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Oil-Dri Corp. of Am. v. Nestlé Purina Petcare Co.

United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

February 22, 2019, Decided; February 22, 2019, Filed

Case No. 15 C 1067

Opinion

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge:

In February 2015, Oil-Dri Corporation sued Nestlé Purina Petcare Company for patent infringement. Both companies manufacture cat litter. Oil-Dri owns a patent for "clumping animal litter," which it alleges Nestlé Purina has infringed. Specifically, it alleges literal infringement of two of the patent's independent claims—1 and 30—and related dependent claims. Nestlé Purina asserts several affirmative defenses, including invalidity and equitable estoppel.

Oil-Dri has moved for summary judgment on its claims of infringement and on all of Nestlé Purina's affirmative defenses. Nestlé Purina has cross-moved for summary judgment of non-infringement and on one aspect of its invalidity defense. For the reasons below, the Court grants each side's motion for summary judgment in part [*3]  and denies each in part.

Background

A. Factual background

The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted. Oil-Dri, the manufacturer of Cat's Pride brand cat litters, owns U.S. Patent No. 5,975,019 (the '019 patent), entitled "clumping animal litter." The patent teaches an animal litter that employs "the interparticle interaction of swelling clay, such as sodium bentonite, in combination with a non-swelling clay material" to produce a litter that quickly and effectively clumps when exposed to moisture such as that in animal waste. See '019 Patent, Ex. A to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., dkt. no. 602-2, at Abstract. Specifically, the patent's invention exploits a purportedly innovative clumping synergy that results from pairing relatively smaller particles of swelling clay materials with relatively larger non-swelling clay particles. The synergy allows the manufacturer to use proportionally less swelling clay material while still achieving a "a good clumping performance" that "heretofore was not readily attainable." Id. at 1:50-54. The upshot: the clumping animal letter described in the '019 patent uses less of the pricier and heavier swelling clay material than its predecessors while still achieving desirable clumping qualities.

Nestlé Purina [*4]  manufactures a wide range of animal litter products branded under the Tidy Cat name. Its products, like Oil-Dri's, take advantage of interactions between swelling and non-swelling clay materials to create a clumping reaction when exposed to moisture. Where the parties disagree, of course, is whether the Nestlé Purina products fall within the legal monopoly protected by the '019 patent. Nestlé Purina asserts that the '019 patent does not cover "engineered" or "composite" litter products like its Tidy Cats litters. An engineered or composite litter is one in which swelling and non-swelling clays are manufactured into unified physical structures, which the parties call "composite granules," rather than remaining as separate, discrete particles in the final product.

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2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28279 *; 2019 WL 861394

OIL-DRI CORPORATION OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, vs. NESTLÉ PURINA PETCARE COMPANY, Defendant.

Prior History: Oil-Dri Corp. v. Nestle Purina Petcare Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48358 (N.D. Ill., Mar. 31, 2017)

CORE TERMS

particles, non-swelling, swelling, infringement, composite, patent, litter, particulate, invalidity, invention, manufacturing, clumping, granules, animal, ingredients, cross-motion, estoppel, predetermined, literal, misleading, equitable, patentee, mixed, anticipation, comprising, non-moving, composed, estopped, inventor, printed