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Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Wangs Alliance Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 11, 2017



          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         In this patent dispute, Plaintiffs Koninklijke Philips N.V. and Philips Lighting North America Corporation (collectively, “Philips”) alleges that Wangs Alliance Corporation (“WAC”) is engaged in activities that infringe eight light emitting diode (“LED”) related patents: United States Patents Nos. 6, 147, 458 (“the '458 patent”), 6, 250, 774 (“the ‘774 patent”), 6, 561, 690 (“the '690 patent”), 6, 586, 890 (“the '890 patent”), 6, 788, 011 (“the '011 patent”), 7, 038, 399 (“the '399 patent”), and 7, 352, 138 (“the '138 patent”) (collectively, the “Patents-In-Suit”).[1] The parties seek construction of disputed claims terms. The Court conducted a Markman hearing prior to staying this case for inter partes review (“IPR”) before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) and then solicited and considered counsel's supplemental filings, D. 174, 178, 179. With this backdrop, the Court's claim construction as to the remaining twelve disputed terms now follows.

         II. Patents-in-Suit

         This lawsuit involves patents that are directed to circuitry, optics and multicolored-lighting technologies contained within lighting products and systems that employ light-emitting diodes (“LEDs”) for illumination. See, e.g., ‘011, D. 30-6; ‘138, D. 30-8; see also D. 30 ¶ 6.

         Patents ‘458, ‘690 and ‘890 relate to circuitry technology that controls the power feed to the LEDs. Tr. 1:5.[2] The ‘458 patent, “Circuit Arrangement and Signalling Light Provided with the Circuit Arrangement, ” was filed on June 29, 1999 and issued on November 14, 2000. D. 30-2. The ‘690 patent, “Luminaire Based on the Light Emission of Light-emitting Diodes, ” was filed on August 20, 2001 and issued on May 13, 2003. D. 30-4. The ‘890 patent, “LED Driver Circuit with PWM Output, ” was filed on December 5, 2001 and issued on July 1, 2003. D. 30-5.

         Patents ‘011 and ‘399 pertain to optics technology that affect LED light emission characteristics and illumination. Tr. 1:5. The ‘011 patent, titled “Multicolored LED Lighting Method and Apparatus, ” was filed on October 4, 2001 and issued on September 7, 2004. D. 30-6. The ‘399 patent, titled “Methods and Apparatus for Providing Power to Lighting Devices, ” was filed on May 9, 2003 and issued on May 2, 2006. D. 30-7. Patent ‘138 pertains to multicolored-lighting technology that enables and controls the mixing of LEDs of different colors. Tr. 1:5. The ‘138 patent, also titled “Methods and Apparatus for Providing Power to Lighting Devices, ” was filed on April 18, 2006 and issued on April 1, 2008. D. 30-8. It is a continuation of the ‘399 patent. Id.

         III. Procedural History

         Philips instituted this action on May 28, 2014, D. 1, and filed an amended complaint on January 12, 2015. D. 30. On February 20, 2015, both parties filed preliminary claim construction briefs. D. 35; D. 40. The Court held a Markman hearing over the course of two days. D. 80, 87. Shortly after the first day of the Markman hearing, on May 28, 2015, WAC filed IPR petitions, challenging the validity of every asserted claim in seven of the eight patents-in-suit, D. 95 at 12, and then on June 16, 2015, moved to stay this case, D. 94. The Court allowed the motion and the matter was stayed until after the PTAB issued its IPR rulings. D. 156. After the IPR rulings and the parties' unsuccessful attempt at mediation, D. 170-71, the parties asked the Court to return to matter of claim construction and the Court allowed the parties to file supplemental briefing, including an updated claim construction chart indicating whether the parties' respective positions about construction changed before the PTAB and considered further arguments regarding same.

