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3D Chess at the Federal Circuit: Can’t Walk Back Arguments in Prior Appeal or Prosecution History

In the second appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the preamble term “three-dimensional spreadsheet” was found to be a limitation in the context of claims directed to organizing and presenting information in electronic spreadsheets based on prosecution disclaimer and arguments made in the first appeal. Data Engine Techs, LLC v. Google LLC, (DET II), Case No. 21-1050 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 26, 2021) (Stoll, J.)

In the first appeal (DET I), the Federal Circuit found that DET’s representative claim was “directed to more than a generic or abstract idea as it claims a particular manner of navigating three-dimensional spreadsheets,” improving on electronic spreadsheet functionality and, therefore, directed to patent-eligible subject matter. The Court reversed and remanded. On remand, Google requested that the district court reopen claim construction and construe the preamble term “three-dimensional spreadsheet” in the representative claim.

The district court found the preamble to be limiting and construed “three-dimensional spreadsheet” to mean a “spreadsheet that defines a mathematical relation among cells on different spreadsheet pages, such that cells are arranged in a 3-D grid.” The district court went on to grant Google’s motion for summary judgment of noninfringement as there was no dispute that the accused product (Google Sheets) did not meet the “three-dimensional spreadsheet” limitation under the court’s construction. DET appealed.

Applying de novo review to the claim construction issue presented, the Federal Circuit noted that in DET I, its conclusion that the asserted claims were directed to improvements in three-dimensional spreadsheets ascribed patentable weight to the preamble term “three-dimensional spreadsheet.” The dispute related to whether the claim requires “a mathematical relation among cells on different spreadsheet pages,” as required by the district court’s construction.

The Federal Circuit found that neither the claims themselves nor the specification provided guidance in construing “three-dimensional spreadsheet.” Turning to the prosecution history, the Court noted that during prosecution, the applicants provided an explicit definition of a “true” three-dimensional spreadsheet and distinguished prior art under this definition. Indeed, as the Court noted, its ruling in DET I expressly relied on that definition from the prosecution history in determining that the claims required a three-dimensional spreadsheet that “defines a “three-dimensional spreadsheet” in support of patent eligibility. Thus, the Court concluded that the preamble term was limiting.

In the present appeal, DET contended that the prosecution history passage defining a three-dimensional spreadsheet did not rise to the level of “clear and unmistakable” disclaimer when read in context of the spreadsheet (Lotus 1-2-3) it was distinguishing. The Federal Circuit rejected the argument noting, “DET cannot escape the import of its statements to the Patent Office by suggesting they were not needed to overcome the Examiner’s rejection. Consistent with the public notice function of the prosecution history, the public is entitled to rely on these statements as defining the scope of the claims.” In rejecting DET’s arguments, the Court again cited to the imagery of twisting claims, “like ‘a nose of wax,’ ‘one way to avoid [invalidity] and another to [...]

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Footnote Doesn’t Preserve Claim Construction Argument, but Patent Owner Must Observe “Nose of Wax” Principle

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rejected an insufficiently developed claim construction challenge and found noninfringement where the patentee argued that a key feature shared by the accused device and the prior art distinguished the prior art from the claimed invention. CommScope Technologies LLC v. Dali Wireless Inc., Case Nos. 20-1817; -1818 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 24, 2021) (Stoll, J.)

CommScope Technologies and Dali Wireless are both in the wireless telecommunications industry. After CommScope sued Dali for infringement of five of its patents, Dali counterclaimed for infringement of two of its own patents. One of Dali’s patents relates to a method of predistorting a signal to account for distortion that occurs when the signal is amplified. The patent describes a training mode in which a feedback loop operates to update lookup tables and an operating mode in which a certain controller is turned off and the lookup table is no longer updated. In particular, the claim recites “switching a controller off to disconnect signal representative of the output of the power amplifier,” which the district court construed to mean “switching a controller to a nonoperating state to disconnect signal representative of the output of the power amplifier.” The accused product has two power amplifiers, and the controller switch continuously chooses between feedback signals for calculating predistortion values. Similarly, one asserted prior art reference discloses a system including multiple power amplifiers and a switch that continuously selects one of the feedback signals. At trial, the jury found the patent both valid and infringed, and the district court denied judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) of invalidity and no infringement.

