The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court
ORDER REGARDING CLAIM CONSTRUCTION OF UNITED STATES PATENT 7,177,874
Plaintiff Cary Jardin filed this action against Defendants Stuart Frost and Datallegro, Inc. for patent infringement. A claim construction hearing in this case was held on September 16, 2010. After review of the parties' claim construction briefs and materials submitted in connection with the hearing, the Court issues the following order construing the disputed terms of the patent.
The patent at issue is United States Patent Number 7,177,874 (the "874 Patent"). The '874 Patent generally relates to distributed processing in computer systems. "More particularly, the invention relates to systems and methods for increasing the performance of computer systems by distributing the data processing load among multiple processors in a clustered environment." '874 Patent, Col. 1, lines 35-39. As described in the Background of the Invention, the '874 Patent addresses the "bottleneck" problem with existing database systems and speeds data retrieval. Col. 3, lines 1-7. At issue here are terms from independent claims 1, 8, and 15, and dependent claims 9, 12, and 14.
Plaintiff filed the Complaint on August 12, 2008, and the First Amended Complaint on August 22, 2008. Defendants filed an Answer and a Counterclaim for a declaration of non-infringement. Plaintiff filed an Answer to the Counterclaim.
In construing claims, the Court must look first to the language of the claims themselves. Middleton, Inc. v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 311 F.3d 1384, 1387 (Fed. Cir. 2002). To that end, "the words of a claim 'are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning.'" Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005). The inquiry into how a person of ordinary skill in the art understands a claim term provides an objective baseline from which to begin claim interpretation. Id. More specifically, "the ordinary and customary meaning of a claim term is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, as of the effective date of the patent application." Id. at 1313.
The specification is "'always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis." Id. at 1315 (quoting Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). "Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315. Phillips invited courts "to rely heavily on the written description [in the specification] for guidance as to the meaning of the claims." Id. at 1317. For example, the specification may show that the inventor assigned a meaning to a claim term that differs from the claim's ordinary meaning, and, in that case, "the inventor's lexicography governs." Id. at 1316.
Under Federal Circuit precedent, a patentee's choice of embodiments can shed light on the intended scope of the claim, but a patent claim term is not limited merely because the embodiments in the specification all contain a particular feature. On the other hand, a construction that excludes a preferred embodiment is rarely, if ever, correct. C.R. Bard, Inc. v. United States Surgical Corp., 388 F.3d 858, 865 (Fed Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The decision whether to limit a claim to the embodiments in the specification "depends in each case on the specificity of the description of the invention and on the prosecution history." Cultor Corp. v. A.E. Staley Mfg. Co., 224 F.3d 1328, 1331 (Fed Cir. 2000). The mere fact that a specification discloses a single embodiment is not enough. Liebel-Flarsheim Co. v. Medrad, 358 F.3d 898, 907 (Fed. Cir. 2004).
The court should rely on extrinsic evidence "[o]nly if a disputed claim term remains ambiguous after analysis of the intrinsic evidence." Pickholtz v. Rainbow Techs., Inc., 284 F.3d 1365, 1372-73 (Fed. Cir. 2002). Extrinsic evidence is defined as "'all evidence external to the patent and prosecution history, including expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises.'" Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317 (quoting Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 980 (Fed Cir. 1995), aff'd 517 U.S. 370 (1996)). Extrinsic evidence is separate from the patent, prepared for litigation purposes, and not necessarily reflective of the perspective of an ordinary person skilled in the art. Id. at 1318. A court must not use extrinsic evidence "to vary, contradict, expand, or limit the claim language from how it is defined, even implicitly, in the specification or [prosecution] history." Dow Chem. Co. v. Sumitomo Chem. Co., Ltd., 257 F.3d 1364, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2001).
A. Person of Ordinary Skill in the Art
Plaintiff requests that the Court make an express finding as to what a person of ordinary skill in the art is for the '874 Patent. Plaintiff proposes such person is: "a person having a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering and having one or both of the following: (1) several years of experience relating to the design and development of relational database management systems; or (2) a graduate degree in computer science or software engineering with at least one year of experience with relational database management systems." Defendants do not raise any objection. Accordingly, the Court adopts Plaintiff's definition of a person of ordinary skill in the art for the for the '874 Patent.
Claim 1 of the '874 Patent recites:
A method of processing a query command in a distributed computing system in which a plurality of database tables are stored on a plurality of nodes, different portions of at least one database table being stored on at least two of the nodes, the method comprising: storing a first portion of a first database table and a first portion of a second database table on a first node, and storing a second portion of a first database table and a second portion of a second database table on a second node; determining a join table definition in response to a query command, said join table definition identifying a subset of said first database table to include in executing said database query command; generating a first join table from said first portion of said first database table in accordance with said join table definition, and generating a second join table from said second portion of said first database table in accordance with said join table definition; transmitting said first join table to said second node, and transmitting said second join table to said first node; comparing said first portion of said second database table with said first join table, and comparing said second portion of said second database table with said second join table to generate a first intermediate results file; comparing said first portion of said second database table with said second join table, and comparing said second portion of said second database table with said first join table to generate a second intermediate results file; and generating a final results file from said first intermediate results file and said second intermediate results file.
