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Fernandez Innovative Technologies, L.L.C. v. General Motors Corp.

May 23, 2008

FERNANDEZ INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES, L.L.C., PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION; ONSTAR CORPORATION; AND TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, U.S.A., INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Fernandez Innovative Technologies, L.L.C. ("Fernandez") has sued General Motors Corporation ("GM"), Onstar Corporation ("Onstar"), and Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. ("Toyota") (collectively "Defendants")*fn1 for infringement of United States Patent No. 6,963,899 (the "'899 patent"), entitled "Adaptive Direct Transaction for Network Client Group." On February 27, 2008, the Court held a claims construction hearing (the "claims construction hearing" or the "hearing"), at which time it heard evidence and argument regarding the construction of various claim terms in the '899 patent. The Court's construction of these terms is set forth below.

BACKGROUND

Fernandez accuses Defendants of infringing several claims of the '899 patent. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-21.) According to the '899 patent, the invention at issue resides in software that allows for directing on-line messages adaptively to a classified client set according to monitored set characteristics. (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.1 ll.35-33.) The accused technology includes the following products: (1) with respect to GM and OnStar, the OnStar system; and (2) with respect to Toyota, the Lexus Link system. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12, 14.) According to Defendants, the accused technology relates to "vehicle telematics," or, more specifically, "the field of technology generally encompass[ing] systems that involve the collection, transmission and use of information gathered from a vehicle to, for example, provide driver assistance in the event of a crash, track fleet vehicle locations, or provide remote maintenance diagnostics." (Def. Claim. Constr. Br. 2.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Claim construction resolves disputed meanings in a patent to clarify and explain what the claims cover. Terlep v. Brinkmann Corp., 418 F.3d 1379, 1382 (Fed. Cir. 2005). The construction of the claims at issue is a legal determination to be made by the court. Id. (citing Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 970-71 (Fed. Cir. 1995)). Generally, the terms of a claim are given the ordinary and customary meaning that the terms would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the filing date of the patent application. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005). When interpreting an asserted claim, the court looks first to intrinsic evidence: the words of the claims, the patent specification, and the prosecution history. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

The claim language is the starting point for claim construction analysis because it frames and ultimately resolves all issues of claim interpretation. Robotic Vision Sys., Inc. v. View Eng'g Inc., 189 F.3d 1370, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 1997). In some cases, the "ordinary and customary" meaning of the claim language may be readily apparent, even to lay judges, and the court applies the widely accepted meaning of the commonly understood words. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. In such cases, a general purpose dictionary may be helpful. Id. In many cases, however, the court must proceed beyond the bare language of the claims and examine the patent specification. Id. at 1314-15. "The person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification." Id. at 1313. The specification is usually dispositive; "it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Id. at 1315 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). In the specification, the patentee provides a written description of the invention that allows a person of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention. See id. at 1323. At times, the patentee uses the specification to "set forth an explicit definition for a claim term that could differ in scope from that which would be afforded by its ordinary meaning." Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

The court may also look to the patent's prosecution history. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. While the prosecution history often lacks the clarity of and is less useful than the specification, it may inform the court of the meaning of a claim term by illustrating how the inventor understood the invention as well as how the inventor may have limited the scope of the invention. Id. The prosecution history is generally relevant if a particular interpretation of the claim was considered and specifically disclaimed during the prosecution of the patent. Schumer v. Lab. Comp. Sys., 308 F.3d 1304, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

Finally, a court may also consult "extrinsic evidence," such as dictionaries, treatises, and expert testimony, to "shed useful light on the relevant art." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317-18. Generally, extrinsic evidence is "less reliable" than intrinsic evidence and is "unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence." Id. at 1318-19. With respect to the use of dictionaries, technical or general, a court may consult such evidence "so long as the dictionary definition does not contradict any definition found in or ascertained by a reading of the patent documents." Id. at 1322-23.

DISCUSSION

I. Agreed-Upon Terms

The parties agree upon the constructions of several terms found in the disputed claims in the '899 patent. The Court adopts the agreed-upon constructions, as set forth in the Parties' Final Joint Claim Construction Chart. At the claim construction hearing, the parties indicated that they also agree upon the construction of the following terms: (1) "network"; (2) "server"; (3) "on-line"; and (4) "electronic digital feedback or control signal." In addition, the parties came to a partial agreement with respect to the phrase: "directing one or more messages in response to the set classification, wherein the directed one or more messages is provided by the server to the one or more clients classified in the first client set." The parties agree as to the meaning of "directing one or more messages in response to the set classification, wherein the directed one or more messages is provided by the server," but dispute the construction of "to the one or more clients classified in the first client set." The Court also adopts the constructions agreed upon at the hearing.

