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Luxembourg v. Home Expressions Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 8, 2018



          KEVIN MCNULTY United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Curver Luxembourg, SARL ("Curver") is the owner of a design patent, No. D677, 946 ("the '946 Patent"), which claims an overlapping "Y" design. Curver alleges that Home Expressions Inc. ("Home Expressions") makes and sells a basket that incorporates this design and therefore infringes the '946 Patent. Now before the court is defendant Home Expressions' motion to dismiss the Complaint. (ECF no. 13).[1] For the following reasons, Home Expressions' motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Curver, a Luxembourg corporation, owns the '946 Patent, which is titled "Pattern for a Chair." (Compl. ¶ 1; '946 Patent). Home Expressions is a New York corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. (Compl. ¶ 2).

         The '946 Patent claims the ornamental "Y" design pictured below:

         (Image Omitted)

         (Compl. ¶ 7; '946 Patent).

         Curver's original design patent application was not accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO"). (Ex. A). Curver originally applied for a design patent with the titles "Furniture Part" and "Furniture (Part of)." (Ex. A). The PTO objected, explaining:

The title of the design must designate the particular article, which is the subject of the design. 37 CFR 1.153. The title of the design identifies the article in which the design is embodied by the name generally known and used by the public. MPEP 1503, I.

(Ex. A). Curver rectified this by resubmitting the design patent for "[t]he ornamental design for a pattern for a chair." ('946 Patent); (Ex. A; Ex. B). Each figure in the patent was now described as a view of a "design for a pattern for a chair." ('946 Patent).

         Curver makes and sells storage baskets that incorporate the patented "Y" design. (Compl. ¶ 8). Home Expressions sells storage baskets that are allegedly "identical" to baskets sold by Curver. (Compl. ¶ 10). Home Expressions' baskets allegedly contain "each element of the claimed design in the '946 Patent, " as well as unprotected elements of Curver's basket, such as an alternating matte and glossy finish on the bottom surface. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12). Figure 2 shows an example of Curver's basket. (Ex. 2). Figure 3 shows an example of Home Expressions' baskets. (Ex. 3).

         (Image Omitted)

         On June 6, 2017, Curver filed a complaint against Home Expressions, claiming that the manufacture, use, sale, offer for sale, and/or importation of Home Expressions' basket constitutes patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271 et seq. (Compl. ¶ 11). Curver seeks a permanent injunction and damages. (Compl.). Home Expressions filed a motion to dismiss Curver's claim on July 24, 2017. (ECF no. 13).


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Worth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See Id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Servs., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has explicated the Twombly/Iqbal standard on several occasions. See, e.g., Argueta v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, 643 F.3d 60, 70-73 (3d Cir. 2011); Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 129-30 (3d Cir. 2010). In doing so, it has provided a three-step process for evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion:

To determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard, our analysis unfolds in three steps. First, we outline the elements a plaintiff must plead to a state a claim for relief. See [Iqbal, 556 U.S.] at 675; Argueta, 643 F.3d at 73. Next, we peel away those allegations that are no more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Argueta, 643 F.3d at 73. Finally, we look for well-pled factual allegations, assume their veracity, and then "determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Argueta, 643 F.3d at 73. This last step is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012).

         "In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of the public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010); see also In re Asbestos Prods. Liability Litig. (No. VI), 822 F.3d 125, 134 & n.7 (3d Cir. 2016); Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist, 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) ("In evaluating a motion to dismiss, we may consider documents that are attached to or submitted with the complaint, and any matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, and items appearing in the record of the case.").

         B. Design Patent Infringement

         Federal patent law permits those who invent designs for manufactured articles to patent their designs. 35 U.S.C. § 171(a). Patent protection is available for a "new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture."[3] Id. A patentable design "gives a peculiar or distinctive appearance to the manufacture, or article to which it may be applied, or to which it gives form." Gorham Co. v. White, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 511, 525 (1871); see also Samsung Elecs. Co., Ltd. v. Apple Inc., 137 S.Ct. 429, 432-33 (2016).

         In general, a patent infringement analysis involves two steps: claim construction and claim comparison.

         First, the court construes the patent. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372-74 (1996); see MBO Labs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 474 F.3d 1323, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2007). Claim construction is an issue of law committed to the district judge for determination. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 789 F.3d 1335, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2015); see Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 977 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (holding that claim construction is "a matter of law exclusively for the court").

         In the case of design patents, which involve matters of physical appearance, the claim construction process is often uncomplicated. Relevant precedent requires that the court simply construe the design patents as they are shown in the patent drawings. MSA Prods., Inc. v. Nifty Home Prods., Inc., 883 F.Supp.2d 535, 540-41 (D.N.J. 2012). "Design patents are typically claimed as shown in drawings, and claim construction must be adapted to the pictorial setting." Crocs, Inc. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 598 F.3d 1294, 1302 (Fed. Cir. 2010). "Depictions of the claimed design in words can easily distract from the proper infringement analysis of the ornamental patterns and drawings." Id.; see Egyptian Goddess, Inc. v. Swisa, Inc., 543 F.3d 665, 679 (Fed. Cir. 2008); Contessa Food Prods., Inc. v. Conagra, Inc., 282 F.3d 1370, 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

         At the second step of this analysis, the design patent's claims (as now construed) are compared to the allegedly infringing products. See PC Connector Sols. LLC v. SmartDisk Corp., 406 F.3d 1359, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2005). This step involves a factual determination. See Id. at 1364. When considering infringement of a design patent, courts use the "ordinary observer" test. Crocs, 598 F.3d at 1303. Under the ordinary observer test, infringement occurs:

[I]f, in the eye of an ordinary observer, giving such attention as a purchaser usually gives, two designs are substantially the same, if the resemblance is such as to deceive such an observer, inducing him to purchase one supposing it to be ...

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