CAFC Issues Non-Precedential Claim Construction with a Dissent

The Federal Circuit recently issued a non-precedential opinion in Vehicle IP, LLC v. AT&T Mobility, LLC. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this decision was that it was a non-precedential opinion with a dissent, which to some extent seems a bit contradictory.

The tale begins back on December 31, 2009, when Vehicle IP filed a patent infringement action against the Appellees in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. The patent infringement lawsuit asserted that Appellees infringed U.S. Patent No. 5,987,377 (“the ’377 patent”). On December 12, 2011, the district court issued an order construing the disputed claim terms of the ’377 patent, including “expected time of arrival” and “way point(s).” The district court construed “expected time of arrival” as “time of day at which the vehicle is expected to arrive somewhere (and not remaining travel time).” The district court construed “way point(s)” as “intermediate point(s) on the way to the final destination (and not the final destination itself).”

After the district court construed the claims, Appellees filed two motions for summary judgment. The district court granted both motions. On April 19, 2013, the district court entered judgment in favor of Appellees. Vehicle IP appealed the entry of judgment, challenging the district court’s claim constructions and summary judgment rulings.

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A Conversation on Patent Eligibility

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to do a webinar conversation with Bob Stoll, former Commissioner for Patents at the USPTO and current partner at Drinker Biddle in Washington, D.C.  Our wide-ranging discussion lasted for just over one hour. You can access the entire recording, free, at Patent Eligibility in a Time of Patent Turmoil.

What follows is a bit of our conversation to whet your appetite.

STOLL: As someone very interested in the patent arena and getting the standards correct, I’ve been really worrying about things. I think we are in a very confusing state at the moment. I think that the courts are actually undermining patent eligibility in many different areas. And the irony seems to be, Gene, that the Supreme Court and now this Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit seem to be not considering the fact that the United States is leading in many of these emerging technologies and specifically thinking about software and diagnostic methods and personalized medicine and gene sequences….

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Collateral Estoppel Prevents Reexam Claim from being Enforced

On November 19, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision in e.Digital Corporation v. Futurewei Technologies, Inc. e.Digital appealed from a judgment of non-infringement made by the U.S. Federal District Court for the Southern District of California. The district court based its determination of non-infringement on the fact that e.Digital was collaterally estopped from seeking a construction of a claim limitation in e.Digital’s U.S. Patent Nos. 5,491,774 and 5,839,108 different from another court’s previous construction of the same limitation in the ’774 patent.

The Federal Circuit, with Judge Moore writing and joined by Judges O’Malley and Reyna, held that the district court correctly applied collateral estoppel to the ’774 patent, but improperly applied the doctrine to the unrelated ’108 patent.

To understand the ruling in this case one must first look at the prior case that construed the critical claim. Previously, in a litigation in the United States Federal District Court for the District of Colorado, e.Digital asserted claims 1 and 19 of the ’774 patent. The ’774 patent discloses a device with a microphone and a removable, interchangeable flash memory recording medium that allows for audio recording and playback. Asserted claims 1 and 19 recited “a flash memory module which operates as sole memory of the received processed sound electrical signals.” The district court construed the sole memory limitation to require “that the device use only flash memory, not RAM or any other memory system” to store the “received processed sound electrical signals.” The district court based its construction on the written description of the ’774 patent and its determination that the use of RAM had been disclaimed during prosecution. With this claim construction decided, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the case with prejudice.

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FTC Stops Deceptive Patent Demand Letters

In a move reminiscent of the action taken earlier this year by NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, the Federal Trade Commission last week  announced that MPHJ Technology Investments, LLC, agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they used deceptive sales claims and phony legal threats in letters that accused thousands of small businesses around the United States of patent infringement. As is typical for FTC settlements, the proposed consent order was published in the Federal Register and public comments have been solicited. The proposed consent order will be subject to public comment for 30 days, continuing through December 8, 2014, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit written comments electronically or in paper form. Although the FTC will accept these comments, in my experience, when an enforcement settlement has gotten to this stage, we can expect the proposed settlement to become final.

The settlement with MPHJ is the first time the FTC has taken action using its consumer protection authority against a patent assertion entity (PAE). Perhaps most significantly, in the announcement of the settlement, the FTC acknowledged that patents promote innovation, which is a simple enough truth. Still given recent FTC inquiry into the industry, this statement from the Obama Administration could signal that the FTC will take actions only against outliers and not the bulk of the industry, which operates legitimately to enforce valid patents.

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Standard Essential 4G/LTE Portfolio Up for Sale

A 4G/LTE patent portfolio, which includes patents having priority filing dates all the way back to April 2001, is currently for sale through ICAP Patent Brokerage. This news is of particular interest because it is not every day that you see standard essential patents hit the market, and in this case the patents cover a variety of carrier grade wireless technologies that are widely used within the industry.

The patent portfolio belongs to Raze Technologies, a research and development company founded in late 1999 with the purpose of developing a last mile access system that would allow service providers to offer both broadband data and high-quality, fully featured voice services to residential and small business customers. In August 2002, Raze suspended its development operations and focused its remaining resources on the prosecution of its patent portfolio. Over time, as most if not all of the other innovative start-ups in the space have gone the way of the dinosaur, Raze has managed to accumulate a foundationally important patent portfolio relating to standard-related innovations surrounding mobile network infrastructure technologies that relate to 4G/LTE, which is the next generation wireless standard.

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11.11.14 | posts | Gene Quinn

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