A Book Holder Is Not a Camera Holder

by McDermott Will & Emery
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McDermott Will & Emery

Addressing issues of dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6) and summary judgment of non-infringement, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a pro se appellant’s complaint with prejudice as to some defendants and the grant of summary judgment of non-infringement as to others. Ottah v. Fiat Chrysler, Case No. 17-1842 (Fed. Cir., Mar. 7, 2018) (Newman, J).

Chikezie Ottah owns a patent directed to a removable book holder assembly for use by a person in a protective or mobile structure such as a car seat, wheelchair, walker or stroller. Ottah filed a pro se complaint against multiple automobile companies alleging that back-up cameras installed in defendants’ cars infringed Ottah’s patent.

One group of defendants moved for summary judgment of non-infringement, arguing that the Federal Circuit had previously found that the patented device must be capable of being “removed without tools” and that defendants’ camera did not infringe the patent because it could not be removed without tools. Another group of defendants moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim, because the patent’s claims were explicitly directed to a book holder, and Ottah could not plausibly plead a claim of infringement by a camera holder. The district court agreed with both groups of defendants, granting both the motion for summary judgment of non-infringement and the motion to dismiss. Ottah appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment and dismissal with prejudice. As to the summary judgment finding, Ottah argued that the district court erred in construing the term “removably attached” to exclude “fixed mounts.” The Court disagreed, citing its prior claim construction where it found that the term “removably attached” requires removal without tools. The Court found that no error had been shown in this claim construction and that there was no reason for departing from the rules of collateral estoppel or stare decisis. The Court found that because defendants’ accused cameras utilize fixed mounts and require tools for removal, they do not infringe.

Turning to the dismissals under Rule 12(b)(6), the Federal Circuit stated that the grant of the motion is reviewed de novo to determine whether the claim is plausible on its face, accepting the material factual allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. The Court noted that while a complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff is liberally construed and held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, the pro se plaintiff must still meet the minimal standards to avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court found that the district court correctly found that the claimed “book holder” could not plausibly be construed to include or be equivalent to a camera holder, and Ottah’s arguments were legally implausible even liberally construing the complaint.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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