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Great Lakes Manufacturing, Inc. v. Londerville Steel Enterprises, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 15, 2018

GREAT LAKES MANUFACTURING, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LONDERVILLE STEEL ENTERPRISES, INC., Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Great Lakes Manufacturing, Inc., filed this action in October 2017 alleging that Defendant Londerville Steel Enterprises, Inc., infringed U.S. Patent Nos. 6, 209, 942 and 6, 468, 008 (the “‘942 patent” and “‘008 patent”). ECF No. 1. Londerville filed an answer and counterclaim in January 2018. ECF No. 6. Count I in the counterclaim alleges that, prior to filing this action, Great Lakes sent Londerville a notice-of-infringement letter that failed to comply with Wisconsin's Patent Notification Act, Wis.Stat. § 100.197 (2015-16). ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 27-33. Londerville alleges that Great Lakes' letter failed to articulate in sufficient detail how each asserted patent claim is infringed by any Londerville product. This matter comes before the court on Great Lakes' motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings as to Count I of the counterclaim. ECF No 9. Great Lakes contends that Count I is preempted by federal law or, in the alternative, fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted because it is clear from the pleadings and documents incorporated by reference therein that Great Lakes' notice-of-infringement letter complied with the statute. Though the preemption grounds for dismissal asserted by Great Lakes appears to have merit, I find it unnecessary to reach that issue. Instead, I conclude that the letter sent by Great Lakes' attorney to Londerville complies with the Wisconsin's Patent Notification Act and Londerville's counterclaim therefore fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The motion for judgment on the pleading will therefore be granted as to Count I of Londerville's counterclaim.

         BACKGROUND

         Both patents at issue in this case involve apparatuses for constraining logs on trucks and trailers. ECF Nos. 1-2, 1-1. The counterclaim alleges that on February 6, 2017, Great Lakes sent Londerville a letter regarding four patents, including the '942 patent and the ‘008 patent. ECF No. 6 ¶ 8. In the letter, Great Lakes informed Londerville that its sale of two products-“Londerville Aluminum Log Stakes” and “Seemless Stake Pocket(s)”-infringed at least claims 1-2 of the ‘942 patent and claims 6-7 of the ‘008 patent. Id. ¶ 9; see also ECF No. 11-3 at 1-2. Although Great Lakes' letter included as attachments copies of the four patents that Londerville allegedly infringed, the counterclaim alleges that the letter did not set forth in detail Great Lakes' theory of infringement for each of Londerville's allegedly infringing products. ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 11-12.

         According to the counterclaim, Londerville sent Great Lakes a responsive letter on February 23, 2017. Id. ¶ 13; see also ECF No. 11-4. The letter informed Great Lakes of Londerville's opinion that the February 6 letter failed to meet the requirements of Wis.Stat. § 100.197. ECF No. 6 ¶ 13. In particular, Londerville believed the February 6 letter was deficient because it claimed that Londerville induced a third-party to infringe Great Lakes' patents but nevertheless failed to identify any direct infringer. Id. ¶ 14. As required by Wis.Stat. § 100.197, Londerville gave Great Lakes 30 days to correct the alleged deficiencies in the notice letter. ECF No. 6 ¶ 14. Great Lakes responded on March 14, 2017, with a letter explaining its belief that its February 6 letter complied with Wis.Stat. § 100.197. ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 15-16. Londerville responded quickly with a letter on March 16, 2017, articulating its position that none of its products infringed the patents cited in Great Lakes' February 6 letter and reiterating its request that Great Lakes cure the alleged Wis.Stat. § 100.197 deficiencies. ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 17-18. Great Lakes made no apparent attempt to cure the alleged deficiencies and on March 21, 2017, sent Londerville another letter withdrawing its patent infringement notification. Id. ¶¶ 19-21.

         After March 21, additional correspondence continued between Great Lakes and Londerville until Great Lakes filed its complaint on October 17, 2017. Id. ¶ 22; see also ECF No. 1. Londerville filed its answer and counterclaim on January 16, 2018, and Great Lakes in turn filed its answer and its motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Count I of the counterclaim on February 6, 2018. ECF Nos. 6, 9, 12. The motion for judgment on the pleadings is now fully briefed and ready for decision.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Pisciotta v. Old Nat'l Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007)). “To survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a complaint must ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Wagner v. Teva Pharm. USA, Inc., 840 F.3d 355, 357-58 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although the court must “draw all reasonable inferences and facts in favor of the nonmovant, ” the court “need not accept as true any legal assertions or recital of the elements of a cause of action ‘supported by mere conclusory statements.'” Vesely v. Armslist LLC, 762 F.3d 661, 664-65 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 666 (7th Cir. 2013)). As when considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court resolving a motion for judgment on the pleadings may consider documents incorporated into the pleadings by reference. United States v. Wood, 925 F.2d 1580, 1582 (7th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (first citing Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1065-66 (2d Cir. 1985); then citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c)).

         ANALYSIS

         In 2013, Wisconsin enacted Wis.Stat. § 100.197, entitled “Patent Notifications, ” apparently in response to a series of demand letters sent out by so-called “patent trolls” to small businesses across the country threatening frivolous patent litigation unless the businesses signed licensing agreements requiring substantial payments. See generally Paul R. Gugliuzza, Patent Trolls And Preemption, 101 Va.L.Rev. 1579 (2015). Effective April 25, 2014, § 100.197 applies to “patent notifications, ” meaning any “letter, e-mail, or other written communication attempting in any manner to enforce or assert rights in connection with a patent or pending patent.” Wis.Stat. § 100.197(1)(a). The statute requires that a patent notification contain the following information related to the patent and the rights asserted related to it:

1. The number of each patent or patent application that is the subject of the patent notification.
2. A physical or electronic copy of each patent or pending patent.
3. The name and physical address of the owner of each patent or pending patent and all other persons having a right to enforce the patent or pending patent.
4. An identification of each claim of each patent or pending patent being asserted and the target's product, service, process, or ...

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