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Eko Brands, LLC v. Adrian Rivera Maynez Enterprises, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

January 13, 2020

EKO BRANDS, LLC, Plaintiff-Cross-Appellant

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in No. 2:15-cv-00522-JPD, Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue.

          David Allen Lowe, Lowe Graham Jones PLLC, Seattle, WA, argued for plaintiff-cross-appellant. Also represented by Lawrence D. Graham.

          William A. Delgado, Dto Law, Los Angeles, CA, argued for defendants-appellants. Also represented by Ashley Lynn Kirk, Willenken Wilson Loh & Delgado LLP, Los Angeles, CA.

          Before Dyk, Reyna, and Hughes, Circuit Judges.



         This case involves claims of U.S. Patent No. 8, 720, 320 ("the '320 patent") owned by Adrian Rivera and Adrian Rivera Maynez Enterprises, Inc. (collectively, "ARM") and U.S. Patent No. 8, 707, 855 ("the '855 patent") owned by Eko Brands, LLC ("Eko"). The parties appeal and cross-appeal various rulings made by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in infringement proceedings concerning the two patents. We affirm the judgment of invalidity as to the asserted claims of the '320 patent and the award of attorney's fees. We also affirm the judgment of infringement as to the asserted claims of the '855 patent.


         I. The '320 Patent

         ARM owns the '320 patent, which describes an adaptor device for use with Keurig® single-brew coffee machines or similar brewers. The '320 patent describes single-brew coffee machines as generally accepting one of two cartridge formats: "pods," which are "small, flattened disk-shaped filter packages of beverage extract" and "larger cup-shaped beverage filter cartridges." '320 patent, col. 1, ll. 17-21. The patent describes the configuration used by a particular type of Keurig® coffee machines (known as K-Cup® machines) as "inherently limit[ed] [to] the use of . . . cup-shaped cartridges" and that users of K-Cup® machines "would have to purchase a different machine to brew beverage from pods." Id. at col. 1, ll. 39-44. The '320 patent describes an "adaptor assembly configured to effect operative compatibility between a single serve beverage brewer [for use with cup-shaped cartridges] and beverage pods." Id. at col. 1, ll. 6-9; see also Rivera v. ITC, 857 F.3d 1315, 1316-17 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (discussing the '320 patent in detail).

         On August 4, 2014, ARM filed a complaint against Eko and ten other respondents at the International Trade Commission ("ITC") alleging infringement of claims 5-8 and 18-20 of the '320 patent and seeking a limited exclusion order and cease and desist order. In proceedings involving other respondents, the ITC found that claims 5-7, 18, and 20 of the '320 patent were invalid for lack of written description, and this court affirmed. Rivera, 857 F.3d at 1323. However, the ITC made no invalidity determination concerning claims 8 and 19 (those claims had been withdrawn as to respondents other than Eko). Eko defaulted in the ITC proceedings with respect to ARM's allegations that it infringed claims 8 and 19, and the ITC issued a limited exclusion order and cease and desist order.

         On April 2, 2015, Eko filed this action against ARM in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Eko sought (1) a declaratory judgment of non-infringement as to claims 8 and 19 of the '320 patent, and (2) a declaratory judgment that claims 8 and 19 were invalid as obvious. ARM counterclaimed alleging infringement of claims 8 and 19. The district court issued a Markman ruling construing various claim terms. Eko filed for summary judgment of noninfringement and obviousness. The district court granted Eko declaratory judgment of noninfringement but denied Eko's motion for summary judgment as to obviousness, finding that there remained disputed issues of material fact. After a five-day jury trial, the jury found claims 8 and 19 of the '320 patent to be invalid as obvious. During these proceedings, the district court awarded Eko attorney's fees associated with obtaining a judgment of noninfringement and obviousness. ARM appeals the district court's findings of noninfringement and obviousness, as well as the district court's fee awards.

         II. The '855 Patent

         Together with its declaratory judgment claims as to the '320 patent, Eko asserted an infringement claim against ARM with respect to claim 8 of the '855 patent owned by Eko, which describes a reusable filter cartridge device for use with single-serve beverage brewing machines. Unlike typical filter cartridges, which must be pierced by the beverage brewing device during operation, the device described by the '855 patent allows for the operation of the brewing machine without piercing the filter cartridge, thereby allowing the device to be reused multiple times. The district court entered an order construing claim 8 of the '855 patent, and ARM stipulated to infringement based on the district court's claim construction. At trial, the jury awarded Eko compensatory damages but found that ARM did not willfully infringe, and the district court did not award enhanced damages. ARM appeals the district court's judgment of infringement. Eko cross-appeals the jury's finding of no willful infringement and the district court's denial of enhanced damages. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1295.


