Construing Claim Constructions

By Jason Rantanen

Cordis Corporation v. Boston Scientific Corporation (Fed. Cir. 2011) Download 10-1311 -1316-1
Panel: Bryson, Mayer, and Gajarsa (author)

Cordis v. BSC
turns on an interpretation of a construction of the claim term "undulating."  In this case, Cordis obtained a jury verdict of infringement of Patent No. 5,879,370 against Boston Scientific Corporation.  Prior to trial, the district court construed the term "undulating" to mean "rising and falling in waves, thus having at least a crest and a trough."  Slip Op. at 11.  After Cordis obtained its favorable verdict, BSC renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law on noninfringement, arguing that "Cordis inappropriately altered the parties' and the court's understanding of the term 'undulating'," and that under the "intended" construction the evidence presented at trial could not support a conclusion that this claim element was met by the accused product.    Slip Op. at 11.  The district court granted BSC's motion and Cordis appealed.

Construing Constructions: On appeal, the CAFC confirmed the propriety of BSC's argument.  "The question here is whether BSC did, in fact, seek to alter the district court’s claim construction," a construction Cordis did not challenge.  Slip Op. at 12.  It did not.  "No rule of law restricted BSC from seeking to clarify or defend the original scope of its claim construction."  Slip Op. at 12.  However, "because BSC did not object to the court’s jury instruction regarding the construction of the term “undulating,” “[t]he verdict must be tested by the charge actually given [under] the ordinary meaning of the language of the jury instruction,” Hewlett-Packard, 340 F.3d at 1321."  Id.

In deciphering the "ordinary meaning" of the district court's construction, the CAFC first turned to a general purpose dictionary definition of 'waves' to conclude that 'crest' and 'trough,' "as used in the district court's claim construction, implicate changes of direction, with the curve extending beyond the point of inflection."  Slip Op. at 13.  Although Cordis cited expert testimony and dictionary entries of its own, the CAFC was not persuaded.  The CAFC also looked to the prosecution history, which further suggested a construction of "undulating" that meant more than just a single curve. 

Applying this interpretation of the district court's claim construction, the CAFC concluded that Cordis had indeed failed to offer substantial evidence of infringement.

Inequitable conduct: This case was involved in a prior appeal, Cordis Corp. v. Boston Scientific Corp., 188 F. App’x. 984, 985 (Fed. Cir. 2006), in which the CAFC addressed a district court finding of inequitable conduct.  In that appeal, the CAFC affirmed the materiality of the conduct at issue but remanded to the district court for further findings of fact relating to intent.  On remand, the district court reached an alternate conclusion, deciding that, on reflection, the evidence of record failed to support a finding of deceptive intent under a clear and convincing standard.  On appeal, the CAFC affirmed the finding of no inequitable conduct, noting in particular the deference given to district courts on issues of credibility.


Interpretations of constructions raise a difficult issue for the Federal Circuit, and have implications for litigation predictability.  While the panel in this case did not directly identify the standard of review it applied to the district court's interpretation of the construction, the analytic structure of the opinion follows the same approach that the CAFC has traditionally employed when construing claims generally: look at the evidence and arrive at its own conclusion, i.e. de novo.  In this instance, the methodology used by the panel seems to harken back to the Texas Digital line of claim construction: start by determining the ordinary meaning of a word using tools such as dictionaries, then look to the intrinsic evidence to see if it compels a different result.  Perhaps this approach may be more defensible in light of the subject being interpreted, but it seems at odds with the principles announced in Phillips.

The interpretation issue in this case also raises a possible red flag against the concept of routine interlocutory review of claim constructions, a proposal frequently offered as reducing litigation costs and enhancing the predictability of litigation.  If a claim construction itself is subject to a subsequent interpretation, are efficiencies truly added by having the CAFC offer an early construction?  There is a real possibility that, if such a proposal were implemented, the result would be a rise in appeals involving not just claim constructions, but interpretations of claim constructions.

