On November 18, 2021, the International Trade Commission issued the public version of its opinion affirming a finding of non-infringement in Certain Cloud-Connected Wood-Pellet Grills and Components Thereof (Inv. No. 337-TA-1237).

By way of background, this investigation was instituted on January 4, 2021 based on a complaint filed by Traeger Pellet Grills LLC of Salt Lake City, Utah (“Traeger”) alleging violations of section 337 by Respondent GMG Products LLC of Lakeside, Oregon (“GMG”) due to the importation/sale of certain cloud-connected wood-pellet grills and components thereof that infringe certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 10,158,720 (“the ’720 Patent”) and U.S. Patent No. 10,218,833 (“the ’833 Patent”). GMG filed a motion for summary determination of non-infringement of the ’833 and ’720 patents on July 21, 2021. On September 3, 2021, Chief ALJ Charles E. Bullock issued an initial determination (“ID”) granting-in-part GMG’s motion for summary determination of non-infringement as to the ’833 patent, and denying GMG’s motion with respect to the ’720 patent. Traeger petitioned the Commission for review of the ID’s finding of non-infringement of the ’833 patent.

According to the opinion, the Commission affirmed the ID’s finding of non-infringement of the ’833 patent, with supplemental reasoning. During summary determination briefing, the parties had disputed the construction of the phrase “generating one or more instructions” in claims 1 and 11, and the term “instruction generating indicator” of claim 18 of the ’833 patent. GMG proposed construing these limitations to mean “converting a user input into an instruction specific to a particular device.” Traeger, on the other hand, argued that “neither the claim language nor the specification requires a conversion,” that the claim language instead describes “instructions configured to cause a hopper to feed wood pellets into the electronically-controlled wood pellet grill at a particular rate in order to maintain the particular temperature,” and that the limitation should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. The Chief ALJ agreed with Traeger and construed these terms in accordance with their plain and ordinary meaning, finding that “limitations requiring ‘converting a user input’ and ‘instruction specific to a particular device’ limitations should not be imported from the specification.” GMG had argued in its summary determination motion that the accused products do not practice these limitations because the temperature command sent by the GMG mobile app to the GMG grill via the GMG server is not an “instruction [] configured to cause a hopper to feed wood pellets into the electronically-controlled wood-pellet grill at a particular rate.” Chief ALJ Bullock found that there was no factual dispute regarding the operation of the accused products—the temperature command from the mobile app specifies only a temperature, and does not specify any “particular rate” for feeding pellets—and thus ruled that the accused products did not infringe claims 1, 11, and 18 of the ’833 patent.

Based on the parties’ submissions, the Commission found no legal error in the ID’s finding of non-infringement, and stated that “[t]he plain language of the claims recites a very specific method for controlling an electronically-controlled wood-pellet grill, where certain steps are to be performed by certain elements of the system in a specific way, and in a specific sequence.” The Commission also found that with respect to the “generating one or more instructions” limitation and based on the intrinsic record, the instructions generated by the mobile device must cause the wood-pellet grill to feed in wood pellets at a particular rate to maintain a set temperature, and that “the grill hardware controller performs the ‘generating one or more instruction’” step in the accused system, not the mobile app.” The Commission also found that “the step of ‘generating one or more instructions,’ consistent with the intrinsic record requires some action to be performed by the mobile device in response to the temperature input by the user beyond merely forwarding this temperature input to the grill hardware controller.” Further, the Commission stated that “[t]here is no support in the intrinsic record that forwarding a user input is the same as generating an instruction,” and “[r]elatedly . . . it cannot be the case where one action, i.e., receiving the user input of the desired temperature, satisfies two distinct claim steps as Traeger argues here.”

Thus, the Commission affirmed the ID’s finding of non-infringement with respect to the aforementioned limitations of the ’833 patent, and affirmed the remainder of the ID.