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Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. v. Sears Brands

October 22, 2010

BED BATH & BEYOND INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEARS BRANDS, LLC, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the submissions by Plaintiff, Bed Bath and Beyond Inc. ("BBB"), and Defendant, Sears Brands, LLC ("Sears"), for claim construction to resolve disputes over the construction of claim terms in U.S. Patent No. 5,970,474 (the "'474 patent"). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1338. Venue is proper in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b) and 1400. On August 20, 2010, the Court conducted a claim construction hearing, during which it heard arguments in support of the parties' proffered claim constructions. For the reasons stated below, the Court construes the disputed claim terms as follows.

BACKGROUND

The '474 patent is entitled as "Registry Information System for Shoppers" and was issued on October 19, 1999 to LeRoy et al. In general terms, the patent describes a system that provides solutions to problems commonly faced by retail store gift registry systems, such as: (1) duplicate gift purchases by customers due to delayed updates to gift registry records; and (2) difficulties retrieving gift registry records where the registrant and the purchaser are not in proximity to the same store. ('474 patent col. 1:21-28.) The inventors of the '474 patent attempted to circumvent these problems by devising a system that provides "real-time" updated purchase information on a host database. The '474 patent consists of two independent claims, claims 1 and 17, and twenty dependent claims. (See id. cols. 9-12.) The two independent claims are substantially similar in all aspects except that claim 1 is directed towards implementation within "a retail establishment" (Id. cl. 1), whereas claim 17 is directed towards implementation of "[a]n inter-site" gift registry system. Both independent claims include product selection devices, data processors, registry retrieval devices, point-of-sale data input devices, and a host computer. (See id. cls. 1, 17.) All dependent claims are construed "to incorporate by reference all the limitations of the [independent] claim to which it refers." 35 U.S.C. § 112.

The parties initially briefed a set of four claim construction issues, but were then able to resolve some of the disputes. At the Markman hearing, the parties asked the Court to address three sets of claim terms: 1) "desired items"; 2) "data processor"; and 3) "retail establishment," "retail site," and "inter-site."

LEGAL STANDARD

A patent infringement action requires a two-step analysis: "first, the court determines the meaning of the disputed claim terms, then the accused device is compared to the claims as construed to determine infringement." Acumed LLC v. Stryker Corp., 483 F.3d 800, 804 (Fed. Cir. 2007). The first step, claim construction, is a matter of law reserved for the court to decide. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1995). In a claim construction analysis, the court begins with and remains focused on the analysis of the claim language itself. Philips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) ("a 'bedrock principle' of patent law [is] that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude") (citations omitted). The terms within the claims are generally given their "ordinary and customary meaning" as understood by "a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention . . . ." Id. at 1313.

Courts can rely on both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence to define the scope of patent claims. Id. at 1317. Intrinsic evidence includes "the written description, the drawings, and the prosecution history." Teleflex. Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2002). Within the class of intrinsic evidence, "the specification 'is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.'" Philips, 415 F.3d at 1315 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d, 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). Where available, courts "should also consider the patent's prosecution history . . . ." Philips, 415 F.3d at 1315 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 980); Home Diagnostics, Inc. v. Lifescan, Inc., 381 F.3d 1352, 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

Extrinsic evidence such as "inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises" can also be used. Philips, 415 F.3d at 1317. However, extrinsic evidence is less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language. Philips, 415 F.3d at 1314. Moreover, where the ordinary meaning can be ascertained from the intrinsic evidence, a court does not have to evaluate extrinsic evidence. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583.

DISCUSSION

I. "Desired Items"

The first disputed claim construction issue concerns the meaning of "desired items."

BBB contends that "desired items" is limited to "two or more items desired by a registrant." (BBB's Opening Br. 16.) BBB, on the other hand, argues that the plain grammatical meaning of the phrase implies more than one item and that Sears' claimed system must be capable of collecting multiple desired items. (Id. 17-18.) Sears proposes that the term "desired items" refers to "one or more items desired by a registrant."

Here, the Court first looks to the claim language. The term "desired items" appears in independent claims 1 and 17 of the '474 patent:

1. [A] data processor in communication with said local area network adapted to communicate with the product selection device via said local area network to thereby collect the desired items selected by the registrant and route said desired items to [the] registry database on [the] host computer;

A point-of-sale data input device in communication with said local area network for identifying desired items which have been purchased by a customer for routing to [the] host computer; [the] host computer having a storage unit for maintaining the registry database and a data processor for processing selection and purchasing transactions, wherein desired items consecutively selected by the registrant are added to the registry database to create a registry list, and desired items purchased by ...


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