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Britax Child Safety, Inc. v. Nuna International B.V.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 24, 2019

BRITAX CHILD SAFETY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
NUNA INTERNATIONAL B.V. and NUNA BABY ESSENTIALS, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION DECISION ON THE PARTIES' RESPECTIVE MOTIONS FOR CLAIM CONSTRUCTION, ECF NOS. 69 & 70

          Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this patent infringement case, Plaintiff Britax Child Safety, Inc., alleges that Defendants Nuna International B.V. and Nuna Baby Essentials (“B.E.”), Inc. (collectively, “Nuna”), infringed two of its patents for a specific design of a child car seat. Those patents- U.S. Patent No. 9, 499, 074 and U.S. Patent No. 9, 586, 504-relate specifically to a child car seat with a “tensioning mechanism” for applying tension to a seat belt to more easily secure the seat within a vehicle in either a forward or rearward facing position.[1] Presently before the Court are the parties' respective motions for the construction of several claim terms within the two patents pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996). Following a hearing on the motion, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the claim construction arguments of Britax and rejects those of Nuna.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. The Alleged Infringement

         The following facts are drawn from Britax's Amended Complaint, ECF No. 23, which remains the operative pleading in this case. Britax Child Safety, Inc. is both incorporated and principally operated in South Carolina, and “designs, develops, tests, and builds . . . industry-leading child safety restraints, including its child safety car seats.” Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Defendant Nuna B.V. is incorporated and principally operated in the Netherlands. Id. ¶ 3. Defendant Nuna B.E., which is incorporated and principally operated in Pennsylvania, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nuna B.V. Id. ¶ 4. Similar to Britax, Nuna B.V. and Nuna B.E. focus on researching and developing child safety technologies and producing child safety products. Id. ¶ 7.

         Britax alleges that Nuna has violated 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) by infringing two of its patents: United States Patent No. 9, 499, 074, issued November 22, 2016, and United States Patent No. 9, 586, 504, issued March 7, 2017. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15. Both patents are entitled “Forward and Rearward Facing Child Seat with Belt Tensioning Mechanism for Improved Installation.” Id. ¶¶ 14-15. The two patents “relate[ ] to a child safety seat that may be used in either a forward or rearward facing orientation and includes a tensioning mechanism to more fully secure the child safety seat to a vehicle seat, thereby allowing for ease in installation of the child safety seat.” Id. ¶ 16.

         In its Amended Complaint, Britax alleges that Nuna's child car seat the Nuna RAVATMinfringes on at least claim 13 of the '504 patent, and at least claim 1 of the '074 patent, in the manner in which it secures itself to the seatbelt. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, 36-51. In a “Supplemental Disclosure on Infringement Contentions, ” submitted with its responsive claim construction brief, Britax submits more specific allegations of infringement. Specifically, “Britax asserts that [Nuna] infringe[d] claims 1-15 of U.S. Patent No. 9, 568, 504 . . . and claims 1-3, 5-7, and 16 of U.S. Patent No. 9, 499, 074.” ECF No. 77-7 at 1. Britax further asserts that this infringement is manifest in two Nuna products: the Nuna RAVATM car seat and the Nuna EXECTM car seat. Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         The initial complaint in this matter was filed on June 16, 2017. See ECF No. 1. Nuna filed a motion to dismiss on October 20, 2017, see ECF No. 12, which was deemed moot after Britax filed an Amended Complaint on November 3, 2017, see ECF No. 23. On November 17, 2017, Nuna filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6). See ECF No. 26. In an Opinion dated July 26, 2018, this Court denied the Rule 12(b)(2) motion without prejudice to allow the parties to conduct jurisdictional discovery and denied the Rule 12(b)(6) motion outright, finding that Britax had stated a claim of patent infringement. See ECF No. 33.

         Nuna B.V. and Nuna B.E. filed their Answers on September 7, 2018, see ECF Nos. 35 and 36, respectively, with Nuna B.E.'s Answer asserting counterclaims for declaratory judgment of non-infringement and invalidity of Britax's patents. The Court held a Rule 16 conference on October 10, 2018. See ECF Nos. 40-41.

