Continental Can Co. USA, Inc. v. Monsanto Co.

Decision Date13 November 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-1328,90-1328
Citation20 USPQ2d 1746,948 F.2d 1264
PartiesCONTINENTAL CAN COMPANY USA, INC. and Continental Pet Technologies, Inc., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. MONSANTO COMPANY, Hoover Universal, Inc. and Johnson Controls, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit

Eugene F. Friedman, Eugene F. Friedman, Ltd., Chicago, Ill., argued for plaintiffs-appellants. With him on the brief were Edwin C. Thomas, III and David M. Novak, Bell, Boyd & Lloyd, Chicago, Ill. Also on the brief was Kurt L. Grossman, Wood, Herron & Evans, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Henry J. Renk, Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, of New York City, argued for defendants-appellees. With him on the brief were Lawrence F. Scinto and Bruce C. Haas. Also on the brief were Jacob K. Stein, Deborah DeLong, Thompson, Hine & Flory, Cincinnati, Ohio, Lawrence L. Limpus, Monsanto Co., St. Louis, Mo. and Edward L. Levine, Johnson Controls, Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.

Before NEWMAN, ARCHER, and RADER, Circuit Judges.

PAULINE NEWMAN, Circuit Judge.

Continental Can Company USA and Continental PET Technologies (collectively "Continental") appeal the partial summary judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, holding that United States Patent No. 4,108,324 (the Conobase or '324 patent) is invalid. 1 Final judgment was entered on this issue, for the purpose of appeal.

Summary Judgment

An issue may be decided on motion for summary judgment when there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325-26, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Scripps Clinic & Research Foundation v. Genentech, Inc., 927 F.2d 1565, 1571, 18 U.S.P.Q.2d 1001, 1005 (Fed.Cir.1991). The movant's burden is to show that no fact material to the issue is in dispute, that even if all material factual inferences are drawn in favor of the non-movant the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Summary judgment is as available in patent cases as in other areas of litigation. Chore-Time Equipment, Inc. v. Cumberland Corp., 713 F.2d 774, 778-79, 218 U.S.P.Q. 673, 675. (Fed.Cir.1983)

The purpose of the summary process is to avoid a clearly unnecessary trial, Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); it is not designed to substitute lawyers' advocacy for evidence, or affidavits for examination before the fact-finder, when there is a genuine issue for trial. As stated in Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 176, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1618, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (Black, J., concurring), "[t]he right to confront, cross-examine and impeach adverse witnesses is one of the most fundamental rights sought to be preserved by the Seventh Amendment". See also Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 473, 82 S.Ct. 486, 491, 7 L.Ed.2d 458 (1962).

While facilitating the disposition of legally meritless suits, when summary judgment is improvidently granted the effect is to prolong litigation and increase its burdens. This is of particular concern in patent disputes, where the patent property is a wasting asset, and justice is ill served by delay in final resolution. In the case at bar, although some issues could be resolved on the law and undisputed facts, other issues require trial.

The Patented Invention

The '324 patent, entitled "Ribbed Bottom Structure for Plastic Container", inventors Suppayan M. Krishnakumar, Siegfried S. Roy, John F.E. Pocock, Salil K. Das, and Gautam K. Mahajan, is directed to a plastic bottle whose bottom structure has sufficient flexibility to impart improved impact resistance, combined with sufficient rigidity to resist deformation under internal pressure. The patented bottle is said to provide a superior combination of these properties. The bottom structure is illustrated as follows:

NOTE: OPINION CONTAINS TABLE OR OTHER DATA THAT IS NOT VIEWABLE

Claim 1 is the broadest claim of the '324 patent:

1. A container having a sidewall and a bottom structure closing the container at an end portion of the sidewall,

the outer surface of the bottom structure comprising a central concavity,

a convex heel surrounding the concavity and merging therewith and with the sidewall end portion, the lowermost points of the heel lying in a common plane,

and a plurality of ribs interrupting the outer surface of the concavity and distributed in a symmetrical array,

each rib extending longitudinally in the direction of the heel and downwardly from an inner portion of the concavity, whereby the outer end portion of each rib is lower than the inner end portion thereof,

characterized by the feature that the ribs are hollow.

