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Iconfind Inc. v. Yahoo! Inc.

December 14, 2009

ICONFIND INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
YAHOO! INC., DEFENDANT.



MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: MOTION FOR CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

Iconfind Inc. ("Iconfind") seeks to improve access to the Internet's contents by organizing network or web pages through a standardized categorization system for the information contained on those pages. Plaintiff's U.S. Patent No. 7,181,459 B2 ("the '459 patent") categorizes network pages based on their content, including the copyright status of the material on the page and whether the pages contain commercial or non-commercial information. Plaintiff contends that Yahoo! Inc.'s ("Yahoo!") Flickr online photo management and sharing application infringes on the '459 patent by incorporating the Creative Commons license into its website and allowing Flickr users to assign Creative Commons licenses to their photographs.

On November 5, 2009, defendant filed a motion for claim construction, and the court held a Markman*fn1 hearing on December 7, 2009. After considering the parties' briefs and all other relevant documents, along with the parties' arguments at the Markman hearing, the court construes the disputed claims as set forth below.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Iconfind is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,181,459 B2 ("the '459 patent"), issued on February 20, 2007 and entitled "Method of Coding, Categorizing, and Retrieving Network Pages and Sites." (Mot. Claim Construction Ex. 1 [hereinafter cited as "'459 patent"].) The '459 patent describes a method for manually sorting network pages into a hierarchy of categories based on their content. Claim one of the patent states:

1. A computer implemented method of categorizing a network page, comprising:

Providing a list of categories, wherein said list of categories include a category for transacting business and a category for providing information, and wherein said list of categories include a category based on copyright status of material on a page; assigning said network page to one or more of said list of categories; providing a categorization label for the network page using the copyright status of material on the network page; and controlling usage of the network page using the categorization label and the copyright status of the network page.

('459 patent 12:24-38.*fn2 ) Claim one of the '459 patent sorts network pages into three categories: (1) a category for providing information; (2) a category for transacting business; and (3) a category based on the copyright status of the material on the network page. Id. The network page is then assigned a label based on the copyright status of the material on the page. That label, along with the copyright status of the network age, are used to control the usage of the page, by, for example, permitting a user to limit his network pages solely to pages in particular categories. (9:40-12:12.)

The preferred embodiment of the invention describes a four-tiered categorization system, depicted in the '459 patent as Figure 1. ('459 patent Fig. 1.) The "first tier" divides network pages into whether they are for transacting business or providing information. (4:60-65.) The "second tier" divides the pages according to subject matter. (5:10-28.) The "third tier" divides the pages according to the types of files associated with the network page. (5:29-47.) Another tier divides the pages according to the copyright status of the material on the network page. (5:48-58.)

In the preferred embodiment, a designer of a network page manually assigns the page to appropriate categories by applying a "categorization code" for each category to which the page is assigned. (6:62-65.) The network designer then combines various "codes" to form a "categorization label" that is placed on a network page. (7:27-47.) Search engines can then read the categorization label and determine how the page is categorized.

During the prosecution of the '459 patent, the inventors repeatedly had their patent rejected due to the prior art that disclosed categorizing web pages. (Mot. Claim Construction Ex. 2 at IF001485-90.) The inventors eventually narrowed the claims of their patent to claim a categorization system which included at least the three categories of transacting business, providing information, and copyright status.

Yahoo!'s Flickr is an online photo management and sharing application. (Mot. Claim Construction 6.) Flickr users upload digital photos to the Flickr website for storage and sharing. Id. Users can make their photos private or visible to others. Id. Photographs that are public may be browsed or searched by various "tags" that may be attached to them. Id. Flickr also incorporates the Creative Commons license system whereby users can select to grant others the right to use their photographs with certain restrictions. Id. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that provides free licenses to users to mark their creative work with the usage restrictions they want their work to carry. Id. Flickr users have the option to "tag" their photographs with a Creative Commons license.

On January 13, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint with this court alleging that the Creative Commons license on Yahoo!'s Flickr site infringes the '459 patent. Presently before the court is defendant's motion for claim construction pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996).

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

The court, not the jury, must determine the meaning and scope of patent terms. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995), aff'd., 517 U.S. 370, 372, 116 S.Ct. 1384 (1996). When construing disputed claim terms, the court often looks to both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

Intrinsic evidence includes the language of the claims, specification, and prosecution history. Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. The language of a patent's claims are "generally given their ordinary and customary meaning," which is "the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question... as of the [patent's] effective filing date." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005). "Importantly, the person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim term not only in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears, but in the context of the entire patent, including the specification." Id.

The specification "is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. The specification can provide further guidance on the meaning of terms in the claims by, for example, (1) revealing a "special definition given to a claim term by the patentee that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess," Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316, (2) revealing an "intentional disclaimer, or disavowal, of claim scope by the inventor," Id., or (3) defining a term by implication, "such that the meaning may be found in or ascertained by a reading of the patent documents," Novartis Pharms. Corp. v. Abbott Labs., 375 F.3d 1328, 1334-35 (Fed. Cir. 2004). Limitations from the preferred embodiments or specific examples in the specification, however, cannot be read into the claim. Anchor Wall Sys. v. Rockwood Retaining Walls, Inc., 340 F.3d 1298, 1306 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

The patent's prosecution history "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." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317.

Extrinsic evidence "consists of all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises." Markman, 52 F.3d at 980. When used, extrinsic evidence cannot "vary or contradict" claim language, Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1584, but it can be useful "for a variety of purposes, such as to provide background... [and] to ensure that the court's understanding of the technical aspects of the patent is consistent with that of a person of skill in the art, or to establish that a particular term in the patent or the prior art has a particular meaning in the pertinent field." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1318.

B. Disputed Terms

Viewing the disputed terms from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention, the court adopts the constructions set forth below.

The five disputed terms appear in boldface below.*fn3

1. A computer implemented method of categorizing a network page, comprising: providing a list of categories, wherein said list of categories include a transacting business category for providing information and a category for, and wherein said list of categories include a category based on copyright status of material on a page;...; providing a categorization label for the network page using the copyright status of the material on the network page;....

19. The method of claim 1, further comprising providing a categorization code that can be used to label the page with the categorization label that indicates the categories to ...


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