Judge Moore Weighs In on Vacatur of Invalidity Opinions

By Jason Rantanen

The Ohio Willow Wood Company v. Thermo-Ply, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Order 2011)
Panel: Rader (author), Newman (additional views), Moore (concurrence)

When a patentee is faced with an judgment of invalidity or inequitable conduct, it is a relatively common tactic to settle with the accused infringer who, as a condition of the settlement agreement, then joins the patentee in a joint motion for vacatur of the adverse decision.  Although vacatur requires exceptional circumstances, it is sometimes granted by the district court.  See e.g., Gracenote, Inc. v. MusicMatch, Inc.; Block Financial v. LendingTree; New Medium v. Barco.

The situation becomes more complex, however, when settlement occurs while the case is on appeal. Willow Wood involves an appeal of an Eastern District of Texas judgment invalidating the asserted claims of Patent No. 7,291,182.  While the appeal was pending, the parties settled and filed a motion for remand to the district court for consideration of a motion for vacatur.  In July 2010, the CAFC issued an order pointing out the high standard for vacatur and ordered the parties to explain what extraordinary circumstances would be presented to the district court that would justify vacatur.  Ohio Willow Wood Co. v. Thermo-Ply, Inc., (Fed. Cir. Order July 29, 2010) (nonprecedential). 

After considering the parties' response, along with an intervention request by a third party also being sued for infringement of the patent, the panel granted the request for "the limited purpose of the district court's consideration of the parties' motion for vacatur."  Ohio Willow Wood Co. v. Thermo-Play, Inc. (Fed. Cir. Order 2011) (Willow Wood II). The CAFC retained jurisdiction, however, "so that any of the parties may seek appellate review by notifying the Clerk of the Court within thirty days of entry of the district court’s decision on remand."  Id. at 3.

Concerned about the remand's potential imprimatur on the joint vacatur motion, Judge Moore, writing in concurrence, expressed the opinion that vacatur of existing invalidity opinions should be a rare and disfavored event, particularly in the patent context.  Citing U.S. Bancorp Mortgate Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18, 29 (1994), the judge reiterated the high threshold for justifying vacatur following settlement: "[o]nly in 'exceptional circumstances' should a district court grant vacatur at the request of the litigants."  Willow Wood II concurrence at 2.  This is particularly true with respect to patents:

In this case, for example, the patentee has already sued another party on the patent in question. If the decision that invalidated the patent at issue is not vacated, then the patentee will be collaterally estopped from asserting this patent in this and other suits, thereby saving courts and litigants the time and money it takes to proceed with patent litigation. Patent litigations are among the longest, most time-consuming types of civil actions. As of 2009, 384 patent cases had been pending in the district courts for three years or more. 2009 Admin. Off. U.S. Cts. Ann. Rep., at Table S-11. Moreover, the costs of patent litigation are enormous with an average patent case costing upwards of $3 million for each side. See American Intellectual Property Law Association, Report of the Economic Survey 2009 I-129 (2009). If the district court vacates its invalidity judgment then other defendants and other district courts will be forced to proceed with infringement suits, as there would likely be no collateral estoppel. Even if there were no other suits pending, these concerns should still weigh heavily against vacatur, as the only reason the patentee would want an invalidity judgment vacated is to potentially enforce the patent against others.

Concurrence at 3-4.

Judge Moore's decision to weigh in on the merits of the vacatur issue was criticized by Judge Newman, however, who wrote separately "to point out that the views of our colleague in separate concurrence are not the court’s remand order." Willow Wood II, additional views at 2.  Although favoring the remand on the basis that the district court is in the better position to rule on the issue of vacatur, Judge Newman declined to endorse Judge Moore's proffer of judicial advice, commenting that "[o]ur remand should be unencumbered by even the appearance of prejudgment or of the weight to be given to various considerations. Indeed, the issues on which our colleague in concurrence offers judicial advice are more complex than is here recognized."  Id.

In re Microsoft: Presence Created Solely for Purposes of Litigation Does Not Support Venue

By Jason Rantanen

In re Microsoft Corporation (Fed. Cir. Order 2011)
Panel: Newman, Friedman, Laurie (per curium)

The Federal Circuit's decision in In re Microsoft, which granted Microsoft's request for a writ of mandamus ordering the Eastern District of Texas to transfer the case to Washington State, originally issued as a nonprecedential order in early November; the CAFC reissued it as precedential today.  The order adds another piece to the now fairly substantial body of law surrounding review of denials of requests to transfer venue.  Allvoice Develop-ments, a company operated from the United Kingdom, sued Microsoft in the Eastern District of Texas for infringing Patent No. 5,799,273.  Microsoft, which is headquartered in the Western District of Washington (where a substantial portion of its employees and operations are located), requested a transfer of venue to Washington State. 