II. Disputed Terms

The parties dispute the meaning of the following ten terms and phrases used in the '899 patent: (1) "client"; (2) "client attribute"; (3) "client sensor"; (4) "associated client"; (5) "real-time"; (6) "real-time configuration"; (7) "messages"; (8) "the one or more clients classified in the first client set"; (9) "the one or more clients"; and (10) "the interface receiving first network signal according to the classified set." The former nine terms initially appear in claim 1 of the '899 patent. The final term - "the interface receiving first network signal according to the classified set" - is found in claim 7.

A. "Client"

The term "client" initially appears in the preamble to claim 1. Fernandez contends that the term "client" refers to "an agent that requests services of a server." Prior to the claim construction hearing, Defendants argued that the term meant "a computer that accesses a shared resource on a server over a telecommunications network." At the claim construction hearing, Defendants submitted the following alternative construction: "processing machine or processing device that accesses a shared resource on a server over a communications network." For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts Defendants' revised construction of the term "client."

The parties' proposed constructions mirror dictionary definitions for the term "client." Fernandez's proposed construction relies upon The Authoritative Dictionary of IEEE Standard Terms, which also defines "client" as "[a]n agent that requests services of a server." (Pl. Claim Constr. Mem., Ex. 2, The Authoritative Dictionary of IEEE Standard Terms at 176.) Defendants' original and revised constructions are consistent with the Microsoft Press Computer Dictionary, which defines "client" as follows: "[o]n a local area network or the Internet, a computer that accesses shared network resources provided by another computer (called a server)." (Defs. Claim Constr. Mem., Ex. 3, Microsoft Press Computer Dictionary at 92.) While a court may rely on a dictionary to construe claim terms, it may only do so when it considers the definition in the context of intrinsic evidence and only then to the extent that the "definition does not contradict any definition found in or ascertained by a reading of the patent documents." Phillips, 415 F.3dat 1318-19, 1322-23. "Heavy reliance of the dictionary divorced from the intrinsic evidence risks transforming the meaning of the claim term to the artisan into the meaning of the term in the abstract, out of its particular context, which is the specification." Id. at 1321. Considering the proposed definitions in the context of the intrinsic evidence presented, the Court concludes that Defendants' proposed revised construction comports with the specification and language of the claim. In contrast, Fernandez's proposed construction strays too far from the scope of the invention.

According to the '899 patent, the invention at issue "relates to networked computer applications, particularly to distributed client-server software" and "resides in software for directing on-line messages." (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.1 ll.13-14, ll.33-34.) In addition to these statements regarding the invention as a whole, the specification also explains that: (1) "it is contemplated that the server or client processing functionality may be embodied in one or more processing machines or devices," (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.2 ll.16-18) (emphasis added); (2) "user client database 104 may be updated to indicate network connectivity and configuration between any servers and/or clients coupled thereto," (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.4 ll.57-62) (emphasis added); and (3) "network 4, including server(s) 2 and client(s). . . employ software and/or functionally equivalent firmware, hardware, or electronics," (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.2 ll.27-32). Fernandez's proposed construction conflicts with these explanations and risks expanding the scope of the invention beyond the boundaries articulated in the '899 patent. Specifically, Fernandez's use of the words "an agent" to describe the "client" suggests that a vehicle, a patient, an office, or a school could be a client. Such a broad characterization of term "client" is not supported by the patent, which emphasizes the need for processing machines and devices as well as coupling between the server and the client.

Fernandez's construction is also inconsistent with the language of claim 1. Claim 1 requires the sensor interface to electronically access "one or more client sensor coupled locally to an associated client." (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.10 ll.11-13.) Claim 1 further requires the "particular client sensor" to be "physically embedded in or electronically integrated with its associated client" and that the client sensor "automatically generate[s] an electronic digital feedback or control signal for real-time monitoring or configuration." (JA, Ex. A, '829 Patent col.10 ll.11-18.) As discussed below, the Court construes the term "associated client" to mean "the single client to which a particular client sensor is locally coupled." In other words, the "client" and "associated client" are one and the same. Thus, claim 1 requires that the client sensor be coupled locally to the client and either "physically embedded in or electronically integrated with [the client]" in such a way that allows the client sensor to "generate electronic feedback or control." As noted above, Fernandez suggests that a person could be a "client." This proposed construction conflicts with the claim's requirements that the client sensor be coupled locally to the sensor and either "physically embedded in or electronically integrated with [the client]" in such a way that allows the client sensor to "generate electronic feedback or control." Thus, Fernandez's characterization of "client" not only overstates the scope of the invention discussed in the '899 patent, but also conflicts with the surrounding language of claim 1.

Because Defendants' proposed construction "'stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention,'" Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316 (quoting Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998)), the Court determines that the term "client" means "a processing machine or ...


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