         IV. Standard of Review

         The construction of disputed claim terms is a question of law. Markman v. Westview Instruments, 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996). For claim construction, courts must construe “the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of . . . the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005). To do so, the Court must look to “the words of the claims themselves, the remainder of the specification, the prosecution history, and extrinsic evidence concerning relevant scientific principles, the meaning of technical terms, and the state of the art.” Id. at 1314 (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., 381 F.3d 1111, 1116 (Fed. Cir. 2004)).

         A. The Claims

         The analysis begins with the language of the claim which “define[s] the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.” Id. at 1312 (citing Innova, 381 F.3d at 1115). “[T]he context in which a term is used in the asserted claim can be highly instructive.” Id. at 1314. Courts may find that the claim itself provides the means for construing the term where, for example, the claim term is used consistently throughout the patent. Id. In that case, “the meaning of a term in one claim is likely the meaning of that same term in another.” Abbott GmbH & Co., KG v. Centocor Ortho Biotech, Inc., No. 09-11340-FDS, 2011 WL 948403, at *3 (D. Mass. Mar. 15, 2011) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314). Furthermore, “the presence of a dependent claim that adds a particular limitation gives rise to a presumption that the limitation in question is not present in the independent claim.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315.

         1. Means-Plus-Function Claim Limitations

         A claim limitation may be expressed in a means-plus-function format under 35 U.S.C. § 112 ¶ 6, [3] which provides:

[a]n element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.

         “Thus, § 112, ¶ 6 operates to restrict claim limitations drafted in such functional language to those structures, materials, or acts disclosed in the specification (and their equivalents) that perform the claimed function.” Personalized Media Commc'ns, LLC v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 161 F.3d 696, 703 (Fed. Cir. 1998); see MobileMedia Ideas LLC v. Apple Inc., 780 F.3d 1159, 1169 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (noting that “[a] disclosed structure is a ‘corresponding structure' only if the specification or prosecution history clearly links or associates that structure to the function recited in the claim”). The use of the word “means” creates a presumption that § 112, ¶ 6 applies and, conversely, the failure to use the word “means” creates a presumption that § 112, ¶ 6 does not apply. Personalized Media Commc'ns, LLC, 161 F.3d at 703-04; see Allen Eng'g Corp. v. Bartell Indus., Inc., 299 F.3d 1336, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2002). This presumption may be overcome in two ways. Allen Eng'g Corp., 299 F.3d at 1347. “First, a claim element that uses the word ‘means' but recites no function corresponding to the means does not invoke § 112, ¶ 6.” Id. “Second, even if the claim element specifies a function, if it also recites sufficient structure or material for performing that function, § 112, ¶ 6 does not apply.” Id.

         B. The Specification

         The claims “do not stand alone” but “are part of a fully integrated written instrument, consisting principally of a specification, ” which “is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315. “Usually, [the specification] is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.” Id. (citing Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996)). “[T]he scope and outer boundary of claims is set by the patentee's description of his invention” and, therefore, “claims cannot be of broader scope than the invention that is set forth in the specification.” On Demand Mach. Corp. v. Ingram Indus., 442 F.3d 1331, 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2006); see Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315-1317, 1323 (noting that “the interpretation to be given a term can only be determined and confirmed with a full understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to envelop with the claim, ” but “expressly reject[ing] the contention that if a patent describes only a single embodiment, the claims of the patent must be construed as being limited to that embodiment”). The Court must “us[e] the specification [only] to interpret the meaning of a claim, ” however, and must be careful not to “import[ ] limitations from the specification into the claim.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1323. This standard may “be a difficult one to apply in practice, ” id., but “[t]he construction that stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention will be, in the end, the correct construction.” Id. at 1316 (quoting Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir.1998)).

