United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Media Digital, Inc.
Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc. and Vizio, Inc. No. 2015 DNH 088
OPINION AND ORDER
JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE, District Judge.
Touchscreen computers, and touchscreen computer tablets in particular, are ubiquitous in the contemporary United States. Among the many companies now manufacturing and selling such tablets for consumption in the U.S. market are defendants Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc. and Vizio, Inc. Among the many functions their tablets perform is playing music and other media, frequently by means of a media player that allows the user to update or otherwise control a playlist.
Although these devices are commonplace now, that was not the case some 25 years ago, when plaintiff Media Digital, Inc. ("MDI") sought a patent for a computer touch screen radio station control system. That patent, United States Patent No. 6, 101, 324 (filed Feb. 5, 1990) ("the '324 patent"), is at issue in this case. MDI alleges that Toshiba and Vizio, by manufacturing and selling touchscreen tablets equipped with user-controlled playlists, infringe the '324 Patent. Unsurprisingly, the parties dispute the scope of the patent, and have asked the court to construe seven of the terms employed in Claim 1 of the '324 patent, and to determine the corresponding structures for each of the means-plus-function limitations found in that claim pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 112(f). (The parties disagree as to the exact number of these limitations, as the plaintiffs maintain that one of Claim 1's means-plus-function clauses-describing a function performed by "touch screen means"-is not subject to § 112(f).)
The court, which has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question) and 1338(a) (patent), received briefing and conducted a hearing on these issues in accordance with Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc. , 517 U.S. 370 (1996). The court construes the disputed terms-and determines the corresponding structures-as set forth herein.
I. Applicable legal standard
"It is a bedrock principle of patent law that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude." Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys, Inc. , 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The meaning of language in a claim presents a question of law for the court to decide. Markman , 517 U.S. at 388. In construing the language in a claim, the court's "task is not to decide which of the adversaries is correct" in its proffered interpretation, but to fulfill the court's "independent obligation to determine the meaning of the claims, notwithstanding the views asserted by the adversary parties." Exxon Chem. Patents, Inc. v. Lubrizol Corp. , 64 F.3d 1553, 1555-56 (Fed. Cir. 1995).
In the absence of the patentee's express intent to impart a novel meaning to the claim terms, the words of a claim take on the full breadth of the ordinary and customary meanings attributed to them by persons of ordinary skill in the relevant art at the time of the invention. See, e.g., Metabolite Labs., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings , 370 F.3d 1354, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Tate Access Floors, Inc. v. Interface Architectural Res., Inc. , 279 F.3d 1357, 1370 (Fed. Cir. 2002). To ascertain this meaning, the court must first examine the intrinsic evidence, including the claims themselves, the specification, and any prosecution history submitted by the litigants. See, e.g., Goldenberg v. Cytogen, Inc. , 373 F.3d 1158, 1164 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The court starts with the actual language of the claim. See Int'l Rectifier Corp. v. IXYS Corp. , 361 F.3d 1363, 1369-70 (Fed. Cir. 2004); 3M Innovative Props. Co. v. Avery Dennison Corp. , 350 F.3d 1365, 1370 (Fed. Cir. 2003). "If the claim language is clear on its face, then [the court's] consideration of the rest of the intrinsic evidence is restricted to determining if a deviation from the clear language of the claims is specified." Interactive Gift Express, Inc. v. Compuserve Inc. , 256 F.3d 1323, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2001); see also Int'l Rectifier , 361 F.3d at 1370.
Although the court must therefore construe the claims in light of the specification, it must take care not to read limitations from the specification into the claims. Innova/Pure Water , 381 F.3d at 1117; Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, Inc. , 358 F.3d 898, 904 (Fed. Cir. 2004). "If the meaning of the claim limitations is apparent from the totality of the intrinsic evidence, then the claim has been construed." Interactive Gift Express , 256 F.3d at 1332. Nonetheless, in arriving at the proper construction of a claim, the court may refer to extrinsic evidence, such as dictionaries or expert testimony, "to better understand the underlying technology and the way in which one of skill in the art might use the claim terms, " keeping in mind "the flaws inherent" in such evidence." Phillips v. AWH Corp. , 415 F.3d 1303, 1317-18 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted).
