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Saint Lawrence Communications LLC v. Apple Inc.

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

July 5, 2017

SAINT LAWRENCE COMMUNICATIONS LLC,
v.
APPLE INC., et al.

          CLAIM CONSTRUCTION MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RODNEY GILSTRAP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Saint Lawrence Communications LLC's (“Plaintiff's”) Opening Claim Construction Brief (Dkt. No. 100). Also before the Court are Defendants Apple Inc., AT&T Mobility LLC, and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless's (“Defendants'”) response (Dkt. No. 109) and Plaintiffs' reply (Dkt. No. 117).

         The Court held a claim construction hearing on March 3, 2017.

         Table of Contents

         I. BACKGROUND ....................................................................................................................... 3

         II. LEGAL PRINCIPLES ........................................................................................................... 5

         III. AGREED TERMS ............................................................................................................... 10

         IV. DISPUTED TERMS ............................................................................................................ 10

         A. “[synthesized] [weighted] wideband [speech] signal” ........................................................ 10

         B. “fixed denominator” ............................................................................................................ 16

         C. “A [device/method] for enhancing periodicity of an excitation signal produced in relation to a pitch codevector and an innovation codevector for supplying a signal synthesis filter in view of synthesizing a wideband speech signal” ....................................................................................................................................................................... 18

         D. “low frequency portion” ..................................................................................................... 21

         E. “high frequency content” ..................................................................................................... 24

         F. “wherein γ2 is set equal to μ” ............................................................................................... 26

         G. “said excitation signal” ....................................................................................................... 28

         H. “means for comparing an innovative codebook gain g computed during encoding of the wideband signal to a threshold given by the initial modified gain from the past subframe g-1 as follows: if g < g-1 then g0=g x 1.19 bounded by g0<g-1, and if g>g- 1 then g0=g/1.19 bounded by g0>g-1” ................................................................................................ 31

         I. “means for determining said smoothing gain through the following relation: gs = Sm*g0(1-Sm)*g” ...................................................................................................................................................................... 33

         J. Additional Terms .................................................................................................................. 35

         V. CONCLUSION ...................................................................................................................... 39

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings suit alleging infringement of United States Patents No. 6, 795, 805 (“the '805 Patent”), 6, 807, 524 (“the '524 Patent”), 7, 151, 802 (“the '802 Patent”), 7, 191, 123 (“the '123 Patent”), and 7, 260, 521 (“the '521 Patent”) (collectively, the “patents-in-suit”). Plaintiff submits that “[a]ll of the asserted patents in this case relate to the transmission of wideband speech signals, ” and “[a]ll five patents have been declared essential to the AMR-WB [(Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband)] [audio coding] standard . . . .” (Dkt. No. 100, at 1 & 2.)

         The '805 Patent, titled “Periodicity Enhancement in Decoding Wideband Signals, ” issued on September 21, 2004, and the Abstract states:

An alternative approach by which periodicity enhancement of an excitation signal is achieved through filtering an innovative codevector by an innovation filter to reduce low frequency content of the innovative codevector and enhance the periodicity at low frequencies more than high frequencies.

         The '524 Patent, titled “Perceptual Weighting Device and Method for Efficient Coding of Wideband Signals, ” issued on October 19, 2004, and the Abstract states:

A perceptual weighting device for producing a perceptually weighted signal in response to a wideband signal comprises a signal pre-emphasis filter, a synthesis filter calculator, and a perceptual weighting filter. The signal pre-emphasis filter enhances the high frequency content of the wideband signal to thereby produce a pre-emphasized signal. The signal pre-emphasis filter has a transfer function of the form: P(z) = 1-μz-1, wherein μ is a pre-emphasis factor having a value located between 0 and 1. The synthesis filter calculator is responsive to the pre-emphasized signal for producing synthesis filter coefficients. Finally, the perceptual weighting filter processes the pre-emphasized signal in relation to the synthesis filter coefficients to produce the perceptually weighted signal. The perceptual weighting filter has a transfer function, with fixed denominator, of the form: W(z) = A (z/γ1) / (1-γ2z-1) where 0<γ2<γ1≤1.

