shock and the second shock are spaced apart from an interior region of the generally U-shaped sway bar.

(Decl. of Joseph A. Herriges in Supp. of Arctic Cat's Opening Claim Construction Br. (“Herriges Decl.”), Ex. A (“ '449 Patent”) at 44, Mar. 31, 2017, Docket No. 137 (emphasis added).)[2]

         Within Claim 1, the parties ask the Court to construe two different phrases: (1) “the middle portion is positioned rearward of a rear end of the frame”; and (2) “spaced apart from an interior region of the generally U-shaped sway bar.” (See J. Claim Constr., Ex. A at 7-10; id., Ex. B at 4-6; see also Suppl. J. Claim Constr. at 2-3.)

         II. '501 PATENT

         The parties also ask the Court to construe Claim 1, Claim 10, and Claim 11 in the '501 Patent. Claim 1 sets forth, in relevant part:

A vehicle, comprising: . . . an air intake system operatively coupled to the CVT unit to communicate ambient air to an interior of the CVT unit, the air intake system receiving ambient air through an inlet in a portion of the plurality of exterior body panels, the inlet in the portion of the plurality of exterior body panels being located rearward of the first wheel of the first ground engaging member and forward of the second wheel of the second ground engaging member and located laterally outside of a lateral extent of the power source and the CVT unit.

(Herriges Decl., Ex. B (“ '501 Patent”) at 111 (emphasis added).) Claim 10 states:

The vehicle of claim 9, further comprising: a second air intake system operatively coupled to the internal combustion engine to communicate ambient air to the internal combustion engine for combustion of the fuel, the second air intake system including a second air inlet in the plurality of exterior body panels through which ambient air enters the second air intake system, the second air intake system includes an airbox located rearward of the drive member of the CVT unit and below the cargo carrying portion, the airbox includes a base portion and a cover, the cover of the airbox is located rearward of the base portion of the airbox, a filter is positioned in an interior of the airbox, the cover is removably coupled to the base portion to permit access to the filter.

(Id. (emphasis added).) And Claim 11 provides:

The vehicle of claim 10, wherein the air inlet and the second air inlet are located rearward of a center of gravity of the vehicle.

(Id. at 112 (emphasis added).)

         Within Claim 1, Claim 10, and Claim 11, the parties ask the Court to construe two phrases: (1) “to communicate ambient air”; and (2) “a center of gravity of the vehicle.” (See J. Claim Constr., Ex. A at 1-2, 5-6; id., Ex. B at 1, 3; see also Supp. J. Claim Constr. at 2.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. CLAIM CONSTRUCTION PRINCIPLES

         Claim construction is a question of law for the Court. Allen Eng'g Corp. v. Bartell Indus., Inc., 299 F.3d 1336, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2002). “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 are given their ordinary and customary meaning as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005). To ascertain this meaning and define the scope of the invention, courts look to the words of the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history of the patent. Id. at 1314; see also Masco Corp. v. United States, 303 F.3d 1316, 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2002); Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582-83 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

         “[T]he claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. The context of the surrounding words of the claim term may be instructive on the ordinary and customary meaning of the term. Id. Courts also consider “[o]ther claims of the patent in question, both asserted and unasserted, ” to determine the ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term. Id. “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 in the claim language can also be a useful guide, and “‘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) (quoting Karlin Tech. Inc. v. Surgical Dynamics, Inc., 177 F.3d 968, 971-72 (Fed. Cir. 1999)).

         Claims do not stand alone, but are part of “a fully integrated written instrument, ” which includes the specification. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 978 (Fed Cir. 1995). The specification is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term, and “claims ‘must 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); see also Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582 (“[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.”). Courts, however, will not import a limitation from the specification into the claims. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1320. The Federal Circuit has “repeatedly warned against confining the claims to . . . embodiments” described in the specification. Id. at 1323; cf. Id. (holding that the Federal Circuit has “expressly rejected the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment.”).

