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Marine Travelift Inc. v. Ascom Spa

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

December 13, 2016

MARINE TRAVELIFT, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ASCOM SpA, and INTERNATIONAL BOATLIFT EXCHANGE, INC. Defendants.

          DECISION ON MOTIONS FOR RECONSIDERATION

          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         Following this court's decision on summary judgment, both sides filed motions seeking reconsideration and / or clarification of certain aspects of the court's decision. I address the parties' arguments below.

         I. MTI's Motion for Reconsideration / Clarification

         A. Stopping Angular Movement versus Drive Movement

         MTI's patent discloses a safety feature whereby movement of the crane's wheels is stopped if the controller senses a wheel is out of position. (ECF No. 98-4 at 2:15-21.) MTI first argues that this court erred by failing to recognize that, although the accused machines do not stop angular movement (that is, rotation around a vertical axis), they nevertheless do stop drive movement when the machine senses a wheel is out of position. (Drive movement is what moves the wheels forward and backward, while angular movement is what turns the wheel to change direction.) Because ASCOM's cranes do stop drive movement of the wheels, they should be found to infringe.

         As the Defendants note, however, this issue was presented and even discussed in the summary judgment opinion itself. (ECF No. 255 at 32-33.) In that opinion, I concluded that for something to be “stopped, ” it must be fully at rest. Because ASCOM's cranes did not stop the angular movement of the wheels, I concluded that their cranes' wheels were not “stopped” in the sense used in the claim terms, and thus did not infringe. MTI argues this was error.

         The central problem for MTI is that its claim language is not broad enough to encompass both angular and drive movement. Instead, it is clear the claim provides protection only for a device that stops angular movement of the wheels when they are out of their intended position-a function that ASCOM's cranes do not perform. The specification supports this narrower reading, and so does the claim language itself. First, Claim 15 describes a “steering system.” A “steering system, ” of course, is synonymous with a system for turning the wheels in an angular fashion because that is what “steering” is. Because a steering system would only involve the turning of the wheels in an angular fashion (i.e., steering or turning the crane), we would not expect the claim to disclose anything about the drive movement of the wheels in a forward or reverse manner. Thus, when the claim describes monitoring the “position” of the wheels, we must assume it means it is monitoring the angular position of the wheels. In other words, the controller is asking itself whether the wheels are properly turned to the right angle and, if not, the controller will stop the wheels from turning further. It does not say that it stops drive movement of the wheels when any wheel is out of position. This is most clearly set forth in the specification, which explains that “when one of the wheels exceeds a predetermined distance between its sensed position and programmed position (this can happen if a wheel is in a rut) the controller stops angular movement of the remaining wheels until the . . . wheel is at its programmed position.” (ECF No. 98-4, 2:16-21) (italics added). Because ASCOM's cranes do not stop angular movement of the wheels, they do not infringe.

         In addition, the specification further explains that the safety feature is concerned with wheel position in an angular, rather than drive, sense. If a wheel is out of position by a predetermined amount “(e.g., three degrees) for any wheel, the controller 110 stops turning the other wheels to their programmed position until the situation is corrected. . . . In this manner, the wheel that moved the least (i.e., the stuck wheel) will determine the desired position of the other steering wheels.” (ECF No. 98-4, 9:46-54) (italics added). By using a threshold of “three degrees” as an example, it is clear that the patentee was describing angular position (measured in degrees) of the wheels rather than the drive position. It is equally clear that the controller is programmed to stop turning the other wheels, rather than to stop the drive movement of the other wheels. Thus, the only thing that the patent discloses is stopping the turning, or angular, movement of the wheels.

         The claim language bears this out. What it discloses is a controller that monitors

the position of the plurality of wheels, and to control movement of the plurality of wheels in response to a selected steering mode, wherein the controller is further configured such that when at least one wheel has a sensed position a predetermined distance from a programmed position the controller stops movement of the remaining wheels.

         (ECF No. 98-4, 13: 8-16.)

         The key question is what the claim means by “stops movement.” Although the claim itself does not use the adjective “angular” to describe the movement being stopped, it is clear that such was its intent. As noted above, the specification quite clearly explains that this means “stops angular movement.” (ECF No. 98-4, 2:16-21). This is not an instance in which a party is asking to narrow a claim term by importing a limitation from the specification. Instead, the court is being asked to construe the somewhat vague term “movement” in accordance with how the term is used in the specification. Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1360 (Fed.Cir. 2004) (“In most cases, the best source for discerning the proper context of claim terms is the patent specification wherein the patent applicant describes the invention.”); see also, e.g., Kinik Co. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 362 F.3d 1359, 1365 (Fed.Cir. 2004) (“The words of patent claims have the meaning and scope with which they are used in the specification and the prosecution history.”) The claim language itself independently supports this conclusion as well. First, as described above, the claim is disclosing a steering system, something that is inherently concerned with angular, rather than drive, movement. Second, it would not make sense to interpret the claim in the fashion MTI proposes. The claim states that it “stops movement of the remaining wheels.” (Id.) Implicit in such a function is that the stuck wheel is allowed to keep moving forward. It would not make sense to stop driv e movement of remaining wheels while allowing the fourth, misaligned, wheel to keep driving. Instead, the claim only makes sense if the movement being stopped is the angular, or turning, movement of the remaining wheels. As the specification explains, the purpose of stopping angular movement is that the “wheel that moved the least (i.e., the stuck wheel) will determine the desired position of the other steering wheels.” (ECF No. 98-4, 9:46-54). In other words, if one wheel gets stuck at 18 degrees, the controller will halt the turning of the other wheels, so that the stuck wheel is the limiting factor.

         In sum, when read in proper context, the term “stops movement” means that the invention stops angular movement of the wheels when one or more wheels is sensed to be out of position. ASCOM's cranes do not perform that function. The fact that ASCOM machines might stop driv e movement if a wheel becomes misaligned does not mean they infringe MTI's patent. The motion for reconsideration will therefore be denied.

         B. Clarification ...


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