         On October 31, 2018, Nuna filed a motion to stay this case pending inter partes review, [2]see ECF Nos. 43, which Britax opposed, see ECF Nos. 44. Nuna's petition for inter partes review of the '504 patent was subsequently dismissed by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“the Board”) on timeliness grounds. See ECF No. 48. On April 4, 2019, the Board issued a decision as to Nuna's petition for review of the '074 patent. The Board concluded that Nuna had “not demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of showing any challenged claim of the '074 patent is unpatentable, ” ECF No. 50 at 24, and denied inter partes review as a result. Nuna thereafter withdrew its motion to stay this case. See ECF No. 53.

         The parties' opening claim construction briefs were filed on October 10, 2019, see ECF Nos. 69, 70, and their responsive claim construction briefs were filed on October 31, 2019, see ECF Nos. 76, 77. On November 12, 2019, counsel for both sides appeared before the Court for a hearing to address the parties' respective claim construction arguments.[3] The hearing concluded the same day. The Court reserved decision on the pending motions, as well as to several objections raised to certain exhibits.

         III. LEGAL PRINCIPLES OF CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

         “[A] patent claim is that ‘portion of the patent document that defines the scope of the patentee's rights.'” Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 835 (2015) (quoting Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996)). In its decision in Markman, the Supreme Court affirmed that “the construction of a patent, including terms of art within its claim, ” is not a question for a jury but “exclusively” for “the court” to determine as a matter of law. 517 U.S. at 372. This makes sense in light of the purpose of claim construction, which “is to determin[e] the meaning and scope of the patent claims asserted to be infringed, ” such that the jury may then resolve the underlying question of infringement.[4] CANVS Corp. v. United States, 126 Fed.Cl. 106, 112 (2016) (quoting O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2008)).

         When a court is presented with a purported dispute as to the meaning and scope of patent claim terms, the threshold question must be whether claim construction is truly necessary. As the Federal Circuit made clear shortly after the Supreme Court's decision in Markman was issued, that decision “do[es] not hold that the trial judge must repeat or restate every claim term in order to comply with the ruling that claim construction is for the court.” U.S. Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997). Rather, “[c]laim construction is a matter of resolution of disputed meanings and technical scope, to clarify and when necessary to explain what the patentee covered by the claims, for use in the determination of infringement. It is not an obligatory exercise in redundancy.”[5] Id. (emphasis added); see Am. Piledriving Equip., Inc. v. Geoquip, Inc., 637 F.3d 1324, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (“It is well settled that the role of a district court in construing claims is not to redefine claim recitations or to read limitations into the claims to obviate factual questions of infringement and validity but rather to give meaning to the limitations actually contained in the claims . . . .”). Therefore, a district court must engage in claim construction where there is a genuine dispute as to the scope of claim language. See O2 Micro Int'l Ltd., 521 F.3d at 1360 (“When the parties raise an actual dispute regarding the proper scope of these claims, the court, not the jury, must resolve that dispute.”) (emphasis added); cf. Finjan, Inc. v. Secure Computing Corp., 626 F.3d 1197, 1207 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (affirming the district court's declination to give a claim term any construction).

         Determining whether there exists a genuine dispute as to the scope of a claim term must be resolved by first considering the “ordinary and customary meaning” of the term. FenF, LLC v. SmartThingz, Inc., 601 Fed.Appx. 950, 952 (Fed. Cir. 2015). The “ordinary and customary meaning” is “the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art when read in the context of the entire patent.”[6] Id.; Hockerson-Halberstadt, Inc. v. Avia Group Int'l, Inc., 222 F.3d 951, 955 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (“As a starting point, the court gives claim terms their ordinary and accustomed meaning as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art.”). If the ordinary meaning of a term is readily apparent, construction of the claim term beyond the ordinary meaning may not be necessary. See CallWave Commc'ns, LLC v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, No. CV 12-1701, 2014 WL 7205657, at *9 (D. Del. Dec. 17, 2014) (finding no construction to be necessary where a claim term “uses ordinary English words, which may be given their plain and ordinary meaning”); Vapor Point LLC v. Moorhead, No. 4:11-CV-4639, 2013 WL 11275459, at *24 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 18, 2013) (“In cases where the ordinary meaning of the claim term is readily apparent even to a lay judge, the court need not go further into intrinsic or extrinsic evidence.” (citing Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005))). On the other hand, a “determination that a claim term ‘needs no construction' or has the ‘plain and ordinary meaning' may be inadequate when a term has more than one ‘ordinary' meaning or when reliance on a term's ‘ordinary' meaning does not resolve the parties' dispute.” NobelBiz, Inc. v. Glob. Connect, L.L.C., 701 Fed.Appx. 994, 997 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (quoting O2 Micro Int'l Ltd., 521 F.3d at 1361). Where claim construction is determined to be necessary, the court must abide by the same standard in construing the disputed claim term as in determining whether construction is necessary in the first place: the disputed term must be given its ordinary and customary meaning, that is, the meaning the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art who has read the entire patent at the time of the invention.[7] See NTP, Inc. v. Research In Motion, Ltd., 392 F.3d 1336, 1346 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (noting that generally, there is a presumption that the words of a claim will receive the full breadth of their ordinary meaning).

