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Quest Integrity USA, LLC v. Cokebusters USA Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

May 21, 2019

QUEST INTEGRITY USA, LLC, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
COKEBUSTERS USA INC., Defendant-Appellee

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware in No. 1:14-cv-01483-SLR, Judge Sue L. Robinson.

          Michael A. Morin, Latham & Watkins LLP, Washington, DC, argued for plaintiff-appellant. Also represented by Gabriel Bell, Robert J. Gajarsa, Matthew J. Moore, Abigail A. Rives.

          Thomas Martin Fulkerson, Fulkerson Lotz LLP, Houston, TX, argued for defendant-appellee. Also represented by Danielle J. Healey, Fish & Richardson, PC, Houston, TX.

          Before Dyk, Taranto, and Hughes, Circuit Judges.

          DYK, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Quest Integrity USA, LLC ("Quest") appeals a judgment of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware in favor of Cokebusters USA Inc. ("Cokebusters"). On summary judgment, the district court held that claims 12, 24, 30, 33, and 40 of U.S. Patent No. 7, 542, 874 ("the '874 patent") were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b) because the claimed invention was offered for sale more than one year prior to the filing of the patent application. We conclude that the district court properly construed the claims and that claims 12, 24, and 33 are invalid based on this claim construction.

         However, we also conclude that the district court erred in disregarding declarations of the inventors under the sham affidavit doctrine, and that Quest raised a genuine issue of material fact as to the validity of claims 30 and 40.

         Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of invalidity as to claims 12, 24, and 33, reverse the judgment of invalidity as to claims 30 and 40, and remand for further proceedings.

         Background

         I

         Quest owns the '874 patent. The '874 patent relates to a system and method for displaying inspection data collected from certain commercial furnaces (e.g., a furnace used in a refinery). The '874 patent explains that "a furnace is generally comprised of several hundred to several thousand feet of serpentine tubing that is characterized by straight tube segments . . . interconnected by angled bends." '874 patent, col. 1, ll. 26-30. The bends allow the tube segments of the furnace to stack for maximum heat transfer and efficiency. The specification describes furnace tube inspection systems that existed in the art to identify furnace tubes in need of repair or replacement. In these systems, an inspection tool (referred to in the industry as a "pig") would be inserted in one end of the furnace tubing from a launcher and "collect[] inspection data [(e.g., inside radius of the furnace, readings of the wall thickness of the furnace, and the like)] at pre-determined time intervals as [the tool] progresse[d] through the furnace" to a receiver at the other end of the furnace. Id. col. 1, ll. 49-59. The data could then be extracted from the inspection tool, converted to calibrated engineering units, and examined by an engineer in order to identify the location of flaws within the furnace (e.g., thinning or bulging of tubing).

         The '874 patent attempts to improve upon how these prior art systems displayed the collected inspection data, but it does not purport to improve upon how furnace inspection data is collected or the type of data that is collected. The specification explains that the system of the '874 patent comprises "a storage device for storing the inspection data collected by an inspection tool flushed through the furnace" and a computer programmed to generate a plurality of data markers in relation to the inspection data, partition the inspection data at the data markers, and generate a display of the partitioned inspection data, "wherein the display is a two-dimensional or three-dimensional representation of one or more of the tube segments of the furnace." Id. col. 2, ll. 50-52; id. col. 3, ll. 25-27. Each data marker identifies the location of a physical feature of the furnace (e.g., a bend, an external raised surface, cross-over piping, a thermal well, a weld, a flange, a schedule change and/or a diameter change). "The [generated] display may be used to visually detect problem areas within the furnace . . . ." Id. col. 3, ll. 27-30. The '874 patent discloses various examples that "illustrate different approaches that may be used to correlate the inspection data to the physical geometry of the furnace and display the inspection data in a manner that enables the visual detection of problem areas within the furnace." Id. col. 9, ll. 43-47.

         One category of claims at issue on appeal is claims 12, 24, and 33. Claims 12 and 33 are method claims, and claim 24 is a computer-readable medium claim. By way of example, claim 24 recites:

24. A computer-readable medium having computer-executable instructions for performing a method of displaying inspection data collected from a furnace, wherein said furnace comprises a plurality of tube segments interconnected by a plurality of bends so as to allow stacking of at least a portion of said tube segments, said method comprising:
generating a plurality of data markers each of which identifies a location of a physical feature of said furnace;
partitioning said inspection data at said data markers so as to correlate said inspection data to an appropriate one of said tube segments of said furnace;
generating a display of at least a portion of said partitioned inspection data arranged to represent said physical geometry of a plurality of said tube segments and enable visual detection of a problem area comprising one or more of said tube segments; and
wherein said inspection data is collected by one or more devices selected from the following group: an ultrasonic transducer, a laser profilometer, and combinations thereof.

Id. col. 18, ll. 26-45 (emphases added). Claims 12 and 33 each recite a method for displaying furnace inspection data similar to the method performed by the computer-readable medium of claim 24.

         There is another category of asserted claims at issue: claims 30 and 40. Claims 30 and 40 recite additional limitations. Claim 30, which depends from claims 24, 27, and 28, recites:

30. [A computer-readable medium having computer-executable instructions for performing a method of displaying inspection data collected from a furnace, wherein said furnace comprises a plurality of tube segments interconnected by a plurality of bends so as to allow stacking of at least a portion of said tube segments, said method comprising:
generating a plurality of data markers each of which identifies a location of a physical feature of said furnace;
partitioning said inspection data at said data markers so as to correlate said inspection data to an appropriate one of said tube segments of said furnace;
generating a display of at least a portion of said partitioned inspection data arranged to represent said physical geometry of a plurality of said tube segments and enable visual detection of a problem area comprising one or more of said tube segments;
wherein said inspection data is collected by one or more devices selected from the following group: an ultrasonic transducer, a laser profilometer, and combinations thereof;
wherein said inspection data comprises a plurality of inspection readings selected from the following group: wall thickness readings of said furnace, inside radius readings of said furnace, and combinations thereof;
wherein sensor data is also collected from said furnace, said sensor data comprising a plurality of sensor readings collected by one or more auxiliary sensors selected from the following group: an axial encoder, an accelerometer, a roll encoder, a gyroscope, an inertial navigation system, and combinations thereof; and]
wherein each of said data markers comprises a composite data marker derived from a plurality of individual data markers.

Id. col. 19, ll. 4-6 (emphasis added); see id. col. 18, ll. 26- 45, 54-65 (emphases added). The specification gives the example of composite data markers "that identify the locations of the furnace bends." Id. col. 12, l. 63. Independent claim 40 recites:

40. A system for displaying inspection data collected from a furnace with a specified physical geometry, wherein said furnace comprises a plurality of tube segments interconnected by a plurality of bends so as to allow stacking of at least ...

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