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Frac Shack Inc. v. Fuel Automation Station, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 5, 2018



          Scott T. Varholak, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for construction of the terms “a” and “the” used with the term “controller” in claims 1, 3, and 8-11 in United States Patent No. 9, 346, 662 (the “‘662 Patent”). The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of a final judgment. [##20, 34] The matter is now ripe for consideration. [See ##100, 115-17] This Court has carefully considered the briefing and the applicable case law. The Court construes the terms “a” and “the” used with the term “controller” in claims 1, 3, and 8-11 as set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the Amended Complaint, Frac Shack, Inc. (“Frac Shack”) “provides modular solutions for fuel delivery that reduce significantly the health, safety and environmental risks associated with fueling operations during hydraulic fracturing.” [#30 at ¶ 10] Frac Shack is the owner of the ‘662 Patent, which was issued on May 24, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 9] The Preamble describes the ‘662 Patent as “[a] fuel delivery system for fuel delivery to multiple pieces of equipment at a work site.” [#1-1 at 10] The Summary of the ‘662 Patent states that “[a] fuel delivery system and method is presented for reducing the likelihood that a fuel tank of equipment at a well site during fracturing of a well will run out of fuel.” [Id. at 7]

         Frac Shack alleges that Defendant Atlas Oil Company (“Atlas”) has been using modular solutions for refueling during hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States. [#30 at ¶ 12] Frac Shack alleges that one of these solutions, the Atlas Fuel Automation Station, infringes Claims 1-4 and 7-12 of the ‘662 Patent. [Id. at ¶¶ 12-13] Defendant Fuel Automation Station, LLC (“Fuel Automation”) allegedly leases the Atlas Fuel Automation Station to Atlas. [Id. at ¶ 12]

         On March 9, 2018, this Court issued its Order construing each of the claims that the parties had designated for construction (the “Claim Construction Order”). [#92] On March 27, 2018, Defendants filed a “Motion for Clarification of the [Claim Construction] Order” (the “Clarification Motion”), asking the Court to reconsider certain aspects of its Claim Construction Order. [#93] On May 17, 2018, this Court: (1) denied the Clarification Motion to the extent it asked the Court to reconsider the preamble, (2) granted the Motion to the extent it asked the Court to reconsider whether Claim Seven was indefinite, and (3) concluded that Claim Seven was not indefinite. [#99]

         On May 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave for Limited Claim Construction Briefing and to Reopen Claim Construction (the “Reopen Motion”). [#100] Through the Reopen Motion, Plaintiff asked the Court to reopen claim construction and construe the articles “a” and “the” used with “controller” in claims 1, 3, and 8-11. [Id.] On August 2, 2018, this Court granted the Reopen Motion and ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs on the construction of “a” and “the” used with “controller” in claims 1, 3, and 8-11. [#115] The parties each filed supplemental briefs. [##116, 117]


         In construing patent claims, courts are guided by the precedent of the Federal Circuit. See Sun Tiger, Inc. v. Sci. Research Funding Grp., 189 F.3d 1327, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 1999). A patent infringement claim involves a two-step analysis. First, the Court “must determine as a matter of law the correct scope and meaning of a disputed claim term.” CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 288 F.3d 1359, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2002). Second, the properly construed patent claims must be compared to the accused device to determine whether the accused device contains all the limitations of the claimed invention. Id.

         The first step, claim construction, is a matter of law for the Court. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 391 (1996). “It is a ‘bedrock principle' of patent law that ‘the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.'” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). “When construing claim terms, [courts] first look to, and primarily rely on, the intrinsic evidence, including the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history of the patent, which is usually dispositive.” Sunovion Pharm., Inc. v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 731 F.3d 1271, 1276 (Fed. Cir. 2013). “[T]he words of a claim ‘are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning.'” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). “[T]he ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Id. at 1313.

         “The inquiry into how a person of ordinary skill in the art understands a claim term provides an objective baseline from which to begin claim interpretation.” Id. “Importantly, the person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification.” Id. While “the claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms, ” the claims do not stand alone. Id. at 1314-15. “Rather, they are part of a fully integrated written instrument, consisting principally of a specification that concludes with the claims.” Id. at 1315 (quotation omitted). As a result, “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.'” Id. (quoting Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582). Nevertheless, “there is a fine line between reading a claim in light of the written description and reading a limitation into the claim from the written description.” Howmedica Osteonics Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc., 822 F.3d 1312, 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

         In addition to the claims and the specification, courts should also consider the patent's prosecution history, if it is in evidence. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. The prosecution history is part of the “intrinsic evidence, ” and it “consists of the complete record of the proceedings before the [Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”)] and includes the prior art cited during the examination of the patent.” Id. “Like the specification, the prosecution history provides evidence of how the PTO and the inventor understood the patent.” Id. Nonetheless, the prosecution history “often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes.” Id.

         In addition to this intrinsic evidence, courts may also rely on “extrinsic evidence, ” consisting “of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises.” Id. (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 980). But, “while extrinsic evidence can shed useful light on the relevant art, . . . it is less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language.” Id. (quotations omitted). As a result, “extrinsic evidence may be useful to the court, but it is unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence.” Id. at 1319.

         III. ...

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