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ASM Assembly Systems Switzerland GMBH v. QTS Engineering, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 25, 2017



          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         In this intellectual property dispute, the plaintiffs ASM Assembly Systems Switzerland GmbH and ASM VectorGuard Limited (collectively, “ASM”) allege that QTS Engineering, Inc. (“QTS”) manufactures and sells products that infringe upon three of their patents: U.S. Patent No. 8, 490, 545 (“the '545 patent”), U.S. Patent No. 8, 904, 929 (“the '929 patent”), and U.S. Patent No. 9, 623, 650 (“the '650 patent”). QTS counterclaims for a declaratory judgment of invalidity and non-infringement. Before the Court are the parties' briefs on claim construction. The Court held a hearing on October 13, 2017, pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996), at which it heard argument and technology tutorials.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The parties dispute the proper construction of two terms: “attachment elements” and “slot.”[1] Each of the disputed terms appears in the claims of one or more of the three patents at issue in the case. All of the patents at issue are either a continuation-in-part or divisional from one patent, U.S. Patent Number 8, 069, 783 (“the '783 Patent”). The '783 Patent is not at issue in this case.

         The three patents at issue relate to stencil printing screens for electronics manufacturing. Stencil printing screens are used to attach small electronic packages to printed circuit boards. The printing screens are typically thin metal sheets with patterns cut through. Solder paste, a powder metal alloy, is pressed through the screens onto circuit boards to establish electrical connections. The stencil printing screen controls the volume of solder paste printed onto the circuit board.

         ASM and QTS are each in the business of developing stencil printing screens and component parts. ASM's products include the VectorGuard® stencil frame (“VectorGuard Frame”). QTS's products include the Apshen Stencil Foil Adapter System (“Apshen Frame”). ASM claims QTS's Apshen Frame infringes upon their patented property, specifically the '545 patent, the'929 patent, and the '650 patent.

         A stencil printing screen unit includes an intermediate frame attached to the printing screen. The intermediate frame engages with a tensioning device that prevents flexing of the printing screen. The intermediate frame also protects and stores the screen. This concept is illustrated by the figure below drawn from the patents at issue.[2] Doc. No. 68-1 at 10; Doc. No.68-2 at 10; Doc. No. 68-3 at 10.

         (Image Omitted)

         For present purposes, it is enough to say that each patent at issue teaches different claims relating to a printing screen unit. To the extent the patents at issue differ in a manner material to claim construction, the Court addresses such differences, below.


         The “construction of a patent, including terms of art within its claim, is exclusively within the province of the court.” Markman, 517 U.S. at 372. “It is a bedrock principle of patent law that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). The claim itself is “of primary importance, in the effort to ascertain precisely what it is that is patented.” Id. (citing Merrill v. Yeomans, 94 U.S. 568, 570, 24 L.Ed. 235 (1876)); see Aro Mfg. Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co., 365 U.S. 336, 339 (1961) (“the claims made in the patent are the sole measure of the grant”).

         The words of the claim “are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312. 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, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Id. at 1313. The “person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification.” Id. “In some cases, the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words.” Id. at 1314.

         The correct construction of a claim “stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316 (quoting Reinshaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' Per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998)). “A claim construction is persuasive, not because it follows a certain rule, but because it defines terms in the context of the whole patent.” Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243 at 1250. Intrinsic evidence-the patent claims, specification, and prosecution history-is the most reliable and useful evidence in determining the meaning of a patent's claims. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317-19. Extrinsic evidence, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises, may also assist the court in understanding the underlying technology, the meaning of terms to one skilled in the art, and how the invention works. Id.; Markman, 52 F.3d at 980.

         In this case, neither party proposed an evidentiary hearing and neither side has submitted affidavits or extrinsic evidence with the exception of the definition of “element” drawn from Merriam-Webster and submitted by QTS. Doc. No. 71-1. The Court agrees with the parties' approach.


         A. Term 1: “Attachment Elements” ('545 Patent, ...

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