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Exmark Manufacturing Company Inc. v. Briggs & Stratton Corp.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

October 12, 2018

EXMARK MANUFACTURING COMPANY INC., Plaintiff,
v.
BRIGGS & STRATTON CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOSEPH F. BATAILLON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Exmark Manufacturing Company, Inc.'s (“Exmark”) motion for summary judgment to reaffirm the that the asserted claims of United States Patent No. 5, 987, 863 (“the '863 patent) are not invalid in view of the prior art, Filing No. 722.[1] This is an action for patent infringement that has been remanded from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”). Exmark Mfg. Co. Inc. v. Briggs & Stratton Power Prod. Grp., LLC, 879 F.3d 1332, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2018).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The procedural history of the case is set forth in the Federal Circuit opinion and need not be repeated here. Id. at 1338-40. Briefly, Exmark and Briggs & Stratton Corporation (“Briggs”) are competitors in the high-end commercial lawn mower industry. Exmark sued Briggs for infringement of certain claims of the '863 patent. Only Claim 1 of the patent was the subject of the appeal and only Claim 1 remains at issue on remand. Id. at 1337 n.1.

         The '863 patent is directed to a lawn mower having improved flow control baffles. Claim 1 recites in relevant part:

1. A multiblade lawn mower, comprising:
. . . said first side wall having a discharge opening formed therein; . . . a first flow control baffle positioned in said mower deck which extends downwardly from the interior surface of said top wall between said cutting blades and said front wall; said first flow control baffle extending substantially continuously from a first location adjacent the interior surface of said second side wall to a second location adjacent the interior surface of said first side wall and adjacent the forward end of said discharge opening; said first flow control baffle comprising a first arcuate baffle portion, having first and second ends, which extends from the interior surface of said second side wall partially around said first cutting blade, a first elongated and substantially straight baffle portion, having first and second ends, extending from said second end of said first arcuate baffle portion, a second arcuate baffle portion, having first and second ends, which extends from said second end of said first elongated and substantially straight baffle portion partially around said second cutting blade; said first elongated and substantially straight baffle portion being angularly disposed with respect to the said circle defined by the blade tip path of said second cutting blade in a chord-like fashion so that the cuttings from said first cutting blade will be deflected inwardly within the said circle defined by the blade tip path of said second cutting blade; . . .[2]

         Filing No. 1, Ex. A, '863 Patent 5:60-6:50.

         After a hearing pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996), the Court construed the claims. Exmark Mfg. Co. Inc. v. Briggs & Stratton Power Prods. Grp., LLC, No. 8:10CV187, 2011 WL 5976264, at *4 (D. Neb. Nov. 29, 2011) (Markman Order). The Court adopted the parties' agreed-to construction of “first flow control baffle” as “a front structure within the walls of the mower deck that controls the flow of air and grass clippings.” Id. The Court found no construction was required for the phrase “said front flow control baffle extending substantially continuously from the front location adjacent the interior surface of said second side of wall to a second location adjacent the interior surface of said front side wall, ” or to the phrase “and adjacent the forward end of said discharge opening” finding the meaning is relatively clear in the context of the patent as a whole, with the word “adjacent” referring to parts that are near one another, but not touching. Id. at *5. Further, no construction of the phrase “a front arcuate baffle portion that ‘extends from the interior surface of said second side wall'” was necessary since the language does not require that the first arcuate baffle portion contact or abut the second side wall. Id. The Court also found the phrase “substantially straight” needed no construction. Id. Similarly, the Court found no claim construction was necessary with respect to the phrase “a front elongated and substantially straight baffle portion, having first and second ends, extending from said second end of said front arcuate baffle portion” because the jury would be able to determine what “extends” means in this context. Id. at *6.

