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Gum Creek Customs LLC v. Trophy Hunting Products, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

July 17, 2017

GUM CREEK CUSTOMS LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
TROPHY HUNTING PRODUCTS, INC. Defendant.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE

         In this patent infringement action, the Court convened a claim construction hearing on April 19, 2017, and the parties have thoroughly briefed the relevant issues. Docs. 21; 24; 25; 28; 29; 30. The parties contest four terms, all from the following portion of Claim 1 of the patent:

a first attachment means attached at said first end of said adjustable tension strap and co-axial to central axis A, said first attachment means capable of being received in a gap in a vehicle interior positioned below and adjacent a steering wheel column of said vehicle,
a second attachment means attached to said distal end of said adjustable tension strap and co-axial to central axis A, said second attachment means capable of being received in a lower gap between dash plates in the vehicle interior positioned below said first attachment means . . . .

Doc. 1-1 at 15-16.

         As discussed below, the four disputed terms are constructed as follows:

(1) a hook-shaped device attached to one end of an adjustable tension strap and having a common axis with the tension strap's central axis (central axis A)
(2) this first hook-shaped device capable of being received in a gap in a vehicle interior positioned below and adjacent to the vehicle's steering wheel column
(3) a hook-shaped device attached to the other end of the adjustable tension strap and having a common axis with the tension strap's central axis (central axis A)
(4) this second hook-shaped device capable of being received in a lower gap between dash plates in the vehicle interior positioned below the first hook-shaped device to allow tension to secure the holster vehicle mount

         I. BACKGROUND

         A brief description of the parties' claims and respective products is appropriate. The Plaintiff, Gum Creek Customs, LLC, alleges that the Defendant, Trophy Hunting Products, Inc., infringed on the Plaintiff's patent for a vehicle gun mount. Doc. 1 at 3, 7. The Defendant denies the Plaintiff's allegation and counterclaims that the Plaintiff's patent is invalid. Doc. 8 at 8.

         Both the Defendant's gun mount and the Plaintiff's patent for a gun mount have a strap that attaches to the interior of a vehicle below the vehicle's steering column. A pistol holster can then be affixed to the strap. Both gun mounts have a hook at the end of the strap further from the steering wheel that is inserted in a gap in the vehicle dashboard (the second attachment means). In the Defendant's product, the first attachment means, at the end of the strap closer to the steering wheel, is a strap that loops around the steering wheel itself. However, as discussed below, the parties disagree about the scope of the first attachment means in the Plaintiff's patent. For both gun mounts, the means of attachment at the ends of the strap create tension, and the tension secures the mount in place. One product derived from the Plaintiff's patent is marked below as Defendant's Exhibit 1, and the Defendant's product is marked as Defendant's Exhibit 2.

         (Image Omitted)

         Before a patent infringement matter may be decided by a factfinder, the meaning of the words in the allegedly infringed patent claims must be determined by the Court. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 391 (1996). The Court must construe claims according to “their ordinary and customary meaning, ” and “the ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). When construing claims, the Court must primarily consider the patent's intrinsic evidence: the claims themselves, the patent specification, and the prosecution history. Id. at 1317.

         By statute, patents may express claim elements “as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.” 35 U.S.C. § 112(f).[1]Using this type of means-plus-function claim allows “an applicant [to] describe an element of his invention by the result accomplished or the function served, rather than describing the term or elements to be used . . . .” Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17, 27 (1997). The word “means” in the claim “invokes a rebuttable presumption that § 112, ¶ 6 applies, ” and the absence of the word invokes a rebuttable presumption that § 112, ¶ 6 does not apply. Apex Inc. v. Raritan Computer, Inc., 325 F.3d 1364, 1371-72 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (quoting CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 288 F.3d 1359, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2002)). The presumption that a claim term is means-plus-function “can be rebutted where the claim, in addition to the functional language, recites structure sufficient to perform the claimed function in its entirety.” Altiris, Inc. v. Symantec Corp., 318 F.3d 1363, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         Here, the parties have identified four claim terms to be construed. Doc. 21 at 1. All four disputed terms are located in a section of Claim 1 of the patent. Doc. 1-1 at 15-16. The parties agree that all four claims are means-plus-function claims. See Doc. 24 at 5 (“The ‘first attachment means' [which appears in the first and second disputed terms] and the ‘second attachment means' [which appears in the third and fourth disputed terms] should be construed under Section 112, Paragraph 6, to include all the corresponding structures described in the specification (and equivalents thereof) that perform the functions recited in the claims.”); Doc. 25 at 12 (“All four of the claim terms at issue are ‘means plus function' claim terms.”). The Court agrees. Each claim defines either a “first attachment means” or a “second attachment means, ” and this use of the term “means” creates a rebuttable presumption that the claims are means-plus-function. The parties have not argued that any evidence rebuts this presumption, and the Court identifies no rebutting evidence; the patent does not “recite[] structure sufficient to perform the claimed ...


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