On May 18, 2021 the ITC issued the public version of its opinion in Certain Collapsible and Portable Furniture (Inv. No. 337-TA-1178). According to the opinion, the Commission determined that there was no violation of section 337 and terminated the investigation.
By way of background, the Commission instituted the investigation on October 3, 2019 based on a complaint by GCI Outdoor, Inc. of Higganum, Connecticut (“GCI”) alleging violations of section 337 by eight respondents in the importation/sale of certain collapsible and portable furniture (i.e., rocking chairs) by reason of infringement of certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 9,282,824 (“the ’824 patent”) and 9,060,611 (“the ’611 patent”). Following an evidentiary hearing in December 2020, ALJ David P. Shaw issue an initial determination (“ID”) on February 18, 2021 finding no violation of section 337. Regarding the ’824 patent, the ID found that the asserted claims are not invalid and are infringed by Respondent Denovo Brands, LLC’s Rok-It chair. However, the ID found that GCI’s domestic industry chairs do not practice any claim of the ’824 patent, and thus, GCI did not satisfy the technical prong of the domestic industry requirement for the ’824 patent. Concerning the ’611 patent, the ID found that the asserted claims are not invalid but are not infringed by Respondent MacSports Inc’s MacRocker or Respondent Westfield Outdoor, Inc.’s Mulberry Bounce chair. Unlike the ’824 patent, the ID found that GCI’s own chairs practice at least one claim of the ’611 patent and thus GCI satisfied the technical prong of the domestic industry requirement for the ’611 patent. The ID found that the economic prong of domestic industry was satisfied for both patents.
On review, the Commission modified the wording of the ID’s construction of the phrase “adapted for contacting the ground surface upon which the chair sits in a set-up condition” in claims 1 and 10 of the ’824 patent to read: “suited by design for contacting the ground surface upon which the chair sits in a set-up condition,” but otherwise affirmed the ID’s infringement, validity, and domestic industry technical prong determinations that rely on that finding. Regarding claim 10 of the ’824 patent, the Commission reversed the ID’s finding that the Rok-It chair infringed literally and under the doctrine of equivalents. Specifically, the Commission determined that the ID erred in finding that the unitary main tube on either side of the Rok-It Chair literally satisfies both the “back support member” and “fulcrum member” limitations of claim 10, and also disagreed that the Rok-It chair includes the equivalent of “pivotally interconnected” back support and fulcrum members. The Commission affirmed the ID’s finding that GCI’s domestic industry chairs do not satisfy the technical prong of the domestic industry requirement because they do not include a fulcrum point adapted for contacting the ground surface, and thus do not practice any claim of the ’824 patent.
With respect to the ’611 patent, the Commission affirmed the ID’s finding that the MacRocker and Mulberry Bounce chairs do not infringe under the doctrine of equivalents. In particular, the Commission declined to endorse GCI’s “novel legal framework for analyzing equivalence” in which, rather than addressing the substantiality of the differences between the structure in the accused chairs and the “fulcrum point” limitation of the asserted claims, GCI instead argued that the bending motion of compliant members in the accused chairs could be approximated with simplified models (“pseudo-rigid-body models” or “PRBMs”) based on rigid bars connected by pivoting joints. The Commission affirmed the ID’s rejection of this theory based on GCI’s expert’s failure to provide necessary information about the PRBMs to show that they accurately modeled the compliant members of the accused chairs, and further noted that GCI’s approach “lacks support in the law.”
Having found no violation of section 337, the Commission terminated the investigation in its entirety.