         The '802 Patent, titled “High Frequency Content Recovering Method and Device for Over- Sampled Synthesized Wideband Signal, ” issued on December 19, 2006, and the Abstract states:

In a method and device for recovering the high frequency content of a wideband signal previously down-sampled, and for injecting this high frequency content in an over-sampled synthesized version of the wideband signal to produce a fill-spectrum synthesized wideband signal, a random noise generator produces a noise sequence having a given spectrum. A spectral shaping unit spectrally shapes the noise sequence in relation to linear prediction filter coefficients related to the down-sampled wideband signal. A signal injection circuit finally injects the spectrally-shaped noise sequence in the over-sampled synthesized signal version to thereby produce the full-spectrum synthesized wideband signal.

         The '123 Patent, titled “Gain-Smoothing in Wideband Speech and Audio Signal Decoder, ” issued on March 13, 2007, and the Abstract states:

The gain smoothing method and device modify the amplitude of an innovative codevector in relation to background noise present in a previously sampled wideband signal. The gain smoothing device comprises a gain smoothing calculator for calculating a smoothing gain in response to a factor representative of voicing in the sampled wideband signal, a factor representative of the stability of a set of linear prediction filter coefficients, and an innovative codebook gain. The gain smoothing device also comprises an amplifier for amplifying the innovative codevector with the smoothing gain to thereby produce a gain-smoothed innovative codevector. The function of the gain-smoothing device improves the perceived synthesized signal when background noise is present in the sampled wideband signal.

         The '521 Patent, titled “Method and Device for Adaptive Bandwidth Pitch Search in Coding Wideband Signals, ” issued on August 21, 2007, and the Abstract states:

An improved pitch search method and device for digitally encoding a wideband signal, in particular but not exclusively a speech signal, in view of transmitting, or storing, and synthesizing this wideband sound signal. The new method and device which achieve efficient modeling of the harmonic structure of the speech spectrum uses several forms of low pass filters applied to a pitch codevector, the one yielding higher prediction gain (i.e. the lowest pitch prediction error) is selected and the associated pitch codebook parameters are forwarded.

         The '805 Patent, the '524 Patent, the '802 Patent, and the '521 Patent all list a foreign priority document dated October 27, 1998, namely Canadian Patent Application No. 2, 252, 170. The '123 Patent lists a foreign priority document dated November 18, 1999, namely Canadian Patent Application No. 2, 290, 037. Defendants submit: “The Asserted Patents generally share the same figures and specification, with minor differences that relate to the specific claims of each patent.” (Dkt. No. 109, at 2.)

         The patents-in-suit were previously construed by this Court in Saint Lawrence Communications LLC v. ZTE Corp., , No. 2:15-CV-349, Dkt. No. 236 (E.D. Tex. Oct. 24, 2016) (“ZTE”).

         II. LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         It is understood that “[a] claim in a patent provides the metes and bounds of the right which the patent confers on the patentee to exclude others from making, using or selling the protected invention.” Burke, Inc. v. Bruno Indep. Living Aids, Inc., 183 F.3d 1334, 1340 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Claim construction is clearly an issue of law for the court to decide. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 970-71 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996).

         “In some cases, however, the district court will need to look beyond the patent's intrinsic evidence and to consult extrinsic evidence in order to understand, for example, the background science or the meaning of a term in the relevant art during the relevant time period.” Teva Pharms. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 831, 841 (2015) (citation omitted). “In cases where those subsidiary facts are in dispute, courts will need to make subsidiary factual findings about that extrinsic evidence. These are the ‘evidentiary underpinnings' of claim construction that we discussed in Markman, and this subsidiary factfinding must be reviewed for clear error on appeal.” Id. (citing 517 U.S. 370).

