United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
OPINION AND ORDER
HENRY COKE MORGAN, Jr., Senior District Judge.
On Monday, February 1, 2016, the Court conducted a Markman hearing for the purpose of construing ten (10) disputed terms in the patents at issue. Upon consideration of the parties' briefs and oral arguments, the Court ruled from the bench as to nine (9) of these terms and took the construction of one (1) term under advisement. The Court hereby issues this Opinion and Order further detailing the Court's claim construction.
I. Factual Background & Procedural History
On April 15, 2015, Plaintiff Vir2us, Inc. ("Plaintiff or "Villus") filed a two-count Complaint, alleging that Defendants Invincea, Inc. and Invincea Labs. LLC ("Defendants" or "Invincea") have infringed U.S. Patent Nos. 7, 392, 541 ("the 541 Patent") and 7, 536, 598 ("the 598 Patent"). Doc. 1. Essentially, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are infringing certain claims in the 541 and 598 Patents by. for example, "inducing third parties, including without limitation, manufacturers, resellers, developers, customers, and end users" directly to infringe the claims of the 541 Patent "by installing the Invincea Accused Products on computing devices[, ] using the Invincea Accused Products in their normal and customary manner, " and providing "technical and marketing literature, tutorials, presentations, lectures, product demonstrations, and videos to customers and end users on how to install, operate configure, and use" certain of Defendants' products. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 18. Vir2us alleges similar claims of infringement pertaining to the 598 Patent. See Compl. ¶¶ 26, 27. Defendants filed their answer on June 12, 2015, Doc. 17, denying they infringed on the patents at issue. See Answer ¶ 1. Additionally, Defendants asserted the affirmative defenses of Failure to State a Claim, Non-Infringement, Invalidity, Prosecution History Estoppel, Limitation on Damages, No Right to Injunctive Relief, Laches, Equitable Estoppel and Waiver, 28 U.S.C. § 1498(a). Answer ¶¶ 34-44.
Defendants also alleged counterclaims against Vir2us, asserting that Plaintiff has infringed U.S. Patent No. 8, 839, 422 ("the 422 Patent") by "making, using, offering to sell, and/or selling in the United States, without authority, products including without limitation Vir2us's software, including Vir2us Immunity Suite, Vir2us Immunity Platform and/or Vir2us Genesis." Answer ¶ 59. Defendants also seek a declaration that they did not infring any claim of the 541 Patent or the 598 Patent. Answer ¶¶ 67, 72. Defendants' counterclaim also alleges that one or more claims of the 541 or 598 Patents are invalid. Answer ¶¶ 76, 80. On July 2, 2015, Vir2us responded to Invincea's counterclaims, denying infringement and willful infringement of the 422 Patent. Doc. 21 ¶ 61. Vir2us asserted the affirmative defenses of Patent Invalidity, Non-Infringement, Prosecution Disclaimer and Prosecution History Estoppel, Limitation of Damages, No Right to Injunctive Relief, and Lack of Standing. Doc. ¶¶ 82-87.
On September 23, 2015, the Court entered its Rule 16(b) Scheduling Order. Doc. 24. The parties filed their Joint Identification of Patent Claims and Disputed Claim Terms on December 18, 2015, Doc. 47, after the Court held a hearing to address Vir2us's Emergency Motion to Strike Invincea's Identification of Claim Terms for Failure to Comply with the Court's Scheduling Order, Doc. 34. The parties filed their opening claim construction briefs on December 23, 2015. Docs. 48, 51. On January 11, 2016, the parties filed their responsive briefs. Doc. 57, 58. On January 18, 2016, the parties filed a Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement, in which they outlined the terms to be construed at the hearing. Doc. 61.
II. Legal Principles of Claim Construction
A. General Principles
The purpose of a Markman hearing is to assist the Court in construing the meaning of the patent(s) at issue. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 371 (1996); Markman v. Westview Instruments. Inc., 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). Patents consist of "claims, " and the construction of those claims "is a question of law, to be determined by the court." Markman, 517 U.S. at 371; Markman, 52 F.3d at 970-71. A court need only construe, however, claims "that are in controversy, and only to the extent necessary to resolve the controversy." Vivid Techs., Inc. v. Am. Science Eng'g. Inc., 200 F.3d 795, 803 (Fed. Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). To be clear, "[c]laim construction is a matter of resolution of disputed meanings and technical scope, to clarify and when necessary to explain what the patentee covered by the claims, for use in the determination of infringement. It is not an obligatory exercise in redundancy." NTP, Inc. v. Research in Motion, Ltd., 418 F.3d 1282, 1311 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (citing U.S. Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon. Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997)).