         In construing a claim term, the Court must look first to evidence in the intrinsic record, which includes the language of the claims of the alleged-infringed patent and the patent's specification.[8];[9] Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314-17; Housey Pharm., Inc. v. Astrazeneca UK Ltd., 366 F.3d 1348, 1351-52 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“Claim construction begins with the language of the claims.”); see Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc) (“Claims must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.”), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). Indeed, the patent specification is “always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually it is dispositive.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315. A proper claim construction analysis may also consider the history of the patent application in the Patent Office, i.e., the prosecution history, which constitutes another form of intrinsic evidence. Id. at 1317. This consists of the record of proceedings before the Patent Office and includes prior art cited during examination. Id. It can show how the Patent Office and patent applicant understood the claims.[10] Id.

         Only after considering the intrinsic evidence and only where an ambiguity persists should courts turn to extrinsic evidence. See Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1996) (“In most situations, an analysis of the intrinsic evidence alone will resolve any ambiguity in a disputed claim term. In such circumstances, it is improper to rely on extrinsic evidence.”). In general, extrinsic evidence is deemed less reliable than intrinsic evidence, although courts are authorized to consider it “in the context of intrinsic evidence.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1319. Extrinsic evidence may not, however, be used to contradict or override intrinsic evidence. Vitronics Corp. 90 F.3d at 1584 (explaining that “extrinsic evidence in general, and expert testimony in particular, may be used only to help the court come to the proper understanding of the claims; it may not be used to vary or contradict the claim language[, n]or may it contradict the import of other parts of the specification”).

         Ultimately, during claim construction, “[t]he sequence of steps used by the judge in consulting various sources is not important; what matters is for the court to attach the appropriate weight to be assigned to those sources in light of the statutes and policies that inform patent law.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 303.

         IV. OVERVIEW OF CLAIM TERMS IN DISPUTE

         The parties agree on the proper construction of one claim term and dispute the proper construction of twelve others in Britax's two patents. Before addressing in detail the parties' contentions as to each claim term, the Court summarizes in the chart below the at-issue terms and where they appear within each patent, as well as each side's proposal as to the proper construction of each.

Claim Term

Nuna's Proposal

Britax's Proposal

“sitting surface”

['074 patent, claims 1, 16]

“a surface upon which to rest on the buttocks or haunches”

Same as Nuna's

“tensioning mechanism”

['074 patent, claims 1, 16; '504 patent, claims 1, 5, 9]

“a unitary tensioning mechanism”

No construction needed

“proximal end”

['074 patent, claims 1, 16]

“end of the unitary tensioning mechanism opposite to the distal end”

“end of the tensioning mechanism opposite to the distal end”

“distal end”

['074 patent, claims 1, 16]

“end of the unitary tensioning mechanism opposite to the proximal end”

“end of the tensioning mechanism opposite to the proximal end”

“pivot structure”

['504 patent, claim 13]

“a unitary structure that pivots about an axis, including a first pivot portion and a second pivot portion”

No construction needed

“substantially adjacent”

['074 patent, claims 1, 16; '504 patent, claims 1, 5, 9, 13]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“proximate an intersection of the backrest portion and seat portion”

['074 patent, claim 7]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“proximate an intermediate region of the seat portion”

['074 patent, claim 6]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“generally at a middle of the seat portion in a forward and rearward direction”

['504 patent, claims 1, 5, 9, 13]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“generally at an intersection of the seat and backrest portions”

['504 patent, claims 1, 5, 9, 13]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“proximate to the second belt path”

['504 patent, claim 13]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“proximate to the first belt path”

['504 patent, claim 13]

Indefinite

No construction needed

“proximate to the seat portion”

