A Blog About Intellectual Property Litigation and the District of Delaware

Entries for tag: Claim Construction

Francois Olwage, Unsplash

Sir Isaac Newton once wrote to Robert Hooke (Hooke’s Law): “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This quote was the cornerstone on which I built my 5th grade graduation speech, because it seemed to be an eloquent way to say “don’t reinvent the wheel”.

Judge Hatcher appears to be building on the knowledge accumulated by judges occupying the bench before her. In particular, Judge Hatcher’s new form Scheduling Order for patent cases seems strongly inspired by Judge Hall’s and Judge Burke’s form orders.

Here are a few differences . . .

  • Omits the paragraph on the unavailability of the ADR Process. This indicates that the Court expects litigants to …

I was trolling though recent opinions in search of a blog post topic (you're welcome) when I stumbled upon a recent Markman order discussing disclaimer. Now normally Markman orders aren't the most fecund ground for a post. But seeing the pro forma language about how prosecution history disclaimer required a "clear and unmistakable" disavowal I had to ask myself—"do they ever find that?"

I don't know why I asked for it to be Baron Harkonnen, but I did and now you have to see it too
AI-Generated, displayed with permission

The answer, is "not really, no." Frequent readers will know that I normally do the last 10 opinions, because I have forgotten all the math I used to know and its easy to calculate the percentages. Here though, I looked through the last 10 and was still at 0. So I pressed on until we hit a winner at the 15th oldest decision. For those with calculators, that's a 6.7% success rate.

What really surprised me about this number was that I only had to go back 2 months to find 15 cases where a defendant had alleged disclaimer, given the abysmal success rate. I'll update this post the next time we get a winner to see if we can piece together a unified theory of what makes these arguments work.

As a lawyer I am a creature of rules. Bound in a cage of local rules, standing orders and conventions, I sometimes struggle to see the possibilities that lay beyond. What might be seized if we broke those bonds?

AI-Generated, displayed with permission

It turns out, nothing good.

Few cases illustrate this lesson better than Bausch & Lomb Inc. v. SBH Holdings LLC C.A. No. 20-1463-GBW-CJB (D. Del Mar. 20, 2023) (Oral Order). Earlier this month (following a bit of a trend in the district), Judge Burke issued an oral order requiring the defendant to clarify its claim construction positions:

The Court, having reviewed the parties' Joint Claim Construction Chart ("JCCC"), hereby ORDERS that by no later …

This is the kind of engine that has structure.
This is the kind of engine that has structure. Markus Spiske, Unsplash

There are only so many ways to get rid of claims early in the case. One of them is arguing indefiniteness at claim construction, for the judges who permit that.

Indefiniteness at Markman typically invoves either a Nautilus-style argument about a term lacking reasonable certainty, or a § 112 ¶ 6 argument that a means-plus-function term lacks corresponding structure in the specification.

Today, Judge Andrews addressed such a § 112 ¶ 6 argument, and found both that software terms reciting an "engine" were means-plus-function terms, and that the terms lacked corresponding structure in the specification. First, he found that "engine" is a "nonce word" that doesn't refer to a specific structure—breaking with at least one case that found the opposite:

I agree with Defendant that “analysis engine” is a means-plus-function limitation. Defendant has overcome the presumption that “analysis engine” is not subject to § 112, ¶ 6 by showing the claim fails to “recite sufficiently definite structure.” . . . The parties agree that an “engine” in this context refers to a program or part of a program to perform a function or manages data. . . . “Engine” appears to be synonymous with “module,” which is recognized as a common “nonce” word. Williamson, 792 F.3d at 1350 (finding “module” to mean “a generic description for software or hardware that performs a specified function” to be a “well-known nonce word”); see also Parity Networks, LLC v. ZyXEL Commc'ns, Inc., 2020 WL 8569299, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 22, 2020) (finding “engine” was a nonce word in the term “multicast engine”). But see Stragent, LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc., 2011 WL 13152568, at *4 (E.D. Tex. June 27, 2011) (finding “engine” conveyed structure and was not subject to § 112, ¶ 6).

