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Oil well spill tray patents not infringed, one invalid – Federal Court

On June 7, 2013, Justice Barnes issued his Reasons for Judgment in a patent  infringement action between Zero Spill Systems and Rat Plastic and involving Canadian Patent Nos. 2,136,375 and 2,258,064 and Canadian Industrial Design Registration No. 86793. The Plaintiffs had initially also alleged infringement of a third patent, Canadian Patent No. 2,163,332,  but this claim was dropped during the course of the action.

The patents generally relate to two trays designed to capture fluids that leak or are spilled during oil field operations. The two-part upper trays are attached to a modified  flow nipple (a YouTube video of installation of an upper tray may be found here here). The two-part lower tray is attached around the central pipe or stack (a YouTube video of the installation of a lower containment tray may be found  here.

Upper Tray

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Upper tray

Upper tray

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[column width=”60%” margin_right=”5%”]Claim 2 of the 375 Patent provides:

A catch pan for drilling rigs, comprising:

a shallow pan-like body consisting of two portions, each portion including an interior edge having a semi-circular indentation with depending semi-cylindrical collar, such that upon the interior edges of the portions being abutted a generally circular opening with a depending cylindrical collar is formed, the cylindrical collar providing a cylindrical interior sealing surface;

latching means to secure the interior edges in abutting relation.

an annular seal having an interior attachment portion and an exterior wiper portion, the attachment portion being adapted for attachment to a flange of a flow nipple, the wiper portion engaging the interior sealing surface, the cylindrical interior sealing surface of the cylindrical collar being telescopically moveable relative to the annular seal, thereby accommodating movement of the pan-like body relative to the flow nipple when a downward force is exerted upon the pan-like body by a settling drilling platform.

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While the parties disagreed as to the meaning of many claim terms, Justice Barnes focused on the two limitations highlighted above. Justice Barnes concluded that the ability of the upper tray to move telescopically relative to the annular seal was a core inventive concept of the patent and the patentee. Having adopted the particular advantage of tray movement to distinguish over the prior art cannot stretch the meaning of the claims to cover anything that may achieved the same result. Justice Barnes conclude that the  Defendants’ upper trays do not infringe the 375 Patent, holding:

 [103]      The 375 Patent claims as an essential part of the invention a novel telescopic seal that presumably addresses a problem created by a settling oil rig. To the extent that this problem is one that the drilling industry seeks to remedy, the 375 Patent system would be seen to be superior to the Defendants’ fluid containment systems. But having claimed patent protection over that innovation as an essential feature of the 375 Patent, it is not later open to the Plaintiffs to claim an infringement by the sale of products that do not include that feature:  see Free World Trust, above, at paras 31-32.

[104]      I am satisfied that the Defendants’ systems for mounting their upper trays to a flow nipple of a drilling rig are sufficiently different from the considerably more elegant 375 Patent design that they do not infringe either of claims 1 or 2.

Lower Tray

The  065 Patent is directed to an improved lower oil well containment tray said to provide a simplified installation. Representative Claim 1 of the 065 Patent provides:

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Lower Tray

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[column width=”60%” margin_right=”5%”] An oilwell leak containment apparatus for a completed oilwell, comprising:

a shallow tray-form body segmented into at least two segments, each of the at least two segments having a non-mating edge and a mating edge, the non-mating edge having an upstanding containment wall, when the at least two segments are coupled together to form the body the upstanding containment wall extending around a peripheral edge of the body and defining a liquid containment cavity, the mating edge mates with an other of the at least two segments, each mating edge having an arcuate portion, when the at least two segments are coupled together to complete the body the arcuate portions forming a circular collar adapted to be positioned around a christmas tree;

at least one of the two segments having a drainage aperture; and

couplers for clamping the mating edges together.

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Justice Barnes also held that the 064 Patent was anticipated by two prior art a documents and was not infringed by the Defendants’ lower tray because the two tray halves were, while brought into close proximity without a seal, did not form a unitary containment. Given the clear language use by the patentee, justice Barnes was not prepared to interpret “a” to mean “one, some or many”. Further, as the 065 Patent is restricted to a containment tray on a completed oil well, and not a drilling rig, and there was no evidence that the Defendants offered their lower containment trays for use on completed oil wells.

Industrial Design

Justice Barnes held that on the evidence before him, the Paintiffs had failed to discharge the burden of proving infringement:

[134] What I am left with on this record is evidence that the similarities of the CAPP line pipe tray  to the 793 Design serve a solely functional purpose. To the extent that there are any appealing  visual aspects to the 793 Design, those are not duplicated by the CAPP product. On the evidence  before me I find that the Plaintiffs have failed to prove infringement on a balance of probabilities

A copy of Justice Barnes’ Reasons for Judgment may be found here.