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Rival Co. v. Sunbeam Corp.

U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit


February 23, 1999

THE RIVAL COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SUNBEAM CORPORATION, SUNBEAM-OSTER HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS, AND SUNBEAM PRODUCTS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Before Lourie, Clevenger, and Gajarsa, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lourie, Circuit Judge.

NOTE: Pursuant to Fed. Cir. R. 47.6, this Disposition is not citable as precedent. It is a public record. The Disposition will appear in tables published periodically.

DECISION

The Rival Company appeals from the summary judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri holding that four models of Sunbeam food steamers do not infringe claims 1 and 2 of Rival's U.S. Patent 4,509,412. See Rival Co. v. Sunbeam Corp. et. al., 987 F. Supp. 1167 (W.D. Mo. 1997). Because the district court correctly construed claim 1, and did not err in determining that the accused products do not infringe claims 1 and 2, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents, we affirm.

DISCUSSION

Rival is the owner of the `412 patent directed to a food steaming device invented by Stephen L. Whittenburg et al. Rival alleged that four food steamers sold by Sunbeam infringe claims 1 and 2 of the `412 patent. Claim 1, from which claim 2 depends, reads as follows:

"1. A steam cooking utensil comprising: a base; a boiling water reservoir defined by the base; a heater, mounted in the base to heat liquid in the boiling water reservoir; thermostat means, mounted in the base and coupled to the heater, for switching off the heater when all the liquid in the boiling water reservoir has evaporated therefrom; a condensate trough, defined by the base, and thermally insulated from the heater; and a food tray comprising an imperforate surface and a drainage surface, said food tray supported above the reservoir and trough such that said imperforate surface is aligned with the boiling water reservoir, said drainage surface is aligned with the condensate trough, and water flows from the imperforate surface to the drainage surface and into the condensate trough, said reservoir, trough and tray cooperating substantially to prevent the flow of water from the imperforate surface into the reservoir."

Figure 1 shows the invention's preferred embodiment:

"Fig. 1"

"As can be seen in figure 1, the key features of the patented invention are a heater (22) at the bottom of a reservoir (27) wherein the water is boiled. The steam escapes through openings between the top of the reservoir and the food tray (50), circulates around the food tray, and cooks the food. Steam that condenses on the food drains into a separate condensate trough (30). A thermostat (21) controls the heater."

The four Sunbeam products accused of infringement are Models 4710, 4711, *fn1 4713, and 5710. They differ from each other in immaterial ways. The following figure 2 shows the basic components of the 5710 model, which is typical of the four models:

"Fig. 2"

"As shown in figure 2, each model has a water reservoir base (E) that stores water. Each model's water reservoir also has a drain that leads to a flow-through heater beneath the reservoir. The following figure 3 shows the basic components relating to the heater beneath the reservoir:"

"Fig. 3"

"As can be seen in figure 3, the water drains from the water reservoir base through a water tube (44) and enters a flow-through heater (36) mounted to the base with brackets (50). A thermostat (40) and a timer (16) control the flow-through heater. The flow-through heater boils the water and creates steam, which travels through a steam tube (48) to a steam pipe (46). As figure 2 shows, the steam pipe (shown but not labeled) extends vertically through the water reservoir and directs the steam to a food container or containers (B/C) above. Each model also has a drip tray (D) which is inserted between the food container(s) and the water reservoir and collects steam condensate. Sunbeam also owns U.S. Patent 5,400,701, which the parties agree is directed to the allegedly infringing products."

After discovery in the district court, both parties moved for summary judgment on the infringement issue. The court held a Markman hearing *fn2 and issued an order in which it construed the disputed claim language as follows: *fn3

"1. "[A] boiling water reservoir defined by the base": a receptacle that holds boiling water. The water may at one time be fresh, non-boiling water, but the water must actually come to a boil in the reservoir. To be defined by the base, the base must create or form the outline of the shape of the boiling water reservoir."

"2. "[T]hermostat means . . . for switching off the heater when all the liquid in the boiling water reservoir has evaporated therefrom": a thermostat that automatically switches off the heater when all of the water in the reservoir has boiled dry."

"3. "[A] condensate trough, defined by the base": a receptacle for collecting condensate. To be defined by the base, the base must create or form the outline of the shape of the condensate trough." Rival, 987 F. Supp. at 1171.

The court then applied the claims to the accused products and concluded that Sunbeam's steamers did not literally infringe claim 1 of the `412 patent because they did not meet two claim limitations. The court determined that Sunbeam's products lacked "boiling water reservoirs" because the products drain water from nonboiling reservoirs into flow-through heaters which then boil the water. The court determined that the products also lacked "thermostat means" because timer mechanisms, rather than thermostat mechanisms, control the heaters. The court concluded that because Sunbeam's steamers did not literally infringe claim 1, they also did not infringe dependent claims 2, 3, and 6. *fn4 See id. at 1172-73.

