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Plantronics, Inc. v. Aliph, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

July 31, 2013

PLANTRONICS, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
ALIPH, INC. AND ALIPHCOM, INC., Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in No. 09-CV-1714, Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman.

Kara F. Stoll, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Gar-rett & Dunner, LLP, of Washington, DC, argued for plaintiff-appellant. With her on the brief was Jason W. Melvin. Of counsel on the brief were David C. Bohrer, Confluence Law Partners, of San Jose, California, and Bruce G. Chapman, Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz LLP, of Los Angeles, California.

Robert P. Feldman, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, of Redwood Shores, California, argued for defendants-appellees. With him on the brief were Daniel H. Bromberg and Dane W. Reinstedt.

Before Rader, Chief Judge, O'Malley, and Wallach, Circuit Judges.

Wallach, Circuit Judge.

In this patent infringement case, Plantronics, Inc. ("Plantronics") filed suit alleging that Aliph, Inc. and Aliphcom, Inc.'s (collectively, "Aliph") products infringe U.S. Patent No. 5, 712, 453, entitled "Concha Headset Stabilizer" (the "'453 patent"). On March 23, 2012, the district court granted-in-part Aliph's motion for summary judgment of noninfringement and invalidity, construing certain disputed terms, finding in relevant part that the accused products do not infringe claims 1 and 10, and holding the asserted claims invalid as obvious. Plantron-ics, Inc. v. Aliph, Inc., No. C09-1714BZ, 2012 WL 994636, at *12 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2012) ("Summ. J. Decision"). The district court's decision is reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings.


The '453 patent is directed to a concha-style headset for transmitting received sounds to the ear of a user, e.g., headsets used with cell phone receivers. '453 patent col. 1 ll. 13–16. In particular, the patent discloses an apparatus for stabilizing a concha style headset during use. Id. col. 2 ll. 56–63. Because the claimed apparatus requires some familiarity with the human ear, an illustration is provided below:



Id. fig. 3. Of particular relevance is the concha, "a deep cavity containing the entry to the ear canal, " and which is divided into the upper and lower concha, 43 and 41. '453 patent col. 4 ll. 50-52.

Prior art headset stabilizers included large supports outside the ear or relied on appendages to hook onto the crux of the helix 31. Id. col. 1 ll. 20-55. The '453 patent purports to improve upon prior art headset stabilizers. In particular, the claimed headset consists of "a receiver attachment that couples to the body of the receiver, a support member extending from the receiver attachment, and a concha stabilizer pad coupled to the end of the support member such that the concha stabilizer pad contacts the upper concha under the antihelix of the ear with the receiver placed in the lower concha in front of the ear canal." Id. at [57]. Thus, the concha stabilizer pad has three points of contact: the tragus, the anti-tragus, and the upper concha. Id. col. 2 ll. 2-6. Certain embodiments of the claimed concha stabilizer are depicted below:


Id. figs 1A, 1B.

The stabilizing concha style headset is described as typically including a receiver 27 and a voice tube 30. Id. col. 2. ll. 64–65. A receiver attachment comprises an ear cushion 11 preferably dimensioned as an oblate spheroid, formed of a reticulated, fully open-pore flexible, ester type polyurethane foam. Id. col. 2 l. 66–col. 3 l. 2. The ear cushion 11 has an open central recessed portion 13 forming a "C" shape, which is dimensioned to fit snugly onto the receiver 27. Id. col. 3. ll. 6–9. A flexible support member, stabilizer support 17, extends from the upper surface of the ear cushion 11. Id. col. 3 ll. 18–19. The end of the stabilizer support 17 is coupled to a concha stabilizer pad 21 which contacts the upper concha 43 beneath the antihelix. Id. col. 3 ll. 26–28. When placed into the lower concha 41 during use, the ear cushion 11 contacts the tragus 35 and the antitragus 39 at a tragus contact point 23 and an antitragus contact point 25, respectively, where the face 15 of the ear cushion 11 rests in the lower concha 41 and faces toward the ear canal 33. Id. col. 3. ll. 9–14. The left/right orientation of the tragus contact point 23 and the antitragus contact point 25 with respect to the face 15 of the ear cushion 11 is reversed for the left and right ears. Id. col. 3 ll. 14–16.

Independent claim 1 is representative of the asserted claims:

1. An apparatus for stabilizing a headset including a receiver sized to fit between a tragus and an anti-tragus of an ear, the apparatus comprising:
an ear cushion dimensioned to cover a portion of the receiver disposed between the tragus and the anti-tragus;
a resilient and flexible stabilizer support member coupled to the ear cushion, and dimensioned to fit within an upper concha with the ear cushion coupled to the receiver and the receiver ...

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