The parties seek to have the Court construe several terms in claim 1. The Court addresses each in turn.
The Court addresses the preambles for claims 1, 8, 15 together, and reaches the same conclusion as to each. Defendants assert the preambles should be construed as substantive claim limitations. Plaintiff contends the preambles merely recite a use or function for the claims, and the bodies of the claims fully set out all of the limitations of the claimed invention.
The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the preambles are not limiting, and therefore do not need construction. In general, a preamble limits the invention if it recites essential structure or steps, or if it is "necessary to give life, meaning, and vitality" to the claim. Pitney Bowes v. Hewlett Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1305 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Conversely, a preamble is not limiting "where a patentee defines a structurally complete invention in the claim body and uses the preamble only to state a purpose or intended use for the invention." Rowe v. Dror, 112 F.3d 473, 478 (Fed. Cir. 1997). "The use of different language in the preamble than in the body of the claims does not suggest that the preamble imposes a limitation." Symantec Corp. v. Computer Assocs. Int'l, 522 F.3d 1279, 1289 (Fed. Cir. 2008). Instead, "[i]t is assumed that the preamble language is duplicative of the language found in the body of the claims or merely provides context for the claims, absent any indication to the contrary in the claims, the specification or the prosecution history." Id.
Here, the preambles only state the use for the inventions - processing a query command in a distributed computing system. See Rowe, 112 F.3d at 478. Therefore, the preambles of claims 1, 8, and 15 are not substantive claim limitations.
Defendants assert "database" should be construed to mean "acollection of information organized in such a way that a computer program can quickly access desired pieces of data." Defendants' construction is drawn directly from the definition of "database" provided in the Background of the Invention of the specification. Col. 1, lines 48-51 ("A database (DB) is a collection of information organized in such a way that a computer program can quickly access desired pieces of data."). Plaintiff asserts the term is entitled to its ordinary meaning, but if the Court deems construction necessary, "database" should be construed to mean "a SQL-compatible or other relational database."
The Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiff acted as his own lexicographer by defining "database" in the specification. Where a patentee explicitly defines a claim term in the specification, he acts as his own lexicographer and that definition trumps others. Sinorgchem Co., Shandong v. Int'l Trade Comm'n, 511 F.3d 1132, 1136 (Fed. Cir. 2007) ("the patentee must be bound by the express definition.") (citations omitted). "The patentee's lexicography must, of course, appear 'with reasonable clarity, deliberateness, and precision' before it can affect the claim." Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni,158 F.3d 1243, 1249 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Here, Plaintiff's definition of "database" was deliberate and clear. In addition, there is nothing in the claims or specification that limits "database" to "a SQL-compatible or other relational database." "Absent a special and particular definition created by the patent applicant, terms in a claim are to be given their ordinary and accustomed meaning." Id. at 1249-50. Thus, when a claim term is expressed in general descriptive words, the Court may not "add a narrowing modifier before an otherwise general term that stands unmodified in a claim." Id. Moreover, Plaintiff's construction does not actually define "database," but rather specifies a particular type of database.
Therefore, the Court construes "database" to mean "acollection of information organized in such a way that a computer program can quickly access desired pieces of data."
Defendants assert "node" should be construed to mean "a processor or computer with a memory." Defendants' construction is based on the description of "node" in the Detailed Description of Certain Embodiments in the specification: "[e]ach node can be a processor with a main memory. Alternatively, each node can be a computer with a main memory." Col. 7, lines 31-35. Plaintiff contends this term is entitled to its ordinary meaning, but if the Court deems construction necessary, "node" should be construed to mean "a processor or computer on which runs a SQL-compatible or other relational database."
The parties' constructions are similar in that they construe "node" to mean a processor or computer. Similar to the above analysis of "database," there is nothing in the intrinsic evidence requiring a "node" to be a processor or computer "on which runs a SQL-compatible or other relational database." See Renishaw,158 F.3d at 1249 (explaining the court may not "add a narrowing modifier before an otherwise general term that stands unmodified in a claim").
Therefore, the Court construes "node" to mean "a processor or computer with a memory." A "node" is not limited to a processor or computer "on which runs a SQL-compatible or other relational database."
4. "In Response to a Query Command"
The parties dispute the term "in response to a query command," which appears repeatedly in the context of the phrase "determining [a join table definition] in response to a query command." Because the parties do not dispute the meaning of "a query command," the specific issue is the meaning of "in response to." Defendants assert "in response to" should be construed to mean "after receiving." Plaintiff contends this term ...