A federal judge from the Southern District of Texas has sided with Wilson Sporting Goods in a patent infringement case involving another, smaller sporting goods company that sued Wilson over the patents it owns for chin guard apparatuses for football helmets.
Sportstar Athletics, Inc. owned patents for an “original strap splitter patent” and a “Protective Chin Guard,” which were issued in 2014. The inventor of the patents was Paul Schiebl, the president of Sportstar, who licensed the substantial rights of the patents to Sportstar.
“Before Schiebl’s invention, existing chin straps for football helmets were made for attachment to either the high hookup or the low hookup of a football helmet, depending on the configuration of the player’s face and the amount of protective performance he desires from the chin strap,” wrote the court. “If a player wanted to be able to hook up to both high and low hookups, he had to have separate chin straps for each kind of hookup.”
The court further noted that “to prevail on a claim of direct infringement, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that one or more claims of the patent read on the accused device literally or under the doctrine of equivalents. Advanced Cardiovascular Sys., Inc. v. Scimed Life Sys., Inc., 261 F.3d 1329, 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2001). To establish literal infringement, a plaintiff must demonstrate that ‘every limitation set forth in a claim must be found in an accused product, exactly.’ South wall Techs., Inc. v. Cardinal IG Co., 54 F.3d 1570, 1575 (Fed. Cir. 1995). Any deviation from the literal claim language bars a literal infringement finding. Telemac Cellular Corp. v. Topp Telecom, Inc., 247 F.3d 1316, 1330 (Fed. Cir. 2001).
“The Federal Circuit describes infringement under the doctrine of equivalents as ‘requir[ing] that the accused product contain each limitation of the claim or its equivalent.’ DeMarini Sports, Inc. v. Worth, Inc., 239 F.3d 1314, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2001), citing Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17, 40, 117 S. Ct. 1040, 137 L. Ed. 2d 146 (1997).
Further, “a finding of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents requires a showing that the difference between the claimed invention and the accused product or method was insubstantial or that the accused product or method performs the substantially same function in substantially the same way with substantially the same result in each claim limitations of the patented product or method. AquaTex Industries, Inc. v. Techniche Solutions, 419 F.3d 1374, 1382 (Fed. Cir. 2005); see also Graver Tank & Mfg. Co. v. Linde Air Prods. Co., 339 U.S. 605, 608, 70 S. Ct. 854, 94 L. Ed. 1097, 1950 Dec. Comm’r Pat. 597 . . . (1950).”
In its analysis, the court noted flaws in Sportstar’s “construction of the claims in the patents-in-issue, which fail to follow “the rules of patent construction, while Wilson has applied them properly.
“The court agrees with Wilson that Sportstar’s proposed constructions diverge from the required process of construing patent terms in the light of the intrinsic evidence, especially the claim language, the specification, and the prosecution history. Instead, Sportstar improperly tries to broaden the patents’ claims to recapture subject matter that the patentee Schiebl relinquished during prosecution of the patent.”
The court also agreed with Wilson that “the prosecution history of the patents in issue, which Sportstar ignores, is essential to properly construing the terms in dispute here.”
SPORTSTAR ATHLETICS, INC., Plaintiff, VS. WILSON SPORTING GOODS CO.; S.D. Tex.; Civ. A. H-15-1438, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12541; 1/30/17
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff: John J Edmonds, Collins Edmonds Schlather & Tower, PLLC, Houston, TX; John R Strawn, Jr, Strawn Pickens LLP, Houston, TX. (for defendant) Bradley T. Fox, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Fox Law Group LLC, Durango, CO; Sean M Higgins, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wilson Elser et al, Houston, TX; Jeffery A. Key, PRO HAC VICE, Key & Associates, Chicago, IL.