Inline Plastics Corp. v. Lacerta Group, Inc. (D. Mass. 18-cv-11631).

  • September 8, 2022

Inline Plastics accused Lacerta of infringing various claims found in five patents, U.S. 7,118,003, 7,073,680, 8,795,580, 9,527,640, and 9,630,756, on tamper-resistant containers through the sale of Lacerta’s “FRESH N’ SEALED” products.  The patents generally cover plastic food containers that have a tear-away portion on the lip of the base that prevents the cover from being removed without removing or tearing the tear-away portion.  Judge Hillman denied Lacerta’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement and granted Inline’s motion for summary judgment of infringement with respect to one of the patents. 

With respect to Lacerta’s motion for a finding of noninfringement, Judge Hillman refused to consider statements of the inventors as to the purpose of particular limitations as irrelevant because the claim terms had already been construed in a Markman order.  He further discounted evidence of a redesigned product that Inline had allowed a prior accused infringer to sell as part of a settlement, determining that the allowance of a redesign is not a legal determination that the redesign does not contain the claim limitations at issue.  He determined that one of the claim limitations, an upwardly projecting bead around the perimeter of the container base, could be met by the upper peripheral edge of the base, as the claims do not preclude the two being co-extensive – the claim requires the base include an upper peripheral edge forming at least in part the upwardly projecting bead, which signifies that the two could be completely coextensive.  He noted that a jury could find the upper peripheral rim of the accused products, which slopes upwardly at an angle, met this claim limitation, thus  precluding a finding of noninfringement under this interpretation.  He similarly found fact issues with respect to other limitations precluded a finding of noninfringement as a matter of law.

Judge Hillman did find that Inline was entitled to summary judgment of infringement o the asserted claims of the ‘640 patent.  Lacerta’s noninfringement position with respect to these claims required reading language from the specification into the claims, a position that had been raised and rejected at claim construction.  Lacerta’s expert had acknowledged that the accused products contained the limitation absent the inclusion of the language from the specification. 

Finally, Inline moved for summary judgment on Lacerta’s damages theory, seeking to preclude damages being capped at the cost of designing around the patents, which Lacerta’ expert estimated to be between $9,000 and $90,000, much less than the $8.66 million in lost profits sought by Inline.  Inline sought to bar the proposed cap on damages and to strike the portions of Lacerta’s expert report that included that analysis.  Judge Hillman denied this motion as premature.  Noting that only claims and defenses were the proper subject of summary judgment, he indicated that Inline could challenge the analysis and expert report through a Daubert motion after summary judgment on liability had been determined.      

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