The argument that the "analysis engine" was part of the novelty of the patent was not enough to save it—and that argument may have even hurt the plaintiff ...

Andrew E. Russell

Just last week, we wrote about Judge Noreika ordering an in-person meet-and-confer to occur between lead trial counsel regarding claim terms, in the courtroom in Delaware, and "continuing until excused by the Court." In ordering the in-person meet-and-confer, Judge Noreika noted that the parties had "spoke[n] for just 20 minutes about 10 disputed terms" during their meet-and-confer.

Yesterday, Chief Judge Connolly issued an order along similar lines—but outright canceling the Markman hearing. Like Judge Noreika did, the Court noted that the parties had failed to adequately meet-and-confer about a disputed term:

Plaintiffs first made their new proposal [to construe "tangent"] during the "meet and confer" discussion required by paragraph 13 of the Revised Scheduling Order. . . …

Unhappy Attorneys

Judge Noreika is well known at this point for requiring real, substantive meet-and-confers on claim construction. In multiple cases, she has directed parties to further meet-and-confer after finding their initial efforts insufficient.

She issued another such order this week, this time directing the parties to have what appears to be a supervised meet-and-confer, in person in the courtroom:

ORDER . . . The parties did not comply with the Court's February 13, 2023 Oral Order requiring a good-faith meet and confer. Instead, the parties spoke for just 20 minutes about 10 disputed terms, as well as "hearing logistics" and a proposal by MarkForged to request deferral of certain claim constructions until dispositive motions. There is no breakdown indicating …

Mark Rohan, Unsplash

Yesterday, Judge Williams issued a claim construction opinion in Persawvere, Inc. v. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, C.A. No. 21-400-GBW (D. Del. Feb. 21, 2023).

In the joint claim construction brief, plaintiff asserted that defendant had waived its indefiniteness arguments because it did not include them in its invalidity contentions:

Given that Defendant failed to raise an indefiniteness argument in its Invalidity Contentions concerning terms 3 and 4, see Ex. 8, Defendant has waived this defense.

D.I. 47 at 30. In the case, the scheduling order required both initial and final invalidity contentions; defendant did not mention indefiniteness in its initial contentions, and the deadline for final contentions had not yet passed.

The defendant …

No Construction
Andrew E. Russell

In Charles Smith Enterprises, LLC v. Catapult Sports, Inc., C.A. No. 21-1278-CFC (D. Del.), the parties filed a 60-page joint claim construction brief that included disputes on a number of terms where one party or the other proposed "plain and ordinary meaning" or "no construction necessary" while the other side proposed a specific definition for the terms.

By my count, for every single one of the parties' 15 disputed terms, one side or the other proposed "plain and ordinary meaning" or "no construction necessary" with no alternative construction—before Chief Judge Connolly, no less. These counsel clearly don't read this blog.

In some instances, the parties just briefed the terms in an odd way. …

Typical day in litigation
Typical day in litigation AI-Generated, displayed with permission

We've talked before about a common question in patent cases: whether parties can (or have to) address indefiniteness during the Markman claim construction process. The answer varies greatly by judge.

The Markman process sometimes occurs early in the case, and parties have to make a call fairly early-on about whether they want to address indefiniteness early in the case, or wait until later.

Plaintiffs usually want to defer indefiniteness for later to keep the case going as long as possible. Defendants, on the other hand, can go either way: Often they want to address indefiniteness early to resolve the action, but sometimes they aren't quite ready and prefer to wait as …

Attorneys at Table
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This is an interesting order from earlier this month that we never had a chance to post about.

In Ecobee, Inc. v. EcoFactor, Inc., C.A. No. 21-323-MN (D. Del.), the parties had a Markman hearing scheduled for December 8. As she often does, in the leadup to the hearing, Judge Noreika issued an order directing lead counsel for the parties to meet-and-confer to reduce the number of disputes:

ORAL ORDER . . . IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that, on or before 12/1/2022, local and lead counsel (i.e., those attorneys that will be leading trial) for the parties shall meet and confer and file an amended joint claim construction chart that sets forth the …