On appeal, Dali included a footnote challenging the district court’s claim construction. The Federal Circuit held this challenge ineffective for three reasons, writing:

First, an argument that is only made in a footnote of an appellant’s brief is forfeited. Second, even if the argument were in the body of the brief, it is insufficiently developed. Finally, and most importantly, it is irreconcilable with Dali’s statements in other portions of its brief: (1) asserting that the district court’s construction is “unchallenged” and (2) applying the construction in the context of invalidity.

The Federal Circuit also criticized Dali for taking inconsistent positions with respect to application of its claims to the accused product and the prior art “given [the accused device] has a switch that operates identically [to the prior art.” “[t]his case falls squarely within the principle that a ‘patent may not, like a nose of wax, be twisted one way to avoid anticipation and another to find infringement.’” The Court held that no substantial evidence supported the infringement verdict because there was no evidence that the controller in the accused product put itself in the claimed “nonoperating state.” Accordingly, it reversed the denial of JMOL of noninfringement (while affirming the balance of the judgment below).




If Intrinsic Evidence Provides a Clear Meaning, Just Stop

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a final written decision of the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) based on its finding that the Board erred in its ultimate claim construction by relying on extrinsic evidence that was inconsistent with the intrinsic evidence. Seabed Geosolutions (US) Inc. v. Magseis FF LLC, Case No. 20-1237 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 11, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

In April 2018, Seabed Geosolutions petitioned for inter partes review of a patent owned by Magseis directed to “seismometers for use in seismic exploration.” Every claim recited a “geophone internally fixed within” either a “housing” or an “internal compartment” of a seismometer. The Board construed this limitation to require a non-gimbaled geophone based entirely on extrinsic evidence. The Board found that the term “fixed” had a special meaning of “non-gimbaled” at the time of the invention. Based on this finding, the Board determined that Seabed had failed to prove that the challenged claims were unpatentable because the cited prior art did not disclose a non-gimbaled geophone. Seabed appealed.

The Federal Circuit reversed the Board’s claim construction of the term “fixed” because it relied on extrinsic evidence that was inconsistent with the intrinsic evidence and unnecessary to consider given the clarity of the intrinsic evidence. The Court reminded the Board that it “resort[s] to extrinsic evidence to construe claims only if it is consistent with the intrinsic evidence,” and that “[i]f the meaning of a claim term is clear from the intrinsic evidence, there is no reason to resort to extrinsic evidence,” citing prior Federal Circuit decisions.

Contrary to the special meaning found by the Board, the Federal Circuit determined that the term “fixed” carried its ordinary meaning (i.e., attached or fastened). The Court found that the term “specifies the geophone’s relationship with the housing, not the type of geophone.” As an initial matter, the specification was silent as to whether the geophone was gimbaled or not. “That silence does not support reading the claims to exclude gimbaled geophones,” in part because the specification used the term gimbaled when describing other aspects of the invention. Had the applicant intended to limit the claimed geophone, it would have done so.

Furthermore, the specification described the internal mounting of the geophone as a key feature to overcome issues with the then-conventional method of separating the geophone from the seismometer’s other components. The specification reiterated that by internally mounting the geophone, the invention was “self-contained.” The prosecution history also revealed that both the applicant and examiner understood the term to carry its plain and ordinary meaning, equating “internally fixed within” with “disposed, and electrically connected, within.” That equivalence indicates that the term was intended to describe the relationship of the geophone with the seismometer, rather than to limit the type of geophone as contemplated by the Board. Accordingly, the Court found that the intrinsic record was clear, and that the Board’s reliance on extrinsic evidence—much less extrinsic evidence that was inconsistent with the specification itself—was improper and remanded for [...]

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As Due Process Recognizes, it’s Hard to Shoot at a Moving Claim Construction Target

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated several Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) decisions as violating due process and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), referencing the parties’ inability to respond to the PTAB’s sua sponte construction of a term on which the parties had previously agreed. Qualcomm Inc. v. Intel Corp., Case Nos. 20-1589; -1594 (Fed. Cir. July 27, 2021) (Moore, C.J.)

After Qualcomm sued Intel over a patent directed to techniques for generating a power tracking supply voltage for a circuit that processes multiple radio frequency signals simultaneously, Intel filed six inter partes review (IPR) petitions challenging the validity of Qualcomm’s patents. In each petition, Intel proposed that the claim term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” meant “signals for transmission on multiple carriers at the same time to increase the bandwidth for a user.” Qualcomm proposed a different construction: “signals from a single terminal utilizing multiple component carriers which provide extended transmission bandwidth for a user transmission from the single terminal.” Neither party disputed that the signals were required to increase user bandwidth, either at the PTAB or in a parallel proceeding before the US International Trade Commission (USITC) where the USITC adopted a construction—including the increased bandwidth requirement.

