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Meridian Manufacturing Inc. v. C&B Manufacturing Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

October 27, 2017

MERIDIAN MANUFACTURING, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
C&B MANUFACTURING, INC., d/b/a HITCHDOC, Defendant.

          ORDER MEMORANDUM OPINION AND SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This patent case is before me on (1) a motion (Doc. No. 55) for summary judgment of noninfringement filed by defendant C&B Manufacturing, Inc. (HitchDoc), and (2) a motion (Doc. No. 56) for summary judgment of infringement filed by plaintiff Meridian Manufacturing Inc. (Meridian). Both parties filed resistances (Doc. Nos. 63, 64) and subsequent replies (Doc. Nos. 67, 72).

         Meridian holds United States Patent No. 6, 964, 551 B1 (‘551 patent), which involves component claims for an agricultural trailer. In its complaint (Doc. No. 2), Meridian alleges that HitchDoc is a competitor that makes agricultural equipment, including trailers that infringe on the ‘551 Patent. On June 9, 2017, after conducting a Markman hearing, I filed a memorandum opinion and order (Doc. No. 52) in which I construed certain claims contained in the ‘551 patent (the Markman order). The parties then filed their motions for summary judgment.

         I heard oral arguments on both motions on October 20, 2017. Counsel for both parties were well-prepared and presented arguments that were exceptionally helpful. The motions are now ready for decision.

         II. FACTS

         A. Present Action

         The ‘551 Patent, entitled “Trailer for Transporting Bulk Seed Boxes, ” is depicted in Figure 1:

         (Image Omitted)

         The invention is designed to help farmers transport large seed bags or boxes to planters in the fields. Typically, farmers must use a forklift to load the boxes onto the trailer and then use a motorized mechanism (such as an auger) attached to the trailer to remove the seeds from those boxes and ultimately deposit them into the planter.

         On November 23, 2015, Meridian filed a complaint of patent infringement against HitchDoc for selling various models of its Travis Seed Cart. The Travis Seed Cart is essentially a trailer that is also used to transport bulk seed boxes. Of the 19 claims contained in the ‘551 patent, Meridian alleges that the Travis Seed Cart infringes claims 1, 2, 3, 9, 10 and 11. These claims are

1. An improved trailer for transporting a bulk seed box, the box having first and second sidewalls, a bottom, a top, and a flange extending along the sidewalls adjacent the bottom of the box, the trailer comprising:
a wheeled bed for supporting a bulk seed box, the bed having a perimeter edge;
a hopper extending below the bed for receiving seed from the bulk seed box;
a conveyor operatively connected to the hopper for unloading seed from the hopper; and
the bed having guide plates inclining upwardly and outwardly from the perimeter edge of the bed to facilitate centering of the box on the bed.
2. The improved trailer of claim 1 wherein the bed has four corners and the guide plates are located at the corners of the bed.
3. The improved trailer of claim 1 further comprising lock bars on the bed to overlappingly engage the flange of the seed box to secure the seed box to the bed.
9. The improved trailer of claim 1 wherein the conveyor is an auger including a first inner section and a second outer section pivotally attached to the first section for movement between transport and discharge positions, and including a gas cylinder to facilitate movement of the second section between the transport and discharge positions.
10. The improved trailer of claim 1 wherein each guide plate extends outwardly at an obtuse angle from the bed.
11. The improved trailer of claim 1 wherein the guide plates define an enlarged box entrance sloping downwardly and inwardly toward the bed so that the box will automatically center on the bed when loaded onto the bed.

Doc. No. 31 at 7-8. Claim 1, which is the only independent claim at issue, is at the heart of the infringement claim, particularly with regard to its description of guide plates that “inclin[e] upwardly and outwardly from the perimeter edge of the bed to facilitate centering of the box on the bed.” Id. at 7. An example of a Meridian guide plate is circled in Figure 2, with a close up image of a portion of the plate shown in Figure 3:

         (Image Omitted)

         HitchDoc's Travis Seed Cart has box guides for the purpose of facilitating the deposit of seed boxes onto the trailer. These box guides extend vertically for about five inches before extending upwardly and outwardly at a 30 degree angle, as seen in this rough approximation in Figure 4:

         (Image Omitted)

         Neither party disputes the physical attributes of HitchDoc's box guide. The parties do dispute whether HitchDoc's box guides infringe the ‘551 patent by “inclin[ing] ...


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