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Gestion Proche, Inc. v. Dialight Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

June 30, 2017

GESTION PROCHE, INC.
v.
DIALIGHT CORP. Plaintiff's Proposed Construction Defendant's Proposed Construction

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Plaintiff Gestion Proche, Inc.'s (“Plaintiff” or “GP”) Opening Claim Construction Brief (Dkt. #35), Defendant Dialight Corp.'s (“Defendant” or “Dialight”) Responsive Claim Construction Brief (Dkt. #40), and Plaintiff's Reply Claim Construction Brief (Dkt. #43).[1] Also before the Court are the parties' April 13, 2017 Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement (Dkt. #30) and the parties' June 5, 2017 Joint Claim Construction Chart (Dkt. #38). The Court held a claim construction hearing on June 15, 2017, to determine the proper construction of the disputed claim terms in United States Patent No. 7, 557, 524 (the “'524 Patent”).

         The Court issues this Memorandum Opinion and Order and hereby incorporates-by-reference the claim construction hearing and transcript as well as the demonstrative slides presented by the parties during the hearing. For the following reasons, the Court provides the constructions set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings suit alleging infringement of United States Patent No. 7, 557, 524. The '524 Patent, titled “Lighting Device, ” issued on July 7, 2009, and bears an earliest priority date of December 19, 2001. The Abstract of the '524 Patent states:

An LED lighting device is provided which is capable of being connected to a network and being controlled by a host computer also connected to the network. The lighting device has several lifespan expanding features such as including several extra LEDs such that as the LEDs of the lighting device degrade over time more LEDs can be turned on thus allowing a constant luminosity to be maintained.

'524 Patent at Abstract. Plaintiff has asserted Claims 1, 6, 12, 14, 15, and 17 of the '524 Patent (Dkt. #35 at p. 1).

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Claim construction is a matter of law. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). The purpose of claim construction is to resolve the meanings and technical scope of claim terms. U.S. Surgical Corp. v. Ethicon, Inc., 103 F.3d 1554, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1997). When the parties dispute the scope of a claim term, “it is the court's duty to resolve it.” O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1362 (Fed. Cir. 2008).

         “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.'” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). The Court examines a patent's intrinsic evidence to define the patented invention's scope. Id. at 1313-14; Bell Atl. Network Servs., Inc. v. Covad Commc'ns Grp., Inc., 262 F.3d 1258, 1267 (Fed. Cir. 2001). Intrinsic evidence includes the claims, the rest of the specification, and the prosecution history. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13; Bell Atl. Network Servs., 262 F.3d at 1267. The Court gives claim terms their ordinary and customary meaning as understood by one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-13; Alloc, Inc. v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 342 F.3d 1361, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

         Claim language guides the Court's construction of claim terms. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. “[T]he context in which a term is used in the asserted claim can be highly instructive.” Id. Other claims, asserted and unasserted, can provide additional instruction because “terms are normally used consistently throughout the patent.” Id. Differences among claims, such as additional limitations in dependent claims, can provide further guidance. Id.

         “[C]laims ‘must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.'” Id. at 1315 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 979). “[T]he 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.'” Id. (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)); Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002). In the specification, a patentee may define his own terms, give a claim term a different meaning than it would otherwise possess, or disclaim or disavow some claim scope. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316. Although the Court generally presumes terms possess their ordinary meaning, this presumption can be overcome by statements of clear disclaimer. See Cultor Corp. v. A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., 224 F.3d 1328, 1331 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (“Claims are not correctly construed to cover what was expressly disclaimed.”). This presumption does not arise when the patentee acts as his own lexicographer. Irdeto Access, Inc. v. EchoStar Satellite Corp., 383 F.3d 1295, 1300 (Fed. Cir. 2004).

         The specification may also resolve ambiguous claim terms “where the ordinary and accustomed meaning of the words used in the claims lack sufficient clarity to permit the scope of the claim to be ascertained from the words alone.” Teleflex, 299 F.3d at 1325. For example, “[a] claim interpretation that excludes a preferred embodiment from the scope of the claim ‘is rarely, if ever, correct.'” Globetrotter Software, Inc. v. Elam Comput. Grp. Inc., 362 F.3d 1367, 1381 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (quoting Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583). But, “[a]lthough the specification may aid the court in interpreting the meaning of disputed language in the claims, particular embodiments and examples appearing in the specification will not generally be read into the claims.” Constant v. Advanced Micro-Devices, Inc., 848 F.2d 1560, 1571 (Fed. Cir. 1988); Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323.

