Articles Posted in Patents

Several exercise machines manufactured by ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., which permit a person to play blackjack, poker, and other games while exercising, don’t infringe patents held by Fitness Gaming Corp. (FGC) for a device that combines an electronic game of chance and a piece of exercise equipment. This was the decision of U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia in an August 12, 2011, ruling on ICON’s motion for summary judgment of non-infringement.

FGC had sued ICON for patent infringement, but the judge found, reviewing both the language of the patent and its prosecution history, that this claim had no substance and that as a matter of law, ICON hadn’t infringed the patents. “The specification and prosecution history make clear what the claims require as a matter of law, and FGC has no evidence that the accused devices have what the claims require,” Judge Hilton wrote.

The key point was that in obtaining the patent, FGC carefully specified that the patents involved a “combination of an electronic game of chance device and a piece of exercise equipment.” FGC’s patent application specifically equated the term “electronic game of chance device” with the term “legalized gambling device.” The prosecution history showed that FGC made this6413191_Exercise_equipment_connected_to_Page_3_Image_0001.jpg limitation in order to respond to objections from the patent office that an existing patent, involving the combination of exercise equipment and a video display showing the progress of a bicycle on a track, had anticipated FGC’s patent and that FGC had therefore applied for something that wasn’t novel. FGC, in its own words, said that it only wanted a patent on an exercise machine that was combined with a gambling device.

In a 63-page amended complaint filed on June 16, 2011, in federal court in San Jose, Apple Inc. is continuing to strongly press its contentions that Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy smartphones and tablet computers infringe upon Apple’s patents and trademarks for the iPhone and the iPad. In this new filing, Apple, which has long been known as a company that pursues its intellectual property claims vigorously, amplifies a complaint it filed a couple of months ago against Samsung.

“Instead of pursuing independent product development, Samsung has chosen to slavishly copy Apple’s innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design, in violation of Apple’s valuable intellectual property rights,” Apple’s attorneys wrote in the new complaint. An Apple spokeswoman has been quoted as saying, “It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging. This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”

A key focus of Apple’s concern is several design patents that it owns for various aspects of the iPhone and iPad. These design patents, Apple said in the complaint, “cover the unique and novel ornamental appearance of Apple’s devices, which include features such as the black face, bezel, the matrix of application icons, and a rim surrounding a flat screen.”

On May 4, 2011, United States District Judge Claude M. Hilton of the Eastern District of Virginia issued an opinion rejecting a claim that LogMeIn Inc., a Boston-area computer-access company, had infringed a patent owned by Canadian competitor 01 Communique Laboratory Inc. Judge Hilton granted summary judgment of noninfringement for LogMeIn, finding that LogMeIn’s devices that permit a communication session between a personal computer and a remote computer cannot, as a matter of law, be construed to infringe 01’s patent, due to differences in the technology used by the competing devices.

In evaluating the patent claim, Judge Hilton reviewed the patent prosecution history and examined the way in which the Patent and Trademark Office and the inventor had previously described and understood the reach of the patent, including its limitations. The court found that LogMeIn’s product was dissimilar enough from 01’s intellectual property as to avoid any finding that infringement had occurred. Specifically, Judge Hilton found that 01’s patent, by its own admission, was to be limited to a system in which only a single device perform the multiple duties of the so-called “location facility,” including creating communication sessions, receiving a request for communication with the personal computer from the remote computer, locating the personal computer, and creating a communication channel between the remote computer and the personal computer. If several devices together performed those functions, the judge found, the patent’s claims were not implicated.

“The accused LogMeIn products do not have any ‘location facility’ that locates a personal computer and ‘itself’ creates a communication channel between a remote computer and the personal computer,” Judge Hilton wrote. “In briefing the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, 01 admitted that LogMeIn’s products function in precisely the manner that 01 told the PTO the ‘479LogMeIn Logo.jpg Patent does not cover – that is, by distributing the functions of the ‘location facility’ among different devices,” the judge added. No one component of the LogMeIn system itself performs all the needed functions of the “location facility” under the Court’s construction of the term, the judge noted.

Last Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit threw out a jury verdict against Acushnet Company and vacated a permanent injunction that had prevented it from selling the Titleist Pro V1 line of golf balls that Acushnet had introduced to the market in 2000. The court ordered a new trial because the jury had reached a verdict that was impossible to interpret due to internal inconsistencies. The trial court had found the confusing verdict to be “harmless,” but the Federal Circuit disagreed and held that the only way to resolve the inconsistency was to order a new trial.

Acushnet had argued that patents for the golf balls, owned by Callaway Golf Company, were invalid due to patent doctrines known as “obviousness” and “anticipation.” The requirement that a patent be nonobvious generally means that the differences between the patented invention and the prior art must amount to more than a mere rearrangement of prior art elements with each element predictably performing its same function in the new combination, as viewed from the standpoint of one with ordinary skill in the field. Similarly, a patent will be void for “anticipation” if a single, prior art document decribes every element of the claimed invention, such that a person of ordinary skill in the art could practice the invention “without undue experimentation.” In other words, Acushnet essentially argued that Callaway’s golf-ball patents were nothing special because any competent manufacturer could have come up with the idea simply by reviewing existing golf-ball-related patents.

In reviewing a particular independent claim of the relevant patent, the jury found that it was nonobvious and valid. However, the jury also found that one of its GolfBall.jpg dependent claims to be invalid for obviousness. This finding, the court held, was incomprehensible: “A broader independent claim cannot be nonobvious where a dependent claim stemming from that independent claim is invalid for obviousness.” (See Opinion at 21-22, quoting Ormco Corp. v. Align Tech., Inc., 498 F.3d 1307, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2007)).

TiVo won its patent infringement case against EchoStar, DISH, and affiliated companies back in 2006, obtaining a ruling that EchoStar’s digital video recorder (“DVR”) violated certain claims of U.S. Patent No. 6,233,389, owned by TiVo, and obtaining an injunction against future patent violations.  In response to the ruling, EchoStar developed a supposed “workaround.”  On June 2nd, 2009, the court held that the workaround did not cure the infringement.  The court held them in contempt of court for violating the injunction and again ordered them to stop using TiVo’s technology.

EchoStar, the company behind the DISH Network satellite television service, designs digital video recorders that it provides to customers who subscribe to its satellite T.V. service.  TiVo’s ‘389 Patent relates to a similar system that allows for simultaneous storage and playback of television signals from sources such as cable and satellite providers.

At the conclusion of the 2006 trial, the jury found that EchoStar’s DVR receivers infringed nine claims of the ‘389 Patent, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents.  After the verdict, EchoStar and its engineers went to work redesigning their DVR machines to avoid infringing the ‘389 Patent.  Two years later, TiVo moved to hold EchoStar in contempt, arguing that the redesigned DVR’s continued to infringe TiVo’s patent.

The seminal case governing contempt proceedings in patent cases is KSM Fastening Systems, Inc. v. H.A. Jones Company, Inc., 776 F.2d 1522 (Fed. Cir. 1985), which held that a contempt proceeding for violation of an injunction issued in a patent case, “while primarily for the benefit of the patent owner, nevertheless, involves also the concept of an affront to the court for failure to obey its order.”  The KSM case also held that contempt is to be viewed as a “severe remedy” which should not be employed if there is any doubt with respect to whether the defendant has violated the terms of the injunction. 

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