Tokai Corp. v. Easton Enterprises, Inc., No. 10-1057 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 31, 2011) (Judges Newman, Lourie, and Bryson)

Here’s a case on the lighter side, literally. The Tokai companies sued Easton for infringing patents relating to safety utility lighters, like the kind you’d use to light a barbecue grill.  After claim construction, Easton stipulated that it infringed all but one of the asserted claims.  But, Easton obtained an invalidity ruling on summary judgment, which Tokai appealed.  The Federal Circuit confronted two main issues in this appeal: 1) did the district court abuse its discretion by excluding two expert declarations for experts who had not submitted written opinions; and 2) whether the district court correctly granted summary judgment of invalidity.  Tokai claimed its experts were employees who didn’t need to submit written opinions under Federal Rule 26(a)(2)(B).  The majority agreed with the district court that Tokai hadn’t made a showing that the two experts were employees — subject to the employee-expert exception to the written report requirement — but Judge Newman disagreed.  As for the invalidity ruling, the dispute focused on whether it would have been obvious to add a known safety feature from cigarette lighters to a utility lighter.  The majority agreed with the district court that it was obvious, but Judge Newman disagreed.  Judge Newman stated that hindsight had been used to analyze the obviousness issue, and cautioned that in a crowded and competitive art field, incremental improvements are still patentable ones.

Read the original opinion here.