However, during the oral hearing, one of the administrative patent judges (APJs) asked Intel counsel about the inclusion of the bandwidth limitation in the claim construction. No other APJ raised, or asked Qualcomm, any questions about the increased bandwidth requirement in the claim construction. The day after the hearing, the PTAB sua sponte ordered additional briefing on the meaning of other claim terms that had been extensively discussed at the hearing.

The PTAB ultimately issued six final written decisions concluding that all challenged claims were unpatentable. In doing so, the PTAB omitted any requirement that the signals increase or extend bandwidth in construing the term “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” to mean “signals for transmission on multiple carriers.” The PTAB also held that “means for determining a single power tracking signal” (power tracker limitation) was a means-plus-function limitation and that an integrated circuit (IC) board, the “power tracker 582,” was the corresponding structure.

Qualcomm timely appealed, arguing that 1) it was not afforded notice of, or an adequate opportunity to respond to, the PTAB’s construction of “a plurality of carrier aggregated transmit signals” and 2) that the PTAB’s construction of the power tracker limitation was erroneous for failing to include an algorithm in the corresponding structure.

NOTICE AND OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND TO THE PTAB’S CONSTRUCTION

The Federal Circuit has discussed the administrative and notice requirements provided by the APA and due process in IPR proceedings: “[a] patent owner in [an IPR] is undoubtedly entitled to notice of and a fair opportunity to meet the grounds of rejection” (Belden v. Berk-Tek). The Court observed that for IPRs, the PTAB must “timely inform” the patent owner of “the matters of fact and law asserted” and, in terms of notice, “must provide ‘all interested [...]

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What You Say Can and Will be Used Against You – Prosecution History and Prior Infringement Arguments

Noting patent owner’s prior litigation statements, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a district court ruling that a clear and unmistakable disclaimer in the prosecution history affected claim construction of an asserted patent. SpeedTrack, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., Case No. 20-1573 (Fed. Cir. June 3, 2021) (Prost, J.)

In 2009, SpeedTrack filed suit against various online retailers alleging infringement of its patent directed to a method for accessing files in a filing system leveraging “category descriptions” to aid in organizing the files. The patent describes associating category descriptions with files using a “file information directory.” A “search filter” then searches the files using their associated category descriptions. A limitation that “the category descriptions hav[e] no predefined hierarchical relationship with such list or each other” was added during prosecution to overcome a prior art reference that leveraged hierarchical field-and-value relationships.

The district court initially adopted a proposed claim construction that lacked any reference to a field-and-value relationship, noting that the construction “account[ed] for the disclaimers made during prosecution.” Following a motion by SpeedTrack, the court concluded there was still a fundamental dispute about the scope of the claim term. After further analyzing SpeedTrack’s prosecution history, the court concluded that the history “demonstrate[d] clear and unambiguous disavowal of category descriptions based on hierarchical field-and-value systems” and issued a second claim construction order explicitly disclaiming “predefined hierarchical field-and-value relationships” from the scope of “category descriptions.” SpeedTrack subsequently stipulated to noninfringement under the second claim construction and appealed.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit stressed that prosecution-history disclaimer can arise from both claim amendments and arguments. Here, the prosecution history showed that the applicants “repeatedly highlighted predefined hierarchical field-and-value relationships” as a difference between the prior art and the patent claims in no uncertain terms. That SpeedTrack distinguished the prior art on other grounds did not moot its disclaimer statements.

The Federal Circuit also noted that SpeedTrack argued in litigation against another defendant that the purpose of the amendment was to distinguish the category descriptions from attributes that “have a ‘hierarchical’ relationship between fields and their values.” While the Court agreed with SpeedTrack that such litigation statements were not a disclaimer on their own (since they were not the inventors’ prosecution statements), these litigation statements further supported not accepting SpeedTrack’s arguments. The Court reminded SpeedTrack that it has cautioned (in Aylus and Southwall) that “the doctrine of prosecution disclaimer ensures that claims are not ‘construed one way in order to obtain their allowance and in a different way against accused infringers.’”

