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Elkay Manufacturing Co. v. Ebco Manufacturing Co.

September 15, 1999

ELKAY MANUFACTURING COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
EBCO MANUFACTURING COMPANY AND EBTECH CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Before Rich, *fn1 Plager, and Gajarsa, Circuit Judges.

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

As corrected September 17, 1999

ELKAY MANUFACTURING COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
EBCO MANUFACTURING COMPANY AND EBTECH CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

Berton Scott Sheppard, Leydig, Voit & Mayer, Ltd., of Chicago, Illinois, argued for plaintiff-appellee. With him on the brief were Charles H. Mottier, Pamela J. Ruschau, and Christopher T. Griffith. Of counsel was Ali R. Sharifahmadian. Darrel C. Karl, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, L.L.P., of Washington, Dc, argued for defendants-appellants. With him on the brief was Donald R. Dunner.

Before Rich, *fn1 Plager, and Gajarsa, Circuit Judges.

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

Appealed from: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Judge Wayne R. Andersen

Ebco Manufacturing Co. and Ebtech Corp. (collectively, Ebco) appeal the July 10, 1998 decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois holding, after a bench trial, that Elkay Manufacturing Co.'s (Elkay's) U.S. Patent Nos. 5,222,531 (the '531 patent) and 5,289,855 (the '855 patent) were valid and infringed by Ebco and awarding damages to Elkay. See Elkay Mfg. Co. v. Ebco Mfg. Co., 1998 WL 397844 (N.D. Ill. 1998). Ebco also appeals the court's February 5, 1999 supplemental judgment awarding Elkay additional infringement damages. Because we conclude that Ebco's accused devices do not infringe the asserted claims of these patents pursuant to a proper claim construction, we reverse the district court's infringement decision and consequently vacate the associated damages awards.

BACKGROUND

The technology in this case concerns "no-spill" adapters for bottled water coolers that permit jugs of water to be inserted into coolers with the cap still on the bottle, thereby eliminating the potential problems of spilling or contaminating water when, for example, a bottle is inserted into a cooler. The accused devices, Ebco's WaterGuard I, II, and III no-spill adapters, comprise two concentric tubes designed and constructed so that water flows down the inner tube from the bottle into the cooler and air flows up into the bottle through the annular region formed by the two tubes.

Elkay sued Ebco, claiming that Ebco's WaterGuard devices infringed independent claims 1 and 7 of the '531 patent and claim 1 of the '855 patent, as well as dependent claims 2-4 and 8-10 of the '531 patent and claims 2-3 of the '855 patent. The '531 and '855 patents stem from the same genus. The '531 patent issued on June 29, 1993 from application Ser. No. 898,570 (the '570 application), which was filed as a continuation of application Ser. No. 684,642 (the '642 application). The '855 patent issued on March 1, 1994 from application Ser. No. 58,639 (the '639 application), which was filed as a separate continuation of the '642 application after the '531 patent was allowed.

Claim 1 of the '531 patent reads in part as follows:

1. A liquid container support and hygienic delivery system for dispensing drinking water or other potable liquid to a predetermined maximum liquid level in a dischargeable reservoir open at its upper end and housed within a cabinet from an inverted unpressurized container having an internal liquid confining surface defined by a substantially rigid, generally cylindrical body with a radially inwardly directed downwardly sloping shoulder portion merging into a generally cylindrical depending neck defining an opening closed by a coaxial cap circumferentially surrounding at least an outer axial portion of said neck and having an internal recess therein including a hollow tubular sleeve portion and a sealing plug portion defining a closed end with a central cavity having internal gripping means therein connected thereto, comprising, in combination, an upstanding feed tube dimensioned to penetrate into said hollow tubular sleeve portion of said coaxial cap and said container neck to provide a hygienic flow path for delivering liquid from said inverted unpressurized container into said reservoir to said predetermined maximum liquid level and for admitting air from said reservoir above said liquid level into said container to displace the liquid delivered therefrom, said feed tube having upper and lower end portions, means carried by said removable mounting means for rigidly supporting said upstanding feed tube with said upper end projecting upwardly from said bottom end of said entry portion and said lower end depending downwardly from said bottom end of said entry portion of said removable mounting means into said reservoir to define said predetermined maximum liquid level, . . . .

(emphasis of disputed limitation added).

Similarly, claim 7 of the '531 patent includes the limitation "an elongated feed tube . . . for admitting air into and dispensing drinking water . . . from within said . . . container," and claim 1 of the '855 patent includes the limitation "an upstanding feed probe . . . to provide a hygienic flow path for delivering liquid from . . . and for admitting air . . . into said container."

In interpreting these limitations, the district court stated that the pertinent claim language uses the article "an" to delineate one feed tube or probe. "An" does not qualify or limit the path through which the air and water pass. . . . [T]he asserted claim language does not preclude a separation of the air and water ...


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