In denying Microsoft's motion to transfer venue, the district court relied on the existence of a local Allvoice office in Tyler, as well as Allvoice's incorporation under the laws of Texas.  The court also weighed the witness factor against transfer because Allvoice had identified potential non-party witnesses in New York, Massachusetts and Florida who, the court found, would find Texas more convenient for trial.  Although the court found that the sources of proof factor weighed in favor of transfer, it did so only slightly because Allvoice said that its documents were maintained in its office in the E.D. Texas. 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit granted Microsoft's request for a writ, likening this case to In re Genentech, Inc., 566 F.3d 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2009), and concluding that the district court abused its discretion by denying transfer.  The CAFC first noted that there was a vast disparity with respect to the convenience of witnesses: all individuals identified by Microsoft as having material information relating to the patents reside within 100 miles of the W.D. Wash.; all but two of the witnesses identified by Allvoice reside outside Texas, and even those two witnesses appear to be relatively peripheral.

Particularly notable, however, was the CAFC's refusal to consider Allvoice's presence in the E.D. Texas.  "Allvoice’s argument … rests on a fallacious assumption: that this court must honor connections to a preferred forum made in anticipation of litigation and for the likely purpose of making that forum appear convenient."  Slip Op. at 5.  Thus, just as transferring thousands of pages of relevant documents to the offices of litigation counsel in Texas in order to assert that the location of those documents favored non-transfer was entitled to no weight in In re Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., 587 F.3d 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2009), so too is the existence of an office created solely for the purpose of manipulating venue a meaningless fact for the venue analysis.  Nor did the CAFC ascribe any weight to extra step of incorporating under the laws of Texas, noting that it was done sixteen days before filing suit.

Uniloc v. Microsoft: The CAFC Rejects the 25 Percent Rule

By Jason Rantanen

Uniloc USA, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2011)
Panel: Rader, Linn (author), Moore

Uniloc v. Microsoft involves a host of issues, although one stands out as particularly noteworthy.  While  "passively tolerat[ing]" the 25 percent 'rule of thumb' (a method for calculating a reasonable royalty for purposes of infringement damages) in past cases, the CAFC held today that the rule "is a fundamentally flawed tool for determining a baseline royalty rate in a hypothetical negotiation," thus precluding its use for damages calculations.

Uniloc is the owner of Patent No. 5,490,216, an early patent covering a mechanism for combating "casual copying" of software, where users install copies of a software program on multiple computers in violation of applicable software licenses.  In general terms, the patented invention involves the creation of a registration number generated by the software on the user's computer.  The number is sent to the vendor's system, which uses an identical algorithm to create a remote license ID.  If the numbers match when the application boots, the program enters a "use mode;" if they do not, it enters a "demo mode."

In the suit against Microsoft, Uniloc alleged that the Product Activation feature for Microsoft's Word XP, Word 2003, and Windows XP software programs infringed the '216 patent.  A jury agreed, finding that Microsoft not only infringed the patent, but did so willfully.  The jury also rejected Microsoft's invalidity defenses and awarded Uniloc $388 million in damages.  Following the trial, the district court granted Microsoft's motion for JMOL of noninfringement and lack of willfulness (and in the alternative, ordered a new trial on these issues), but denied its request for a JMOL on invalidity.  The court also ordered a new trial on the issue of damages.  On appeal, Uniloc challenged the district court's noninfringement, willfulness, and damages rulings, while Microsoft cross-appealed the denial of its JMOL on invalidity.  The Federal Circuit affirmed the district judge's rulings on willfulness, damages and invalidity, but reversed on the question of infringement, both with respect to JMOL and the grant of a new trial.