After assessing SpeedTrack’s prior statements, the Federal Circuit considered whether the disclaimer was clear and unmistakable. The Court concluded it was. In rejecting SpeedTrack’s argument that prior decisions not expressly finding disclaimer supported that prosecution statements were not clear and unambiguous, the Court noted the construction had not been fully considered in those judgments. Similarly, the Court rejected the notion that the district court’s issuance of a second claim construction order showed there was no clear and [...]

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Prosecution History Prevents Patent Owner from “Intercepting” Win on Appeal

In reviewing whether the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board) correctly interpreted the meaning of “intercepting” in the context of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that the claim language and prosecution history supported the Board’s decision. The Court thus affirmed the Board’s construction and subsequent finding of obviousness. Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Apple Inc., Case Nos. 20-1403, -1404 (Fed. Cir. May 12, 2021) (Prost, C.J.)

Uniloc owns a patent directed to a system and method for using various VoIP features, such as caller-ID, call waiting, multi-line service, and different levels of service quality known as the “codec specification.” The patent explains that in order to generate revenue for these features, service providers must maintain control over which subscribers have paid for these additional features. To achieve that control, the system employs an enforcement mechanism that sits between the sender of the communication and the intended recipient. The enforcement mechanism ensures that both parties are authorized to use the particular features by intercepting the signaling message, determining whether the client is authorized, and filtering the signaling message based on the authorization. The majority of the claims require authorization related to only one service type. However, one of the claims (claim 18) requires authorization related to at least two service types.

Apple filed a petition for inter partes review (IPR), alleging that all claims of the patent were invalid as obvious over a prior art patent referred to as Kalmanek. Kalmanek discloses signaling messages that are routed through at least one “gate controller,” which can authenticate the identity of the calling party and authorize the services sought. The services include at least caller-ID and enhanced levels of call quality. Kalmanek’s process is accomplished by sending a SETUP message, which the calling party sends to the gate controllers and then to the intended recipient. After receipt, the called party sends a SETUPACK message along a return path to the gate controllers and then to the caller.

During the IPR, Apple asserted that the term “intercepting” a signaling message associated with the call, as recited in all independent claims, should be interpreted to mean “the signaling [message] is received by a network entity located between the endpoints of the call.” Uniloc disagreed and argued that the term should be interpreted as excluding the receipt of a signaling message by the intended recipient of the message. The Board agreed with Apple’s construction and subsequently found that all terms were invalid as obvious with the exception of claim 18. With respect to claim 18, the Board concluded that Apple failed to meet its burden to show that Kalmanek disclosed authorization related to a codec service. Furthermore, the Board opined that even assuming Apple had properly advanced such an argument, it would have lost on the merits.

On appeal, Uniloc challenged the Board’s construction of the “intercepting” term, and Apple cross-appealed the Board’s finding with respect to the non-obviousness of claim 18. The Federal Circuit affirmed [...]

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Doctrine of Equivalents Analysis Should Not Be Simple Binary Comparison

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit remanded a district court’s claim construction and grant of a defendant’s summary judgment motion of non-infringement under the doctrine of equivalents, finding that a reasonable juror could find that the accused products performed substantially the same function in substantially the same way to achieve substantially the same result as the claimed invention. Edgewell Personal Care Brands, LLC v. Munchkin, Inc., Case No. 20-1203 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2021) (Moore, J.)

Edgewell manufactures and sells the “Diaper Genie,” a diaper pail system with a replaceable cassette placed inside the pail for soiled diaper collection, forming a wrapper around the diapers. Munchkin marketed a refill cassette as compatible with Edgewell’s pails. Edgewell’s two patents at issue relate to improvements in the cassette. After claim construction, Edgewell asserted literal infringement of one patent and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents of the other patent. The district court granted Munchkin’s summary judgment motion of non-infringement against both patents. Edgewell appealed.

Edgewell’s first patent is directed to a cassette with a clearance at its bottom portion. The claim construction dispute turned on whether the claims required a clearance space after the cassette was installed. The district court construed the claim to require a space and to require that the claimed “clearance” cannot be filled by an unclaimed interfering member. The district court granted Munchkin summary judgment because Munchkin’s refill cassette had no space after the cassette was installed. The Federal Circuit reversed, explaining that an “apparatus claim is generally to be construed according to what the apparatus is, not what the apparatus does.” The Court found that without an express limitation, “clearance” should be construed to cover all uses of the claimed cassette. The Court determined that the specification and purpose of the “clearance” supported the notion that the claim does not require a clearance after insertion.

