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Bad Boy, Inc. v. Spartan Mowers LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Northern Division

February 1, 2018

BAD BOY, INC. PLAINTIFF
v.
SPARTAN MOWERS LLC; INTIMIDATOR, INC.; and RF PRODUCTS, INC. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          D.P. Marshall Jr., United States District Judge

         1. Summary.

         The parties compete in making and selling high-end riding mowers. Robert Foster, an inventor, has connections on both sides of the case. He used to work with Bad Boy, left, and now works with Spartan-related companies.[*] As part of the leaving, Foster allegedly assigned United States Patent No. 7, 708, 292-an "Independent Four Wheel Vibration Damping System for Riding Mowers''-to Bad Boy. The parties' disputes have carried them into state and federal courts. Bad Boy here alleges that the Spartan SRT line of mowers infringes the '292 patent. Spartan denies infringement.

         The Court must construe some disputed terms in the '292 patent. What did its five claims mean to a skilled artisan when the patent issued? 35 U.S.C. § 112(a); Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1311-14 (Fed. Cir. 2005). The parties have filed comprehensive briefs. The Court heard helpful argument at a hearing, Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996), and afterward got an informative tutorial about the vibration-damping technology in Bad Boy's mower. No expert testimony or other extrinsic evidence was considered.[*]The patent's meaning is in the claims' words, informed by the whole patent, including the specification. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313-14. The prosecution history, which is also intrinsic evidence of meaning, is helpful on one point, too. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317.

         2. Claims.

         Here are Bad Boy's '292 claims, with the disputed terms in bold.

         The invention claimed is:

         1. A riding mower having a frame, a mower deck supported beneath the frame, a chair on said frame and a source of motive power also supported on said frame;

said frame supported on forward and rear independent wheel assemblies, said wheel assemblies each supporting a wheel; and a vibration damping system interposed between said frame and each of said forward and rear wheel assemblies, said frame including a rear axle housing mounted transverse to the longitudinal axis of said frame and including parallel frame rails, said frame rails supporting said rear wheel assemblies;
said vibration damping system comprising at least one elastomeric pillow interposed between said frame and each said forward and rear wheel assembly, said elastomeric pillow being of a resilient material for absorbing shock and vibration resulting from a wheel contacting irregularities in the terrain traversed thereby and said elastomeric pillow held in place by a fastener adapted to limit movement of said wheel assembly.

         2. The riding mower of claim 1, wherein said forward wheel assemblies caster in response to vehicle movement.

         3. The riding mower of claim 1, wherein said pillow is disposed on either side of each said wheel.

         4. The riding mower of claim 1, wherein said rear wheel assemblies include a suspension cage, said suspension cage being pivoted relative to said frame, and pillows supporting said cage.

         5. A riding mower having a frame, a mower deck supported beneath the frame, a chair on said frame and a source of motive power also supported on said frame;

said frame supported on forward and rear independent wheel assemblies, said wheel assemblies each supporting a wheel and said forward wheel assemblies castering in response to vehicle movement and said rear wheel assemblies include a suspension cage, said suspension cage being pivoted relative to said frame; and a vibration damping system interposed between said frame and each of said forward and rear wheel assemblies, said frame including a rear axle housing mounted transverse to the ...

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