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Sukup Manufacturing Co. v. Sioux Steel Co.

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

February 11, 2019

SUKUP MANUFACTURING CO., Plaintiff/Counter Defendant,
v.
SIOUX STEEL COMPANY, Defendant/Counter Claimant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED PATENT CLAIM TERMS

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This action is before me for submission to the parties of a ruling on patent claims construction after a Markman hearing.[1] Defendant Sioux Steel Company (Sioux Steel) holds United States Patent No. 6, 499, 930 (‘930 patent) which, as will be discussed, involves a grain bin unloading system. Plaintiff Sukup Manufacturing Co. (Sukup) seeks a declaratory judgment under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 that its Zero-Entry Paddle Sweep products do not infringe the ‘930 patent. See Doc. No. 1.[2] The parties dispute the construction of certain claim terms contained in the ‘930 patent.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Sukup filed its complaint (Doc. No. 1) on November 16, 2017. On August 3, 2018, the parties filed a joint claim construction and prehearing statement. Doc. No. 31. This was later amended and submitted with a joint appendix. See Doc. Nos. 37, 38. On September 13, 2018, the parties presented a technical tutorial on the background of the technology at issue in the case. See Doc. No. 36. On September 19, 2018, Sukup filed its opening claim construction brief. Doc. No. 43. Sioux Steel submitted its rebuttal claim construction brief (Doc. No. 44) on September 24, 2018, and Sukup submitted a reply (Doc. No. 45) on October 1, 2018. Prior to the Markman hearing, Sioux Steel submitted another rebuttal (Doc. No. 50) and Sukup submitted a supplement (Doc. No. 52). The parties appeared for a Markman hearing on October 30, 2018. Sioux Steel submitted a supplement (Doc. No. 56) and post-hearing claim construction brief (Doc. No. 57) on November 13, 2018. Sukup submitted a supplemental brief (Doc. No. 58) on November 14, 2018.

         B. The ‘930 Patent and Disputed Claims

         This case involves a “grain bin unloading system” with five claims and up to 13 terms at issue. Grains bins are used to store harvested grain, such as wheat and corn, to protect the grain from weather conditions prior to the grain being used or sold. See Doc. No. 42 at 10. After grain is harvested, it is generally dried and then loaded into the grain bin through an opening in the roof. Id. To unload a cylindrical grain bin, the grain flows under the force of gravity through a well or sump in the floor to a discharge conveyor or other system under the grain bin, which transports the grain to a truck or other means of transport. Id. When the grain reaches the angle of repose, gravity no longer works to evacuate the grain bin, resulting in an “inverted cone” formation of the grain. Id. The residual grain can amount to 20 to 25 percent of grain in the bin, which must be physically removed through some mechanism. Id. This can be done by sweeping the grain toward the opening by a mechanical sweep. Id. at 10-11.

         The ‘930 patent discloses a “Grain Bin Unloading System, ”[3] which is described in the abstract as follows:

An unloading system for a grain bin. The unloading system includes a sweep conveyor for sweeping grain from the interior of the grain bin to a well in the floor of the grain bin. The sweep conveyor includes an elongated frame, a first sprocket at one end of the frame, an endless chain extending between the first and second sprockets, a plurality of spaced apart paddles attached to the chain, and a motor for causing the chain to rotate whereby the paddles will drag or sweep grain to the well in the floor of the grain bin.

Doc. No. 38-1 at 2. Or, as illustrated in the patent:

         (Image Omitted) Id. at 3.

