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I Hear Ya: Claim Terms Not as Narrow as Features in Specification

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a district court’s final judgment of noninfringement, finding that the district court improperly narrowed the constructions of certain claim terms to particular features recited in the specification. Promptu Sys. Corp. v. Comcast Corp., Case No. 22-1939 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 16, 2024) (Moore, Prost, Taranto, JJ.)

Promptu filed a lawsuit against Comcast alleging infringement of two patents. The patents describe and claim subject matter generally related to voice recognition but have materially different specifications. The first patent describes using remote voice recognition systems to deliver content in response to a user’s speech request (content delivery patent), while the second patent describes using remote voice recognition systems to control a user’s television set based on a user’s speech command (control patent).

The content delivery patent’s representative claim recites a method for using a “back channel containing a multiplicity of identified speech channels from a multiplicity of user sites presented to a speech processing system at a wireline node in a network supporting at least one of cable television delivery and video delivery” as well as a “method of operating at least part of a speech recognition system coupled to a wireline node in a network [for] processing a multiplicity of received identified speech channels to create a multiplicity of identified speech content.” Meanwhile, the claim of the control patent recites “a centralized multi-user voice operated television control system, comprising . . . a centralized processing station configured to receive and process second output from a multitude of television set top boxes by applying voice recognition.”

During the underlying district court proceeding, the district court adopted claim constructions proposed by Comcast. Based on those claim constructions, Promptu stipulated to and moved for entry of a final judgment of no infringement. After the district court granted Promptu’s motion, Promptu appealed.

Promptu challenged the district court’s construction of three claim limitations from the content delivery patent (“back channel,” “multiplicity of received identified speech channels” and “speech recognition system coupled to a wireline node”) and one claim limitation from the control patent (“centralized processing station”). In accordance with long-standing precedent, the Federal Circuit reviewed claim construction by affording the words of the claims their ordinary meaning in the context of the claims and specification.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the district court erred by narrowly construing “back channel” in the content delivery patent as being limited to a “fixed band of frequencies or time slot(s) for transmitting signals to a speech processing system or engine” because nothing in the claim language or the specification required limitation to a “fixed band of frequencies or time slot.” To the contrary, the specification of the patent disclosed the back channel broadly while recognizing the possibility of using different protocols and formats along different subsections of the path or route from user site to speech recognition system. Given the breadth of the techniques for the back channel disclosed in the specification, the Court found no reason to narrow the claims [...]

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We Meant It – No Incorporation by Reference

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a sua sponte order regarding the impermissibility of incorporating by reference arguments from one brief into another, especially when doing so causes the brief to exceed the permitted word count. Promptu Sys. Corp. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns, LLC, Case No. 22-1093 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 16, 2024) (Moore, CJ; Prost, Taranto, JJ.) (per curiam).

On January 11, 2024, the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in four related cases involving Promptu and Comcast. During oral argument, the Court asked counsel for the appellee to submit a brief within 10 days, totaling no more than 10 pages, to show why he should not be sanctioned for attempting to incorporate by reference multiple pages – almost 2,000 words – of argument from the brief in one case into another, thereby causing the brief to exceed the word limit.

The Federal Circuit recounted that it has “repeatedly held” that incorporating by reference to exceed word count is not permitted, citing its holdings on this issue in Microsoft v. DataTern (2014) and more recently in Medtronic v. Teleflex Life Sciences (2023). Appellee counsel responded that he was unaware of the Microsoft decision until the appellant’s reply brief had already been filed. The Court accepted his assertion but noted with disapproval that the precedential Microsoft decision admonished “the exact same law firm before us now for the exact same behavior,” and that once made aware of the Microsoft decision, counsel did nothing to remedy the impropriety.

Practice Note: The Federal Circuit did not award sanctions against appellate counsel but sternly warned future litigants that it is improper to incorporate by reference arguments from one brief into another unless in compliance with Fed. R. App. P. 28, and that such incorporation is never permitted if it results in exceeding the applicable word limit. The Court stated that going forward, such a violation “will likely result in [an award of] sanctions.”

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