VETCO OFFSHORE INDUSTRIES, INC. v. RUCKER CO. No. C-75-0070-WWS.
448 F.Supp. 1203 (1978)
VETCO OFFSHORE INDUSTRIES, INC., Plaintiff and Counterdefendant, Vetco Offshore, Inc., Plaintiff in Intervention and Counterdefendant, v. The RUCKER COMPANY, Defendant and Counterplaintiff.
United States District Court, N. D. California.
April 10, 1978.
Carl Hoppe, James F. Mitchell, Eckhoff, Hoppe, Slick, Mitchell & Anderson, San Francisco, Cal., for defendant and counter-plaintiff.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
WILLIAM W SCHWARZER, District Judge.
This is an action by Vetco Offshore Industries ("Vetco") charging defendant The Rucker Company ("Rucker") with infringement of the United States Patents Nos. 3,714,995 and Re. (reissue patent) 28,281 covering a drill string motion compensator useful in offshore drilling. Vetco Offshore, Inc., Vetco's exclusive licensee of the patents in suit, filed a complaint in intervention. Rucker denied infringement in its answer and has asserted counterclaims seeking declaratory relief and damages for unfair competition and violation of the antitrust laws.
Rucker has now moved for partial summary judgment on two grounds: (1) that the invention claimed in the patents was described in printed publications more than one year prior to the application filing date of the patentees, thus rendering the patents void under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b), and (2) that the claimed subject matter of the patents was obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in
I. The Patents in Suit
The claimed invention consists essentially of an apparatus placed within a floating derrick and having dual pistons which move within cylinders in such a manner as to prevent the vertical movement, or "heave", of a drilling platform at sea from being transmitted to the drill string running from the derrick to the drill bit on the ocean floor. This motion compensation is effected by automatic adjustment of fluid pressure within the cylinders, with the result that the drill bit is maintained in weighted operative position at the bottom of the hole regardless of the heave. The drill string is suspended by means of a large hook from a support which is attached to the bottom ends of the pistons. The cylinders in which the pistons move are attached to the travelling block suspended in the derrick.
The patent claims, among other things, the straddling arrangement of the two pistons on either side of the travelling block resulting in a close coupling of the travelling block and the hook. As a result less vertical space within the derrick is occupied by the motion compensating system and more is available for the drill string than where the piston is placed in series with the travelling block and hook. This allows room for larger sections of the drill string to be handled, for example in the course of "round tripping" to change or replace drill bits.
The patent also claims a means of mechanically locking the travelling block to the hook support, permitting full drilling operation without removal of the motion compensator.
The patent also claims a means of articulation between the piston rods and the hook support. This is accomplished by permitting the piston cylinders to pivot on hinges attached to the travelling block, permitting the motion compensator to adjust to a change in the vertical axis of the derrick in relation to the drill string brought about by the motion of the sea.
Finally, the patent claims a means of preventing damage to the compensator which might result from a rapid "bottoming-out" of the pistons within the cylinder in the event of a sudden reduction in the drill string load. This is accomplished by a "deceleration means", or shock absorber, which consists of orifices in each piston permitting slow transfer of hydraulic fluid in the cylinder from one side of the piston to the other.
The first issue presented by this motion arises under 35 U.S.C. § 102. That section provides in relevant part:
Defendant contends that the motion compensator incorporating dual cylinders straddling the travelling block and a device to lock the travelling block and hook support were described in printed publications more than one year prior to the September 4, 1970, filing date of the application for the original patent 3,714,995, and that to that extent at least the patent is invalid.
Disclosures by Vetco
In March 1969, Edward Larralde and J. W. E. Hanes of Vetco completed drawing D-40265-A, sheet 2, showing a dual cylinder motion compensator straddling a travelling block. (Ex. Y, L-11) Blue line prints of the drawing were sent to Gulf Research, BIPM, an affiliate of Royal Dutch-Shell, and Asiatic Petroleum Corp., and shown to Humble Oil in an effort to sell the system during April, May and June 1969. (Exs. BB, CC, Y, L-11, L-37, L-76) During June and July 1969, two additional drawings of the dual cylinder design were prepared by Larralde along with a written description. (Exs. L-12, L-74, L-47) Blue line prints of these drawings were given to Esso Production Research Co. and to B. J. Livesay, a consultant for Esso, together with a copy of the description, and were shown to Western Offshore Drilling and Engineering Co. (Exs. Y, L-56).
