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Coca-Cola Faces Receptive Federal Circuit at Patent Argument

April 6, 2020, 7:53 PM

Coca-Cola Co.‘s argument that it didn’t infringe a drink dispenser patent because users don’t communicate directly with its machine may have resonated with a three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit.

The patent, owned by Rothschild Connective Devices Innovations LLC, requires direct communication, Judge Timothy B. Dyk said. Someone using Coca-Cola’s Freestyle Dispenser system communicates with the machine via phone app.

The argument Monday was among the first the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit conducted by telephone as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

Rothschild alleged Coca-Cola’s machine and accompanying phone app infringed its U.S. Patent No. 8,417,377. The patent is on a system for internet users to customize products containing solids and fluids.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia held that Coca-Cola’s machine didn’t allow users to communicate with it “directly,” and therefore it didn’t infringe.

Rothschild’s counsel, John C. Carey, told the circuit panel that the lower court improperly limited the patent to cover only those products that make direct communications. But using the app to communicate with the machine to prepare the user’s preferred drink combination is enough for infringement, he said.

Coca-Cola’s counsel, A. Shane Nichols, said Rothschild’s patent doesn’t contemplate an app. Users can’t identify themselves to the Freestyle system without the app, so there is no direct communication with the machine, he said.

Judge Sharon Prost said she was concerned that Rothschild’s reading of the patent language would result in the user’s phone being claimed as part of the Freestyle product.

Carey responded that Coca-Cola made the app, which is part of the method covered by the patent, so it doesn’t matter that it didn’t make the phone.

“Assuming we agree with you, it’s only because the claims here are enormously broad,” Prost said.

Rothschild filed over 50 complaints in 2016 alleging that not just drink makers, but also car and consumer electronics companies, infringed the patent.

Judge Kathleen M. O’Malley also served on the panel.

Carey, of Carey, Rodriguez, Greenberg & Paul LLP in Miami argued for Rothschild.

Nichols of Alston & Bird LLP in Atlanta argued for Coca-Cola.

The case is Rothschild Connected Devices v. Coca-Cola Co., Fed. Cir., No. 19-1825, argued 4/6/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Perry Cooper in Washington at pcooper@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Roger Yu at ryu@bloomberglaw.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com

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