['504 patent, claim 13]

Indefinite

No construction needed

         V. INDIVIDUAL CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS[11]

         A. Claim term: “tensioning mechanism”

         The term “tensioning mechanism” is used in the following manner in the patent claims identified by the parties:[12]

         '074 patent, claim 1:

What is claimed is: (1) A child seat configured to be secured to a vehicle seat in both a rear-facing and front-facing orientation, the child seat comprising: . . . a tensioning mechanism having a proximal end pivotally attached to the backrest portion of the seat base and a distal end comprising a sitting surface for an occupant of the child seat and an engaging surface facing opposite to the sitting surface, wherein the tensioning mechanism is movable downwardly and forwardly to a first position substantially adjacent to the seat base and upwardly and rearwardly to a second position displaced therefrom, wherein placing the tensioning mechanism in the second position allows the seat base to receive the belt, and movement of the tensioning mechanism from the second position to the first position presses the belt against the first and second edges and deflects a portion of the belt between first and second edges to be closer to the seat or backrest portion than portions of the belt that engage the first and second edges and thus applies tension to the belt to secure the child seat to the vehicle seat in a tensioned configuration, wherein the seat base of the child seat is configured to receive the belt when the seat base is in both a rear facing orientation and when the seat base is in a front-facing orientation.
'074 patent, claim 16:
What is claimed is: (16) A method for manufacturing a child seat configured to be secured to a vehicle seat in both a rear-facing orientation and a front-facing orientation, the method comprising: . . . attaching a proximal end of a tensioning mechanism the backrest portion of to [sic] the seat base, wherein a distal end of the tensioning mechanism comprises a sitting surface for an occupant of the child seat and an engaging surface facing opposite to the sitting surface, wherein the tensioning mechanism is rotatable downwardly and forwardly to a first position substantially adjacent to the seat base and upwardly and rearwardly to a second position displaced therefrom, wherein placing the tensioning mechanism in the second position allows the seat base to receive the belt, and the movement of the tensioning mechanism from the second position to the first position presses the belt against the first and second edges and deflects a portion of the belt between first and second edges to be closer to the seat or backrest portion than portions of the belt that engage the first and second edges and thus applies tension to the belt to secure the child seat to the vehicle seat in a tensioned configuration, wherein the seat base of the child seat is configured to receive the belt in both a rear-facing and front-facing orientation.
'504 patent, claim 1:
What is claimed is: (1) A child seat configured to be secured to a vehicle seat in both a rear-facing and a forward-facing orientation by a belt of the vehicle seat, the child seat comprising: . . . a tensioning mechanism attached to the seat base to be movable between a first position and a second position, the tensioning mechanism having an end attached to the backrest portion at an axis such that the tensioning mechanism rotates between the first position and the second position pivotally about the axis, and wherein the tensioning mechanism has a first lateral edge surface and a second lateral edge surface, the first and second lateral edge surfaces extending along respective sides of the tensioning mechanism from and transverse to the axis, wherein in the first position, the tensioning mechanism is substantially adjacent to the seat base, and wherein in the second position, the tensioning mechanism is at least partly displaced from the seat base in order to enable at least one of the first belt path or the second belt path to receive the belt, wherein the first belt path is configured to allow a user to position the belt to be displaced by the first and second lateral edge surfaces relative to the first and second lateral edges to secure the child seat to the vehicle seat when the child seat is in the rear-facing orientation, wherein the second belt path is configured to allow the user to position the belt to be displaced by the first and second lateral edge surfaces relative to the first and second lateral edges to secure the child seat to the vehicle seat when the child seat is in the forward-facing orientation, and wherein in each of the forward or rear-facing orientations, the first and second lateral edge surfaces of respective different portions of the tensioning mechanism displace the belt to apply tension to the belt.
'504 patent, claim 5:
What is claimed is: (5) A child seat configured to be secured to a vehicle seat in a rear-facing orientation in which an occupant of the child seat faces toward a backrest of the vehicle seat and a forward-facing orientation in which an occupant of the child seat faces away from the vehicle backrest, where the vehicle seat has a vehicle belt having a lap portion and a shoulder portion, the child seat comprising: . . . a tensioning mechanism attached to the seat base to be movable between a first position and a second position, the tensioning mechanism having an end attached to the backrest portion at an axis such that the tensioning mechanism is rotatable between the first position and the second position pivotally about the axis, and wherein the tensioning mechanism has a first rigid edge surface and a second rigid edge surface, the first and second rigid edge surfaces extending along respective sides of the tensioning mechanism from and transverse to the axis, wherein in the first position, the first and second rigid edge surfaces are substantially adjacent to the seat base, and wherein in the second position, the first and second rigid edge surfaces are at least partly displaced from the seat base so that the lap section of the vehicle belt and the shoulder section of the vehicle belt are received by the backrest portion from a gap between the first and second rigid edge surfaces and the backrest portion so that application of tension to the vehicle belt retains the child seat in the forward-facing orientation with respect to the vehicle seat, wherein movement of the first and second rigid edge surfaces from the second position to the first position causes the first and second rigid edge surfaces to displace a portion of the shoulder section and a portion of the lap section of the vehicle belt with respect to a surface of the backrest portion to thereby increase the tension in the vehicle belt that retains the child seat in the forward-facing orientation, wherein, in the forward-facing orientation, the first and second rigid edge surfaces of a first portion of the tensioning mechanism displace the belt to apply tension to the belt in the second belt path, and wherein, in the rear-facing orientation, the first and second rigid edge surfaces of a second portion of the tensioning mechanism displace the belt to apply tension to the belt.
'504 patent, claim 9:
What is claimed is: (9) A child seat configured to be secured to a vehicle seat in both a rear-facing and a forward-facing orientation with a vehicle belt, the child seat comprising: . . . a tensioning mechanism attached to the seat base to be movable between a first position and a second position and comprising an engaging surface, the tensioning mechanism having an end attached to the backrest portion such that the tensioning mechanism is configured to rotate downwardly to the first position from the second position about an axis, and wherein the tensioning mechanism has a first lateral edge surface and a second lateral edge surface, the first and second lateral edge surfaces extending along respective sides of the tensioning mechanism from and transverse to the axis, wherein in the first position, the first and second lateral edge surfaces are substantially adjacent to the seat base, wherein in the second position, the first and second lateral edge surfaces are at least partly displaced from the seat base in order to receive the vehicle belt, wherein movement of the first and second lateral edge surfaces from the second position to the first position causes the engaging surface, which is disposed between the first and second lateral edge surfaces, to press a first portion of the vehicle belt against the opposing side portions and deflect a second portion of the vehicle belt to be closer to the seat portion or backrest portion than the first portion of the vehicle belt in order to apply tension to the vehicle belt to secure the child seat to the vehicle seat in a tensioned configuration, and wherein in each of the forward or rear-facing orientations, respective different portions of the first and second lateral edge surfaces of the tensioning mechanism displace the belt to apply tension to the belt.

