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Mars, Inc. v. Coin Acceptors

April 17, 2007

MARS, INCORPORATED, PLAINTIFF AND COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANT,
v.
COIN ACCEPTORS, INC., DEFENDANT AND COUNTERCLAIM PLAINTIFF.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lifland, District Judge

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW RE: CLAIM CONSTRUCTION AND INFRINGEMENT OF COINCO U.S. PATENT : # 4,254,857

The coin tube sensors of Mars' products are accused of infringement of Claims 1-3, 5 and 9 of Coinco U.S. Patent No. 4,254,857 (the '857 patent). Claims 11-13 were originally asserted but withdrawn. Mars describes these sensors as "level sensing circuits to determine whether coins stacked in storage tubes in its TRC series coin changers are of a minimum or maximum height," and Coinco does not contest this description. Infringement claims against other Mars changers were withdrawn.

I. Background

The following facts are stipulated. A coin changer typically consists of two main components: (1) a coin acceptor and (2) a changer control portion that includes, among other things, change making features, coin storage tubes, and accounting and control circuits.

The coin acceptor (also sometimes called a slug rejector), among other things, determines the authenticity and denomination of the coins and directs the coins toward appropriate locations. Once an individual coin's validity has been determined by the coin acceptor, the coin is directed towards a separator portion of the coin acceptor for direction to an appropriate location.

Coin acceptors by themselves have no coin tubes, and therefore no coin tube storage, and no change payback capability.

When a coin acceptor is mated with a changer control portion of a coin changer the coin is generally directed towards one of three places: (1) an appropriate coin tube in the changer control portion where the coin is stored for future payout, (2) the vending machine's cash box in the event the coin tubes are full with coins or no coin tube is provided for such denomination, or (3) the vending machine's coin return in the case where the coin is rejected for some reason. The changer control portion of the coin changer that includes change making features generally includes multiple coin tubes for storing coins for payout and the mechanisms for dispensing coins from the various coin tubes to the coin return as required, such as change due to a customer.

Mated coin acceptor portions and changer control portions are routinely and typically offered and sold as coin changers.

Mars' TRC Series coin changers and Coinco's 9300 and 3000 series coin changers are all coin changers that employ mated coin acceptor and changer control portions.

Changer control portions of coin changers are not routinely or typically offered and sold without an associated coin acceptor. In contrast, some coin acceptors are offered and sold independently from and apart from changer control portions of coin changers. Mated coin acceptors and changer control portions are routinely and typically offered and sold as coin changers by Mars as TRC series coin changers. The changer control portions of the TRC series coin changers are not typically or routinely offered or sold without the associated coin acceptors of such coin changers.

Coinco's '857 patent entitled "Detection Device" was issued on March 10, 1981 to H.R. Electronics Company (a subsidiary of Coinco) as assignee of the applicant Joseph Leo Levasseur and was subsequently assigned to Coinco. It is based on an application filed in the United States on September 15, 1978. The '857 patent relates generally to coin and metal detection. Coinco is, and at all relevant times has been, the owner of the '857 patent. The '857 patent expired on September 15, 1998.

Coinco has charged Mars with direct infringement, literally and under the doctrine of equivalents, of claims 1-3, 5, and 9 of the '857 patent, in violation of 35 U.S.C. § 271(a), by Mars' manufacture, use and sale of its TRC Series coin changers, including Mars' 6000 (including 6010), 6200, 6700, 6800, 6800 ASIC, 6420 and 6510 series coin changers. The limitations of the asserted claims have been set forth by the parties as follows:

1. A Metal detector

(a) comprising a circuit element having inductance and capacitance and circuit means connected thereto,

(b) said circuit being capable of producing an oscillating condition,

(c) means for repetitively impulsing the circuit element to produce a series of timed bursts of oscillation therein the frequency, magnitude and duration of each burst of which depend upon the inductance, capacitance and resistance of said element,

(d) means for positioning an object to be detected in the field of said element during the time said circuit element is being repetitively impulsed whereby the bursts of oscillations produced therein are modified as to frequency, magnitude and duration characteristics and differ from the frequency, magnitude and duration characteristics of the element when no object is in the field thereof, which characteristics are representative of the object, and

(e) means operatively connected to said circuit element to respond to a particular characteristic of said bursts of oscillations.

2. The detector defined in claim 1 wherein said means responsive to the characteristics of the bursts of oscillations include means responsive to the change in the magnitude of adjacent cycles of the bursts of oscillations and to changes therein.

3. The detector defined in claim 1 wherein the means responsive to a particular characteristic of the burst of oscillations include means responsive to the damping rate of the bursts of oscillations.

5. The detector defined in claim 1 wherein the burst of oscillations in the form of a damped wave envelope the shape and frequency of which are dependent on characteristics of the object positioned adjacent to said circuit element.

9. The detector defined in claim 1 wherein the means responsive to the particular bursts of oscillations include means to establish a predetermined voltage, and means to count the number of cycles of oscillations that exceed said predetermined voltage.

Coinco has also charged Mars with inducing purchasers of Mars TRC series coin changers to infringe claims 1-3, 5, and 9 of the '857 patent and contributing to such infringement, in violation of 35 U.S.C. § 271(b), (c), literally and under the doctrine of equivalents.

Coinco employs a detection device such as is claimed in one or more claims of the '857 patent in the coin acceptor portion of its 9300 series coin changers and in its 880 coin acceptors, and as coin presence sensors in the separator portions of Coinco's 9300 and 3000 series coin changers and Coinco's 880 series coin acceptors. Such ...


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