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Callpod, Inc. v. GN Netcom

March 6, 2009

CALLPOD, INC., PLAINTIFF/COUNTER DEFENDANT,
v.
GN NETCOM, INC., GN NETCOM, A/S, AND HELLO DIRECT, INC., DEFENDANTS/COUNTER PLAINTIFFS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Virginia M. Kendall, United States District Judge

Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Callpod, Inc. ("Callpod") sued Defendants GN Netcom, Inc., GN Netcom, A/S and Hello Direct, Inc. (collectively "Defendants") for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,801,611 ("the '611 patent"), entitled "Call Pod for Having Conference Calls in a Portable Environment." The Court accepted briefs on the parties' proposed constructions of the claims in the '611 patent and held a technology demonstration. The Court's construction of the terms is set forth below.

BACKGROUND

The '611 patent relates to methods and devices for making conference calls using cordless or mobile telephones. Previous technology required conference call participants to use the same speaker phone while in the same room. Using the '611 patent, Callpod markets a device that allows callers to participate in a conference call from various locations by using wireless signals to connect cordless or mobile phones to the same call. Callpod claims that Defendants manufacture and sell two products for making conference calls through cordless or mobile telephones that infringe the '611 patent.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Claim construction resolves disputed meanings in a patent to clarify and explain what the claims cover. See 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. See 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. See 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. See 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. See 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. See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. In such cases, a general purpose dictionary may be helpful. See id. In many cases, however, the court must proceed beyond the bare language of the claims and examine the patent specification. See 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. See 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. See 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. See 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

The parties dispute the meaning of the following terms and phrases used in the '611 patent:

(1) "plurality"; (2)"call pod"; (3)"operably connecting"; (4)"means for operably connecting a headset interface of a wireless telephone with a wireless telephone audio interface of the call pod"; (5) "wireless telephone"; (6) "interconnecting"; (7) "means for forming a two-way voice path among the plurality of headsets and the wireless telephone interface within the call pod"; (8) "means for muting a microphone of a call participant of the plurality of participants"; (9) "activates the call pod", automatically activate", and "automatically deactivate"; (10) "within the call pod"; (11) "sense circuit"; (12) "two-way voice path"; and (13) potential means-plus-function language in claims 1 through 7.

A. "Plurality"

The term "plurality" initially appears in the preamble to claim 1. Callpod argues that "plurality" means "more than one." Defendants, however, claim that the meaning of "plurality" depends upon the context. When the claims speak of a "plurality of participants," Defendants contend the phrase should be construed as "three or more participants." When the claims speak of a "plurality of headsets," Defendant contends the term should be construed as "more than one headset." For the following reasons, the Court adopts Callpod's construction of the term "plurality."

Both parties agree that "plurality," when used in conjunction with "headsets," means "at least two." "[A] claim term should be construed consistently with its appearance in other places in the same claim or in other claims of the same patent." Rexnord Corp. v. Laitram Corp., 274 F.3d 1336, 1342 (Fed. Cir. 2001). Nonetheless, Defendants claim that the term "plurality," when used in conjunction with "conference call participants," suggests at least three participants based upon the ordinary and customary meaning of the term "conference call." However, by looking to the language of the claims, the conclusion that "plurality of headsets" means "at least two headsets" requires construing "plurality of participants" as meaning "at least two participants" because the former phrase modifies the latter: "a plurality of headsets of the plurality of conference call participants." (JA, Ex. 1, '611 Patent, at 3:63-64 (emphasis added).) The Defendants' argument would result in the nonsensical situation of having only two headsets but requiring at least three remote participants to share them in a conference call. Thus, while the Court recognizes that a conference call ordinarily refers to three or more parties, the language of the claims carves out a subset of all callers when it refers to "plurality of participants" as only those participants who are using the call pod. Therefore, the Court construes the term "plurality" to mean "more than one."

B. "Call pod"

The term "call pod" initially appears in claim 1 of the '611 patent. Callpod contends that "call pod" should be construed to mean "a portable device which forms conference calls among a plurality of call participants." Defendants claim that "call pod" should be construed as "a portable device with a least two headset ports." Alternatively, Defendants recommend that "receptacles" or "plugs" be ...


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