         The ‘930 patent originally made six claims. It was amended in 2016 to include 15 more claims. See Doc. No. 38-1 at 10. Of the 21 total claims, five are at issue. They include the following:

1. An unloading system for a grain bin having an interior for holding a quantity of grain, having a floor within said interior for supporting said quantity of grain, and having a well in said floor for allowing grain to be unloaded from said interior of said grain bin therethrough, said unloading system comprising:
(a) an elongated frame for position on said grain supported on said floor of said grain bin, said frame having a first end and a second end, said first end of said frame being positioned adjacent said well in said floor of said grain bin; said frame including an elongated hood having a top panel, a first wall, and a second side wall, and an opened bottom;
(b) a first wheel rotatably attached to said frame adjacent said first end of said frame;
(c) a second wheel rotatably attached to said frame adjacent said second end of said frame;
(d) a belt passing about said first and second wheels;
(e) a plurality of spaced apart paddles attached to said belt for engaging grain on said floor of said grain bin through said opened bottom of said hood of said frame; and
(f) power means for rotating one of said wheels to cause said belt to rotate about said first and second wheels and cause said paddles to sweep grain from said floor of said grain bin to said well of said grain bin.
4. The unloading system of claim 1 in which is included drive means for causing said frame to rotate about said well.
8. The unloading system of claim 1 wherein at least one of the paddles extends downwardly from said belt and extends laterally to said belt in a direction substantially parallel to the floor.
14. An unloading system for a grain bin having an interior for holding a quantity of grain, having a floor within said interior for supporting said quantity of grain, and having a well in said floor for allowing grain to be unloaded from said interior of said grain bin therethrough, said unloading system comprising:
(a) an elongated frame for position on said grain supported on said floor of said grain bin, said frame having a first end and a second end, said first end of said frame being positioned adjacent said well in said floor of said grain bin, said frame including an elongated hood having a top panel, a first side wall, and a second side wall, and an opened bottom;
(b) a first wheel rotatably attached to said frame adjacent said first end of said frame;
(c) a second wheel rotatably attached to said frame adjacent said second end of said frame;
(d) a belt passing about said first and second wheels;
(e) a plurality of spaced apart paddles attached to said belt for engaging grain on said floor of said grain bin through said opened bottom of said hood of said frame, said first and second side walls extending downwardly from said top panel, said first and second side walls laterally shielding portions of said paddles extending above said belt and positioned between said first and second wheels, said second side wall having a bottom edge spaced further from said top panel than a bottom edge of said first side wall;
(f) power means for rotating one of said wheels to cause said belt to rotate about said first and second wheels and cause said paddles to sweep grain from said floor of said grain bin to said well of said grain bin, said first side wall being positioned adjacent to portions of said paddles extending below said belt and moving towards said well when said belt is rotated by said power means, said paddles being configured to sweep grain into said well.
15. The unloading system of claim 14 wherein at least one of the paddles extends downwardly from said belt and extends laterally to said belt in a direction substantially parallel to the floor.

Doc. No. 38-1.

         C. History of the ‘930 Patent

         The original application that led to the ‘930 patent was filed on September 17, 2001, by the inventor, Carl R. Dixon. See Doc. No. 38-2 at 2. The application contained six claims, including one independent claim (Claim 1) and five dependent claims (Claims 2-6). Initially, the claims were rejected as being obvious in light of the prior art. Id. at 58-61. Dixon then amended Claim 1 to:

define the frame of applicant's unloading system as including an elongated hood having a top panel, a first side wall, and a second side wall, and an opened bottom; and to define the paddles of applicant's unloading system as for engaging grain on the floor of the grain bin through the opened bottom of the hood of the frame.

Doc. No. 38-2 at 72. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) allowed the claims, see Id. at 85, and issued the ‘930 patent on December 31, 2002. See Doc. No. 38-1 at 2. On June 16, 2011, Dixon assigned the ‘930 patent to Sioux Steel.

         On September 4, 2012, a competitor filed a request for ex parte reexamination of the ‘930 patent, challenging all six claims. See Doc. No. 38-3 at 2-29. The USPTO granted the request for reexamination. On February 18, 2013, Sioux Steel added claims 7-21. On April 10, 2013, the USPTO issued a Final Rejection, rejecting claims 1-21. Id. at 180. Sioux Steel appealed and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) reversed the Examiner's decision, concluding that the six original claims were confirmed patentable and new claims 7-21 were deemed patentable over the newly cited prior art. Id. at 421-22; 432-41; 464-69. The ex parte Reexamination Certificate was issued on January 7, 2016. Id. at 476-77.