         1. The dispute between the parties

         Nuna argues that the term “tensioning mechanism” should be construed as “a unitary tensioning mechanism.” According to Nuna, the limitations of claims 1 and 16 of the '074 patent and claims 1, 5, and 9 of the '504 patent show that the “tensioning mechanism” must be “a unitary tensioning mechanism, not a device with two or more separate and individual components.” Nuna Moving Brief, ECF No. 69, at 15. The crux of Nuna's argument here is that because the tensioning mechanism “is attached to the backrest portion at one point, ” “pivots about that point, ” “provides a sitting surface for an occupant, ” and, “when moved upwardly and rearwardly to a position displaced from the seat base, allows the seat base to receive belts, ” it moves in “predefined directions” and connotes a single, unitary structure. Id. at 16; see Id. at 22. Nuna similarly contends the patents' specification support this construction, see Id. at 18-21, 25, as does the fact that Britax acquiesced to multiple amendments to its applications during the prosecution process, amendments which added specificity to the composition of the tensioning structure and the nature of its movement, see Id. at 21-22.

         Britax claims no construction is needed, and Nuna is impermissibly attempting to rewrite and narrow the claim language for self-serving reasons. See Britax Moving Brief, ECF No. 70-1, at 8. According to Britax, the claim is unambiguous, and “[a]s shown in their proposed construction, Defendants do not have any issue understanding the term ‘tensioning mechanism.'” Id. Britax also argues that “tensioning mechanism” should not be limited to a “unitary” structure, as this is an impermissible attempt to constrain the meaning of the term to “a single preferred embodiment.”[13] Id. at 9. Britax contends that the specification would, to a person of ordinary skill in the art, suggest more than one embodiment of “tensioning mechanism, ” none of which are “unitary.” Id. at 10.

