No. 11-cv-11470-TSH, Memorandum and Order on Claim Construction (D. Mass. Jan. 22, 2013) (Hillman, D.J.) [Claim Construction]

Plaintiff Inline Plastics Corp. (“Inline”) filed suit against EasyPak, LLC (“EasyPak”) alleging infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 7,118,003 (“the ‘003 patent”) and 7,073,680 (“the ‘680 patent”). EasyPak seeks declarations of noninfringement and invalidity of the ‘003 patent and the ‘680 patent under 35 U.S.C. §§ 102, 103, and 112. The District Court (Hillman, D.J.) settled claim construction disputes for various terms in the two patents.

Inline’s patents are directed to tamper resistant and tamper evident clamshell packaging systems for storing and displaying food. The ‘003 and ‘680 patents improve on traditional clamshell food packaging by providing a locking mechanism. The Court construed five disputed terms from the ‘003 and ‘608 patents: (1) “frangiblesection;” (2) “frangible section, which upon severing;” (3) “tamper evident bridge;” (4) “tamper-resistant/evident container;” and (5) “lock.” The “frangible section” and “frangible section, which upon severing” were treated as one term for purposes of claim construction. The Court’s treatment of each term is addressed in turn below.

“ Frangible section” and “frangible section, which upon severing”

Inline’s proposed construction calls for “at least one score line or at least one perforation line” whereas EasyPak’s construction limits the claim to a “removable tear strip.” In response to EasyPak’s construction, Inline argued that the narrow proposed construction “suggest[s] that [the Court] look to only specific embodiments, figures and description[s] in complete disregard of the clear and express language of the [patents], which provide[] [for] a broader disclosure.” But, the Court noted that “Inline commits the same transgression it accuses EasyPak of…[as] it would have this Court validate a secondary and inconspicuous embodiment in complete disregard of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Further, the Court reasoned that the doctrine of claim differentiation did not apply even though dependent claims state that the frangible section is delimited at least in part by a pair of parallel score lines. It noted that claim differentiation is not a hard and fast rule, and claims cannot be broadened beyond their correct scope through the doctrine. In arriving at the Court’s construction, Judge Hillman engaged in an analysis of how frequently the term frangible appears in the specification and notes that it is most frequently shown and described as being removable. The Court also points to the prosecution history, noting that Inline stated that the containers contained a tear strip during prosecution. Thus, the Court construed the frangible terms to mean “a removable tear strip, delimited by at least two severable score lines.”

“Tamper evident bridge”

Ultimately, the Court rejected both parties’ proposed constructions for this term. First, the Court found EasyPak’s prosecution history estoppel argument inapplicable. Judge Hillman noted that because the disputed term was disclosed by the prior art, there was no disclaimer to the exclusion of another embodiment. Thus, following the well-settled Phillips rubric for claim construction, the Court construed the term to mean “a structure that connects the lid and base portions of the container and also contains a removable tear strip, delimited by at least two severable score lines, which once removed provides evidence that tampering has occurred.”

“Tamper-resistant/Evident Container” and “Lock”

In construing “tamper-resistant/evident container” and “lock,” the Court engaged in a straightforward analysis of the specification and prosecution history to arrive at the constructions and stated that the Markman hearing revealed relatively little dispute over their meanings. With regard to “tamper-resistant/evident container,” the parties agreed to define “tamper-resistant/evident container” conjunctively, meaning that it could be either tamper resistant, tamper evident, or both. Even though the parties agreed to the construction during the Markman hearing, the Court pointed to the specification to show the disclosure supports “features which either deter unauthorized tampering or clearly indicate whether unauthorized tampering has occurred, or both.” The Court concluded that the proper construction was “a container incorporating structural elements designed to deter, indicate, or deter and indicate, unauthorized tampering or opening prior to consumption.”

Again, the Markman hearing revealed little dispute over how the term “lock” was used throughout the specification. The Court stated that claim 1 provided the support for the construction as well as passages from the specification and thus construed “lock” as “a secondary engagement mechanism for non-permanently maintaining the peripheral flange of the cover adjacent to the upper peripheral edge of the base when the container is closed.”