Claims 2 through 5 include additional limitations, described as contributing to the structure's rigidity, flexibility, or both. Claim 2 specifies the ratios of thickness of the walls of the bottom structure to the thickness of the sidewall end portions. Claim 3 specifies that the margins of each rib merge smoothly with adjacent portions of the bottom structure. Claim 4 specifies that each rib is convex relative to the bottom structure. Claim 5 specifies that each rib is of fusiform (a gently tapered shape at the ends) configuration. Each claim carries an independent presumption of validity 35 U.S.C. § 282, and stands or falls independent of the other claims. Altoona Publix Theatres, Inc. v. American Tri-Ergon Corp., 294 U.S. 477, 487, 55 S.Ct. 455, 459, 79 L.Ed. 1005 (1935).

Continental brought suit for patent infringement against Monsanto Company and Monsanto's successor in this business, Hoover Universal, Inc. and Hoover's parent company, Johnson Controls (collectively "Monsanto"). Monsanto moved for partial summary judgment based on issues of validity under 35 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103.

I

35 U.S.C. § 102(a)

The statutory requirement that a patented invention be "new" is tested in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 102(a), which provides that:

§ 102. A person shall be entitled to a patent unless--

(a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent....

The district court found that all the claims of the '324 patent were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 3,468,443 (the Marcus patent). We conclude that the district court erred in claim interpretation, and also found disputed facts adversely to the nonmovant, thus inappropriately deciding the issue summarily.

Anticipation under § 102(a) requires that the identical invention that is claimed was previously known to others and thus is not new. Scripps Clinic, 927 F.2d at 1576, 18 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1010; Titanium Metals Corp. of Am. v. Banner, 778 F.2d 775, 780, 227 U.S.P.Q. 773, 777-78 (Fed.Cir.1985); Lindemann Maschinenfabrik GmbH v. American Hoist and Derrick Co., 730 F.2d 1452, 1458, 221 U.S.P.Q. 481, 485 (Fed.Cir.1984). When more than one reference is required to establish unpatentability of the claimed invention anticipation under § 102 can not be found, and validity is determined in terms of § 103.

It was Monsanto's burden to show that every element of the several claims of the '324 patent was identically described in the asserted anticipating reference, the Marcus patent. The district court focused on the term "characterized by the feature that the ribs are hollow", which limits all of the '324 patent claims. Continental argues that the district court incorrectly construed this term, as a matter of law, and that the Marcus patent shows ribs that are not hollow, as that term is used in the '324 patent. Continental also points to other differences between the '324 claims and the description in the Marcus patent.

The Marcus patent rib structure is illustrated in Figure 5 and in cross-section in Figure 6:

NOTE: OPINION CONTAINS TABLE OR OTHER DATA THAT IS NOT VIEWABLE

The Marcus patent does not state that its ribs are "hollow", or use a similar term. Continental's witnesses testified by deposition that the Marcus patent shows solid, not hollow, ribs. A witness (Adomaitis) had stated in an internal memorandum written at Continental in 1969, well before this litigation arose, that "the ribs of their [Marcus'] web can be made of solid beams only." Another witness, '324 co-inventor Pocock, testified that:

It seems evident to me that he [Marcus] was trying to produce some kind of container integrity by the production of essentially solid ribs on the bottom of the bottle. It seems to go to great length here to illustrate them as such.

Krishnakumar, another co-inventor, testified that it "is very obvious the ribs are shown solid", and that Figures 5 and 6 as well as Figures 7 through 12 of the Marcus patent all show solid ribs. However, Marcus, testifying for Monsanto, testified that his ribs were hollow, and that conventional blow molding would inherently produce hollow ribs.

The district court defined "hollow" as meaning that "the inside contour of the ribs generally follows the outside contour thereof", a definition on which the parties agreed. Continental, 11 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1764. See the court's opinion, 11 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1764-68, for various sketches made by the witnesses. Continental states that the district court erred in construing "hollow", and that the phrase "characterized by the feature that the ribs are hollow" must be construed in terms of the patent in which it appears. See, e.g., Tandon Corp. v. United States Int'l Trade Comm'n, 831 F.2d 1017, 1021, 4 U.S.P.Q.2d 1283, 1286 (Fed.Cir.1987). The '324 patent explicitly distinguished the Marcus patent teachings, stating that the '324 ribs are, unlike Marcus, not filled with plastic. The '324 specification uses the term "hollow...

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