         2. Discussion

         At the outset, the Court observes that, “[i]n general, ‘the mere depiction of a structural claim feature as unitary in an embodiment, without more, does not mandate that the structural limitation be unitary.'” Textron Innovations Inc. v. Am. Eurocopter Corp., 498 Fed.Appx. 23, 30 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (quoting Cross Med. Prods., Inc. v. Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., 424 F.3d 1293, 1309 (Fed. Cir. 2005)). “Unless the claims, the specification, or the prosecution history require that the particular component be a single, one-piece structure, a court normally will not read that limitation into the claim.” Textron Innovations Inc., 498 Fed.Appx. at 30 (emphasis added) (citing Utica Enters., Inc. v. Fed. Broach & Mach. Co., 109 F.Appx. 403, 407-08 (Fed. Cir. 2004)).

         Here, even assuming that the tensioning mechanism may be properly characterized as a “unitary” structure, it does not appear that the patent language or prosecution history require that the “tensioning mechanism” be “unitary.” First, no such requirement is explicitly recited in the specification or claim language-as Britax points out, the word “unitary” does not appear in either patent. What's more, the argument put forward by Nuna highlighting the components of the tensioning mechanism and how they move would appear to support the opposite conclusion. For example, Nuna argues, among several similar arguments, that the “tensioning mechanism” has “a proximal end pivotally attached to the backrest portion, ” which “requires the ‘pivotally attached' ‘tensioning mechanism' to pivot about a single axis in the backrest portion, ” and, “[m]ovement in these predefined directions can only be accomplished if the tensioning mechanism is a unitary structure, and not multiple separate components.” Nuna Moving Brief at 16. However, in the Court's view, highlighting the mechanism's component parts, even when working together as they do, underscores that far from the claim language requiring the tensioning mechanism to be a unitary structure, the mechanism may properly (and perhaps more accurately) be considered an aggregate of its component parts.[14];[15]

         While not cited by Nuna, certain language in the specification (only one example of which is discussed below[16]) illustrates this point well. The specification states as follows:

[I]n some embodiments . . . the tensioning mechanism 30 may comprise a locking mechanism 60. The structure and function of the locking mechanism 60 is illustrated in and described with respect to FIGS. 4, 4A, 4B, 5, and 5A. Though the locking mechanism 60 described herein has a specific structure and specific components, embodiments of the present invention contemplate use of other types of locking mechanisms with different structure.
In some embodiments, the locking mechanism 60 may comprise two laterally-opposing locking members (e.g., bolts 61, 63) configured to translate between an extended position [ ] and a retracted position [ ].

'504 patent, column 9 lines 43-64; '074 patent, column 8 lines 42-54. The specification at column 9 line 66, through column 10 line 12 (of the '074 patent), column 10 lines 5 through 18 (of the '504 patent) further provides as follows:

As shown in the depicted embodiment of FIG. 4, the locking mechanism 60 may comprise a cylindrical sleeve 66 that covers the components of the locking mechanism 60. The sleeve 66 may define openings that correspond to a first portion hole 62 and a second portion hole 64. Additionally, in some embodiments, the sleeve 66 may define a trigger opening 159 that, as will be described in greater detail herein, corresponds with a trigger [59] that is positioned on the seat base 12 . . . .FIG. 4A illustrates the locking mechanism 60 with the sleeve 66 removed to show the components of the locking mechanism [60]. In the depicted embodiment, the locking mechanism 60 comprises a first portion 72 and a second portion 74.

Figures 4, 4A, and 4B referenced in the specification, appear as follows:[17]

         (Image Omitted)