Disclosures by Rucker
In July and August 1966, at the request of sales personnel of Rucker, Douglas Nayler, an engineer employed by Rucker, along with other design engineers, prepared schematic and blue line drawings of dual cylinder motion compensator designs. (Perry Aff., Exs. G and H). These drawings clearly show the two cylinders straddling the travelling block. Design and operating calculations were also prepared. (Ex. 1) The drawings and calculations were submitted by Rucker to BIPM in August 1966.
In September 1966, Nayler prepared another blue line drawing of a dual cylinder compensator incorporating the straddling arrangement. (Clark Aff., Ex. M) Rucker provided a copy of that drawing to Humble Oil Company in connection with a sales proposal.
In August 1966, Rucker submitted a proposal to Defoe Shipbuilding Company for certain drilling systems including a motion compensator. (Ex. O) Early in 1967, in connection with negotiations concerning that proposal, Rucker presented to Defoe and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography a blue line print prepared by its subsidiary Hycalog, Inc., showing a dual cylinder motion compensator incorporating the straddling arrangement. (Ex. Q).
William Clark of Rucker also showed blue line prints of the drawings of dual cylinder compensators (Exs. H and M) to various prospective customers for drilling rigs, including Shell Oil Co., Humble Oil Co., Standard Oil Co. of California, Phillips Petroleum, Global Marine Co., Western Offshore Drilling and Exploration, ODECO and SEDCO.
Disclosures by Byron Jackson, Inc.
In July 1966, Don Berry, a draftsman, on instructions from Garth Nicholson of Byron Jackson, Inc., prepared a drawing of a dual cylinder straddling motion compensator. (Exs. W, N1-282A) Blue line prints of that drawing were then shown by Nicholson or William Roberts to Shell Oil Co., Western Offshore Drilling and Engineering Co., Santa Fe Drilling Co., Standard Oil Co. of California, Southeastern Drilling Co., BIPM, British Petroleum Co., Phillips Petroleum Co., Burmah Oil Co., and copies were given to Global Marine Co. (Exs. W, X, N1-282A, 283A) The Jackson drawings showed not only the straddling arrangement but a means for releasably locking the block and hook support.
The foregoing facts are established by the deposition testimony, affidavits and exhibits submitted by defendant in support of its motion. Vetco has responded by way of conclusory denials and by taking issue with some evidentiary details. But Vetco's denials and objections raise no triable issue of fact with respect to the basic proposition which is indisputable, namely, that the claimed invention had been disclosed to numerous persons in the offshore drilling industry
Plaintiff contends that for several reasons they do not. Its principal contention is that the blue prints and drawings and the typed and reproduced descriptions do not constitute printed publications within the meaning of Section 102(b).
That section is intended to implement the purpose of the patent laws to induce inventors to make available to the public inventions not previously known to it. In consideration for his disclosure, the inventor receives from the government a patent which is a seventeen year monopoly. If a patent makes claims to inventions previously in the public domain, the consideration for the monopoly fails. See, United States v. Dubilier Condenser Corp.,
The evolution of the term "printed publication" and its purpose were thoughtfully analyzed by Judge Tyler in I.C.E. Corporation v. Armco Steel Corp.,
See, also, Philips Elec. & P. Indus. Corp. v. Thermal & Elec. Indus.,
Although plaintiff disputes some of the details concerning the material facts, it is beyond dispute that from 1966 until 1969, Vetco, Rucker and Jackson produced and disseminated drawings and descriptions of motion compensators incorporating the basic claim of the invention in issue, i. e., the space-saving straddling arrangement. These documents were made available—either by physical delivery or at least by display—to some sixteen companies and thirty individuals involved, directly or indirectly, in offshore drilling. While the record does not disclose how many companies other than those specifically identified in the motion papers were interested in offshore drilling, it appears to be beyond question that the identified companies represented the major part of the public interested in the particular art involved.