         C. The Prosecution History

         After the claims and the specification, “a court should also consider the patent's prosecution history, if it is in evidence.” Id. at 1317 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 980) (internal quotation mark omitted). “Like the specification, the prosecution history provides evidence of how the [United States Patent and Trademark Office] and the inventor understood the patent” and “can often inform the meaning of the claim language by demonstrating how the inventor understood the invention and whether the inventor limited the invention in the course of prosecution, making the claim scope narrower than it would otherwise be.” Id. (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582-83). The prosecution history should be given less weight than the claims and the specification, however, because “it often lacks clarity . . . and is thus less useful for claim construction purposes.” Id.

         D. Extrinsic Evidence

         Courts may also consider extrinsic sources, which “can help educate the court regarding the field of the invention and can help the court determine what a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand claim terms to mean.” Id. at 1319. “[W]hile extrinsic evidence can shed useful light on the relevant art, ” however, “it is less significant than the intrinsic record in determining the legally operative meaning of claim language.” Id. at 1317 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, extrinsic evidence is “unlikely to result in a reliable interpretation of patent claim scope unless considered in the context of the intrinsic evidence.” Id. at 1319.

         E. Indefiniteness

         A patent claim is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, when read in light of the specification and the prosecution history, “fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention.” Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 2120, 2124 (2014). This standard has displaced the prior “insolubly ambiguous” standard. Id. “The definiteness requirement must take into account the inherent limitations of language, but at the same time, the patent must be precise enough to afford clear notice of what is claimed, thereby apprising the public of what is still open to them.” Fairfield Indus., Inc. v. Wireless Seismic, Inc., No. 4:14-CV-2972, 2015 WL 1034275, at *4 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 10, 2015) (quoting Nautilus, 134 S.Ct. at 2128-29). Patents are presumed to be valid, 35 U.S.C. § 282, and indefiniteness must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. P'ship, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2238, 2242 (2011). In addition, “[m]eans-plus-function claim limitations under § 112 ¶ 6 must satisfy the definiteness requirement of § 112 ¶ 2.” EON Corp. IP Holdings LLC v. AT & T Mobility LLC, No. 2014-1392, 2015 WL 2083860, at *3 (Fed. Cir. May 6, 2015).

         V. Construction of Disputed Claims

         The parties dispute the meaning of the following terms[4] and the Court resolves these disputes as discussed below:

         A. U.S. Patent No. 6, 147, 458

         No IPR was instituted as to this patent. D. 174 at 8. The ‘458 patent describes a circuit arrangement for operating a semiconductor light source, as shown in Figure 1 of the ‘458 patent:

         (Image Omitte)

‘458, D. 30-2 at 3. The circuit arrangement includes “connection terminals [A and B] for connecting a control unit [VB], and input filter [I], a converter comprising a control circuit [III], output terminals [C and D] for connecting the semiconductor light source, an apparatus CM for removing a leakage current occurring in the control unit in the non-conducting state, and a self-regulating circuit for deactivating the apparatus CM.” Id. at 2.

         1. “input filter means” and “filter means”


Philips' Proposed Construction

WAC's Proposed Construction

“input filter means”


“filter means”

Not a means-plus function term.

“a circuit that selectively transmits or rejects a signal in one or more intervals of frequencies conducted on the line input between the control unit and the converter”

Means-Plus-Function term.

Function: Filtering an input.

Structure: Indefinite. A structure cannot be determined.

         The terms “input filter means, ” and “input filter” appear in independent claims 1 and claim 15 of the ‘458 patent. ‘458, D. 30-2 at 7-8. For example, claim 15 provides:

A circuit for operating a semiconductor light source comprising:
input terminals for connection to a control unit,
an input filter coupled to the input terminals, a converter including a control circuit and having output terminals for connection to the semiconductor light source in order to energize the semiconductor light source,
means CM including a controlled semiconductor element for removing a leakage current occurring in the control unit in the non-conducting state, said means CM having an input coupled to the input filter and an output coupled to the converter,
self-regulating deactivating means for deactivating the means CM when the control unit is in a conductive state, and
detection means for detecting a defective converter or semiconductor light source ...

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