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Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. v. Bel Fuse Inc.

July 28, 2006

MURATA MANUFACTURING CO., LTD., PLAINTIFF,
v.
BEL FUSE INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Murata Manufacturing Co., Ltd. ("Murata") sued Bel Fuse Inc., Bel Fuse Ltd., Bel Stewart Ltd., and Bell Connector Inc. (collectively "Bel Fuse") for infringement of United States Patent No. 5,069, 641 ("the '641 Patent"). Bel Fuse has asserted the defenses of non-infringement, invalidity, and inequitable conduct. The parties have asked the court to construe seven terms in the '641 Patent. The court adopts the constructions of those terms as discussed in detail below.

I. Background

The '641 Patent, entitled "Modular Jack," discloses a modular jack which has a printed circuit board containing a noise suppressing element in its housing. Such jacks can be used in various applications including telephone and data communications. Because the noise suppressing element is contained within the housing, the invention has the advantage of being more compact than prior art jacks in which the noise suppressing element is placed outside the housing. In addition, the jack of the '641 Patent has the advantage over some prior art jacks of being more cost effective because the contactor, noise suppressing element, and terminal can all be plated separately and with different metals.*fn1 The present invention also has the advantage over some prior art jacks in that the pitch among the terminals can be set to the ordinary pitch of 1.02 mm or some other value.*fn2

Murata asserts that Bel Fuse has infringed claims 1, 2, 4, and 6 of the '641 Patent. These claims state:

1. A modular jack to be mounted on a circuit board, said modular jack comprising: a printed board containing an electronic element for suppressing noise; a contactor for contacting with a plug, said contactor being electrically connected with the electronic element by a wire on the printed board; a terminal for contacting with the circuit board, said terminal being electrically connected with the electronic element by a wire on the printed board; and an insulating housing for encasing the printed board.

2. A modular jack as claimed in claim 1, wherein the noise suppressing electronic element is an array of common mode choke coils.

4. A modular jack as claimed in claim 1, wherein the noise suppressing electronic element is a chip capacitor.

6. A modular jack as claimed in claim 1, wherein the interior of the housing is divided into a first chamber in which the printed board is set and a second chamber to which the contactor is extended, and the terminal is protruded outside the housing from the first chamber.

The parties previously filed claim construction briefs, asking the court to construe nineteen terms. Because the parties had not briefed all nineteen (leading the court to suspect that construction of all nineteen terms was unnecessary), and because the initial claim construction briefing was completed prior to the Federal Circuit's en banc decision in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005), the court directed the parties to submit additional briefing.

Given a second try, the parties were indeed able to narrow the disputed terms, and have informed the court that they now dispute the proper construction of seven terms, and that the construction of these terms is relevant to the issues of infringement, validity, and inequitable conduct.

II. Discussion

A. The Standard for Claim Construction

The second paragraph of Section 112 of the Patent Act, 35 U.S.C. § 112, states: "The specification shall conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as his invention." The claims define the patentee's right to exclude. See, e.g., Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

Claim construction is a question of law for the court to decide. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996). The Federal Circuit sitting en banc recently clarified the appropriate methodology for a court to use when performing claim construction. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). The words of the claims in a patent are to be given the ordinary and customary meaning that would have been attributed to them by a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time the invention was made. Id. at 1312-13. The person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to have read the term in the context of the entire patent, including the claims themselves, the specification, and the prosecution history. Id. at 1313. The claims, specification, and prosecution history are so-called intrinsic evidence.

Extrinsic evidence is everything "external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Id. at 1317. Review of technical dictionaries and treatises can be helpful to the court in understanding the technology of the invention and can assist the court in determining the meaning of terms to those of skill in the art of the invention. Id. at 1318. Where extrinsic evidence conflicts with the intrinsic evidence of the patent, however, the intrinsic evidence controls. Id.

In considering the evidence, both intrinsic and extrinsic, the court may consider the evidence is whichever order is appropriate: "The sequence of steps used by the judge in consulting various sources is not important; what matters is for the court to attach the appropriate weight to be assigned to those sources in light of the statutes and policies that inform patent law." Id. at 1324. Thus, the court approaches the construction of the disputed terms in the '641 Patent with this methodology in mind.

B. Disputed Terms

The parties have asked the court to construe seven terms:*fn3 "modular jack," "printed board," "wire on the printed board," "insulating housing," "electronic element," "suppressing," and "containing." The court addresses each disputed term below.

1. "Modular Jack"

The term "modular jack" is used in the claims of the '641 patent as follows:

1. A modular jack to be mounted on a circuit board, said modular jack comprising: a printed board containing an electronic element for suppressing noise; a contactor for contacting with a plug, said contactor being electrically connected with the electronic element by a wire on the printed board; a terminal for contacting with the circuit board, said terminal being electrically connected with the electronic element by a wire on the printed board; and an insulating housing for encasing the printed board.

2. A modular jack as claimed in claim 1, wherein the noise suppressing electronic element is an array of common mode choke coils.

4. A modular jack as claimed in claim 1, wherein the noise suppressing electronic element is a chip capacitor.

6. A modular jack as claimed in claim 1, wherein the interior of the housing is divided into a first chamber in which the printed board is set and a second chamber to which the contactor is extended, and the terminal is protruded outside the housing from the first chamber.

The parties agree that "modular" refers to "the geometric configuration of jacks and their corresponding plugs, such as the RJ-11 series, RJ-45 series and the like, which are now commonly seen on telephony apparatus, computer modems, switches, and routers, and similar equipment." Murata's Opening Brief, at 12; Bel Fuse's Responsive Brief, at 25. Murata argues that "jack" should be construed as "a socket to which wires of a circuit are connected at one end and into which a plug is inserted at the other end." Murata's Opening Brief, at 12. Bel Fuse argues that a "jack" should be construed as "a female connector to which wires of a circuit are connected at one end and into which a plug is inserted at the other end."*fn4

Bel Fuse's Responsive Brief, at 25. Thus, the parties dispute whether a "jack" is more properly characterized as a "socket" or a "female connector." The parties have not explained to the court why construing something as a "socket" as opposed to a "female connector" is a distinction with a difference; indeed, their briefs indicate that both parties understand the meaning of "jack" as it is used in the '641 Patent. Nevertheless, the court will consider which is the more appropriate term.

Murata argues that "female connector" is too general a term because the '641 Patent does not claim female connectors generally; it claims a modular jack. Instead, Murata argues that "socket" is a more specific term that is consistent with the intrinsic record*fn5 of the '641 Patent. Dr. David Hughes ("Dr. Hughes"), Murata's expert, opined that the word "jack" means "a socket to which wires of a circuit are connected at one end and into which a plug is inserted at the other end." Hughes' Expert Report at 4, Ex. 2 to Murata's Opening Brief. He based his construction on a definition from Rudolf F. Graf, The Modern Dictionary of Electronics 529 (6th ed. 1984) ("The Modern Dictionary of Electronics") ("1. A socket to which the wires of a circuit are connected at one end, and into which a plug ...


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