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Southco, Inc. v. Fivetech Technology Inc.

January 24, 2012

SOUTHCO, INC.
v.
FIVETECH TECHNOLOGY INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.

MEMORANDUM

The plaintiff in this case is a manufacturer of hardware, including "panel" or "captive" screws. The defendant is a competitor of Southco. Southco alleged patent infringement by Fivetech on three of its patents. Fivetech moved for partial summary judgment on all of the claims in one patent and fifteen claims in another. The Court will grant Fivetech's motion.

I. Procedural History

Southco alleges that Fivetech infringed on its patents

and trademarks through the sale of Fivetech Series 46 captive fasteners ("series 46 screws"). Specifically, Southco alleges infringement on its patent number 5,851,095 ("the '095 patent") issued on December 22, 1998; on its patent number 6,280,131 ("the '131 patent") issued on August 28, 2001; on its patent number 6,468,012 ("the '012 patent") issued on October 22, 2002; and on its trademark registrations numbers 2,478,685 and 3,678,153. Compl. ¶¶ 11-15 ('095 patent), 20-23 ('131 patent), 28-31 ('012 patent), 36-44 (trademark).

The current motion for partial summary judgment concerns only on the '095 patent and the '131 patent. Fivetech argues that its series 46 screws do not violate the first fifteen claims of Southco's '095 patent or any of the fifteen claims of Southco's '131 patent. The Court held an oral argument on this motion on October 20, 2011.

II. Summary Judgment Record

A captive screw, or captive fastener, is a device which holds a screw in place while the screw is used to connect two panels. A cylindrical ferrule holds the screw*fn1 and a knob can be placed over the screw head. Pl. Resp. 2; Def. Br. 2-4. The question in this suit is the scope of the claims language of Southco's captive screw patents. The parties do not dispute the construction of the accused Fivetech device.

The language of Claims 1, 4, 7, 10, and 13 of the Southco '095 patent, with emphasis added to the disputed portions, is: a hollow ferrule having a first end and a second end through which the threaded shaft slides, the ferrule having a panel attachment means at the first end to secure the captive screw to the panel, and a threaded shaft captivation means, said threaded shaft captivation means adjacent the second end, wherein the second end of the ferrule is slidably and rotatably attached to the knob such that when the threaded shaft is in a retracted position, the threaded shaft captivation means prevents the ferrule and the knob from separating and when the threaded shaft is in an extended position, the flat, annular bottom surface of the head portion of the screw is in contact with the second end of the ferrule.

The relevant language in the Southco '131 patent is slightly different. Claim 1 says:

. . . . a screw captivation means adjacent said second end of said ferrule, said second end of said ferrule being slidably and rotatably engaged with said knob wherein said screw captivation means prevents said ferrule and said knob from disengaging when said threaded shaft is in a retracted position and said head of said screw is in contact with said second end of said ferrule when said is in an extended position.

Def. Br., Ex. B.

Claims 9 and 14 of the '131 patent use this language: a hollow ferrule having a first end and a second end through which the screw slides, the ferrule having a panel attachment means at the first end to secure the captive screw to the panel and a screw captivation means, said screw captivation means adjacent the second end, where in the second end of the ferrule is slidably and rotatably attached to the knob.

Claim 12 of the '131 patent provides only a description of the function, and not the structure, of the device. The ...


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