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Hangartner v. Intel Corp.

United States District Court, District of Oregon, Portland Division

December 17, 2014

RICKY D. HANGARTNER, Plaintiff,
v.
INTEL CORPORATION, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

Michael W. Mosman United States District Judge

Plaintiff Ricky Hangartner brings this action against Defendant Intel Corporation alleging infringement of United States Patent No. 6, 463, 422 (the ‘422 Patent). Dr. Hangartner alleges Intel sells processors that incorporate circuitry and techniques disclosed in Claim 1. Intel denies infringement and counterclaims that the ‘422 Patent is invalid.

Dr. Hangartner and Intel dispute the meaning of nine phrases in Claim 1. The parties filed initial and responsive claim construction memoranda and the court held a claim construction hearing on November 17, 2014. Based on the parties’ evidence, memoranda, and the argument of counsel, I issued a brief Opinion and Order setting forth my construction of the nine disputed phrases on November 20, 2014. This explanatory opinion discusses how I applied the governing claim construction standards to the phrases to arrive at these constructions.

CLAIM CONSTRUCTION STANDARDS

The court is charged with determining the meaning of ambiguous claim language as a matter of law. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996). (“[T]he construction of a patent, including terms of art within its claim, is exclusively within the province of the court.”). When an ambiguity arises, the court must assign the term the meaning that it would have “to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005). This approach is intended to create an “objective baseline from which to begin claim interpretation.” Id. at 1313. “In the end, the court’s ultimate goal is to construe the disputed terms in a manner consistent with the way the inventor defined them and a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand them.” Skedco, Inc. v. Strategic Operations, Inc., No. 03:13-cv-00968-HZ, 2014 WL 4385752, at *5 (D. Or. Sept. 3, 2014).

Construing a disputed term as a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand it requires the court to review multiple sources of evidence, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the patent itself. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1586 (Fed. Cir. 1996). Intrinsic evidence encompasses the words of the claim themselves, the patent specification, and those portions of the patent prosecution history entered into evidence. Id. The court considers extrinsic evidence only when it is otherwise insufficient to resolve the ambiguity. Id. at 1583.

Some of these sources of evidence are “more valuable than others.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1324. The claim language itself contains the most valuable evidence of its own meaning. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582 (“First, we look to the words of the claims themselves…to define the scope of the patented invention.”) There is a “heavy presumption” that these words carry their “ordinary meaning, ” as observed “through the viewing glass of a person skilled in the art.” Johnson Worldwide Assocs., Inc. v. Zebco Corp., 175 F.3d 985, 989 (Fed. Cir. 1999); Ferguson-Beauregard/Logic Controls v. Mega Sys., LLC, 350 F.3d 1327, 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

Beyond the plain language of the claims, the patent specification is always “highly relevant” and often dispositive to the proper construction. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582 (“[I]t is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.”). The purpose of the patent specification is to teach and enable those skilled in the art to make and use the invention, along with the best method for doing so. Cyber Acoustics, LLC v. Belkin Int’l., Inc., No. 3:13-cv-01144-SI, 2014 WL 1225198 (D. Or. Mar. 24, 2014), quoting Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323. The inventor can use the specification to describe the invention in a number of ways, such as describing different “embodiments” of the invention and by assigning particular meanings to specific claim language. Metabolite Lab., Inc. v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 370 F.3d 1354, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316. In the first instance, the embodiments serve as illustrative examples of the invention claimed. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323 (“One of the best ways to teach a person of ordinary skill in the art how to make and use the invention is to provide an example of how to practice the invention in a particular case.”). In the second instance, the inventor clarifies that he or she intends the claim language to carry a specific meaning in contravention to the meaning it would otherwise possess. Id. In these cases, “the inventor’s lexicography governs.” Id. at 1316.

Finally, the prosecution history, which contains the record of the proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office, informs the analysis into what a person skilled in the art would understand the term to mean. Vitronics, 90 F.3d. at 1582–83. The prosecution history becomes useful where it “provides evidence of how the PTO and the inventor understood the patent.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317. However, this evidence is less valuable in that it represents the “ongoing negotiation” between the inventor and the PTO. Id. The final result of that negotiation, the patent itself, provides better evidence of the claim’s intended meanings at the time the patent issued. Id.

Taken together, “[t]he claims, specification and file history, rather than extrinsic evidence, constitute the public record of the patentee’s claim, a record on which the public is entitled to rely.” Vitronics, 90 F.3d.at 1583. This intrinsic evidence forms the basis of the claim construction analysis below. As I find it is sufficient to resolve the ambiguities in the claim language, I need not resort to the use of extrinsic evidence. Id.

DISCUSSION

I. Overview of the ‘422 Patent

The ‘422 Patent discloses a computing system that uses random numbers, or boolean values, to solve extremely difficult computing problems. The overall computing system is comprised of a number of subsystems whose functions are coordinated as follows: One subsystem generates random numbers that act as proposed solutions to the problem; another subsystem tests the random numbers against the problem; and another creates feedback as to the result of this test. The ‘422 Patent discloses this overall system in ten claims, but only the subsystem that generates the random numbers is at issue in this suit. This “nondeterministic” subsystem is described in Claim 1, which reads:

“A nondeterministic logic circuit for generating random boolean values of one or more variables as a proposed solution to a computing problem expressed in conjunctive normal form as one [or] more clauses in said one or more variables, the logic circuit comprising:
one nondeterministic logic element for generating a respective random boolean value for each one of the said one or more variables; and each nondeterministic logic element comprising:
a cross coupled pair of transistor inverter circuits; means for controlling power to the cross-coupled pair of ...

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