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ICON HEALTH & FITNESS, INC. v. SPORTCRAFT

July 18, 2003

ICON HEALTH & FITNESS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
SPORTCRAFT, LTD., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alfred Wolin, Senior District Judge.

OPINION

The litigants before the Court are both manufacturers of exercise equipment. At issue is whether the inclination assembly of a home-use treadmill infringes a patent held by plaintiff, Icon Health & Fitness, Inc. ("Icon"). Icon initiated this action alleging that the incline mechanism of the TX350 Treadmill ("TX350"), manufactured by defendant, Sportcraft, Ltd. ("Sportcraft") infringes on United States Patent No. 5,672,140 (the "'140 patent").

In its application for summary judgment, Sportcraft asserts that the incline adjusters on the TX350 are structures that are neither identical nor equivalent to the "inclination means" limitation of the '140 patent. Icon alternatively seeks summary judgment stating that the TX350 both literally infringes Claim 26 of the '140 patent and infringes based on the doctrine of equivalents. This motion has been decided upon the written submissions of the parties pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant Sportcraft's motion for summary judgment. In doing so, the Court also denies Icon's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Icon, a company with its principal place of business in Logan, Utah, is a leading manufacturer of home exercise and sporting equipment. Icon is the owner by assignment of the '140 patent. Icon's '140 patent is directed to a reorienting treadmill, that is, a treadmill that can be selectively moved between a first, or operational position, and a second, or folded position. More importantly, the '140 patent discloses treadmills that incline and decline through various structures and using various methods.

Sportcraft, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Mt. Olive, New Jersey, provides products for indoor and outdoor games. In August 2001, Sportcraft entered the treadmill market with the TX350 brand treadmill. The TX350 is a reorienting treadmill with an inclination mechanism located near the rear of the tread base. To adjust the incline of the tread base on which the user runs, the user must manually rotate each of the two triangular-shaped feet. Icon claims that the inclination mechanism of the TX350 infringes Claim 26, ¶ 3 of the '140 patent.

On November 19, 2001, Icon filed a complaint alleging that the TX350 infringes the '140 patent. Icon thereafter filed a motion for a preliminary injunction which the Court denied in a Memorandum Opinion entered on March 13, 2002. (See Memorandum Opinion and Order ("Memorandum Opinion")). In the Memorandum Opinion, this Court acknowledged that the parties dispute only Claim 26, ¶ 3 of the '140 patent which describes the adjustable incline mechanism. In the current proceeding, the same is true. Icon alleges that the incline adjusters of the TX350 infringe the '140 patent because they are either identical or equivalent to an inclination embodiment of Claim 26, ¶ 3.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment shall be granted 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); see Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). A dispute involving a material fact is "genuine" only "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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Supreme Court also observed that "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude an entry of summary judgment." Id.; see also Ness v. Marshall, 660 F.2d 517, 519 (3d Cir. 1981) (holding that the role of district court is to determine whether genuine issue of material fact exists).

Furthermore, when considering a summary judgment motion, a Court must view all evidence submitted in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1983). Although the summary judgment hurdle is a difficult one to meet, it is by no means insurmountable. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded that "[o]ne of the, principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and we think it should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose." Celotex Corp. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

The fact that the lawsuit involves a non-infringement analysis does not render this case unsuitable for summary judgment. Summary judgment is "as appropriate in a patent case as any other" case under Rule 56(c). Avia Group Int'l, Inc. v. L.A. Gear Cal., Inc., 853 F.2d 1557, 1561 (Fed. Cir. 1988); Ciba-Geigy Corp. v. Alza Corp., 864 F. Supp. 429, 432-33 (D.N.J. 1994). The Federal Court has advised, "[w]here no issue of material fact is present . . . courts should not hesitate to avoid an unnecessary trial by proceeding under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 without regard to the particular type of suit involved." Chore-Time Equip., Inc. v. Cumberland Corp., 713 F.2d 774, 778-79 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

It is with these tenets in mind that the Court considers defendant's motion and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment.

B. Patent Infringement

A trial court is not obliged "to interpret claim[s] conclusively and finally during a preliminary injunction proceeding." Sofamor Danek Group v. DePuy-Motech, 74 F.3d 1216, 1221 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Therefore, although the Court had an opportunity to construe Claim 26 of the '140 patent in its Memorandum Opinion, that construction need not be the final interpretation.

An infringement analysis requires two separate steps. First, a court must construe the claims asserted to be infringed as a matter of law in order to establish their meaning and scope. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995). Second, the claims as construed are then compared to the allegedly infringing device. See id. In this latter step, patent infringement may be found in either of two ways: literal infringement or infringement under the doctrine of equivalents.

Since Markman, the interpretation of patent claim terms falls within the exclusive province of the court. See id. at 967; see also Kraft Foods, Inc. v. Int'l Trading Co., 203 F.3d 1362, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2000). The standard to be applied for claim construction is what one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention would have understood the term to mean. Markman, 52 F.3d at 986. To ascertain the meaning of a patent claim, "the court should first look to the intrinsic evidence of record, i.e., the patent itself, including the claims, the specification and, if in evidence, the prosecution history." Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996); see also Markman, 52 F.3d at 979-81.

The claims of the patent establish the limits and boundaries of the patent while the specification, of which the claims are a part, contains a written description of the invention that would enable one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention. Markman, 52 F.3d at 979-80. "For claim construction purposes, the description may act as a sort of dictionary, which explains the invention and may define terms used in the claims." Id. (quoting In re Vogel, 57 C.C.P.A. 920, 422 F.2d 438, 441 (Cust. & Pat.App. 1970)); Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. The written description, however, "does not delimit the right to exclude. That is the function and purpose of claims." Id.

Upon consideration of the above, the Court must determine, as a matter of law, the meaning of ...


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