MDI holds an assignment of the '324 Patent from its inventors, John M. Connell (who is also MDI's president), Dennis Mills, Doug Cyr, and Norman Buck. The patent, which is titled "Computer Touch Screen Radio Station Control System, " discloses "[a] computerized audio or video signal control system controlled by an announcer and having a display of the available signal sources and scheduled events which can be activated, mixed, faded and cued by the announcer in the scheduled order or in an order the announcer desires." '324 Patent, Abstract. The patent explains that, historically, "audio or video production or broadcast systems included a manually controlled mixing and switching board, " which was "complex and hard to use" due to "the large number of available inputs or sources, the multiple outputs available and the options available for each source." Id. col. 1:16-22. Previous attempts to remedy the frequent errors this caused through full automation, i.e., "by having a computer replace all the operators and oversee the entire operation of the station, " resulted in additional problems due to "mechanical malfunctions" or the computer's inability "to rapidly rearrange the schedule of events." Id. col. 1:27-38. Thus, the patent states, there was a need for "a more flexible program environment... that could be changed by an operator to fit the situation as it arose, " but which "did not require highly trained operators or produce the frequent errors which occurred in manual control boards." Id. col. 1:40-50.
So, the patent summarizes, "[t]he basic system" of the disclosed invention "uses a computer integrated with a touch screen to replace the mixing and routing board in a radio or television station or production facility, " thereby permitting "the broadcast announcer to perform the program mixing and routing tasks without the need for a skilled operator." Id. col. 1:65-2:3. Scheduled events are displayed on the touch screen, and the announcer is able "to change events to different time slots, to cancel events, to cue events for review prior to actual airing, to initiate events immediately and [to perform] all other functions necessary to control and log programming of a radio, television or production broadcast." Id. col. 2:3-9. The patent thus claims, in relevant part:
A system to provide interactive, automated control of an audio or video program formed from a plurality of signal sources, said control system being responsive to commands from one or more system operators or announcers comprising:
touch screen means for displaying information and for receiving input information by way of the location of a touch on said touch screen means;
means for generating and displaying on said touch screen means a portion of a scheduled log of program events;
means for correlating a program event with a source;
means or allowing an operator to select a program event from the log for activation at that time by touching said touch screen means;
means for activating the selected event;
means for allowing the operator to de-select an active event from the activated status at that time by touching said touch screen means; and means for de-activating the de-selected event.
Id. col. 26:60-27:12.
MDI filed eight actions in this court in late 2012 and early 2013, alleging that Toshiba, Vizio, and several other entities are infringing on the '324 patent by manufacturing and selling touchscreen controlled tablet computers equipped with media players and the ability to update a music playlist. MDI stipulated to the dismissal of its claims against several of the defendants; the court consolidated the remaining cases for pretrial proceedings. See Orders of March 26, 2013; April 15, 2013; and June 3, 2013. Following further stipulations of dismissal by MDI, only Toshiba and Vizio remain as defendants.
Pursuant to Supplemental Patent Rules 6.1(c) and (e), the parties have filed a joint claim construction and prehearing statement and claim construction briefs, seeking the court's ruling on the meaning of the following seven terms employed in Claim 1 of the '324 Patent:
"a plurality of signal sources"/"a source";
"operators or announcers";
"scheduled log of program events"/"the log";
"select a program event";
"activation"/"activating the selected event";
"de-select [an active event]"; and
"deactivating the de-selected event."
The parties also seek the court's ruling on the corresponding structure for each of the means-plus-function limitations in Claim 1, see 35 U.S.C. § 112(f), though they disagree whether "touch screen means for displaying information and for receiving input information by way of the location of a touch on said touch screen means" is a means-plus-function limitation subject to § 112(f).
A. Disputed ...