Common Scents: Perfume Dispenser Patent Dispute Remanded

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 01, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Who knew that the perfume packaging industry was so competitive? Well, it appears it is.

Invisible Dip Tubes

MeadWestVaco Corp. ("MWV") was the first player in the beauty industry to develop an invisible dip tube for perfume bottle dispensers. Normally, when the dispenser dip tube is immersed in the fragrance, you can still see the dip tube. To enhance the aesthetics of the perfume bottle, MWV designed a dip tube that became "invisible" once immersed in the fragrance, the NoC® (cleverly pronounced "no see"). MWV patented the dip tube: 7,722,819 ("'819") and 7,718,132 ("'132"), the continuation of the '819 patent.

Two other perfume packaging companies, Rexam Beauty and Closures, Inc. ("Rexam") and Valois of America ("Valois"), developed their own invisible dip tubes after receiving samples of MWV's dip tube from their respective clients.

Patent Infringement Claim

In 2011, MWV accused Rexam and Valois of infringing the '819 and '132 patents, and Rexam and Valois counter-claimed for declaratory judgment. Amid a flurry of motions, many of which were appealed to the Federal Circuit, the court granted MWV's motion for summary judgment on the issue of nonobviousness.

Remax and Valois appealed, on a number of issues, but their only successful claim on appeal was whether the district court erred in granting MWV's motion for summary judgment of nonobviousness.

Obviousness Analysis

The court noted that determining obviousness is a "question of law based on specific factual findings." Here, the district court relied on the fact that it would not have been obvious to use EFEP in fragrance packaging. However, the Federal Circuit found that the district court's analysis in error because "it fails to treat claims 15 and 19, which are not limited to fragrance products, differently from the asserted fragrance specific claims."

Furthermore, the court noted that Valois brought forth sufficient evidence to create material issues of fact, which the district court inappropriately resolved in favor of MWV. Because of these errors, the Federal Circuit remanded for a trial on the obviousness issue.

While Remax and Valois were not successful in their other arguments on appeal, they will now have their day in court on the obviousness issue.

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