VLSI Technology LLC v. Intel Corporation
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Sound the Alarm: Reasonable Royalty Apportionment Analysis Overlooks “Sleep State”

After a jury found infringement of two patents and awarded almost $2.2 billion in damages, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the infringement finding for one asserted patent, vacated the damages award for the other asserted patent, and reversed the district court’s refusal to allow the alleged infringer to add a licensing defense. VLSI Technology LLC v. Intel Corporation, Case No. 22-1906 (Fed. Cir. Dec. 4, 2023) (Lourie, Dyk, Taranto, JJ.)

VLSI sued Intel for infringement of two patents. During the litigation, third party Finjan underwent a change in control after which it was controlled by the same parent entity as VLSI. Intel sought to amend its answer to add a licensing defense based on the broad definition of “affiliates” in its license agreement with Finjan, arguing that as a consequence of the change in control Intel was licensed to patents owned by VLSI. The district court denied the motion to amend.

At trial, the jury found literal infringement of one patent and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents (DoE) for the other patent. The jury awarded $2.2 billion in damages. Intel appealed.

The patent that the jury found infringed under the DoE was directed to devices, such as computer processors, having the ability to operate at a variety of frequencies. Depending on the operating conditions, a master device can provide a trigger input to a controller in response to a desired increase in device performance, and the controller can then adjust the clock frequency accordingly. Intel argued that the evidence of equivalents presented to the jury was legally insufficient to support a finding of infringement.

The Federal Circuit agreed and reversed the jury’s finding under the DoE. The Court stressed that for a patent owner to prevail under a DoE assertion, it must provide “particularized testimony and linking argument as to the insubstantiality of the differences between the claimed invention and the accused device.” While VLSI’s proof of equivalence was limitation specific, the testimony provided during the trial was insufficient to explain the “insubstantiality” of the differences between the claims and the Intel products. The Court specifically cited trial testimony by VLSI’s expert, who characterized the differences as “a difference of where an engineer draws the line . . . it’s a design choice.” In its explanation of why the analysis and testimony was insufficient, the Court explained that “[i]t is not enough [] to say that the different functionality-location placements were a ‘design choice.’ . . . VLSI had to prove—with particularized testimony and linking argument—that the elements of the Intel arrangement were substantially the same as the elements of the claimed arrangement. But VLSI offered no meaningful testimony doing so.”

Intel also appealed the damages award based on the patent that was found to be literally infringed. That patent was directed to certain features that provide separate scalable (as opposed to fixed) power supply voltages for both processors and memory devices, depending on the need of the device. VLSI’s expert presented a calculation of damages based [...]

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Construing the Construction: Federal Circuit Chips Away at IPR Win

Addressing claim construction issues in inter partes review (IPR) proceedings before the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (Board), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed an obviousness finding as to some claims but reversed and remanded an obviousness finding as to another claim because of a claim construction error. VLSI Technology LLC v. Intel Corporation, Case Nos. 21-1826, -1827, -1828 (Fed. Cir. Nov. 15, 2022) (Chen, Bryson, Hughes, JJ.)

VLSI owns a patent directed to a technique for alleviating the problems of defects caused by stress applied to bond pads of an integrated circuit. Bond pads are a portion of an integrated circuit that sit above interconnected circuit layers and are used to attach the chip to another electronic component, such as a computer or motherboard. When a chip is attached to another electronic component, forces are exerted on the chip’s bond pad, which can result in damage to the interconnect layers. The patent discloses improvements to the structures of an integrated circuit that reduce the potential for damage to the interconnect layers when the chip is attached to another electronic component while also permitting each of the layers underlying the pad to be functionally independent in the circuit.

VLSI filed suit against Intel alleging infringement of the patent. During claim construction, the district court construed the claim term “force region” to mean a “region within the integrated circuit in which forces are exerted on the interconnect structure when a die attach is performed.” Before the district court’s construction but after the suit was filed, Intel filed petitions for IPR of the patent and advocated in its petitions for the same construction of “force region” that the district court ultimately adopted.

VLSI did not contest Intel’s construction, but it later became apparent that the two parties disagreed over the meaning of “die attach,” which formed part of the construction. Intel argued that the term “die attach” refers to any method of attaching a chip to another electronic component, including a method known as wire bonding, which was taught by a prior art reference included in Intel’s petitions. VLSI argued that the term refers to a method of attachment known as “flip chip” bonding and does not include wire bonding. In the Board’s final written decisions, it did not address the term “die attach,” but found that “force region” was not limited to flip chip bonding and subsequently found the challenged claims invalid as obvious. The Board also construed a second disputed term “used for electrical interconnection not directly connected to the bond pad,” which is recited in only one claim of the patent, in favor of Intel, and subsequently found that claim unpatentable. VLSI appealed.

On appeal, VLSI raised a number of procedural and substantive challenges to the Board’s construction of the two disputed terms. VLSI argued that the Board failed to acknowledge and give appropriate weight to the district court’s construction of “force region.” The Federal Circuit dismissed this argument, as there was ample evidence in [...]

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