The second patent is directed to a cassette with a cover that includes a “tear-off” section. The district court’s construction of an annular cover was of a single, ring-shaped cover. Munchkin’s cassettes each include a two-part cover, and the district court granted Munchkin’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement. Although the Federal Circuit agreed with the claim constructions, the Court found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Munchkin under the doctrine of equivalents for claim element vitiation on the basis that “annular cover” and “tear-off” limitations §§would be rendered meaningless.

The vitiation doctrine ensures that applying the doctrine of equivalents “does not effectively eliminate a claim element in its entirety.” The Federal Circuit found that the district court erred in evaluating this element as a binary choice—single-component structure versus a multi-component structure. Instead, the Court explained that the district court should have evaluated the evidence to determine whether a reasonable juror could find that the accused products perform substantially the same function, in substantially the same way, achieving substantially the same result as the corresponding claim elements. Edgewell’s expert opined that Munchkin’s products performed the [...]

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Knowledge of Patent, Evidence of Infringement Are Necessary, but Not Sufficient, to Establish Willfulness

Addressing claim construction, enablement, damages and willfulness, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit found that evidence of a defendant’s knowledge of the asserted patent and proof of infringement were, by themselves, legally insufficient to support a finding of willfulness. Bayer Healthcare LLC v. Baxalta Inc., Case No. 19-2418 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 1, 2021) (Stoll, J.)

Bayer owns a patent on certain recombinant forms of human factor VII (FVIII), a protein that is critical for blood coagulation. Recombinant FVIII is useful as a treatment for coagulation disorders, primarily Hemophilia A. Natural FVIII has a short half-life, making therapeutic administration expensive and inconvenient. Adding polyethylene glycol (a process known as PEGylating) to FVIII at random sites was found to increase the protein’s half-life but reduce its function. Bayer invented FVIII that is PEGylated in a specific region (the B-domain) so that it retains its function and maintains the longer half-life.

After Baxalta developed a PEGylated FVIII therapeutic, Adynovate®, Bayer sued Baxalta for infringement of its patent. During claim construction, the district court construed the claim preamble “an isolated polypeptide conjugate” to mean “a polypeptide conjugate where conjugation was not random,” finding that Bayer had disclaimed conjugates with random PEGylation. The district court also construed “at the B-domain” to mean “attachment at the B-domain such that the resulting conjugate retains functional FVIII activity,” rejecting Baxalta’s proposal of “at a site that is not any amine or carboxy site in FVIII and is in the B-domain” because Bayer had not disclaimed PEGylation at amine or carboxy sites. Before trial, Baxalta moved for clarification of the term “random” in the construction of the preamble, but the district court “again” rejected Baxalta’s argument that Bayer defined “random” conjugation as “any conjugation at amines or carboxy sites.”

Before trial, Baxalta moved to exclude the testimony of Bayer’s damages expert regarding his proposed reasonable-royalty rate. The expert had defined a bargaining range and proposed to testify that the royalty rate should be the midpoint of the range based on the Nash Bargaining Solution. The district court permitted the expert to testify as to the bargaining range but excluded the opinions regarding the midpoint as insufficiently tied to the facts of the case.

After trial, the district court granted Baxalta’s pre-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) of no willful infringement. Subsequently, the jury returned a verdict that the claims were infringed and not invalid for non-enablement, and awarded damages based on an approximately 18% royalty rate for the period for which the parties had presented sales information. Baxalta moved for JMOL or a new trial on infringement, enablement and damages. Bayer moved for pre-verdict supplemental damages for the period between the presented sales data and the date of judgment, and for a new trial on the issue of willfulness. The district court denied all of Baxalta’s motions and Bayer’s motion for new trial, but granted Bayer’s motion for supplemental damages, applying the jury’s ~18% rate to sales data for the later period. [...]

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Corresponding Structure Necessary to Support ‘Module’ Claim Element

In determining whether a claim element invoked 35 USC § 112, ¶ 6, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit concluded that “module” was a nonce term and required sufficient corresponding structure in the patent specification to avoid indefiniteness under 35 USC § 112, ¶ 2. Rain Computing, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Case Nos. 20-1646, -1656 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 2, 2021) (Moore, J.)