This case therefore does not raise the problem of whether the making and filing of only one or a few copies, reproduced by novel means such as microfilm, comes within Section 102(b). Compare Philips Elec. and I.C.E. Corp., above. Here there is no question that the information shown on the drawings and blue prints and in the written descriptions was in fact widely disseminated, without apparent restriction on the use of the information, to commercial companies and their representatives who were most likely to be interested in it. Although the number of recipients of the information was not large in absolute terms, it represented the major part of the class of persons concerned with the particular art and thus most likely to avail themselves of the information. See, Garrett Corp. v. United States,
The blue prints and drawings in question, along with the typewritten description in some instances, made available to the public interested in drill string motion compensators the geometry of the straddling arrangement which is claimed as the invention. They were sufficient to enable a person skilled in the subject matter to recognize and comprehend therefrom the essentials of the claimed invention without need of further research or experimentation. It is clear that they at least "pointed the way [a user of the invention] must travel." Hamilton Laboratories v. Massengill,
Plaintiff contends further that even if the drawings and descriptions were found to be "printed publications", they were not disseminated with the requisite intent to make the information available to the public. Cf., Hamilton Laboratories, Inc. v. Massengill,
Nor is there support for Vetco's contention that the law implies an obligation of confidence. That the drawings were given or displayed to prospective customers does not, without more, impose such an obligation. The decisions on which Vetco relies
In patent cases, as in other cases, summary judgment may be granted only if there is no genuine issue of material fact. Walker v. General Motors Corp.,
The prints disseminated did not disclose the means for deceleration. Those means are, however, clearly disclosed as well as claimed in the 1964 Kammerer patent (3,158,208) for a single cylinder motion compensator which defined a restrictive artifice in the cylinder which, in the event of a threatened rapid longitudinal movement, would slow the transfer of the liquid from one side of the piston to the other and thereby slow that movement. (At col. 4, 1. 21-25; col. 8, 1. 14-19, 1. 51-63; compare patent 3,714,995, col. 8, 1. 21-31, containing substantially the same description.) Thus this claim is also barred by Section 102(b).
With respect to the claimed means for articulation (Claims 28, 40 and 42 of patent Re. 28,218), it is not clear whether those means were disclosed in the prior drawings and descriptions. The original patent description states that the upper portion of the travelling block is "pivotally secured" to the lower portions, permitting tilting to occur between the travelling block and the compensator (patent 3,714,995, col. 6, 1. 5-11), but made no claim. That the compensator would have to be secured so as to permit it to tilt in relation to the derrick, preventing damage to pistons and cylinders when wave action causes the derrick to lean, and the longitudinal angle between it and the drill string changes, is self-evident. The manner in which this result is achieved here is at most an "improvement or mere variation of a minor character . . . which is not the substance of the patent and does not add anything in itself patentable to it." Cataphote Corp. v. De Soto Chemical Coatings, Inc.,
The second issue presented by the motion is whether the patent is invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 103 on the ground that
It is nevertheless appropriate for this Court to consider the question of obviousness on motion for summary judgment. If the material facts are not disputed and if on those undisputed facts the differences between the purported invention and the prior art are obvious, summary judgment of invalidity is proper. Walker v. General Motors Corp., above; see also, Saf-Gard Products, Inc. v. Service Parts, Inc.,
In the leading case of Graham v. John Deere Co.,
Thus Graham mandates three inquiries on the issue of obviousness:
1. The Scope and Content of the Prior Art.
Defendant contends that the prior art consists of a single cylinder motion compensator as represented by the Kammerer patent (discussed at p. 1210, above). Plaintiff disagrees, contending that the Kammerer patent does not relate either to the "operative principle" or the "mechanical implementation" of the patents in suit.