         To ascertain the meaning of claims, courts look to three primary sources: the claims, the specification, and the prosecution history. Markman, 52 F.3d at 979. The specification must contain a written description of the invention that enables one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention. Id. A patent's claims must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part. Id. For claim construction purposes, the description may act as a sort of dictionary, which explains the invention and may define terms used in the claims. Id. “One purpose for examining the specification is to determine if the patentee has limited the scope of the claims.” Watts v. XL Sys., Inc., 232 F.3d 877, 882 (Fed. Cir. 2000).

         Nonetheless, it is the function of the claims, not the specification, to set forth the limits of the patentee's invention. Otherwise, there would be no need for claims. SRI Int'l v. Matsushita Elec. Corp., 775 F.2d 1107, 1121 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (en banc). The patentee is free to be his own lexicographer, but any special definition given to a word must be clearly set forth in the specification. Intellicall, Inc. v. Phonometrics, Inc., 952 F.2d 1384, 1388 (Fed. Cir. 1992). Although the specification may indicate that certain embodiments are preferred, particular embodiments appearing in the specification will not be read into the claims when the claim language is broader than the embodiments. Electro Med. Sys., S.A. v. Cooper Life Sciences, Inc., 34 F.3d 1048, 1054 (Fed. Cir. 1994).

         This Court's claim construction analysis is substantially guided by the Federal Circuit's decision in Phillips v. AWH Corporation, 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). In Phillips, the court set forth several guideposts that courts should follow when construing claims. In particular, the court reiterated that “the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.” 415 F.3d at 1312 (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). To that end, the words used in a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning. Id. The ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term “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, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Id. at 1313. This principle of patent law flows naturally from the recognition that inventors are usually persons who are skilled in the field of the invention and that patents are addressed to, and intended to be read by, others skilled in the particular art. Id.

         Despite the importance of claim terms, Phillips made clear that “the person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification.” Id. Although the claims themselves may provide guidance as to the meaning of particular terms, those terms are part of “a fully integrated written instrument.” Id. at 1315 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 978). Thus, the Phillips court emphasized the specification as being the primary basis for construing the claims. Id. at 1314-17. As the Supreme Court stated long ago, “in case of doubt or ambiguity it is proper in all cases to refer back to the descriptive portions of the specification to aid in solving the doubt or in ascertaining the true intent and meaning of the language employed in the claims.” Bates v. Coe, 98 U.S. 31, 38 (1878). In addressing the role of the specification, the Phillips court quoted with approval its earlier observations from Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998):

Ultimately, the interpretation to be given a term can only be determined and confirmed with a full understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to envelop with the claim. The construction that stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention will be, in the end, the correct construction.

Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316. Consequently, Phillips emphasized the important role the specification plays in the claim construction process.

         The prosecution history also continues to play an important role in claim interpretation. Like the specification, the prosecution history helps to demonstrate how the inventor and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) understood the patent. Id. at 1317. Because the file history, however, “represents an ongoing negotiation between the PTO and the applicant, ” it may lack the clarity of the specification and thus be less useful in claim construction proceedings. Id. Nevertheless, the prosecution history is intrinsic evidence that is relevant to the determination of how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the invention during prosecution by narrowing the scope of the claims. Id.; see Microsoft Corp. v. Multi-Tech Sys., Inc., 357 F.3d 1340, 1350 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (noting that “a patentee's statements during prosecution, whether relied on by the examiner or not, are relevant to claim interpretation”).

         Phillips rejected any claim construction approach that sacrificed the intrinsic record in favor of extrinsic evidence, such as dictionary definitions or expert testimony. The en banc court condemned the suggestion made by Texas Digital Systems, Inc. v. Telegenix, Inc., 308 F.3d 1193 (Fed. Cir. 2002), that a court should discern the ordinary meaning of the claim terms (through dictionaries or otherwise) before resorting to the specification for certain limited purposes. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1319-24. According to Phillips, reliance on dictionary definitions at the expense of the specification had the effect of “focus[ing] the inquiry on the abstract meaning of words rather than on the meaning of claim terms within the context of the patent.” Id. at 1321. Phillips emphasized that the patent system is based on the proposition that the claims cover only the invented subject matter. Id.