         In addition to considering the specification, the Court may also consider the patent's prosecution history, which is considered “intrinsic evidence.” Id. at 1317. 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.” Id. The prosecution history, however, “often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes.” Id. But the prosecution history may still “inform the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the invention in the course of prosecution, making the claim scope narrower than it would otherwise be.” Id.

         Although intrinsic evidence is of primary importance in construing a patent's claim terms, 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.” Markman, 52 F.3d at 980. Extrinsic evidence is less significant than intrinsic evidence in construing claim terms, and extrinsic evidence cannot establish a meaning of the claim term that is at odds with the intrinsic evidence. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317-18.

         In construing claims, the Court avoids adding extraneous limitations, “that is, limitations added ‘wholly apart from any need to interpret what the patentee meant by particular words or phrases in the claim.'” Hoganas AB v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 9 F.3d 948, 950 (Fed. Cir. 1993) (quoting E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 849 F.2d 1430, 1433 (Fed. Cir. 1988)). “[T]here must be a textual reference in the actual language of the claim with which to associate a proffered claim construction.” Johnson Worldwide Assocs., Inc. v. Zebco Corp., 175 F.3d 985, 990 (Fed. Cir. 1999); see also McCarty v. Lehigh Val. R. Co., 160 U.S. 110, 116 (1895) (“[I]f we once begin to include elements not mentioned in the claim, in order to limit such claim . . ., we should never know where to stop.”).

         The Court is not “required to construe every limitation present in a patent's asserted claims.” O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (emphasis omitted). The Court may decline to adopt a construction because the disputed claim term has a plain and ordinary meaning, if that determination resolves the parties' dispute. See, e.g., Caddy Prods., Inc. v. Am. Seating Co., No. 05-800, 2008 WL 2447294, at *2 (D. Minn. June 13, 2008).

         II. CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

         A. “[T]he middle portion is positioned rearward of a rear end of the frame” ('449 Patent)

         The parties first dispute the meaning of the claim term “the middle portion is positioned rearward of a rear end of the frame.” ('449 Patent at 44.) Polaris proposes the claim should be construed as: “the middle portion is positioned rearward of (i.e., behind) the back of the frame.” (See Suppl. J. Claim Constr. at 2.) Alternatively, Polaris submits the phrase should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. (Id.) Arctic Cat proposes the claim should be construed as: “the middle portion is positioned rearward of a rearwardmost point of the frame.” (Id. at 2.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will construe the phrase to mean: “the middle of the sway bar is rearward of the rear end of the frame where the middle portion is positioned on the frame.”

         1. Disclaimed Coverage

         Arctic Cat first argues Polaris disclaimed its interpretation of the claim language. Prosecution disclaimer “preclud[es] patentees from recapturing through claim interpretation specific meanings disclaimed during prosecution.” Omega Eng'g, Inc. v. Raytek Corp., 334 F.3d 1314, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2003). “[F]or prosecution disclaimer to attach, [the Federal Circuit] requires that the alleged disavowing actions or statements made during prosecution be both clear and unmistakable.” Id. at 1325-26. “Thus, 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.” Biogen Idec, Inc. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 713 F.3d 1090, 1095 (Fed. Cir. 2013). “Such disclaimer can occur through amendment or argument.” Aylus Networks, Inc. v. Apple Inc., 856 F.3d 1353, 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2017). And the prosecution history “includes all express representations made by or on behalf of the applicant to the examiner to induce a patent grant . . . includ[ing] amendments to the claims and arguments made to convince the examiner.” Standard Oil Co. v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 774 F.2d 448, 452 (Fed. Cir. 1985).

         Prosecution disclaimer is “a fundamental precept in . . . claim construction jurisprudence, ” which “promotes the public notice function of the intrinsic evidence and protects the public's reliance on definitive statements made during prosecution.” Omega Eng'g, Inc., 334 F.3d at 1323-24. Ultimately, the doctrine of prosecution disclaimer ensures that claims are not “construed one way in order to obtain their allowance and in a ...


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