         We review the jury's verdict for substantial evidence, and the jury instructions de novo. Abbott Labs. v. Syntron Bioresearch, Inc., 334 F.3d 1343, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 2003). We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Synopsys, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corp., 839 F.3d 1138, 1146 (Fed. Cir. 2016). "We review the district court's ultimate construction de novo, and any underlying factual findings supporting the construction for clear error." Ethi-con Endo-Surgery, Inc. v. Covidien, Inc., 796 F.3d 1312, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (citing Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 574 U.S. 318, 331 (2015)). "The ultimate determination of obviousness presents a legal question subject to de novo review, but 'explicit and implicit' subsidiary factual determinations made by the jury-including the scope and content of the prior art-are reviewed for substantial evidence." Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Motorola Mobility LLC, 870 F.3d 1320, 1326 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (citing Kinetic Concepts, Inc. v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 688 F.3d 1342, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2012)). We review the district court's award of attorney's fees under 35 U.S.C. § 285 for abuse of discretion. Highmark Inc. v. Allcare Health Mgmt. Sys., 572 U.S. 559, 561 (2014).

         I. ARM's '320 Patent

         A. Claim Construction

         ARM argues that the jury verdict that claims 8 and 19 of the '320 patent were invalid for obviousness should be set aside because the district court erred in its claim construction, and that under the proper construction, U.S. Patent No. 3, 878, 722 to Nordskog ("Nordskog") does not disclose a fully enclosed space and the obviousness verdict cannot stand. The district court construed the term "brewing chamber" in claims 5 and 18, which claims 8 and 19 depend from, to mean "a compartment in which brewing occurs." Eko Brands, LLC v. Adrian Rivera Maynez Enters., Inc., No. 2:15-cv-00522-JPD (W.D. Wash. Feb. 24, 2016), ECF No. 42 at 10 ("Claim Construction Order"). The district court explained that "[w]hile the plain and ordinary meaning of the word 'chamber' certainly conveys the idea of a compartment or defined area, it does not necessarily have to be sealed or fully-enclosed." Id.

         ARM contends that the district court erred when it rejected ARM's proposed construction of "brewing chamber." That construction required a "sealed or fully-enclosed" space. ARM makes several arguments in favor of its more limited construction.

         First, ARM directs us to two patents assigned to Keurig that are incorporated by reference into the '320 patent: U.S. Patent No. 5, 325, 765 ("the Keurig '765 patent") and U.S. Patent No. 6, 606, 938 ("the Keurig '938 patent").[1]ARM argues that because these prior art references depicted enclosed brewing chambers, the term brewing chamber in the '320 patent must also be enclosed.

         Unlike the claims of the '320 patent, the claims of the Keurig '765 patent specifically describe the brewing chamber as being sealed. Keurig '765 patent, col. 4, ll. 35-42 (describing the brewing chamber as being defined by two "components," wherein one "component which may be . . . closed to coact in sealing engagement with [the other component defining the brewing chamber]"). The Keurig '938 patent includes a "brewing chamber 44," but Figures 3 and 4 show that the "brewing chamber" is not a fully-enclosed space. Thus, nothing in the incorporated patents requires that the term "brewing chamber," standing alone, be fully sealed. In fact, they suggest the opposite-that the term "brewing chamber" standing alone does not require sealing.

         Second, ARM argues that certain embodiments in the specification require us to apply ARM's proposed construction. ARM points to passages of the patent specification that describe specific embodiments that have fully-enclosed structures. But ARM ignores other embodiments in the specification, which clearly show that a "brewing chamber" is not fully enclosed. For example, Figure 6, "a schematic illustration of a cross-sectional view of a pod brewing chamber of one preferred embodiment of the present invention," '320 patent, col. 3, ll. 37-39, depicts a "lower opening 614," id. at col. 7, ll. 46-47. Accepting ARM's construction would exclude such a preferred embodiment from the scope of the claim. SynQor, Inc. v. Artesyn Tech., Inc., 709 F.3d 1365, 1378-79 (Fed. Cir. 2013) ("A claim construction that 'excludes the preferred embodiment is rarely, if ever, correct and would require highly persuasive evidentiary support.'" (quoting Adams Respiratory Therapeutics, Inc. v. Perrigo Co., 616 F.3d 1283, 1290 (Fed. Cir. 2010)). The specification thus supports the district court's construction.

         Third, ARM suggests that because the specification of the '320 patent notes that the brewing chamber must "trap" hot water, it must be a fully enclosed chamber. As the patent makes clear, it is the "beverage packet" or "pod," not the brewing chamber, that traps hot water. '320 patent, col. 1, ll. 14-17 ("Once the beverage packet is placed in the brewing chamber, the machine injects hot water into the packet . . . .").

         The district court correctly determined that the term "brewing chamber" in the '320 patent does not require a fully-enclosed space. See Phillips v. AWH ...

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