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Zito LLC v. CRJ, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 9, 2018

ZITO LLC, Plaintiff,
CRJ, INC., et al., Defendants.


          James K. Bredar Chief Judge.

         Zito LLC (“Plaintiff”) filed suit against CRJ, Inc., Ripken Baseball Camps and Clinics LLC, Ripken Holdings, LLC, Ripken Baseball Academy, LLC, Ripken Enterprises, LLC, and R-C Myrtle Beach, LLC (“Defendants”), alleging two counts of patent infringement in violation of 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) against Defendants. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 54). The issues have been briefed (ECF Nos. 54-1, 55 & 59), and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons explained below, Defendants' Motion will be GRANTED.

         I. Undisputed Facts

         Defendants are a group of affiliated entities that operate “baseball tournaments, camps, clinics, and skills training seminars.” (Amend. Compl., ECF No. 43, ¶ 17.) As part of their business, Defendants developed, marketed, used, and sold the Ripken Performance Metrics System (“RPM”)-i.e., the Accused System. (Id.) This system used a Fungoman® Automated Baseball Practice Machine, connected to a computer with software that could be used to dispense baseballs to players in a manner appropriate for their skill level. (Id.) Defendants used the RPM system from at least March 2014 through August 2016.[1]

         Arthur Zito is the named inventor of U.S. Patent Numbers 7, 398, 921 (‘921) and U.S. Patent No. 9, 443, 369 (‘369)-the two patents at issue in this suit. Mr. Zito is also the managing member of Plaintiff Zito LLC, which owns the patents at issue. Both patents are entitled “User-Specific Dispensing System” and relate to “systems and methods for on-site, automated dispensing of items to users based on user-specific information.” (U.S. Patent No. 7, 398, 921, ECF No. 54-3, at 7; U.S. Patent No. 9, 443, 369, ECF No. 54-4, at 11.) Put more simply, the patents describe a specific means of automatically dispensing baseballs to fielders based on the unique characteristics of the fielder.[2]

         The patents at issue generally describe a three-part system for dispensing items (e.g., baseballs) to a user. The system comprises: (1) “a user-identifier, such as an RFID tag or a bar code, containing information associated with a user”; (2) “a reader that is capable of reading the user identifier”; and (3) “a processor that is capable of executing instructions to actuate dispensing means that in turn dispenses an item to the user.” (ECF No. 54-3, at 7; ECF No. 54-4, at 11.) In short, “the system is designed to dispense an item that is appropriate for the user based on user-specific information.” (Id.) Notably, both patents describe a “reader” that is “capable of reading data on” “a physical holder of information” (e.g., an RFID card) and then sending that data to a “processor” that automatically selects the appropriate item to dispense to a user based upon the user-specific data. (ECF No. 54-3, at 8; ECF No. 54-4, at 12.)

         Defendant Ripken Holdings LLC employed Mr. Zito from March 2014 through August 2016 in a marketing role. (Zito Decl., ECF No. 55-2, ¶ 3.) The parties dispute Mr. Zito's specific role with Ripken Holdings; however, they both agree that Mr. Zito was not responsible for and did not operate the Accused RPM System. Mr. Zito did, however, observe the RPM System being used at baseball camps on several occasions. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 7, 11.) Specifically, Mr. Zito observed the RPM System in use during a training demonstration in the spring of 2014.[3]

         According to Mr. Zito, based on his observation,

it was clear the Defendants used a customized FungoMan machine that used radio frequency identification (“RFID”) bands made by Thuzi LLC to read each player's unique ID number to identify when a player (“user”) was present and which included the player's age and position (e.g., third base, short stop, second base, etc.) interpreted by the processor to differentiate among players by position and age and thereby determine where and how to dispense baseballs. The base path (dimensions of the bases and infield) was set according to the age of the players and the customized FungoMan machine read this age from the Thuzi band to dispense balls appropriate to those dimensions.

(Id. ¶ 7.)

         A. The ‘921 Patent

         The ‘921 patent was issued on July 15, 2008. The patent contains seventeen claims, only one of which, Claim 1, is independent. Claim 1 describes “[a] system to dispense at least one user-appropriate item on-site, said system comprising:

a. a readable user-identifier associated with a targeted user that stores information that is specific to said targeted user . . .;
b. a reader configured for reading said user-identifier;
c. coded instructions to interpret said user-specific information read by said reader, automatically select at least one item of a plurality of items based on said user-specific information, and automatically actuate dispensation of said selected item to said targeted user without requiring further intervention from said targeted user; . . . and
d. a processor coupled to said dispensing means and to said reader, said processor configured for executing said instructions to automatically actuate said at least one dispensing means to dispense said at least one selected item based upon said interpretation of said user-specific information[.]

(ECF No. 54-3, at 10 (emphasis added).) In sum, the ‘921 patent claims a system that includes: (1) a physical storage device (e.g., a card) for storing user-specific information; (2) a reader for reading the stored user-specific information on the physical device; and (3) software instructions and a processor that automatically select an item to dispense based on nothing more than the user-specific information read by the reader and transferred to the processor.

         B. The ‘369 Patent

         The ‘369 patent was issued on September 13, 2016. This patent is significantly broader in scope than the ‘921 patent. The ‘369 patent includes forty-eight claims, three of which-Claims 1, 18, and 41, are independent. As with Claim 1 of the ‘921 patent, Claim 1 of the ‘369 patent requires,

a reader configured for reading a user-identifier associated with a user and associated with user-specific information ...

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