         The prosecution history is another tool to supply the proper context for claim construction because a patentee may define a term during prosecution of the patent. See, e.g., Home Diagnostics Inc. v. LifeScan, Inc., 381 F.3d 1352, 1356 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“[A] patent applicant may define a term in prosecuting a patent . . . .”). The well-established doctrine of prosecution disclaimer “preclud[es] patentees from recapturing through claim interpretation specific meanings disclaimed during prosecution.” Omega Eng'g Inc. v. Raytek Corp., 334 F.3d 1314, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2003). When a patentee distinguishes a claimed invention over the prior art, he is “indicating what the claims do not cover” and “by implication surrendering such protection.” Ekchian v. Home Depot, Inc., 104 F.3d 1299, 1304 (Fed. Cir. 1997). “As a basic principle of claim interpretation, prosecution disclaimer promotes the public notice function of the intrinsic evidence and protects the public's reliance on definitive statements made during prosecution.” Omega Eng'g, 334 F.3d at 1324. However, the prosecution history must show that the patentee “clearly and unambiguously ‘disclaimed or disavowed the proposed interpretation during prosecution to obtain claim allowance.”' Middleton Inc. v. Minn. Mining and Mfg. Co. (3M Co.), 311 F.3d 1384, 1388 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (quoting Standard Oil Co. v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 774 F.2d 448, 452 (Fed. Cir. 1985)). Statements will constitute disclaimer of scope only if they are “clear and unmistakable statements of disavowal.” Cordis Corp. v. Medtronic AVE, Inc., 339 F.3d 1352, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2003). “An ambiguous disavowal will not suffice.” Schindler Elevator Corp. v. Otis Elevator Co., 593 F.3d 1275, 1285 (Fed. Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Although “less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language, ” the Court may rely on extrinsic evidence to “shed useful light on the relevant art.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Technical dictionaries and treatises may help the Court understand the underlying technology and the manner in which one skilled in the art might use claim terms, but such sources may also provide overly broad definitions or may not be indicative of how terms are used in the patent. Id. at 1318. Similarly, expert testimony may aid the Court in determining the particular meaning of a term in the pertinent field, but “conclusory, unsupported assertions by experts as to the definition of a claim term are not useful.” Id. Generally, extrinsic evidence is “less reliable than the patent and its prosecution history in determining how to read claim terms.” Id.

         ANALYSIS

         Agreed Claim Terms

         The parties have agreed upon the following constructions:

Term

Agreed Construction

“light emitting diode” / “light emitting diodes” Claims 1, 12, 15
“a semiconductor diode that emits light when conducting current”
“part of said illumination groups” Claim 1
“a member of one or more of said illumination groups”
“separate from said illumination groups” Claim 1
“not a member of one or more of said illumination groups”

(Dkt. #30 at p. 1; Dkt. #38, App'x A at pp. 2, 7).

         Disputed Claim Terms

         A. “control means for maintaining the luminosity of the lighting device at a desired level”

Plaintiff's Proposed Construction

Defendant's Proposed Construction

35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6.
Function:
“maintaining luminosity of the lighting device at a desired level”
Structure:
The various embodiments of computers, or components thereof, or both, or equivalents thereof, as described in e.g. 2:38-2:41; 4:53- 62; 10:65-67; 21:1-22:37; FIGS. 4, 8, and 9- 11.
Defendant contends that this phrase is governed by 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6.
Function:
“controlling the electrical current provided to the illumination groups to ensure the measured brightness of the lighting device remains at a constant predetermined level”
Structure:
“a microprocessor connected to one or more current sources and a light intensity measuring device and configured to calculate the LED degradation factor using the formula FI = ((L1/Lr1)(L2/Lr2))/2, to calculate the number of LED groups to be illuminated throughout the lighting device's lifecycle using the formula Non(t) = Ltot / {nled * Lled(t)} and to select and turn on the LED groups with the least amount of usage time to ensure all LED groups have an equalized usage time as described at Col. 15, 11. 5 - 21, Col. 13, 11. 5 - 45, and Col. 16, 11. 22 - 41, and equivalents thereof”

(Dkt. #30, Exhibit A at p. 2; Dkt. #35 at p. 5; Dkt. #38, App'x A at pp. 2-3; Dkt. #40 at pp. 11- 12). The parties submit that this term appears in Claim 1 (Dkt. #3J0, Exhibit A at p. 2; Dkt. #38, App'x A at p. 2). The parties agree that this is a means-plus-function term governed by 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6.