The court also concluded that the accused products did not infringe claims 1 and 2 under the doctrine of equivalents because the accused products were substantially different from the patented invention. The court found it apparent that the accused products steamed food in a clearly different way from the patented invention. The court's explanation of its Conclusion is succinct:

"The function of steaming the food is completed in extremely different manners. Sunbeam sends the water from the reservoir through tubing to be "flash" steamed & then sent directly to the food. The tubing & "flashing" is a stark contrast to Rival's system of heating the entire reservoir to achieve steam." See id. at 1173-74.

The court thus granted summary judgment of noninfringement. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1) (1994).

A. Standard of Review

We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Conroy v. Reebok Int'l, Ltd., 14 F.3d 1570, 1575, 29 USPQ2d 1373, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 1994). Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment is improper "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, all of the non-movant's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in the non-movant's favor. See id. at 255.

Determining whether an accused product infringes a patent involves two steps: the court must first construe the claims of the patent to determine their scope, and then the trier of fact must determine whether the properly construed claims encompass the accused subject matter. See, e.g., Cole v. Kimberly-Clark Corp., 102 F.3d 524, 528, 41 USPQ2d 1001, 1004 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Claim construction is a matter of law which we review de novo. See Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1455, 46 USPQ2d 1169, 1173 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (en banc). Whether a claim encompasses an accused device is a question of fact. See, e.g., North Am. Vaccine, Inc. v. American Cyanamid Co., 7 F.3d 1571, 1574, 28 USPQ2d 1333, 1335 (Fed. Cir. 1993). Summary judgment of no literal infringement is permissible when no genuine issue of material fact exists, in particular, when no reasonable trier of fact could find that the accused device contains every limitation recited in the properly construed claim. See generally Cole, 102 F.3d at 532, 41 USPQ2d at 1007 (defining literal infringement standard). Summary judgment may also be rendered on a claim for infringement under the doctrine of equivalents; "[w]here the evidence is such that no reasonable jury could determine two elements to be equivalent, [the] district court [is] obliged to grant partial or complete summary judgment." Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17, - n.8, 117 S. Ct. 1040, 1053 n.8, 41 USPQ2d 1865, 1875 n.8 (1997).

B. Claim Construction

Rival raises three claim construction issues on appeal. The first issue is whether the district court erroneously construed claim 1's "boiling water reservoir" limitation. Rival maintains that this limitation refers to a reservoir for storing water of any temperature, and that the court erroneously construed it to mean that the water must boil in the reservoir. Sunbeam responds that the limitation clearly refers to a reservoir for storing boiling water, because the term "boiling" modifies "water" and "water" modifies "reservoir." Sunbeam points out that both claim 1 and the written description describe an invention in which water boils in the reservoir. Sunbeam also contends that Rival's proposed construction renders the term "boiling" meaningless.

We agree with Sunbeam that the court correctly construed the limitation "boiling water reservoir." Claim 1 states: "thermostat means . . . for switching off the heater when all the liquid in the boiling water reservoir has evaporated therefrom." See `412 patent, col. 5, ll. 50-51 (emphasis added). The word "therefrom" makes it clear that the expression "boiling water reservoir" means that the water boils in the reservoir. The written description also makes this clear. See, e.g., col. 1, ll. 45-46 ("boiling reservoir can therefore boil dry"); col. 2, ll. 5-6 (heated water from the boiling water reservoir"); col. 4, ll. 1-3 ("steam must travel a circuitous path to escape from the boiling water reservoir"); col. 4, ll. 32-33 ("when the water boils dry in the boiling water reservoir"). In contrast, nothing in the specification supports Rival's construction.

The second claim construction issue is whether the court properly construed claim 1's "defined by the base" limitation. Claim 1 calls for both a boiling water reservoir and a condensate trough that are "defined by the base." Rival asserts that the court erroneously construed this limitation to mean that the base "creates or forms the outline of the shape of" the boiling water reservoir and the condensate trough. Rival contends that the expression "defined by the base" means "contained within or encompassed by" the base. Rival argues that the court's construction is ambiguous and does not cover the preferred embodiment because the base's perimeter only creates or outlines a part of the boiling water reservoir's shape. Rival supports its claim construction by referring to the written description's statement that the condensate trough "need not be disposed in annular relationship to the boiling water reservoir" and that a "wide variety of shapes and arrangements can be adapted." See `412 patent, col. 4, ll. 56-57, 59-60. Sunbeam replies that the court's construction was correct because the patent consistently uses the term "defined by" to convey a relationship in which one element of the product forms the shape of another element. Sunbeam points out that claim 1 uses the expression "supported above the reservoir" to describe the position of the food tray over the reservoir, but still within the base's perimeter. See id., col. 5, ll. 54-56. Thus, Sunbeam reasons, "defined by the base" cannot mean only within the perimeter of the base. Sunbeam also contends that the court's construction is clear and does apply to the preferred embodiment because the base's inner peripheral wall outlines the boiling water reservoir's shape. See Fig. 1, element 35.