Claim construction begins with the words of the claims. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptromc, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996) ("First, we look to the words of the claims themselves...."). Words in a claim are generally given their ordinary meaning as understood by a person of ordinary skill in the art (a "POSITA"). Id . This "person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the particular claim in which the disputed term appears but also in the context of the entire patent, including the specification." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). "In some cases, ... the ordinary meaning of claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood words." Id. at 1314. Often, however, "determining the ordinary and customary meaning of the claim requires examination of terms that have a particular meaning in a field of art. Because the meaning of a claim term as understood by persons of skill in the art is often not immediately apparent, and because patentees frequently use terms idiosyncratically, the court looks to those sources available to the public that show what a person of skill in the art would have understood disputed claims language to mean." Id.
Further, the claims themselves can provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms. Id . First, "the context in which a term is used within a claim can be highly instructive." Id . In addition, other claims of the patent in question, both asserted and unasserted, can also be useful because claim terms are "normally used consistently throughout the patent" and therefore "can often illuminate the meaning of the same term in other claims." Id.
The claims should not be read alone, however, but rather should be considered within the context of the specification of which they are a part. Markman, 52 F.3d at 978. As the Federal Circuit stated in Vitronics and restated in Phillips, "the specification is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315. The Court, however, must not read in limitations from the specification without clear intent to do so. Thorner v. Sony Comp. Entmt. Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2012). Furthermore, a patentee is free to be his or her own lexicographer, and thus if the patentee defines a term in the specification differently than its ordinary meaning, the patentee's definition controls. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316.
In addition to consulting the specification, a court may also consider the patent's prosecution history, if in evidence, because it provides information regarding how the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the inventor understood the patent. See id. at 1317. It also enables the Court to determine if the inventor limited the invention during the course of prosecution. Id . "[WJhere an applicant whose claim is rejected on reference to a prior patent... voluntarily restricts himself by an amendment of his claim to a specific structure, having thus narrowed his claim in order to obtain a patent, he may not by construction... give the claim the larger scope which it might have had without the amendments." I.T.S. Rubber Co. v. Essex Rubber Co., 272 U.S. 429, 444 (1926). Thus, consulting prior art reference in the prosecution history is permissible. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583.
These elements of the patent itself-the claims, the specification, and its prosecution history-constitute intrinsic evidence of claim construction. In addition to such intrinsic evidence, a court may consider extrinsic evidence to determine the meaning of disputed claims. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. Such extrinsic evidence "consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (citing Markman, 52 F.3d at 980). However, the Court should not rely on extrinsic evidence when the intrinsic evidence removes all ambiguity. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583.
Such extrinsic evidence generally is held as less reliable than the intrinsic evidence and "is unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of intrinsic evidence." Id at 1317-18. With respect to expert evidence, for example, "[c]onclusory, unsupported assertions by experts as to the definition of a claim term are not useful to a court... [and] a court should discount any expert testimony that is clearly at odds with the claim construction mandated by the claims themselves, the written description, and the prosecution history, in other words, with the written record of the patent." Id. at 1318.
With respect to general usage dictionaries, the Federal Circuit noted that "[dictionaries or comparable sources are often useful to assist in understanding the commonly understood meaning of words and have been used... in claim construction, " and further noted that "a dictionary definition has the value of being an unbiased source accessible to the public in advance of litigation.'" Id. at 1322 (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1585). However, the Federal Circuit cautions that (1) "a general-usage dictionary cannot overcome art-specific evidence of the meaning' of a claim term;" that (2) "the use of the dictionary may extend patent protection beyond what should properly be afforded by the inventor's patent;" and that (3) "[t]here is no guarantee that a term is used in the same way in a treatise as it would be by the patentee." Phillips, 415 F.3d 1322 (quoting Vanderlande Indus. Nederland BV v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 366 F.3d 1311, 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). Indeed, "different dictionary definitions may contain somewhat different sets of definitions for the same words. A claim should not rise or fall based upon the preferences of a particular dictionary editor, ... uninformed by the specification, to rely on one dictionary rather than another." Id..
B. The "Canons of Claim Construction"
The Federal Circuit has recognized certain guideposts, or "canons of construction, " to assist a district court in determining the meaning of disputed claim terms and phrases. These are merely ...