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SP Technologies, LLC v. Garmin International

October 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Dr. Peter Boesen and Thomas Mann invented and patented a method for obtaining input on a computer with a touch-screen display. Plaintiff SP Technologies, LLC, the assignee of the patent, U.S. Patent No. 6,784,873 (the "'873 Patent"), charges Defendants TomTom, Inc. and Garmin International, Inc., makers of touch-screen navigation devices, with infringing the '873 Patent. The parties have presented arguments for competing interpretations of five terms in the claims of the '873 Patent. The court's construction of those terms follows.


A. The Invention

One advantage of computing devices with touch-screen displays is that, by using an on-screen keyboard, they can obtain input from a user without the use of a keyboard, mouse, or similar input device. Today, the most familiar example of such a device is Apple's iPhone.*fn1 The '873 Patent responds to a specific problem with on-screen keyboards-users who inadvertently move, resize, or close the on-screen keyboard before they are finished using it may then have difficulty recovering the keyboard to a usable state. ('873 Patent, col. 1, ll. 34-45.) To solve this problem, the '873 Patent takes the ability to alter the keyboard away from the user and gives it to the computer program, which removes the keyboard only after the user has entered the necessary input. (Id., col. 21, l. 2, col. 22, ll. 20-22.)

B. The Disputed Claims of the '873 Patent

The '873 Patent, titled "Method and Medium for Computer Readable Keyboard Display Incapable of User Termination" sets forth ten claims. The five*fn2 disputed terms, emphasized below, are in Claims One and Ten:

1. A method of entering data on a touch screen display, the method comprising:

invoking a computer program in which user input is sought; invoking an input area, including a plurality of data input fields; invoking a graphical keyboard area incapable of user termination independent of termination of the input area, the graphical keyboard area having a plurality of keys on the display; selectingkeys on the keyboard to provide the desired input; and automatically terminating the graphical keyboard area after the desired input is received in the input area.


10. A method of providing a user interface for receiving information from a user using a user immutable graphical keyboard linked to an input area, comprising:

invoking the input area; determining that input from the user using the graphical keyboard is needed within the input area; invoking the graphical keyboard on a touch screen display to receive input from a user, the graphical keyboard placed in a set position; persistently maintaining the graphical keyboard on the touch screen display such that the user cannot move, resize, remove, or close the graphical keyboard through the user interface while the input area remains and requires input; receiving input within the input area from the user through the graphical keyboard; determining that further input from the user is no longer needed in the input area; and removing the graphical keyboard.

C. Prosecution History

Boesen and Mann first filed their patent application in August 2000. (Pl's Ex. 2, at 20-74.) The patent was rejected four times (id. at 144-153, 163-174, 184-193, 203-212) and amended four times (id. at 154-162, 176-180, 195-201, 216-224) before ten claims were allowed in January 2004 (id. at 225-231), and the patent was granted in August 2004. ('873 Patent.) One of the patent examiner's principal concerns throughout prosecution was that the invention was not patentable over Patent No. 6,094,197 ("Buxton"), a "system and method for a graphical keyboard that benefits from the expressive power and intuitive ease of use associated with pen strokes and gestures." U.S. Patent No. 6,094,197 (filed May 17, 1995). Eventually, though, the patentees satisfied the examiner that the prior art did not teach or suggest their invention. They noted specifically that, although Buxton includes a graphical keyboard with an input area, unlike the graphical keyboard of the '873 Patent, the graphical keyboard claimed by Buxton could be terminated, moved, or resized before the user finished entering her input. (Pl's Ex. 2, at 229.)

D. This Lawsuit

Plaintiff filed suit in June 2008, alleging that Defendant Garmin's products infringe the '873 Patent. One month later, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint that added TomTom and Magellan Navigation, Inc. as Defendants. Plaintiff eventually settled with Magellan. The remaining Defendants deny that their products infringe, and assert affirmative defenses including that the '873 Patent is invalid, and that the patentees engaged in inequitable conduct before the Patent and Trademark Office. The court denied Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the latter issue. (Order of Sept. 30, 2009.) The parties dispute the meaning of a number of terms in the '873 Patent. The court addresses the disputed language below.


A. Principles of Claim Construction

Because an invention is defined by the claims of the patent, claim construction-the process of giving meaning to the claim language-defines the scope of the invention. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1311-12 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (citing 35 U.S.C. § 112). Claim construction is a matter of law for the court to determine. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 391 (1996). As the Federal Circuit clarified in Phillips, the court begins the claim construction analysis with the words of the claims themselves, giving those words their ordinary and customary meaning, that is, the "meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13. And that person is assumed to read the claim terms "in the context of the entire patent, including the specification." Id. at 1313.

In addition to reading the claim terms in the context of the specification, the court may also consider the record of the patent's prosecution because it is evidence of how both the inventor and the Patent and Trademark Office understood the patent. Id. at 1317. Nevertheless, the court must be mindful that the prosecution history represents an "ongoing negotiation," so it "often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes." Id. Finally, in some cases, the court must go beyond the claim, the specification, and the prosecution history-the so-called intrinsic evidence-to consider extrinsic evidence such as technical dictionaries, treatises, and expert testimony. Id. at 1317-18. That evidence, however, is less reliable than the intrinsic evidence for several reasons outlined by the Federal Circuit in Phillips. Id. at 1318-19.

Before continuing, the court notes Plaintiff's argument that in construing the claims, the court must also consider the allegedly infringing devices. (Pl's Br., at 2-3.) In both cases that Plaintiff cites for this proposition, the Federal Circuit was reviewing claim construction after a stipulated judgment on infringement. MIT v. Abacus Software, 462 F.3d 1344, 1350-51 (Fed. Cir. 2006); Lava Trading, Inc. v. Sonic Trading Mgmt., LLC, 445 F.3d 1348, 1350-51 (Fed. Cir. 2006). The appellate court was concerned that because it did not know anything about the accused products, any ruling it made on claim construction might be an advisory opinion only. MIT, 462 F.3d at 1350-51; Lava Trading, 445 F.3d at 1350-51; see also Jang v. Boston Scientific Corp., 532 F.3d 1330, 1337 (Fed. Cir. 2008). This case is in a much different posture: it is not being reviewed on appeal and the court is not yet considering the question of infringement. In that posture, the Federal Circuit instructs only that the district court may consider the accused devices for context, but ultimately claim construction is independent of the accused devices. Serio-US Industries, Inc. v. Plastic Recovery Techs. Corp., 459 F.3d 1311, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2006). Because Plaintiff has not explained how considering the accused products would be helpful to claim construction, the court will forgo any such consideration.

B. Plurality of Data Input Fields

Claim Term Plaintiff's Proposed ...

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