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Sunrise Technologies, Inc. v. Cimcon Lighting, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 22, 2017

Sunrise Technologies, Inc., Plaintiff,
v.
Cimcon Lighting, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sunrise Technologies, Inc. (“plaintiff”) alleges defendant Cimcon Lighting, Inc. (“defendant”) is liable for direct, contributory, induced and willful infringement of one of its patents for a system of communication combining devices that monitor local parameters with a mesh network of wirelessly linked communication nodes mounted on top of utility poles.

         The Court held a Markman hearing on November 20, 2017, during which the parties presented tutorials on the subject technology and disputed the meaning of five groups of terms that comprise nine claim terms in one claim of the patent-in-suit.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff is the assignee of United States Patent No. 7, 825, 793 (“'793 patent”). The '793 patent was filed in May, 2007, and issued in November, 2010.

         The '793 patent, entitled “Remote Monitoring and Control System, ” is an invention that allows for the remote monitoring and control of household or building parameters such as home security settings, fire alarm systems and other utilities. The patent is directed toward a communication system that relays information between an end user device and a remote end user via a node mounted on a utility pole, such as a telephone pole.

         In April, 2015, plaintiff filed this action for patent infringement against defendant. After this Court allowed several extensions of time to file a responsive pleading, defendant moved to dismiss the complaint in March, 2016. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint alleging patent infringement under theories of direct, contributory, induced and willful infringement, which defendant again moved to dismiss.

         In November, 2016, this Court held that plaintiff stated claims for direct infringement, willful infringement and induced infringement but allowed defendant's motion to dismiss with respect to contributory infringement.

         II. Analysis

         A. Principals of Claim Construction

         In analyzing a patent infringement action, a court must 1) determine the meaning and scope of the patent claims asserted to be infringed and 2) compare the properly construed claims to the infringing device. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). The first step, known as claim construction, is an issue of law for the court to decide. Id. at 979. The second step is determined by the finder of fact. Id.

         The Court's responsibility in construing claims is to determine the meaning of claim terms as they would be understood by persons of ordinary skill in the relevant art. Bell Atl. Network Servs., Inc. v. Covad Commc'ns Grp., Inc., 262 F.3d 1258, 1267 (Fed. Cir. 2001). The meanings of the terms are initially discerned from three sources of intrinsic evidence: 1) the claims themselves, 2) the patent specification and 3) the prosecution history of the patent. See Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582-83 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

         The claims themselves define the scope of the patented invention. See Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). Claim terms are generally given their “ordinary and customary meaning, ” which is the meaning that a person skilled in the art would attribute to the claim term. See id. at 1312-13. Even if a particular term has an ordinary and customary meaning, however, a court may need to examine the patent as a whole to determine if that meaning controls. Id. at 1313 (“[A] person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term . . . in the context of the entire patent . . . .”); see also Medrad, Inc. v. MRI Devices Corp., 401 F.3d 1313, 1319 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (noting that a court cannot construe the ordinary meaning of a term “in a vacuum”). Ultimately, the correct construction will be one that

stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention.

Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316 (quoting Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' Per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998)).

         The patent specification is “the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term” because it

may reveal a special definition given to a claim term . . . that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess . . . [such as] an intentional disclaimer, or disavowal, of claim scope by the inventor.

Id. at 1316, 1321.

         The Court should also consult the prosecution history to see how the inventor and PTO understood the patent and to ensure the patentee does not argue in favor of an interpretation it has disclaimed. Id. at 1317.

         In the rare event that analysis of the intrinsic evidence does not resolve an ambiguity in a disputed claim term, the Court may turn to extrinsic evidence, such as inventor and expert testimony, treatises and technical writings. Id. at 1317. Although extrinsic evidence may be helpful in construing claims, the intrinsic evidence is afforded the greatest weight in determining what a person of ordinary skill would have understood a claim to mean. V-Formation, Inc. v. Benetton Grp. SpA, 401 F.3d 1307, 1310-11 (Fed. Cir. 2005).

         B. Patent No. 7, 825, 793

         1. The Technology

         The '793 patent, entitled “Remote Monitoring and Control System, ” is an invention that allows for the remote monitoring and control of household and building parameters such as home security settings, fire alarm systems, air conditioning and water heating. The patent is directed toward a communication system that relays information between an end user device and a remote end user via a node mounted on a utility pole, such as a telephone pole.

         The invention of the patent is a combination and interconnection of two existing technologies. The first existing technology is the end user device, installed in a target zone, that measures and controls a local parameter such as temperature, motion, or electricity usage. The second existing technology is a communication network formed of communication nodes mounted on utility poles. This network is a “mesh network”, which means that one node communicates with an adjacent node. A mesh network can be contrasted with a “conventional network” where all nodes communicate with a central hub that manages network traffic.

         The ‘793 patent is novel in that it allows the communication nodes to receive and transmit ZigBee signals to the end user devices. ZigBee is a low-cost, low-power, low data rate protocol used to create a network via radio. In prior art, an end user device would measure a parameter, such as electricity usage in a home. An employee of an electrical company could drive to the residence, and, from a vehicle, receive a reading of electricity usage via the ZigBee protocol. The ‘793 patent eliminates the need for this “drive-by” method. Instead, an end user device can send a ZigBee signal to a communication node directly or indirectly (such as through a Local Area Network). The communication node communicates via the mesh network to send the relevant information to a remote location.

         2. Agreed Claim Terms

         The parties agree that the term “the wireless protocol” should be construed as “the ZigBee protocol”. In addition, the parties agree that the preamble to claim 1 of the ‘793 patent should be construed as limiting.

         3. Disputed Claim Terms

         The parties dispute nine terms. Each term is a limitation of claim 1 of the ‘793 patent.

         Defendant contends that

the crux of the parties' dispute is whether the end user device has to be something other than what is mounted on the street light pole, and whether the end user device needs to communicate with a node on a street light pole via the ZigBee protocol.

         Plaintiff maintains that neither requirement need apply while defendant avers that those requirements comprise the invention.

         I. “end user device”

         Plaintiff's construction:

No construction necessary
Alternatively: “a device that collects information about a local parameter”

         Defendant's construction:

“a device configured to communicate with a remote end user through at least one communication node mounted on a street light pole”

         Plaintiff contends that the term “end user device” needs no construction because it would be understood by a person of ordinary skill in the art (“POSA”) reading the patent as much as by a lay reader. Defendant responds that its proposed construction follows from the title of the patent, other claim language, and the specification and figures.

         The Court prefers plaintiff's construction.

         Defendant's contention that the claim limitations “taken together”, require that the end user be remote is unavailing. In some embodiments, the target zone is mobile. See ‘793 Patent at 6:43-45. Where that is the case, the end user need not be at a great distance from the target zone. Because defendant's construction would read out embodiments where the end user is in close proximity to the target zone, the Court will not adopt it. See Openwave Sys., Inc. v. ...


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