         D. Sukup's Zero-Entry Paddle Sweep and Other Grain Bin Sweeps

         The accused product is Sukup's Zero-Entry Paddle Sweep. While not particularly relevant to claim construction for the ‘930 patent, it does provide some context of why these claims and terms matter to the parties. See Pall Corp. v. Hemasure Inc., 181 F.3d 1305, 1308 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“Although the construction of the claim is independent of the device charged with infringement, it is convenient for the court to concentrate on those aspects of the claim whose relation to the accused device is in dispute.”).

         (Image Omitted)

         Doc. No. 43 at 6. Sukup notes that its paddle sweep (pictured above) is composed of two metal sheets bolted together to form an A-frame design. The ‘930 patent includes the following illustration of the preferred embodiment of its design.

         Doc. No. 38-1 at 4. Sukup points out that in the “Background of the Invention” section of Dixon's 2001 patent application, he characterized the prior art as including only auger-style sweeps. Doc. No. 43 at 6. Sukup argues that paddle sweeps existed at the time, including French Patent Application No. FR8805249A (published as FR 2, 630, 620) in 1988, by Jean Carrouget. Sukup argues the paddles of the Carrouget device engage grain on the floor of the grain bin and move it through an opened bottom of the hood towards the well of the grain bin. Id. at 7. Sukup contends this is the “critical” feature Dixon identified in distinguishing prior art during the original prosecution and subsequent reexamination. Id. The Carrouget patent was never disclosed to nor considered by the USPTO, and Sukup argues Sioux Steel's constructions are aimed at distinguishing the ‘930 patent from this “knock out” prior art.

         III. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         Before the fact finder can consider a claim of patent infringement, the court must determine what the claim (the patent) is. Thus, an infringement case has two distinct stages. First, the court finds the proper construction of the patent. Second, the fact finder considers whether the patent was violated. See Cook Biotech Inc. v. Acell, Inc., 460 F.3d 1365, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

         The court interprets the words of the claim to determine their meaning and scope. See Presidio Components, Inc. v. American Tech. Ceramics Corp., 702 F.3d 1351, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (citing Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1998); Markman, 517 U.S. at 391. “When the parties present a fundamental dispute regarding the scope of a claim term, it is the court's duty to resolve it.” O2 Micro Int'l, Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2008). “There are limits to the court's duties at the patent claim construction stage. For example, courts should not resolve questions that do not go to claim scope, but instead go to infringement, or improper attorney argument.” Eon Corp. IP Holdings v. Silver Spring Networks, 815 F.3d 1314, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). However, claim construction is a quasi-factual question, and the court is allowed to make factual findings and resolve fact-based disputes. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 838 (2015). After the claim is construed, the fact finder then “compares the properly construed claims to the allegedly infringing device.” Presidio Components, 702 F.3d at 1358. Thus, my task is to “define[] the claim with whatever specificity and precision is warranted by the language of the claim and the evidence bearing on the proper construction, ” and then, “the task of determining whether the construed claim reads on the accused product is for the finder of fact.” Markman, 517 U.S. at 370.

         The interpretation and construction of patent claims is a matter of law solely for the court. Id. at 390. “It is the claims that define the metes and bounds of the patentee's invention.” Thorner v. Sony Computer Entertainment America, L.L.C., 669 F.3d 1362, 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (citing Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc)). Claim interpretation proceeds under the guidelines set forth in Markman. Accordingly:

To ascertain the meaning of claims, we consider three sources: the claims, the specification, and the prosecution history. Expert testimony, including evidence of how those skilled in the art would interpret the claims, may also be used. In construing the claims in this case, all these sources, as well as extrinsic evidence in the form of [] sales literature, were included in the record of the trial court proceedings.

