Friday, September 30, 2011

Court won't perform claim construction at motion to dismiss stage

Ecolab sued International Chemical Corp. for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,741,257.  Ecolab argues that ICC directly infringes the '257 patent, induces third parties to infringe the '257 patent, and contributes to other's infringement of the '257 patent.  ICC asked the court to dismiss the vicarious theories of liability because Ecolab did not sufficiently plead these claims.

First, the Court acknowledged a difference in the districts as to whether or not an indirect infringement claim needs more allegations than those listed in the Form 18 model for direct infringement claims.  Some courts hold that this level of pleading is enough, while others require the plaintiff to satisfy Twombly and Iqbal's plausibility requirements.  The Court did not pick a side, finding that Ecolab had met the mark either way.

Inducement of Infringement

To plead an induced infringement claim, the plaintiff must show: (1) there has been a direct infringement; and (2) the defendant knowingly induced infringement and specifically intended to encourage another's infringement.  ICC argued that Ecolab hadn't satisfied the latter, and pointed to Ecolab's instruction's (which were attached to the complaint).  According to ICC, these instructions "do not teach how to practice any of the claims of the patents-in-suit."  But ICC disregarded Ecolab's complaint, which alleged that ICC had instructed its customers in the manner specified by the '257 patent.  As such, for pleading purposes, the claim survived.

ICC also argue that, in order to infringe, one needed to use a particular type of nozzle.  ICC supported this argument by citing to the file history of the '257 Patent.  The Court refused to indulge in claim construction issues, noting that doing so would be premature.

Contributory Infringement

To plead a contributory infringement claim, the plaintiff must show: (1) there has been a direct infringement; (2) defendant knew the combination for which its components were especially made was both patented and infringing; and (3) defendant's components have no substantial non-infringing uses.   ICC argued that Ecolab's complaint didn't have enough facts.  The Court disagreed, noting that detailed factual allegations are not necessary to plausibly allege a claim for contributory infringement.  Even without detailed factual allegations, the complaint supported a reasonable inference for liability.

Motion to dismiss denied.

Ecolab, Inc. v. International Chemical Corp., slip op., Case No. 6:10-cv-1208 (Sept. 27, 2011) (J. Conway)

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