By Dennis Crouch
Typhoon Touch Tech. v. Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Sand Dune Ventures, Panasonic, Apple, HTC, and Palm (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Touch screen technology has taken-off as an important element of consumer electronics. Typhoon's US Patent Nos. 5,379,057 and 5,675,362 cover various embodiments of a "portable keyboardless computer system" with a "touch-sensitive screen."
Typhoon appealed an E.D. Texas ruling that its patents were invalid and not infringed. The appeal focused on the claim construction that served as the basis for both invalidity and non-infringement. The appellate decision is notable for the detached process that the court used to consider claims elements at issue. The opinion never discussed the crux of the invention or its contribution to the art and instead simply looked to the disputed claim terms and the relation of those terms in the specification (as required by Phillips v. AWH).
This week, I participated in a roundtable discussion at Yale Law School sponsored by the Kauffman foundation and by Yale's Information Society Project (ISP). A substantial amount of the discussion focused on problems stemming from our current claim construction process and our ongoing focus on claim language as opposed to invention or its contribution to the art.
For patent attorneys prosecuting patents, the claims are often seen as equivalent to the invention. The new patent act supports that definition by shifting focus away from the invention and instead onto the "claimed invention." Thus, the new § 102(a)(1) asks whether "the claimed invention was patented, described in a printed publication, or in public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention." The new statute's sole focus on invention as claimed is largely just a codification of fairly well accepted Federal Circuit precedent without much thought of the consequences. Of course, broad subject matter eligibility described in State Street Bank and the TSM test for obviousness were, until quite recently, well accepted Federal Circuit precedents as well. In the past few years, the Supreme Court rolled-back the clock on those issues – returning focus to pre-1982 case law. For "invention" however, the new statute appears to lock-in the claimed-invention as the ongoing focus of patent law.
Judge Kimberly Moore highlighted this issue in her recent dissent from the court's denial of en banc rehearing of Retractable Technologies, Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson and Company (Fed. Cir. 2011). In that opinion, Judge Moore noted that the approach of the panel decision in Retractable is evident of a major divide amongst Federal Circuit judges as to whether the inventor's contribution to the art – "what the inventor actually invented" – should be considered in the claim construction process.
This week, my patent law students each argued a mock-Markman hearing – revisiting the facts of Nystrom v. Trex and arguing over whether Ron Nystrom's claimed decking "board" should be limited to cover only to wood cut from a log. That litigation was interesting because it involved five different court decisions on the proper construction of the term. The final appellate decision narrowed the term's meaning in a way that allowed Trex's composite planking to avoid infringement.
Claim construction has become a fundamental aspect of every patent case – even to the extent that Section 101 patentable subject matter decisions turn on the meaning bestowed upon particular claim terms. For patent attorneys, all of this focus on claim meaning puts more pressure on the drafting of the claims and the specification. The sad thing about Nystrom's patent is that he would have easily won the case if the patent attorney who drafted the application had thrown-in language indicating that a "board" could be made of various materials, not just wood cut from a log. This counterfactual conclusion is sad for Nystrom as the inventor, but it is also sad that such a major weight is placed on non-inventive boilerplate language. In my mind, the importance of claim construction should push the USPTO to do a better job of ensuring that the terms of issued patents are well defined.
The Typhoon decision is also notable in the way that the court narrowly interpreted functional claim limitations. As background, Typhoon's claim was directed to a "computer" that included various elements including a "memory for storing [a] data collection application." Typhoon argued its claimed invention only required that the memory be capable of storing the data collection application. However, the District Court Judge Davis and Federal Circuit agreed that the proper construction required that memory actually be used for storing the data collection application. In so holding, the courts looked to the specification and found that the described embodiments all had memories that actually included the application rather than just the capability.
Finally, the court looked at Typhoon's "Means for cross-referencing" limitation. The district court held that limitation invalid as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. § 112 because the specification did not include an algorithm adequate to provide sufficient structure for the means-plus-function limitation, citing Aristocrat Technologies Australia PTY Ltd. v. International Game Technology, 521 F.3d 1328, 1334 (Fed Cir. 2008). On appeal, the Federal Circuit rejected that conclusion – finding that the specification did disclose a cross-referencing algorithm in plain language in the text of the specification. The court went on to write that "computer code is not required to be included in the patent specification." Rather, what is required is disclosure so that one of ordinary skill in the art would recognize the structure as linked to the claimed function.
- Judge Newman wrote the court opinion and was joined by Chief Judge Rader and Judge Prost;
- The Appellant-Patentee is represented on appeal by Charles Wolfe (Blank Rome);
- Ed Reines (Weil Gotshal) and Joe Re (Knobbe) were co-lead-counsel for all the appellee-defendants. Briefs were also signed by attorneys at K&L Gates, Baker Botts, Amster Rothstein, Perkins Coie, Covington & Burling, and Malloy & Malloy, as well as Eric Albritton from the Albritton firm.