         Phillips does not preclude all uses of dictionaries in claim construction proceedings. Instead, the court assigned dictionaries a role subordinate to the intrinsic record. In doing so, the court emphasized that claim construction issues are not resolved by any magic formula. The court did not impose any particular sequence of steps for a court to follow when it considers disputed claim language. Id. at 1323-25. Rather, Phillips held that a court must attach the appropriate weight to the intrinsic sources offered in support of a proposed claim construction, bearing in mind the general rule that the claims measure the scope of the patent grant.

         The Supreme Court of the United States has “read [35 U.S.C.] § 112, ¶ 2 to require that a patent's claims, viewed in light of the specification and prosecution history, inform those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty.” Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2120, 2129 (2014). “A determination of claim indefiniteness is a legal conclusion that is drawn from the court's performance of its duty as the construer of patent claims.” Datamize, LLC v. Plumtree Software, Inc., 417 F.3d 1342, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Nautilus, 134 S.Ct. 2120.

         In general, prior claim construction proceedings involving the same patents-in-suit are “entitled to reasoned deference under the broad principals of stare decisis and the goals articulated by the Supreme Court in Markman, even though stare decisis may not be applicable per se.” Maurice Mitchell Innovations, LP v. Intel Corp., No. 2:04-CV-450, 2006 WL 1751779, at *4 (E.D. Tex. June 21, 2006) (Davis, J.); see TQP Development, LLC v. Intuit Inc., No. 2:12-CV-180, 2014 WL 2810016, at *6 (E.D. Tex. June 20, 2014) (Bryson, J.) (“[P]revious claim constructions in cases involving the same patent are entitled to substantial weight, and the Court has determined that it will not depart from those constructions absent a strong reason for doing so.”); see also Teva, 135 S.Ct. at 839-40 (“prior cases will sometimes be binding because of issue preclusion and sometimes will serve as persuasive authority”) (citation omitted); Finisar Corp. v. DirecTV Grp., Inc., 523 F.3d 1323, 1329 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (noting “the importance of uniformity in the treatment of a given patent”) (quoting Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 390 (1996)).

         III. AGREED TERMS

         In their December 2, 2016 Amended Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement, the parties set forth agreements as to the following terms in the patents-in-suit (Dkt. No. 99, at 2):

Term

Agreement

“means for transmitting the encoded wideband signal”

(Claims 53 and 69 of the '123 Patent)

This term is subject to 35 U.S.C. § 112(6).

Function: transmitting an encoded wideband signal

Corresponding Structure: transmission circuit; and equivalents thereof

“means for receiving a transmitted encoded wideband signal”

(Claims 53 and 69 of the '123 Patent)

This term is subject to 35 U.S.C. § 112(6).

Function: receiving a transmitted encoded wideband signal

Corresponding Structure: receiving circuit; and equivalents thereof

         The parties have also reached agreements as to the application of the Court's ZTE constructions in the above-captioned case. (See Dkt. No. 93, Joint Motion for Entry of Prior Claim Construction Order as to Certain Specified Terms; see also Dkt. No. 95, Nov. 21, 2016 Order; Dkt. No. 145, Joint Notice Regarding Prior Claim Construction Briefing.)

         IV. DISPUTED TERMS

         A. “[synthesized] [weighted] wideband [speech] signal”

Plaintiff's Proposed Construction

Defendants' Proposed Construction

No construction is necessary.

Alternatively:

“a [synthesized] [weighted] [speech] signal that spans a wider bandwidth than traditional telephone signals and that has a frequency range of approximately 50-7000Hz”

“a [synthesized] [weighted] [speech] signal that spans a wider bandwidth than traditional telephone signals and that has a frequency range of 50-7000 Hz sampled at 16000 samples/sec”

(Dkt. No. 99, Ex. A, at 1; id., Ex. B, at 1; Dkt. No. 100, at 4; Dkt. No. 109, at 3; Dkt. No. 117, at 1; Dkt. No. 118, Ex. B, at 1-2.) The parties submit that this term appears throughout the claims of the patents-in-suit. (See Dkt. No. 99, Ex. A, at 1; id., Ex. B, at 1; Dkt. No. 118, Ex. B, at 1-2.)