We agree with Sunbeam that the court correctly construed the expression "defined by the base" to mean that the base "creates or forms the outline of the shape of" both the condensate trough and the boiling water reservoir. The specification uses the term "define" many times. In each case, the term is used in a manner consistent with the district court's construction, viz., "to create or form the outline of the shape of." See `412 patent, col. 2, ll. 54-55 ("base 20 defines a condensate trough 30"); col. 2, ll. 59-60 ("inner peripheral wall 35 defines an inner peripheral lip 36"); col. 2, ll. 67-68 ("outer peripheral wall 31 defines outer peripheral lip 32"); col. 3, ll. 11-14 ("heater 22 defines heater well 24 and a central recess 25"); col. 3, ll. 46-47 ("inner peripheral lip 36 defined by inner peripheral wall 35"); col. 4, ll. 4-5 ("high domed cover 60 having a bottom opening defined by a rim 61"); col. 4, ll. 66-67 ("boiling water reservoir can define a cube shape volume"); col. 5, ll. 4-9 ("food tray may be shaped to define a linear array of apertures"); col. 5, ll. 13-14 ("food tray need not define apertures at all so long as it defines a drainage surface") (emphasis added). Rival's construction would not make sense in any of these instances where the patent uses the term "define."

Moreover, and contrary to Rival's assertion, we find the court's construction of the term "defined" to be perfectly clear, for it is essentially the same as the common dictionary definition. See, e.g., Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary 356 (1988) ("deùfine . . . 3. To delineate the outline or form of."). That the court construed the term consistently with the dictionary definition is evidence that the court used an accepted meaning. See Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1584 n.6, 39 USPQ2d 1573, 1578 n.6 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

Also contrary to Rival's assertion, the district court's construction does cover the preferred embodiment. As can be seen in figure 1, the specification discloses a base (20) designed such that its outer (31) and inner (35) peripheral walls create the outline and shape of both the boiling water reservoir (40) and the condensate trough (30). The specification's statement that the boiling water reservoir and condensate trough can have a variety of arrangements is not inconsistent with the court's claim construction. A variety of arrangements may exist in which the base creates the outline and shape of both the boiling water reservoir and the condensate trough. In fact, the specification itself suggests such alternative arrangements. See `412 patent, col. 4, ll. 63-68 ("the boiling water reservoir can be situated to one side of the condensate trough, or on a different horizontal plane from the condensate trough. Alternately, the boiling water reservoir can . . . define a cube shape volume central to a condensate trough of an irregular shape."). In all of the examples provided in the specification, the base would still "define" the boiling water reservoir and condensate trough under the court's construction of that term.

The last claim construction issue is whether the court erred by "effectively restrict[ing] claim 1 to require a specific perc well heater disclosed in the preferred embodiment" as alleged by Rival. Rival contends that "[b]y construing the claim to require boiling in the upper portion of the reservoir, a direct result of the preferred-but not expressly claimed-heater, the district court read an additional limitation into the claim." This argument is untenable for three reasons. First, the court never construed the "heater" limitation. Second, nowhere in its opinion does the court describe the reservoir as having different portions. Lastly, the specification likewise does not describe the reservoir as having different portions. For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the district court did not misconstrue any of claim 1's limitations. Since claim 2 is dependent upon claim 1, no separate issues of claim construction arise as to claim 2.

C. Literal Infringement

Rival argues that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment that the accused products do not literally infringe claims 1 or 2 of the `412 patent. Rival first challenges the court's Conclusion that the Sunbeam products do not meet the claims' "boiling water reservoir" limitation. Rival contends that even under the court's construction, the combination of a water reservoir base (see Fig. 2, element E), a drain tube, and a flow-through heater (see Fig. 3, elements 42 & 36) meets the "boiling water reservoir" limitation. Rival characterizes these elements as different parts of one reservoir component, and argues that because water boils in the products' flow-through heater element, the products meet the "boiling water reservoir" limitation. Sunbeam responds with three arguments. First, Sunbeam points out that the flow-through heater does not heat water in the reservoir and that the reservoir never holds boiling water; rather, the products heat water in the flow-through heater. Therefore, Sunbeam argues, the water reservoir base is not a "boiling water reservoir." Sunbeam next argues that the drain tube and flow-through heater elements do not become part of the water reservoir element simply by being connected to it. Third, Sunbeam asserts that the drain tube and flow-through heater are clearly not "defined by the base" as the base does not create the form or outline of their shapes. Thus, regardless whether or not the drain and flow-through heater meet the "boiling water reservoir" limitation, they do not meet the "defined by the base" limitation.