         1. The Parties' Positions

         Plaintiff argues that whereas its proposal is supported by the specification, Defendant's proposal “contravenes the plain language of the claims” and “does not account for the embodiments of the claimed invention where the lighting device's luminosity is controlled based only [on] a luminosity reading” (Dkt. #35 at p. 6).

         Defendant responds that “the stated function is maintaining the luminosity of the lighting device-not maintaining the luminosity of a network of lighting devices” (Dkt. #40 at p. 13). Defendant also argues that “[t]he parties agree that the corresponding structure includes microprocessor 80, ” “[b]ut the corresponding structure must also include the algorithms executed by microprocessor 80 to perform the claimed function, which Plaintiff omits” (Dkt. #40 at p. 14). Defendant further argues the specification does not clearly link the “Host PC” to the claimed “maintaining” function (Dkt. #40 at p. 15).

         Plaintiff replies by emphasizing that Claim 1 recites that control is carried out “in response to a luminosity reading and/or a usage time measurement” (Dkt. #43 at p. 2). As for the corresponding structure, Plaintiff notes that an algorithm need not be a mathematical formula but rather may be set forth in prose or “in any other manner that provides sufficient structure” (Dkt. #43 at p. 3 (quoting Finisar Corp. v. DirecTV Grp., Inc., 523 F.3d 1323, 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2008))). Moreover, Plaintiff argues that no algorithm is required at all because the Katz exception applies (Dkt. #43 at p. 3 n.2 (citing In re Katz Interactive Call Processing Patent Litig., 639 F.3d 1303, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2011))).

         2. Analysis

         Title 35 U.S.C. § 112(f) (formerly § 112, ¶ 6) provides: “An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.” 35 U.S.C. § 112(f).

The first step in the construction of a means-plus-function claim element is to identify the particular claimed function. Micro Chem., Inc. v. Great Plains Chem. Co., 194 F.3d 1250, 1258 (Fed. Cir. 1999). The second step in the analysis is to look to the specification and identify the corresponding structure for that function. Id. Under this second step, “structure disclosed in the specification is ‘corresponding' structure only if the specification or prosecution history clearly links or associates that structure to the function recited in the claim.” B. Braun Med. Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 124 F.3d 1419, 1424 (Fed. Cir. 1997).

Med. Instrumentation & Diagnostics Corp. v. Elekta AB, 344 F.3d 1205, 1210 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

         The first step is thus the “determination of the meaning of the words used to describe the claimed function, if such meaning is in dispute.” Multiform Desiccants, Inc. v. Medzam, Ltd., 133 F.3d 1473, 1479 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Claim 1 of the '524 Patent recites:

1. An illumination lighting device comprising
a plurality of illumination groups, each of said illumination groups containing one or more light emitting diodes and being configured for passing between an energized light emitting state and a non-energized state, and
control means for maintaining the luminosity of the lighting device at a desired level, said luminosity being controlled by, at predetermined time intervals, transferring an appropriate number of illumination groups between said energized light emitting state and said non-energized state,
whereby
said transfer is effected in response to a luminosity reading and/or a usage time measurement, and
said lighting device comprises at least one of usage time measuring means for providing a usage time measurement for each of said illumination groups at predetermined time intervals, and
a luminosity measuring system comprising
i) luminosity measuring means,
ii) one or more test light
emitting diodes equivalent to the light emitting diodes of said plurality of illumination groups, said luminosity measuring means being able to provide said luminosity reading at predetermined time intervals, on the basis of the light of said one or more test light emitting diodes when said one or more test light emitting diodes are in an energized state, wherein said one or more test light emitting diodes are selected from among light emitting diodes which are part of said illumination groups and which are separate from said illumination groups.