Markman, 52 F.3d at 979 (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         The construction process begins with the language of the claims. See Renishaw P.L.C. v. Marposs Societá Per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1248 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Claim terms are generally given their plain and ordinary meanings to one of skill in the art when read in the context of the specification and prosecution history. See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. “There are only two exceptions to this general rule: 1) when a patentee sets out a definition and acts as his own lexicographer, or 2) when the patentee disavows the full scope of the claim term either in the specification or during prosecution.” Thorner, 669 F.3d at 1365. The standards for finding lexicography and disavowal are exacting. Hill-Rom Servs. v. Stryker Corp., 755 F.3d 1367, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2014). “To act as its own lexicographer, a patentee must clearly set forth a definition of the disputed claim term other than its plain and ordinary meaning” and must “clearly express an intent to redefine the term.” Thorner, 669 F.3d at 1365. Disavowal requires that “the [intrinsic record] makes clear that the invention does not include a particular feature.” SciMed Life Sys., Inc. v. Advanced Cardiovascular Sys., Inc., 242 F.3d 1337, 1341 (Fed Cir. 2001).

         The ordinary meaning of a claim term is not “the meaning of the term in the abstract.” Eon Corp., 815 F.3d at 1321. Instead, “the ‘ordinary meaning' of a claim term is its meaning to the ordinary artisan after reading the entire patent. Id.; see also Toro Co. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 199 F.3d 1295, 1299 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“Determining the limits of patent claim required understanding its terms in the context which they were used by the inventor, considered by the examiner, and understood in the field of the invention.”); Anderson v. Int'l Eng'g & Mfg., Inc., 160 F.3d 1345, 1348-49 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (“a word describing patented technology takes its definition from the context in which it was used by the inventor.”). “[T]he person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which [it] appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. While claim terms are understood in light of the specification, a claim construction must not import limitations from the specification into the claims. Id. at 1323. The Federal Circuit views intrinsic evidence as “the most significant source of the legally operative meaning of disputed claim language.” Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

         When the meaning of a claim term is in doubt, the specification is the “single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term” and is typically dispositive on the issue of claim construction. Id. “It is a bedrock principle of patent law that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.” Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Systems, Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115-16 (Fed. Cir. 2004). However, “it is improper to read limitations from a preferred embodiment described in the specification-even if it is the only embodiment-into the claims absent a clear indication in the intrinsic record that the patentee intended the claims to be so limited.” Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc., 358 F.3d 898, 913 (Fed. Cir. 2004). Because claim terms are construed based on the intrinsic evidence to the particular patent at issue, one court's construction of a word in one patent is not conclusive, and may not even be probative, of that word's meaning in another patent. e.Digital Corp. v. Futurewei Tech., Inc., 772 F.3d 723, 727 (Fed. Cir. 2014). It is improper to rely on extrinsic evidence when any ambiguity in the claims can be resolved by reference to the intrinsic record alone. Id. at 1583.

         Determining the ordinary meaning as understood by an ordinary person of skill in the art is the heart of claim construction. Aylus Networks, Inc. v. Apple Inc., 856 F.3d 1353 (Fed. Cir. 2017). In the most desirable situation, the ordinary meaning of a claim's language may be apparent to lay judges, and the claim construction may involve little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words. Brown v. 3M, 264 F.3d 1349, 1352 (Fed. Cir. 2001). “A determination that a claim term ‘needs no construction' or has the ‘plain and ordinary meaning' may be inadequate when a term has more than one ‘ordinary' meaning or when reliance on a term's ‘ordinary' meaning does not resolve the parties' dispute.” Id. at 1361. This does not mean, however, that a court must attempt the impossible task of resolving all questions of meaning with absolute, unambiguous finality. Eon Corp., 815 F.3d at 1318. “[A] sound claim construction need not always purge every shred of ambiguity.” Id. (quoting Acumed LLC v. Stryker Corp., 483 F.3d 800, 806 (Fed. Cir. 2007)); see also Vivid Techs., Inc. v. Am. Science & Eng'g, Inc., 200 F.3d 795, 803 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (“[O]nly those terms need be construed that are in controversy, and only to the extent necessary to resolve the controversy.”).