         As the specification language and corresponding figures demonstrate, the "tensioning mechanism" may be comprised of a subsidiary locking mechanism, which itself has multiple component parts. In this embodiment, not only does the specification not require characterization of the tensioning mechanism as a "unitary" structure; to the contrary, it would appear to preclude such a characterization. Indeed, it does not seem "unitary" is an appropriate construction of a composite (tensioning) mechanism comprised of a separate composite (locking) mechanism which is in turn comprised of laterally-opposing locking bolts, a spring, and other parts.[18] Cases addressing similar questions support this conclusion. See, e.g., Bos. Sci. Corp. v. Cook Grp. Inc., No. CV 15-980, 2016 WL 7411128, at *4-*5 (D. Del. Dec. 22, 2016) (declining to adopt construction of a claim term as a “single, unitary structure” where the specified embodiment was not clearly “unitary” in nature, and where the specification did not preclude multiple embodiments), report and recommendation adopted, No. CV 15-980, 2017 WL 3977256 (D. Del. Sept. 11, 2017); Comcast Cable Commc'ns, LLC v. Sprint Commc'ns Co., LP, 38 F.Supp.3d 589, 621 (E.D. Pa. 2014) (declining to construe a claim term as housed in a “unitary structure” where “the claims themselves explain that [the term] is comprised of multiple elements without limitation as to how they physically relate, ” and moreover finding “no support in the specification for the proposition that [the term] must be composed of a single, integrated device” where “the specification contemplates multiple components working together to perform the [term's] functions”);[19] Becton, Dickinson & Co. v. Tyco Healthcare Grp., LP, 616 F.3d 1249, 1254 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (explaining that, “[w]here a claim lists elements separately, the clear implication of the claim language is that those elements are distinct component[s] of the patented invention”) (quotation marks omitted); Cross Med. Prod., Inc., 424 F.3d at 1309 (finding “unitary” to be an adjective synonymous with “single-component” and declining to construe a claim term as being formed in a “unitary” structure where “[t]here is nothing in the written description or prosecution history that limits the [claim term] to being formed in a single-component structure”); Riverwood Int'l Corp. v. R.A. Jones & Co., 324 F.3d 1346, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (affirming the district court's decision not to construe the term “flight bars” as a “unitary structure” where flight bars “may include a plurality of pieces driven by one conveyor or multiple conveyors moving in synchronization, ” and further advising that a claim term is to be given “the full range of its ordinary meaning”) (citation omitted); KCJ Corp. v. Kinetic Concepts, Inc., 223 F.3d 1351, 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (“[S]tanding alone, a disclosure of a preferred or exemplary embodiment encompassing a singular element does not disclaim a plural embodiment.”).[20]

         While Nuna's proposed construction is improper, the Court finds no construction beyond the ordinary meaning of the term is necessary: the scope of what is meant by “tensioning mechanism” in the context of the patents as a whole would be discernable to a person of ordinary skill in the art. See NobelBiz, Inc. v. Glob. Connect, L.L.C., 701 Fed.Appx. 994, 997 (Fed. Cir. 2017) (“The district court must provide a construction because the parties disputed not the meaning of the words themselves, but the scope that should be encompassed by the claim language.”) (emphasis in original). Indeed, the claim language delineates the outer bounds of what is covered by tensioning mechanism when it states, for example, that the tensioning mechanism shall have

a proximal end pivotally attached to the backrest portion of the seat base and a distal end comprising a sitting surface for an occupant of the child seat and an engaging surface facing opposite to the sitting surface, wherein the tensioning mechanism is movable downwardly and forwardly to a first position substantially adjacent to the seat base and upwardly and rearwardly to a second position displaced therefrom, wherein placing the tensioning mechanism in the second position allows the seat base to receive the belt, and movement of the tensioning mechanism from the second position to the first position presses the belt against the first and second edges and deflects a portion of the belt between first and second edges to be closer to the seat or backrest portion than portions of the belt that engage the first and second edges and thus applies tension to the belt to secure the child seat to the vehicle seat in a tensioned configuration.

'074 patent, claim 1. See G.I. Sportz, Inc. v. Valken, Inc., No. 1:17-CV-05590, 2019 WL 2724081, at *8 (D.N.J. June 30, 2019) (“The Court finds that the meaning of ‘first surface area' and ‘second surface area' are plainly explained by the claims, which describe the location, size, and purpose of those valve surface areas. Therefore, the Court finds that those terms shall be construed by their plain and ordinary meaning.”).