It is well established that if any limitation in a properly construed claim is missing in the accused device, there can be no literal infringement. See Pennwalt Corp. v. Durand-Wayland, Inc., 833 F.2d 931, 934-35, 4 USPQ2d 1737, 1739-40 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (en banc). We agree with Sunbeam that the accused product is missing at least one of claim 1's limitations. As we have noted, the proper interpretation of the "defined by the base" limitation requires that the base create or form the outline of the "boiling water reservoir." Even if we accept Rival's argument that the Sunbeam products' combination of a water reservoir, drain tube, and flow-through heater were a "boiling water reservoir," we must still affirm the summary judgment of no literal infringement as a matter of law. Sunbeam's "boiling water reservoir," as posited by Rival, is "mounted in the base," see Fig. 3, elements 44, 36, and 50, but it is not "defined by the base," as that term is properly interpreted. We thus conclude that the district court correctly granted summary judgment of no literal infringement of independent claim 1. Since dependent claim 2 contains all the limitations of claim 1, our Conclusion of noninfringement of claim 1 also applies to claim 2.

D. Infringement Under the Doctrine of Equivalents

Rival lastly argues that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment that the accused products do not infringe under the doctrine of equivalents. Rival asserts that the district court failed to analyze equivalents on a limitation-by-limitation basis as required under Warner-Jenkinson and instead compared the patented invention to the accused products as a whole. Rival also contends that the court unduly relied on the fact that Sunbeam owns a patent that covers its products. Rival asserts that (1) the combination of a water reservoir, drain, and flow-through heater is equivalent to the `412 patent's boiling water reservoir; (2) the drain and flow-through heater are equivalent to being "defined by the base" because they are within the base; (3) the drip tray is equivalent to being "defined by the base" because the base outlines its perimeter; and (4) the heater and thermostat are equivalent to those recited in claim 1.

Sunbeam replies that the district court correctly analyzed equivalents element by element and that Rival only challenges the court's Conclusion that a reasonable trier of fact could not find that the combination of a water reservoir, drain tube and flow-through heater is equivalent to a boiling water reservoir. Sunbeam maintains that Rival's infringement argument would require the court to read the limitations "boiling" and "defined by the base" out of the claims. Sunbeam also contends that the court did not give improper weight to Sunbeam's `701 patent. Sunbeam asserts that that patent is probative evidence of nonequivalency because its prosecution history reveals that its claims were allowed over prior art that included the patent at issue, indicating that the claimed products were substantially different from those of the Rival patent.

The court's succinct analysis of the equivalents issue, quoted above, raises the question whether the court compared the patented invention to the accused products as a whole, contrary to Warner-Jenkinson. From the court's opinion, we cannot determine whether the underlying analysis is incorrect, or whether the court's opinion is merely a shorthand explanation of a correct limitation-by-limitation analysis. We need not, however, further burden the court with this case on a remand for explanation, because its decision of no infringement by equivalents is correct as a matter of law.

As we determined above, the accused products clearly do not meet the "boiling water reservoir defined by the base" limitation. The products' drain tube and flow-through heater elements are in no sense "defined by the base"; they are separately mounted to the base with brackets. Rival's equivalence argument would thus render the distinction between claim 1's "defined by the base" and "mounted in the base" limitations meaningless. Cf. Warner-Jenkinson, 520 U.S. at -, 117 S. Ct. at 1049, 41 USPQ2d at 1871. Because the accused products do not possess the equivalent of a "boiling water reservoir defined by the base," we conclude that the district court correctly granted summary judgment that Sunbeam's products do not infringe claims 1 or 2 of the `412 patent under the doctrine of equivalents. See id. at - n.8, 117 S. Ct. at 1053 n.8, 41 USPQ2d at 1875 n.8; see also Pennwalt, 833 F.3d at 935, 4 USPQ2d at 1739-40.

We also do not believe that the district court justified its finding of noninfringement under the doctrine of equivalents by unduly relying on the fact that Sunbeam's products are themselves the subject of a patent. The district court made only two remarks regarding the '701 patent. First, it recognized that the existence of Sunbeam's patent did not preclude infringement of the claims of the Rival patent. See Rival, 987 F. Supp. at 1169 n.2. Second, the court acknowledged that Sunbeam's patent is relevant to the equivalence issue and should be given "due weight." See id. at 1174. The court's opinion indicates that it basically decided the issue by concluding that the inventions performed their steaming functions in different ways. The district court thus did not unduly rely on the existence of the Sunbeam patent.

Because the trial court properly granted summary judgment that Sunbeam's Food Steamer Models 4710, 4711, 4713, and 5710 do not infringe claims 1 or 2 of Rival's `412 patent, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents, we affirm.


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