         (1) The Parties' Positions

         Plaintiff argues that “[t]he term ‘wideband signal' has been well-known and commonly-used by those of ordinary skill in the art for years and need not be construed.” (Dkt. No. 100, at 4.) Plaintiff also argues that Defendants' proposal should be rejected because “[a] wideband signal is not strictly limited to the range of 50-7, 000 Hz, ” and “Defendants' addition of the phrase ‘sampled at 16000 samples/sec' is also improper” because “the specification repeatedly refers to down-sampled signals as being ‘wideband' signals.” (Id., at 6 & 9.)

         Defendants respond that the specification expressly defines the disputed term as requiring sampling at 16, 000 samples/sec. (Dkt. No. 109, at 4 (citing '805 Patent at 2:12-14).) Defendants argue that “[t]his explicit definition confirms both (a) the established ordinary meaning requires not only a specific bandwidth, but also a specific sampling rate, and (b) a wideband signal down-sampled to 12, 800 samples/sec is no longer a wideband signal.” (Dkt. No. 109, at 5.)

         Plaintiff replies, for example, that “signal ‘S' in Figure 1 . . . is defined in the patent as the ‘wideband signal input speech vector (after down-sampling, pre-processing, and preemphasis).'” (Dkt. No. 117, at 2 (quoting '802 Patent at 7:58-59) (emphasis Plaintiff's).)

         At the March 3, 2017 hearing, Plaintiff also noted its alternative proposal in supplemental briefing in the ZTE case that “wideband” means “a signal that spans a wider bandwidth than traditional telephone signals and that has a frequency range of approximately 50-7000 Hz, including a signal down-sampled from 16 kHz to 12.8 kHz.” (ZTE, Dkt. No. 453.)

         Defendants responded that the word “approximately, ” which was introduced by the ZTE construction, is unclear and lacks support in the specification.

         (2) Analysis

         In ZTE, the Court construed this disputed term to mean “a [synthesized] [weighted] [speech] signal that spans a wider bandwidth than traditional telephone signals and that has a frequency range of approximately 50-7000Hz.”

         Here as in ZTE, the Court finds construction is appropriate. See ZTE at 107-113. The Court thus rejects Plaintiff's proposal that no construction is necessary.

         Also, as in ZTE, the Court finds that the disputed term refers to an approximate frequency range, not a precise frequency range. See Id. Further, although Defendants have argued that the word “approximately” lacks support, the specification discloses that “[a] bandwidth in the range 50-7000 Hz was found sufficient for delivering a face-to-face speech quality.” '802 Patent at 1:25-27 (emphasis added). Because the term “bandwidth” itself refers to a band of frequencies, the phrase “in the range” can be readily interpreted as referring to an approximate range rather than an exact range. The Court hereby expressly rejects Defendants' proposal of an exact frequency range of 50-7000 Hz.

         The remaining issue, namely whether this term requires a sampling rate of 16, 000 samples/sec (16 kHz), was not raised in the ZTE claim construction proceedings.

         The '805 Patent discloses:

In the telephone band, the sound signal is band-limited to 200-3400 Hz and sampled at 8000 samples/sec. In wideband speech/audio applications, the sound signal is band-limited to 50-7000 Hz and sampled at 16000 samples/sec.

&#39;805 Patent at 2:9-13. This reference to particular &ldquo;applications, &rdquo; however, does not rise to the level of a clear definition of the term &ldquo;wideband signal.&rdquo; See CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 288 F.3d 1359, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (&ldquo;[T]he claim term will not receive its ordinary meaning if the patentee acted as his own lexicographer and clearly set forth a definition of the disputed claim term in either the specification or prosecution history.&rdquo;) (emphasis added); see also Sinorgchem Co., Shandong v. ...


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