Sport Dimension, Inc. v. Coleman Co. CAFC April. 19, 2016.

Coleman Company, Inc. (“Coleman”) appealed from a stipulated judgment of non-infringement entered by the US District Court (Central District California). Coleman challenged the district court’s claim construction on which the stipulated judgment was based and its exclusion of Coleman’s expert.

Coleman, an outdoor sporting equipment company sells an array of products, including personal flotation devices. Coleman owns United States Design Patent No. D623, 714 (“D’714 patent”) claiming “the ornamental design for a personal flotation device,” The D’714 patent generally discloses a personal flotation device with two arm bands connected to a torso piece. The torso piece is flat on its back and tapers toward a connecting strap on its sides.

Sport Dimension, Inc. (“Sport”) is a sports equipment and apparel company that sells water-sports -related equipment, including its Body Glove ® line of personal flotation devices. Sport’s Body Glove ® Model 325 is the accused device. Coleman’s design, have two armbands connected to a torso piece; while the torso section in the Body Glove® device extends upwards to form a vest that goes over a person’s shoulders.

Sport filed a declaratory judgment action in the district court requesting judgment that it did not infringe the D’714 patent and that the patent is invalid.

THE CAFC ADDRESSES THE EXCLUSION (BY THE DISTRICT COURT) OF COLEMAN’S EXPERT

The District Court excluded the testimony of Coleman’s expert, Peter Bressler (“Bressler”). Sport argued that Bressler was not qualified to testify on the functionality of the D’714 patent’s design, and the District Court agree. The District Court explained that while Bressler “appears to possess substantial experience in the field of industrial design,” Coleman “does not dispute—and Bressler’s deposition testimony makes it quite clear—that Bressler has no substantive experience in the narrower field of personal flotation device design.” Based on the court’s view that Bressler’s experience is insufficient to opine on the contested issues as an expert, therefore the district court excluded his testimony.

The district court found that the armbands, the armband attachments, the shape of the armbands, the tapering of the armbands, and the tapering of the side torso were all elements that serve a functional rather than ornamental purpose in the D’714 patent.” The CAFC agreed that “certain elements of Coleman’s design serve a useful purpose”, but rejected the district court’s ultimate claim construction. The CAFC found that the district court’s elimination of the armbands and side torso tapering from the claim entirely, resulted in the CAFC’s determination that its [district court’s] “construction runs contrary to our law”. The CAFC elaborated on this position when it stated: (1) “The district court’s construction in this case conflicts with that principle of design patent claim construction because it eliminates whole aspects of the claimed design”; (2) “the district court’s construction of the Design Patents to have no scope whatsoever fails to account for the particular ornamentation of the claimed design and departs from our established legal framework for interpreting design patent claims”; and, (3) “design patents protect the overall ornamentation of a design, not an aggregation of separable elements”.

The CAFC’s decision: For the reasons stated above, we reject the court’s claim construction, vacate its judgment of noninfringement, affirm its exclusion of Coleman’s expert, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.