Magistrate Judge Bulsara “Blocks” Indefiniteness Argument Against Sunscreen Dispensing Patent

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

On February 26, 2021, United States Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara (E.D.N.Y.) issued a claim construction ruling in Sunscreen Mist Holdings, LLC v. SnappyScreen, Inc. (“Sunscreen Mist” and “SnappyScreen” respectively) that Sunscreen Mist alleges infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,918,897 (“the ’897 patent”), which relates to a vending machine that dispenses and sprays sunscreen lotion on customers. The parties presented the Court with only one disputed claim term: “means to store sunscreen lotion.”  The only question before the Court was whether the patent identified sufficient structure for storing sunscreen lotion.

SnappyScreen argued that, while the specification stated that “[s]pray assemblies 31 are fluidly connected to the sunscreen lotion storage containers 41 (FIG. 4) that are located in equipment housing 40,” Figure 4 did not contain any item labeled 41:  

Thus, SnappyScreen argued, the failure to label “sunscreen lotion storage containers 41” meant there is no “means to store sunscreen lotion” identified by the patent.  SnappyScreen also argued that “storage containers” are distinct from, and not equivalent to, the “sunscreen lotion tanks” disclosed elsewhere in the patent.

Sunscreen Mist, however, argued that the structure “to store sunscreen lotion” was described in the specification as “storage containers 41” and “sunscreen lotion tanks 381–385”:  “Pumps 181185 are operably coupled to corresponding fluid lines 281285 which in turn are fluidly connected to corresponding sunscreen lotion tanks 381385.  Sunscreen lotion tanks 381385 are located within equipment housing 40 and each contain a different SPF grade of sunscreen.”  (emphasis added).  Sunscreen Mist contended that the missing label for “storage container 41” was merely a scrivener’s error and that a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand that “storage container 41” was equivalent to the “sunscreen lotion tanks 381–385” referenced and illustrated later in the specification.

Judge Bulsara agreed with Sunscreen Mist that a person having ordinary skill in the art would understand that the term “means to store sunscreen lotion” corresponds to the sunscreen lotion tanks numbered 381 to 385 and their equivalent structures.  He reviewed the patent and concluded that the terms “container” and “tank” are used interchangeably and synonymously in the patent’s specification, consistent with the commonly accepted meaning of the terms.  He also noted that parties themselves used the terms interchangeably in their jointly proposed construction for “means to spray the user with the stored sunscreen lotion.”  The parties agreed to construe that claim language as “sunscreen lotion storage containers 381, 382, 383, 384, 385” even though components 381–385 are identified in the patent specification as “sunscreen lotion tanks.”

The case is Sunscreen Mist Holdings, LLC v. SnappyScreen, Inc., No. 19-cv-835-PKC-SJB (E.D.N.Y.).

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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