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District Court Denies Motion to Exclude Expert Where Conjoint Consumer Research Survey Was Appropriately Tied to Asserted Patents

In this patent infringement action, defendant Carvana sought to exclude the plaintiff Estech’s expert report and opinions regarding a conjoint survey. Carvana moved to exclude the expert’s opinion asserting that the survey failed to satisfy the reliability requirements of Rule 702 and Daubert.

As explained by the district court, Estech hired its expert, Dr. R. Sukumar, to “perform a conjoint analysis—a consumer research survey method—used to “determine customers’ willingness to pay for features represented in this patent infringement lawsuit.” In his report, Dr. Sukumar explained that conjoint analysis provides a way to determine how much consumers value a particular feature of a multi-feature product. Dr. Sukumar then used a conjoint analysis in an effort to quantify a difference in market value for a voice over IP (VoIP) solution/service based on seven attributes: five attributes corresponding to patented features, one distractor attribute, and one price attribute. Using information obtained from the survey, Dr. Sukumar calculated numerical values representing consumer willingness to pay for each of the five attributes corresponding to the patented features.

In its motion, Carvana argued that the conjoint survey was unreliable because the features it ascribed to the patents were not directly tied to the patented technology, relying on Fractus, S.A. v. Samsung. 6:09-CV-203-LED-JDL, 2011 WL 7563820, at *1 (E.D. Tex. Apr. 29, 2011) (Granting motion to exclude customer surveys attributing a certain dollar value and identifying importance of percentage of cell phones with internal as opposed to external antennas because “the surveys do not measure how consumers value the purported advantages provided by Plaintiff’s technology.”).

The district court disagreed, finding that “the attributes identified by Dr. Sukumar are similar to those discussed in the ’684 and ’699 Patents, and therefore measure how consumers value purported advantages offered by Estech’s technology. . . . Dr. Sukumar Feature & Level Description, Dkt. No. 215-6 at 4 (identifying eight sub-features within the three survey attributes correlated to the Asserted Patents); see also ’684 Patent at 12:24–44 and 14:30–46 (describing advantage of the ’684 Patent invention as it relates to voice data transmission); ’699 Patent at 10:9–31 (describing advantages of the ’699 Patent invention).” Accordingly, the district court concluded that “Dr. Sukumar has sufficiently tied the features of the Asserted Patents to the features analyzed in his study.”

Although the district court noted that “[t]here may be questions regarding the correctness of Dr. Sukumar’s methodology and the results from his conjoint study,” these assessments as to credibility and correctness are for the factfinder, not the district court. Summit 6, 802 F.3d 1283 at 1296 (“But where the methodology is reasonable and its data or evidence are sufficiently tied to the facts of the case, the gatekeeping role of the court is satisfied, and the inquiry on the correctness of the methodology and of the results produced thereunder belongs to the factfinder.”).

Accordingly, the district court denied the motion to exclude.

Estech Systems IP, LLC v. Carvana LLC, Case No. 2:21-CV-00482-JRG-RSP

The authors of are patent trial lawyers at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. For more information about this case, contact Stan Gibson at 310.201.3548 or