'524 Patent at 23:20-51 (emphasis added). The claim recites that the function of the “control means” is to maintain the luminosity of the lighting device at a desired level by, at predetermined time intervals, transferring an appropriate number of illumination groups between said energized light emitting state and said non-energized state in response to a luminosity reading and/or a usage time measurement. Defendant has not adequately justified its proposed modification of this claim language, particularly as to Defendant's proposals of “electrical current” and “predetermined level.”

         As for the proper corresponding structure, the parties agree that the corresponding structure includes microprocessor 80. For example, the specification discloses:

The microprocessor 80 is set to control the lighting device, and is in this embodiment of the invention a controller means.

'524 Patent at 10:65-67.

         Plaintiff has also cited disclosure regarding a “host computer” that “control[s] important global aspects of the lighting system, such as the lighting intensity in specific zones of the system as a function of the time-of-day and/or ambient illumination, gradual dimming of lighting intensity in intensity level transitions, and activation of special functions such as integrated lane use signals.” Id. at 21:9-14; see Id. at 21:1-22:37. However, these disclosures regarding a “host computer” relate to controlling multiple lighting devices, such as in a roadway tunnel, and are not “clearly link[ed] or associate[d]” with the above-discussed claimed function of maintaining the luminosity of a particular lighting device. Med. Instrumentation, 344 F.3d at 1210. In other words, the specification does not clearly link the claimed function to “[t]he network linking of a number of lighting devices with a host computer.” '524 Patent at 21:6-7; see Id. at 4:53-62 (disclosing “manipulating the light intensity in a tunnel”); see also Triton Tech of Tex., LLC v. Nintendo of Am., Inc., 753 F.3d 1375, 1378 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (“In exchange for using this form of claiming, the patent specification must disclose with sufficient particularity the corresponding structure for performing the claimed function and clearly link that structure to the function.” (emphasis added)); cf. ACCO Brands, Inc. v. Micro Sec. Devices, Inc., 346 F.3d 1075, 1079 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (“The presence in the . . . specification of embodiments carried over from the parent application, but claimed in other patents, does not serve to broaden the scope of the . . . claims that were the subject of the divisional application.”). In addition, these disclosures relate to varying luminosity rather than maintaining it. See, e.g., '524 Patent at 21:25-27 (“Because it has individual control over each lighting device, the host computer can vary the intensity level for each specific zone of the lighting area.”); id. at 4:53-62.

         Because the specification links the claimed function to a general-purpose processor, namely microprocessor 80 as discussed above, an algorithm is required. See, e.g., Net MoneyIN Inc. v. VeriSign, Inc., 545 F.3d 1359, 1367 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (“Thus, in a means-plus-function claim ‘in which the disclosed structure is a computer, or microprocessor, programmed to carry out an algorithm, the disclosed structure is not the general purpose computer, but rather the special purpose computer programmed to perform the disclosed algorithm.'” (quoting WMS Gaming, Inc. v. Int'l Game Tech., 184 F.3d 1339, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 1999))). Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the Katz exception applies because the claimed function of maintaining luminosity is not a function that could be performed by any general-purpose computer without special programming. See In re Katz, 639 F.3d at 1316 (“Absent a possible narrower construction of the terms ‘processing, ' ‘receiving, ' and ‘storing, ' . . . those functions can be achieved by any general purpose computer without special programming.”).

         The specification discloses, in the context of determining the number of extra LED groups needed, an algorithm for adjusting the number of LED groups that are turned on:

         The number of extra groups is determined as follows, using this set of definitions:

Ltot=Total Luminosity of the lighting device
Non(t)=Number of groups turned On (as a function of time) to maintain constant
Ltot Lled(t)=Luminosity (as a function of usage time) for a typical LED
telc=End-of-Life-Cycle time nled=Number of LEDs per group
Nstart=Number of LED groups needed at life-cycle startup (t=0)
Nextra=Number of extra groups needed to maintain Total Luminosity
Ltot at End-of-Life-Cycle time
telc Ngroup=Total number of groups in lighting device
At any given time, the microprocessor monitors Lled(t) through the monitor LEDs. It then adjusts the number Non(t) of groups turned On so that the Total Luminosity Ltot of the lighting device remains constant, according to the following relation:
Ltot=Non(t)*nled*Lled(t)
From which is obtained:
Non(t)=Ltot/(nled*Lled(t)}

'524 Patent at 13:3-25.

