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Graphic Packaging International, LLC v. Inline Packaging, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 1, 2019

Graphic Packaging International, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
Inline Packaging, LLC, Defendant.

          Barry Herman, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, Baltimore, MD; David R. Boaz, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, Raleigh, NC; James F. Vaughan and Christine H. Dupriest, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, Atlanta, GA; and Felicia J. Boyd, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiff Graphic Packaging International, LLC.

          Kyle R. Kroll, Brent A. Lorentz, and Justice Ericson Lindell, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant Inline Packaging, LLC.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Eric C. Tostrud United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Graphic Packaging International owns three design patents for microwave susceptor sleeves. These sleeves are used for heating and carrying food products including “Hot Pockets.” In this case, Graphic accuses Defendant Inline Packaging of infringing the three design patents. The Parties seek claim construction pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 390-91 (1996). Graphic asks that its patents be construed simply as the visual appearance of the susceptor sleeves as shown in the claim drawings. Contending that the susceptor sleeves' designs are primarily functional, Inline seeks a construction giving Graphic's patents no scope. The law seems to discourage no-scope constructions like the one Inline seeks, and the availability of alternative designs, among other considerations, shows that the sleeves' patented designs are not primarily functional. Therefore, Graphic's proposed construction will be adopted.

         I

         Three design patents for microwaveable susceptor sleeves are at issue in this case: U.S. Patent Nos. D694, 106 ("the '106 patent"), D694, 124 ("the '124 patent"), and D727, 145 ("the' 145 patent"). Microwave susceptor sleeves are paperboard products with special properties that allow them to be used to heat food, including but not limited to "Hot Pockets." The '106 patent, entitled "Carton Blank," includes one figure and claims "the ornamental design for a carton blank, as shown and described." Joint App'x for Claim Const. ("JA") 859-61. That single figure appears as follows:

         (Image Omitted)

JA 859. The '124 patent, entitled "Carton," includes sixteen figures and similarly claims "[t]he ornamental design for a carton, as shown and described." JA 862-73. Two of those figures are included below, depicting the sleeve's assembled appearance:

         (Image Omitted)

         JA 864, 869. The' 145 patent, also entitled "Carton Blank," includes one figure and again claims "[t]he ornamental design for a carton blank, as shown and described." JA 874. That figure appears as follows:

         (Image Omitted)

         JA 876. The term “blank” refers to the flat, not-put-together version of the “carton, ” which refers to the three-dimensional “sleeve.” Cf. Inline Mem. at 27 [ECF No. 114] (discussing “when the sleeve blank is turned into the sleeve construct”).

         The Parties, particularly Inline, discuss several elements of Graphic's design patents at some length in their submissions. Though not all of these elements are discussed in this opinion and order, a brief description of each helps in understanding the design patents and the Parties' arguments about claim construction (and, though less important for claim construction, serves as a starting point for identifying and defining the design patents' elements going forward). Though these features are depicted in the design patents, these terms and descriptions are not.

Tear strip and cut-out : Though claimed only in a utility patent, this feature allows approximately half of the sleeve to be removed during consumption. It is represented in the design patents by a broken (dotted) line ...

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