C.A. No. 11-11941-FDS, 2013 WL 1213061 (D. Mass. March 22, 2013) (Saylor, D.J.) [Claim Construction]

Plaintiff Keurig, Inc. (“Keurig”) asserts infringement allegations against Defendant JBR, Inc. (“JBR”) in connection with Keurig’s patents related to a method and apparatus for brewing a single cup of coffee. These infringement allegations, as well as JBR’s defenses, hinge upon the construction of multiple terms of the utility patents at issue, U.S. Patent Nos. 7,165,488 (the “‘488 patent”) and 7,346,138 (the “‘138 patent”).

The Court characterizes the “heart of the dispute” as being whether the claims cover “the method of using a JBR cartridge in conjunction with a Keurig brewer to brew a cup of coffee.” To decide that question, the Court must first construe the claims of the patents. The parties dispute eight claim terms, and this summary will address three of those disputes.

Handle

The term handle appears in both utility patents. A typical use is as follows: “[A] handle that is moveable between open and closed positions to cause the receptacle to move between the vertical and inclined positions….” Keurig argued that no construction was necessary, but JBR proposed that the term be construed as “the part of the apparatus to be grasped by the hand.” Judge Saylor agreed with Keurig, reasoning that—given the commonplace nature of the term—there is little cause for concern that a juror would not understand the meaning of a handle or that her understanding would differ from that of one of ordinary skill in the art.

Cartridge or Beverage Cartridge

Although the parties agree that the terms “cartridge” and “beverage cartridge” describe a container that holds or contains a beverage medium used in a single-serve brewer, JBR seeks to further limit the term by requiring that the container be pierceable and internally subdivided by a filter element. To resolve this dispute, the Court first looked to the language of the claims.

Because one of the dependent claims teaches a method “wherein the said beverage cartridge includes a beverage medium and a filter element,” the Court reasoned on the basis of claim differentiation that a filter element cannot be a definitional characteristic of a cartridge. It held, “Here, claim 30 would be rendered superfluous if a “cartridge” by definition included a “filter element.” Accordingly, JBR’s attempt to narrow the term in this way must be rejected.

With respect to the pierceable nature of the cartridge, the Court found that the claim terms provided little guidance and, therefore, looked to the specification. Being mindful of not importing preferred embodiments into the claim, the Court ultimately found that Keurig’s definition better comports with the term’s usage in the claims.

Piercing

Certain claims of both patents-in-suit require “piercing the beverage cartridge....” As a threshold matter, Judge Saylor found that the key question was whether piercing requires only “passing through” or puncturing. In any event, “the parties seem to agree that ‘[t]he purpose of piercing the beverage cartridge is to get the hot water into the beverage cartridge to make a beverage.’”

The most compelling evidence of the meaning of piercing came from the figures in the specification. One of those figures clearly depicted the inlet probe (which does the piercing) as a sharp, as opposed to blunt, instrument. The Court found it “hard to imagine another purpose for this instrument except that of puncturing the top of a beverage cartridge in order to make a hole in it.” Moreover, it noted that JBR appeared to be attempting to broaden the scope of the claim term for purposes of its patent-exhaustion and permissiblerepair defenses. Heeding the Federal Circuit’s caution against strained constructions suggested by counsel “retained to offer creative arguments in infringement litigation,” the Court found that piercing means “making a whole in or through.”