         Nonetheless, the above-reproduced claim language recites that determining which illumination groups should be energized and which should be non-energized can be based on “a luminosity reading and/or a usage time measurement.” Thus, the above-disclosed Lled(t), which is “Luminosity (as a function of usage time) for a typical LED, ” amounts to a prospective estimate and is only one of two alternatives. The other alternative is to measure actual luminosity while in use:

The light intensity-measuring device 102 coupled to the test LEDs 101 is read by the controller means. By comparing the test intensity to a reference value, the calculation means can estimate the LED luminosity variations at any given moment and compensate by adjusting the number of LEDs groups turned ON, thereby regularizing the overall lighting device luminosity.
The comparison to the reference values can be seen in FIG. 5, reference number 180. The test intensities L1 and L2 are measured in 176 and 178. These values are then compared to reference values Lr1 and Lr2 which are set during the calibration of the lighting device (154, 156, 158). The LED degradation factor FI is calculated using the following formula FI=((L1/Lr1)(L2/Lr2))/2. As can be seen from the formula the LED degradation factor is averaged over the test diodes such that in the case of abnormal behaviour in one test LED the results will not be completely skewed.

Id. at 15:5-21; see Id. at 14:40-15:4.

         Both alternatives, however, assume that usage time is spread evenly across all illumination groups so that all of the LEDs of the illumination groups experience substantially the same degradation over time. See Id. at 13:3-25 (“Lled(t)=Luminosity (as a function of usage time) for a typical LED”). This is necessary so that all illumination groups generate approximately the same luminosity when turned on, and as a result, the illumination groups are essentially interchangeable for purposes of contribution to the total luminosity, Ltot. Id. The specification thus describes “rotation of the LED groups turned On.” Id. at 13:60-14:4; see Id. at 16:22-41 (“Automatic LED Usage Equalization”).

         The Court therefore finds that “control means for maintaining the luminosity of the lighting device at a desired level” is a means-plus-function term. The claimed function is “maintaining the luminosity of the lighting device at a desired level by, at predetermined time intervals, transferring an appropriate number of illumination groups between said energized light emitting state and said non-energized state in response to a luminosity reading and/or a usage time measurement, ” and the corresponding structure is “microprocessor 80 configured to perform the algorithms set forth in the '524 Patent at column 16, lines 22-41, and: (1) column 13, lines 17-25, and/or (2) column 15, lines 5-21; and equivalents thereof.”

         B. “equivalent to the light emitting diodes of said plurality of illumination groups”

Plaintiff's Proposed Construction

Defendant's Proposed Construction

No construction needed.
However, if the Court finds construction necessary, then “having approximately equal luminosity as one or more of the light emitting diodes of said plurality of illumination groups.”
“having equal luminosity as the light emitting diodes of said plurality of illumination groups”

(Dkt. #30, Exhibit A at pp. 2-3; Dkt. #35 at p. 7; Dkt. #38, App'x A at p. 6; Dkt. #40 at p. 23).

         The parties submit that this term appears in Claim 1 (Dkt. #30, Exhibit A at pp. 2-3; Dkt. #38, App'x A at p. 6).

         1. The Parties' Positions

         Plaintiff argues that no construction is necessary and urges that Defendant's proposal of “equal” is “overly narrow” because Defendant “cannot identify any lexicography, disclaimer, or disavowal” (Dkt. #35 at p. 7).

         Defendant responds that “Plaintiff points to no disclosure-and there is none-of test LEDs ‘approximately identical' to illumination groups' LEDs” (Dkt. #40 at p. 22). Defendant urges that “‘equivalent to' here means that . . . each test LED is ‘identical' to each LED within the illumination groups-i.e., having the same luminosity” (Dkt. #40 at pp. 23-24). Further, for to Plaintiff's proposal of “one or more, ” Defendant argues that “[t]he claim and specification state that each test LED is ‘equivalent' to each illumination group LED” (Dkt. #40 at p. 24).

         2. Analysis

         Claim 1 of the '524 Patent recites, in relevant part:

a luminosity measuring system comprising
i) luminosity measuring means,
ii) one or more test light emitting diodes equivalent to the light emitting diodes of said plurality of illumination groups.

'524 Patent at 23:38-42. The specification discloses using “test LEDs” that are “identical to the ...


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