We must of course look to the claims to measure the scope of the patent. Graver Mfg. Co. v. Linde Co.,
Plaintiff's statement of operative principle and mechanical implementation of the patents (quoted in footnote 4) is consistent with what has been said except for its reference to employment of an adjustable pneumatic spring. But the patents in issue do not identify an adjustable pneumatic spring to be one of the objects of the patent or one of the matters it teaches, and it is not the subject of any of the claims. Quite the contrary, they refer to other devices covered by other patents to perform that function. (Patent 3,714,995, col. 3, 1. 43-57.) Plaintiff's suggestion that Kammerer is not prior art because it does not incorporate a pneumatic spring is therefore irrelevant. As the patents in issue make clear, the pneumatic-hydraulic means for maintaining pressure are not a part of the claimed invention. (Re. 28,218, col. 3, 1. 55-65.)
It must therefore be concluded that the relevant prior art consists of single cylinder motion compensators as represented by the Kammerer patent. The patentability of the claimed invention must be judged on the basis of the differences between that art and the claims at issue.
2. The Differences Between the Prior Art and the Claims at Issue.
As shown by the discussion in the foregoing section with respect to the relevant prior art, the differences between that art and the patents at issue consist of
3. The Level of Ordinary Skill in the Pertinent Art.
In this case, as in Walker v. General Motors Corp., above, the structure disclosed by the prior art is simple and requires no explanation. That the differences between the prior art and the patent, i. e., the rearrangement of the cylinder geometry and the addition of a locking device, was obvious in 1970 when the application for the Vetco patent was filed is conclusively established by the fact that engineers for Rucker and Jackson had conceived the same ideas four years earlier and that those companies had disseminated the ideas widely in the industry. (See p. 1207, above) Plaintiff has offered no evidence and appears to make no claim that any of those engineers possessed more than ordinary skill in the art pertaining to motion compensators. See Concrete
Moreover, it appears to the Court as a matter of law that the differences between the prior art and the patent amount to no more than a simple physical rearrangement of known components of a sort which has consistently been held to be unpatentable by the court of appeals. Walker v. General Motors Corp., above, (separation of automobile fuel tank from fender); Deere & Co. v. Sperry Rand Corp., above, (relocation of raking reel in harvesting machine along with addition of an upper roller and increasing relative speed of rolls); Regimbal v. Scymansky,
In Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Tel-Design, Inc.,
That statement is squarely applicable to the straddling rearrangement of travelling block and cylinders to occupy less space in the derrick and the addition of a physical connection permitting these components to lock. As for the articulation and deceleration means, we have heretofore discussed the reasons why they add nothing patentable to the invention. (See pp. 1210-1211, above) It cannot be said of the claimed invention in this case either that the mechanical implementation of the operating principle was difficult to achieve, or that the operating principle itself was obscure. Cf., Saf-Gard Products, Inc. v. Service Parts, Inc., above, 532 F.2d at 1271. Rather, the case falls within the general principle stated by the Supreme Court in Concrete Appliances Co. v. Gomery,
See, also, Gordon Cartons v. Alford Cartons,
Plaintiff contends that the so-called secondary considerations under Graham must be given weight in considering obviousness, i. e., commercial success, long felt but unsolved needs, and failure of others. While these factors may serve as indicia of obviousness or lack of obviousness where the issue is in doubt, they do not establish invention where as here obviousness is clear as a matter of law. Graham v. John Deere Co., above, 383 U.S. at 19-36, 86 S.Ct. 684; Walker v. General Motors Corp., above, 362 F.2d at 60; Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Tel-Design, Inc., above, 460 F.2d at 630-31; Deere & Co. v. Sperry Rand Corp., above, 513 F.2d at 1133.
Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the existence of genuine issues of material fact requiring trial of the issues of anticipation or obviousness. The Court concludes, for the reasons stated, that defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on both issues.
The matter is set for a status conference on June 2, 1978, at 10:00 A.M. for consideration of further proceedings.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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