         “[T]he construction of claims is simply a way of elaborating the normally terse claim language: in order to understand and explain, but not to change, the scope of the claims.” Scripps Clinic & Research Foundation v. Genetech, Inc., 927 F.2d 1565, 1580 (Fed. Cir. 1991). Courts have wide latitude in the type of sources that can be used in construing claim meaning. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1324 (the court is not “barred from considering any particular sources or required to analyze sources in any specific sequence.”). The claim construction process is not confined to the intrinsic record alone, however extrinsic evidence may not be used “to contradict claim meaning that is unambiguous in light of the intrinsic evidence.” Id. However, courts must be wary of extrinsic evidence because “legal error arises when a court relies on extrinsic evidence that contradicts the intrinsic record.” Profectus Tech. LLC v. Huawei Techs. Co., 823 F.3d 1375, 1379 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

         The doctrine of claim differentiation creates a presumption that distinct claims, particularly an independent claim and its dependent claim, have different scopes. World Class Tech. Corp. v. Ormco Corp., 769 F.3d 1120, 1125 (Fed. Cir. 2014). “‘In the most specific sense, claim differentiation refers to the presumption that an independent claim should not be construed as requiring a limitation added by a dependent claim.'” Enzo Biochem, Inc. v. Applera Corp., 780 F.3d 1149, 1156-57 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (quoting Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Corp. v. Velan, Inc., 438 F.3d 1374, 1381 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (citing Nazomi Commc'ns, Inc. v. Arm Holdings, PLC, 403 F.3d 1364, 1370 (Fed. Cir. 2005))). However, claim differentiation is merely a presumption. CardSoft (assignment for the Benefit of Creditors), LLC v. VeriFone, Inc., 807 F.3d 1346, 1352 (Fed. Cir. 2015). “It is ‘a rule of thumb that does not trump the clear import of the specification.'” Id. (quoting Eon-Net LP v. Flagstar Bancorp, 653 F.3d 1314, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2011); see also Marine Polymer Techs., Inc. v. HemCon, Inc., 672 F.3d 1350, 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (en banc) (“[C]laim differentiation is not a hard and fast rule and will be overcome by a contrary construction dictated by the written description or prosecution history.” (citation and quotation omitted.)). “There is presumed to be a difference in meaning and scope when different words or phrases are used in separate claims.” Tandon Corp. v. U.S. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 831 F.2d 1017, 1023 (Fed. Cir. 1987).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         As noted above, the parties have filed an amended joint claim construction statement, which is generally intended to narrow the scope of the Markman process. This statement identifies the following disputed claim terms:

Claim Term/Phrase #1 (proposed by both parties)
Grain Bin (Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

A structure for storing grain that is primarily cylindrical in nature and that can be emptied, at least partially, by gravity through a center well.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness; Sukup Manufacturing Co.'s Bin Operational Manual.

A structure for storing grain. Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understandthe claim language; Merriam-Webster'sth Collegiate Dictionary (10 ed.; online ed.).

Claim Term/Phrase #2 (proposed by both parties)
Well (Claims 1 and 14)
Sioux Steel's Position Sukup's Position

An opening that allows for the discharge of grain from the grain bin through the grain bin floor

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness; Sukup Manufacturing Co.'s Bin Operational Manual.

A structure for receiving grain.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim language.

Claim Term/Phrase #3 (proposed by Sioux Steel) An elongated hood having a top panel, a first side wall, and a second side wall
(Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

An extended cover or shroud that has a part above the paddles and two lateral portions

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness; Oxford Dictionary of Mechanical Engineering.

Sukup contends it is improper to construe all of the subject claim terms together as Sioux Steel proposes to do, as it risks not giving meaning to all of the structural limitations in the claim language.