         Were there to remain any doubt as to what portions of the child seat constitute the “tensioning mechanism, ” one need look no further than the specification figures, which make clear the form of the tensioning mechanism in both its downward (first) position-the position in which the seat is secured to the belt via the pressure of the edges of the tensioning mechanism's proximal end-as well as its upward (second) position-the position in which the belt is fed into one of two pathways depending upon whether the seat is forward or rearward facing, prior to being secured to the belt and vehicle:

         (Image Omitted)

         Perhaps most illuminating is the fact that Nuna has been able to accurately identify the extent of the tensioning mechanism in its own motion papers. The below figure, appearing in Nuna's moving brief at least four times, see Nuna Moving Brief at 5, 11, 14, 19, depicts side-by-side images of Britax's car seat with the tensioning mechanism in both the first position (left) and second position (right), and accurately shades the extent of the tensioning mechanism red (dark) with respect to the remainder of the car seat, which is white:

         (Image Omitted)

         The Court's rejection of Nuna's proposed construction effectively resolves the dispute between the parties as to this term. In the absence of a dispute, and because the ordinary meaning of “tensioning mechanism” would be clear to a person of ordinary skill in the art, the Court declines to construe the term on its own. See, e.g., Bos. Sci. Corp., 2016 WL 7411128, at *6 (“Because Defendants have not shown that the [ ] Patent's specification or its prosecution history demand its proffered narrowed construction of this term, the Court rejects Defendants' proposal. This resolves the dispute here between the parties. The Court otherwise recommends that ‘a control element including a connector element' be afforded its plain and ordinary meaning.”); Effective Expl., LLC v. Pennsylvania Land Holdings Co., LLC, No. 2:14-CV-00845, 2015 WL 12753785, at *22 (W.D. Pa. May 8, 2015) (“[T]he Federal Circuit also recognized that ‘district courts are not (and should not be) required to construe every limitation present in a patent's asserted claims.' O2 Micro Int'l. Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1361 (Fed. Cir. 2008). Rather, the district court's construction need only resolve the parties' dispute. A district court may, for example, resolve the parties' dispute by rejecting a party's proposed construction, and preventing that party from arguing that construct.”), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. Effective Expl. v. Coal Gas Recovery, No. 14-CV-0845, 2015 WL 12751773 (W.D. Pa. June 16, 2015). Indeed. “[a]dditional construction ‘would only introduce confusion and ambiguity into a clear and unambiguous phrase.'”[21] Becon Med., Ltd. v. Bartlett, No. CV 18-4169, 2019 WL 3996619, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 23, 2019) (quoting Comcast Cable Commc'ns, 38 F.Supp.3d at 608); see CallWave Commc'ns, LLC v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, No. CV 12-1701, 2014 WL 7205657, at *9 (D. Del. Dec. 17, 2014) (finding no construction to be necessary where a claim term “uses ordinary English words, which may be given their plain and ordinary meaning”); Vapor Point LLC v. Moorhead, No. 4:11-CV-4639, 2013 WL 11275459, at *24 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 18, 2013) (“In cases where the ordinary meaning of the claim term is readily apparent even to a lay judge, the court need not go further into intrinsic or extrinsic evidence.” (citing Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005))).

         B. Claim terms: “proximal end” / “distal end”

         The claim terms “proximal end” and “distal end” are used in the same patent claims as the term “tensioning mechanism”-claims 1 and 16 of the '074 patent, and claims 1, 5, and 9 of the '504 patent.[22] Simply put, these terms refer to the two “ends” of the tensioning mechanism discussed at length in the previous section.

         1. The dispute between the parties

         Nuna argues that the claim terms “proximal end” and “distal end” should be construed as “end of the unitary tensioning mechanism opposite to the distal end” and “end of the unitary mechanism opposite to the proximal end, ” respectively. Nuna Moving Brief at 12. Nuna's proposed construction is based on the same grounds as its proposed construction of “tensioning mechanism”-because the tensioning mechanism is a “unitary” structure, Nuna argues, the proximal and distal “ends” of the mechanism must be construed in a way that accounts for this characteristic. See id. at 12-15. Britax argues that the proper construction of these claim terms should omit the word “unitary.” Britax Moving Brief at 15. Apart from inclusion or omission of the word “unitary, ” the parties' constructions are identical.

         2. Discussion

         Based upon the comprehensive discussion above as to why construction of “tensioning mechanism” to include the modifier “unitary” is inappropriate, the Court concludes that it would be similarly inappropriate to modify reference to the tensioning mechanism with “unitary” in the construction of “proximal end” and “distal end.” The Court therefore adopts the construction of Britax: “proximal end” shall be construed as “end of the tensioning mechanism opposite to the distal end, ” and “distal end” shall be construed as “end of the tensioning mechanism opposite to the proximal end.”

         C. Claim term: ...


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