Rain sued Samsung for infringement of a patent directed to a method for delivering software application packages to user terminals over a network. The claims at issue included an element that recited a “user identification module configured to control access [to] software application packages.” The district court determined that the “user identification module” was a means-plus-function term subject to 35 USC § 112, ¶ 6, but that the specification disclosed sufficient corresponding structure such that the term was not indefinite. Rain appealed the judgment of non-infringement.

Reviewing de novo, the Federal Circuit first addressed whether the claim language invoked § 112, ¶ 6. While there is a rebuttable presumption that ¶ 6 does not apply to claims lacking “means” language, the Court noted that “module” does not provide any indication of structure and is a well-known substitute for “means.” No other claim language, including the “user identification” prefix, imparted any structure onto the term. For purposes of claim construction, the specification also did not impart any structure to the claimed user identification module. Rain argued that amendments and examiner arguments during prosecution were proof of sufficient structure, and that, as the examiner noted, a means-plus-function term cannot be nested within a method claim. The Federal Circuit disagreed, noting that the examiner’s statement that a means-plus-function claim element cannot be nested within a method step was simply incorrect as a matter of law. Thus the Court found that “user identification module” was a means-plus-function claim term.

Citing to its 2015 en banc ruling in Williamson v. Citrix Online, the Court turned to the term’s construction under §112, ¶ 6, applying the same two-step process it used just a few weeks earlier in Synchronoss Technologies v. Dropbox. In the first step, the Court simply used the district court’s undisputed finding that the function was “to control access to . . . software packages to which the user has a subscription.” In the second step, the Court attempted to identify corresponding structure in the specification. Here the Court noted that structure in a specification corresponds only if there is a clear link or association, and that the specification must also disclose an actual algorithm when the function is performed by a general-purpose computer.

The Federal Circuit concluded that the district court erred in finding that the disclosure of a storage device provided sufficient structure, explaining that such devices are nothing more than general purpose computers not capable of performing the access control function without specialized software—an algorithm. Rain’s patent specification disclosed no such algorithm, without which the “user identification module” lacked sufficient structure. Thus [...]

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Impossible; Cloud Storage Patent Claims Invalid for Indefiniteness or Not Infringed

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s determination that three patents directed to data synchronization were indefinite as lacking sufficient disclosed structure to support a means plus function claim element, as impossible in terms of claim scope or not infringed. Synchronoss Technologies, Inc. v. Dropbox. Inc., Case Nos. 19-2196, -2199 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 12, 2021) (Reyna, J.)

Synchronoss filed suit against Dropbox for infringement of three patents relating to synchronizing data across multiple devices connected via internet, a synchronization agent management server, and transferring media data to a network coupled device. As to the first patent, the district court found that Dropbox did not infringe because the claims, as construed, required hardware, whereas Dropbox’s accused product existed entirely in software. The district court then found that all of the claims of the second patent were invalid as indefinite under § 112, paragraph 6, since various claim terms, including “user identifier module,” did not correspond to adequate structure in the specification. Finally, the district court found that the third patent was invalid under § 112 for including within its scope an impossibility, namely, “generating a [single] media file” that “compris[es] a directory of digital media files.” Synchronoss appealed all three findings.

The Federal Circuit first addressed the claim that the district court found to include impossible scope. The Court agreed with the district court, noting that Synchronoss’s expert admitted that it was impossible for a media file to contain a directory of media files. The Court rejected Synchronoss’s argument that a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand that the invention actually meant something different, and noted that Synchronoss’s proposal would result in re-writing the claims to preserve their validity.

The Federal Circuit next addressed the claim including the means plus function element found to contain terms lacking adequate structure antecedent in the specification. The Court applied a two-step process to construe the “user identifier module” term, first identifying the claimed function and then determining whether the specification disclosed sufficient structure for performing the claimed function. Adopting Synchronoss’s position that the claimed function was “identifying a user,” the Court found that the specification did not disclose sufficient structure corresponding to the claimed user identifier module. The Court noted that although Dropbox’s expert identified more than 20 different possible structures that could perform the claimed function, “it is not enough that a means-plus-function claim term correspond to every known way of achieving the claimed function; instead, the term must correspond to ‘adequate’ structure disclosed in the specification such that a person of ordinary skill in the art would be able to recognize and associate the structure with the claimed function.”

Finally, the Federal Circuit addressed the district court’s finding of non-infringement. At the district court, Synchronoss proposed a construction of the claim term “device” to include “software . . . residing on . . . hardware” and conceded that its claims could not cover “software completely detached from hardware.” The Court concluded that the [...]

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