Claim Term/Phrase #4 (proposed by Sukup)
Elongated (Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed in isolation of the entire phrase in Item 3. To the extent the Court believes a separate construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: Extended

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

Extending the length of; long in proportion to width.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim language. Merriam-Webster's th Collegiate Dictionary (10 ed.; online ed.)

Claim Term/Phrase #5 (proposed by Sukup)
Elongated frame (Claims 1 and 14)
Sioux Steel's Position Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed by the Court. To the extent the Court believes a construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: An extended supporting structure

Supporting evidence:

The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecutionhistory; written or oral testimony from aperson of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

See proposed constructions and supporting evidence identified for “elongated” and “frame”.

Claim Term/Phrase #6 (proposed by Sukup)
Frame (Claims 1 and 14)
Sioux Steel's Position Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed by the Court. To the extent the Court believes a construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: A supporting structure

Supporting evidence:

The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

A supporting structure

Supporting evidence: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate th Dictionary (10 ed.; online ed.)

Claim Term/Phrase #7 (proposed by Sukup)
Elongated hood (Claims 1 and 14)
Sioux Steel's Position Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed in isolation of the entire phrase in Item 3. To the extent the Court believes a separate construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: An extended cover or shroud

Supporting evidence:

The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

See proposed constructions and supporting evidence identified for “elongated” and “hood”.

Claim Term/Phrase #8 (proposed by Sukup)
Hood (Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed in isolation of the entire phrase in Item 3. To the extent the Court believes a separate construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: A cover or shroud

Supporting evidence:

The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

A protective cover.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim language.

Claim Term/Phrase #9 (proposed by Sukup)
Top panel (Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed in isolation of the entire phrase in Item 3. To the extent the Court believes a separate construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: A part of the hood above the paddles

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

A top wall that protects the paddles from grain.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim language.

Claim Term/Phrase #10 (proposed by Sukup)
Side wall (Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed in isolation of the entire phrase in Item 3. To the extent the Court believes a separate construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: A lateral portion of the hood

Supporting evidence:

The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

A lateral wall that controls the amount of grain that enters the housing.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim language.

Claim Term/Phrase #11 (proposed by both parties)
Power means (Claims 1 and 14)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

Claimed Function: for rotating one of said wheels; [wherein the wheel may be a sprocket]

Corresponding structure: motor

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

Claimed Function: for rotating one of said wheels to cause said belt to rotate about said first and second wheels and cause said paddles to sweep grain from said floor of said grain bin to said well of said grain bin.

Corresponding Means: a motor 65 and a; gear box 67 for reducing the speed or revolutions per minute of the output shaft of the motor 65 and changing the axis of rotation of the output shaft of the motor 65, and a belt drive means 69 (defined below) for transferring power from the gear box 67 to the first shaft 53. The motor 65 and gear box 67 are mounted on the first end 35 of the frame 33. The belt drive means 69 includes a first pulley or sprocket 71 attached to the output shaft of the gear box 67, a second pulley or sprocket 73 attached to one end of the first shaft 53, and a belt or chain 75 extending between the first and second pulleys 71, 73 so that power from the motor 65 can be transferred through the gear box to the sprocket 49 to cause the chain 57 and paddles 59 to circle about the sprockets 49, 51 in the direction of the arrows 77 in FIGS.2 and 4, dragging grain G toward the first end 35 of the frame 33 to a well 25.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to the claimed function and corresponding structure in the '930 Patent.

Claim Term/Phrase #12 (proposed by both parties)
Drive means (Claim 4)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

Claimed function: for causing said frame to rotate

Corresponding structure: at least one drive wheel Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

Claimed Function: for causing said frame to rotate about said well.