The damages section of the opinion is by far the most significant portion.  At trial, the jury awarded Uniloc $388 million in damages, relying on the testimony of Uniloc's expert, who opined that damages should be $564,946,803 based on a hypothetical negotiation between Uniloc and Microsoft and the Georgia-Pacific factors.  Using an internal Microsoft document relating to the value of product keys, the expert applied the 25 percent "rule of thumb" to the minimum value reported ($10 each), obtaining a value of $2.50 per key.  After applying the Georgia-Pacific factors, which he concluded did not modify the base rate, he multiplied it by the number of new licenses to Office and Windows products, producing the $565 million value.  He confirmed his valuation by "checking" it against the total market value of sales of the Microsoft products (approximately $19 billion, noting that it represented only 2.9% of the gross revenue of the products.   

The 25 Percent Rule: On appeal, the CAFC first rejected the use of the 25 percent rule to calculate patent damages.  "The 25 percent rule of thumb is a tool that has been used to approximate the reasonable royalty rate that the manufacturer of a patented product would be willing to offer to pay to the patentee during a hypothetical negotiation." Slip Op. at 36, citing Robert Goldscheider, John Jarosz and Carla Mulhern, USE OF THE 25 PER CENT RULE IN VALUING IP, 37 les Nouvelles 123, 123 (Dec. 2002).  Under the rule, "licensees pay a royalty rate equivalent to 25 per cent of its expected profits for the product that incorporates the IP at issue." Id., quoting Goldscheider et al. Included in the court's discussion of the rule is an extensive survey of the relevant literature (covering no less than nine articles), as well as an acknowledgement that the "court has passively tolerated its use where its acceptability has not been the focus of the case." Slip Op. at 39.  However, the court recognized that it  never squarely addressed the use of the rule.

Treating the issue as one of first principles, and after considering the relevant Supreme Court caselaw, the CAFC concluded that, as an abstract theory untied to particular factual circumstances of a given case, the 25 percent rule simply cannot be used for damages calculations: 

This court now holds as a matter of Federal Circuit law that the 25 percent rule of thumb is a fundamentally flawed tool for determining a baseline royalty rate in a hypothetical negotiation. Evidence relying on the 25 percent rule of thumb is thus inadmissible under Daubert and the Federal Rules of Evidence, because it fails to tie a reasonable royalty base to the facts of the case at issue.

Slip Op. at 41.  The court based its reasoning on the Daubert standard for expert testimony, concluding that general theories are only permissible if the expert adequately ties the theory to the specific facts of the case.  Under Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999) and General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 US 136 (1997), "one major determinant of whether an expert should be excluded under Daubert is whether he has justified the application of a general theory to the facts of the case."  Slip Op. at 43.

Applying this principle, the CAFC criticized the application of the 25 percent rule because there was no link between the rule and the specific case:

The meaning of these cases is clear: there must be a basis in fact to associate the royalty rates used in prior licenses to the particular hypothetical negotiation at issue in the case. The 25 percent rule of thumb as an abstract and largely theoretical construct fails to satisfy this fundamental requirement. The rule does not say anything about a particular hypothetical negotiation or reasonable royalty involving any particular technology, industry, or party.

Slip Op. at 45. In addition, the court pointed to the lack of testimony by Uniloc's expert suggesting that the starting point of a 25 percent royalty had any relation to the facts of the case, and thus the use of the rule was "arbitrary, unreliable, and irrelevant," failing to pass muster under Daubert and tainting the jury's damages calculation.  Id. at 47.

Entire Market Value Rule: The CAFC also rejected the expert's application of the entire market value rule, which he used as a check on the total damages.  "The entire market value rule allows a patentee to assess damages based on the entire market value of the accused product only where the patented feature creates the 'basis for customer demand' or 'substantially create[s] the value of the component parts.'"  Slip Op. at 48.  Here, however, there was no evidence that the patented component created the basis for customer demand, as required by the rule: "This case provides a good example of the danger of admitting consideration of the entire market value of the accused where the patented component does not create the basis for customer demand."  Slip Op. at 51.

In opposing Uniloc's challenge on the issue of infringement, Microsoft argued that several grounds supported affirmance of the district court's grant of JMOL of noninfringement.  The CAFC rejected each argument in turn, concluding that substantial evidence supported the jury's finding of infringement. 