         The Court found that the phrase “said front elongated and substantially straight baffle portion being angularly disposed with respect to the said circle defined by the blade tip path of said second cutting blade in a chord-like fashion” should be construed as “‘the front elongated and substantially straight baffle portion is oriented such that the line corresponding to that baffle portion intersects the circle defined by the blade tip path of the second cutting blade at two points.” Id. The term “second flow control baffle” was construed as “a second rear structure within the walls of the mower deck that controls the flow of air and grass clippings.” Id. at *7. The Court construed the phrase “semi-circular baffle portions” to mean “baffle portions that are shaped like a portion or part of a circle, ” rejecting the contention that a semi-circular baffle portion must be half of a circle. Id. The Court found no construction necessary for the term “said front and rear flow control baffles defining a plurality of open throat portions which are positioned between adjacent cutting blades, ” as reflected in the preferred embodiment. Id. at *8. Similarly, no claim construction was needed for phrases “a rear elongated and substantially straight baffle portion, having front and rear ends, extending from said rear end of said rear arcuate baffle portion.” Id. The phrase “said rear elongated and substantially straight baffle portion being disposed with respect to the said circle defined by the blade tip path of said third cutting blade in a chord-like fashion” was construed to correspond similar language with respect to the front baffle. Id. For the most part, the Court rejected Briggs's proposed constructions, which essentially would have required that the first arcuate baffle portion contact or abut the second side wall. See Id. at *4-*8.

         Prior to trial, Exmark moved for a summary judgment that Claim 1 was not invalid as anticipated or obvious, Filing No. 326, and Briggs moved for a summary judgment that Claim 1 was invalid as indefinite. Filing No. 309. After briefing on the motions and oral argument, this Court found as a matter of law that Claim 1 of the '863 Patent was not invalid as anticipated by prior art, finding that undisputed evidence showed the defendants could not meet their burden of proving anticipation by clear and convincing evidence. Filing No. 476, Memorandum and Order at 24-25. The Court also found the patent was not invalid as indefinite.[3] Id. at 25-27. Further, the Court granted Exmark's motion for summary judgment of infringement, with respect to the Briggs's original accused mowers, but found genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether or not Briggs's modified designs infringed the patent and on whether the defendants' infringing conduct was willful. Id. at 27-29.

         The action proceeded to a trial before a jury and the jury found that Briggs willfully infringed Exmark's patent. Filing No. 599, Jury Verdict. The jury awarded over 24 million dollars in compensatory damages, and this Court later doubled that amount for Briggs' willful infringement. Filing No. 689, Memorandum & Order at 10. This court denied Briggs's motions for new trial. Filing No. 688, Memorandum & Order at 16.

         Among other things, Briggs appealed the district court's summary judgment on invalidity based on anticipation and obviousness.[4] The Federal Circuit found that this Court “erred by basing its summary judgment of no invalidity solely on the fact that Claim 1 survived multiple reexaminations” and remanded to this court “for it to make an independent determination of whether genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment” on the anticipation and obviousness issues.[5] Exmark, 879 F.3d at 1337.

         The Federal Circuit also found that some of the disputed issues (such as whether the claimed “flow control baffle” needed to be spaced from the front wall) were legal issues of claim construction that should be resolved by this court on remand. Id. at 1344. The Appeals Court suggested that this court had “adopted a broader construction than the PTO's construction” of the “‘baffle' and ‘flow control baffle' as ‘an element that “controls” the flow of air and grass clippings within the mower deck in a ‘meaningful way, '” and concluded that Briggs had been precluded from arguing that the prior art anticipated the claims or rendered them obvious under the district court's broader construction of the claims. Id. at 1343 (emphasis added) (noting that “[t]he fact that the Board held that the asserted anticipating prior art reference did not disclose the claim requirements (entire baffle and meaningful effect) as construed by the Board, does not foreclose the possibility that a jury may find otherwise under a broader construction not requiring those aspects”). The Federal Circuit directed this court on remand to “consider how its claim construction, to the extent it is the same or different from the Board's construction, impacts its anticipation and obviousness analysis.” Id. at n. 3.

         Exmark now moves to reaffirm the Court's summary judgment decision on invalidity. In opposition, Briggs argues that genuine disputes of fact exist with regard to alleged anticipation by prior art references. Specifically, in reliance on the testimony of expert witnesses Fronczak, Del Ponte, and Strykowski, it argues that the Walker and Kidd references and the Simplicity mower anticipate the invention.[6] Similarly, Briggs argues that the asserted claim is obvious in that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have been motivated to modify Walker alone, or in combination with numerous other prior art references, to achieve the same function as the '863 Patent.[7] These are ...


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