Corresponding structure: One or two drive wheels 81 mounted to the second end 37 of the frame 33 for being rotated by the power means 63 (same Power Means as defined above in the Power Means construction) and for drivably engaging the floor 18 of the grain bin 13 and grain G supported on the floor 18 of the grain bin 13 to rotate the frame 33 about the well 25. The drive means 79 includes a gear box 83 coupled between the drive wheels 81 and one end of the second shaft 55 for being rotated by the second shaft 55, for reducing the speed or revolutions per minute of the second shaft 55, for changing the axis of rotation, and for rotating the drive wheel 81 in response to the rotation of the first sprocket 49 by the power means 63 (same Power Means as defined above in the Power Means construction).

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes as to the claimed function and corresponding structure in the '930 Patent.

Claim Term/Phrase #13 (proposed by Sukup)
Substantially parallel (Claims 8 and 15)

Sioux Steel's Position

Sukup's Position

Sioux Steel does not believe that this term needs to be construed by the Court. To the extent the Court believes a construction is needed for the jury, Sioux Steel proposes: largely but not wholly in the same direction

Supporting evidence:

The specification, including the claims, of the ‘930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from a person of ordinary skill in the art, Jim Maness.

Indefinite.

Supporting evidence: The specification, including the claims, of the '930 Patent and its prosecution history; written or oral testimony from Dr. Ronald Noyes.

Doc. No. 37 at 7-13. I will consider each of these issues separately after first addressing Sukup's argument that the preambles of Claims 1 and 14 are not limiting.

         A. Preambles

         The preambles of Claims 1 and 14 state:

An unloading system for a grain bin having an interior for holding a quantity of grain, having a floor within said interior for supporting said quantity of grain, and having a well in said floor for allowing grain to be unloaded from said interior of said grain bin therethrough, said unloading system comprising: . . .

Doc. No. 38-1 at 7, 10. Sukup argues these preambles are not limiting and there is no need to construe them.[4] See Doc. No. 43 at 9-10. It contends that the ‘930 patent contains strictly apparatus claims, meaning that its patentability depends on the claimed structure and not its use or purpose. Id. at 10. Sukup argues the preambles are statements of intended use, meaning they are not limiting. Id. See also Catalina Marketing Int'l, Inc. v. Coolsavings.com, Inc., 289 F.3d 801, 808 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (noting that a preamble is not limiting “when the claim body describes a structurally complete invention such that the deletion of the preamble phrase does not affect the structure . . . of the claimed invention.”).

         Sioux Steel points out that Sukup has agreed to construe claim terms that appear in the preambles - “grain bin” and “well.” See Doc. No. 50. It states that “a preamble limits the [claimed] invention if it recites essential structure or steps, or if it is ‘necessary to give life, meaning, and vitality' to the claim.” Eaton Corp., 323 F.3d at 1339. Relying on the same case cited by Sukup, it states that “dependence on a particular disputed preamble phrase for antecedent basis may limit claim scope because it indicates reliance on both the preamble and claim body to define the claimed invention.” Catalina Marketing, 289 F.3d at 808. Sioux Steel argues that the preambles provide the antecedent basis for claim elements “grain bin” and “well” because those elements, described in the body of the claims, are also found in the preambles. Thus, Sioux Steel contends that the preambles provide necessary limitations to the scope of the claimed invention.

         “Whether to treat a preamble as a limitation is a determination ‘resolved only on review of the entire[] . . . patent to gain an understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to encompass by the claim.'” Catalina Marketing, 289 F.3d 801, 808 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (quoting Corning Glass Works v. Sumitomo Electric U.S.A., Inc., 868 F.2d 1251, 2157 (Fed. Cir. 1989)). As the parties point out, a preamble limits the invention if it “recites essential structure or steps, or if it is ‘necessary to give life, meaning, and vitality' to the claim.” Id. (quoting Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1305 (Fed. Cir. 1999)). See also Proveris Scientific Corp. v. Innovasystems, Inc., 739 F.3d 1367, 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“For example, the preamble may be construed as limiting when it recites particular structure or steps that are highlighted as important by the specification.”). ...


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