Standard of Review: One issue that sophisticated parties often dispute is the relevant standard that applies when reviewing jury verdicts. This appeal was no different – Microsoft contended that the jury verdict should be reviewed de novo, while Uniloc argued that it should be reviewed for substantial evidence.  The CAFC responded by distinguishing situations where "the parties conceded that under one claim construction there was infringement and under the other there was none, and were arguing only over which claim construction was appropriate." Slip Op. at 15.  In these cases, de novo review applies.  On the other hand, where "the claim construction itself is not contested, but the application of that claim construction to the accused device is," the court applies the substantial evidence standard. Id.

Comment: This distinction reinforces a basic principle of Federal Circuit appellate practice: Parties challenging a jury verdict on the issue of infringement will likely want to frame the dispute on appeal as a question of claim construction; parties defending the verdict will likely want to frame it as a question of application of an accepted construction to the accused product or method.  Of course, whether a party will be able to frame the question in a particular way depends largely on how the issue was set up in the district court – which itself is ideally part of counsel's long term strategic thinking.

Applying this standard, the Federal Circuit concluded that the jury's verdict of infringement was supported by substantial evidence, rejecting Microsoft's arguments to the contrary.  The court also rejected Microsoft's argument that a critical "means-plus-function" limitation should be read narrowly.  To the contrary, the court held, it should be read broadly, applying language from IMS Tech., Inc. v. Haas Automation, Inc., 206 F.3d 1422, 1436 (Fed. Cir. 2000) stating that "when in a claimed 'means' limitation the disclosed physical structure is of little or no importance to the claimed invention, there may be a broader range of equivalent structures than if the physical characteristics of the structure are critical in performing the claimed function." 

Expert Testimony, redux: Also of note is the court's ruling with respect to expert testimony as it pertains to infringment.  Although the district court rejected the testimony of Uniloc's expert as "incomplete, oversimplified and frankly inappropriate," the CAFC concluded that this rejection was improper because the district court had already fulfilled its gatekeeping function under Daubert when it explicitly noted that the expert was "qualified."  Thus, it was up to the jury "to evaluate the weight to be given to the testimony of dueling qualified experts."  This application of Daubert seems to be somewhat in tension with the court's treatment of expert testimony in the damages context, which focused on the content of the testimony, not the qualifications of the person giving it.

Joint Infringement: The CAFC also rejected Microsoft's joint infringement argument.  Rather than implicating joint conduct, the court ruled, Uniloc's claim was structured so as to capture infringement by a single party by focusing on one entity.  "That other parties are necessary to complete the environment in which the claimed element functions does not necessarily divide the infringement between the necessary parties. For example, a claim that reads “An algorithm incorporating means for receiving e-mails” may require two parties to function, but could nevertheless be infringed by the single party who uses an algorithm that receives e-mails."  Slip Op. at 29.

Willful Infringement: On the issue of willfulness, the CAFC continued to apply its objective super-threshold for proving willfulness.  "If the accused infringer's position is susceptible to a reasonable conclusion of no infringement, the first prong of Seagate cannot be met." Slip Op. at 32.  Particularly obtuse is the court's triple-negative articulation of the factual holding: "Uniloc has not presented any evidence at trial or on appeal showing why Microsoft, at the time it began infringement, could not have reasonably determined that [Microsoft's algorithms] did not meet the “licensee unique ID generating means,” “licensee unique ID,” or “registration system”/“mode switching means” limitations."

Presumption of Validity: in addressing Microsoft's cross-appeal of the denial of its motion for JMOL and a new trial on invalidity, the court declined to back away from the "clear and convincing" standard for invalidity.  Rejecting Microsoft's argument that its burden was to show invalidity simply by a preponderance of the evidence – as opposed to clear and convincing evidence – because the prior art reference was not before the PTO, the court continued to apply the higher standard.  "Until changed by the Supreme Court or this court sitting en ban, this is still the law."  Slip Op. at 55.  Applying this standard, the court rejected Microsoft's argument that it was simply practicing the prior art, and thus a finding of infringement necessitated a finding of invalidity.