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Mobile Commerce Framework, Inc v. Foursquare Labs

February 6, 2013

MOBILE COMMERCE FRAMEWORK, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
FOURSQUARE LABS, INC., DEFENDANT. MOBILE COMMERCE FRAMEWORK,
INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
GROUPON, INC., DEFENDANT. MOBILE COMMERCE FRAMEWORK,
INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
YELP! INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge

CONSOLIDATED CLAIM CONSTRUCTION ORDER

This matter comes before the Court for construction of claim terms in connection with U.S. Patent 7,693,752 ("the '752 Patent"). Plaintiff Mobile Commerce Framework, Inc. ("MCF") has filed separate lawsuits, alleging infringement of the '752 patent by Foursquare Labs, Inc. ("Foursquare"), Yelp! Inc. ("Yelp"), and Groupon, Inc. ("Groupon"). The parties have filed claim construction briefs and the Court held a consolidated claim construction hearing. MCF and Foursquare dispute the meaning of eight terms. MCF and Yelp/Groupon dispute four terms. Because Foursquare, Yelp, and Groupon argue for the same construction of two terms, a total of ten terms are in dispute. Having considered the parties' briefing, oral arguments, and applicable law, the Court construes the terms as set out below.

BACKGROUND

As relevant to this case, the '752 patent concerns ways of presenting subscription-based content to the user of a mobile device, such as a cell phone. '752 Patent, col.1, ll.19-21. MCF accuses the defendants of infringing claims 1, 2, 4-9, 12, 14, and 20 through their applications for mobile devices. Claims 1 and 20 are independent claims. The other asserted claims depend from claim 1, which describes a five-step method for presenting merchant information on the mobile device through a subscription-based shopping network. The parties agree that the meaning of the disputed terms is consistent across claims. All appear in claim 1. It recites:

A subscription-based method for presenting merchant information to a mobile device, the method comprising: receiving, at a server system over a communication network from the mobile device, a user inputted search for a merchant type within a geographical area and a user identification, the request having been received at the mobile device via a user interface presented by an application that runs on the mobile device; authenticating the user identification to verify that the user has amembershipin a subscription-based shopping network; accessing, by the server system, a database storing information pertaining to merchants participating in the subscription-based shopping network, the accessing comprising identifying a matched merchant of the merchants participating in the subscription-based shopping network, the matched merchant having a physical location within the geographical area and being associated in the database with the merchant type; retrieving, from the database by the server system, associated information for the matched merchant, the associated information comprising a name of the matched merchant, information regarding the physical location of the matched merchant, and a promotional offer offered by the matched merchant, the promotional offer incentivizing the user to visit the physical location of the matched merchant and demonstrate the user's membership in the subscription-based shopping network to receive a discount on a product or a service from the matched merchant; and transmitting, from the server system over the communication network for presentation to the user via the user interface on the mobile communication device, the associated information. '752 Patent, col.12 ll.66-67; col.13 ll.1-32.

DISCUSSION

"It is a bedrock principle of patent law that the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude." Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (citation and internal quotations marks omitted). Determining the "scope and meaning of the patent claims asserted" is a task reserved for judges. Cybor Corp. v. FAS Techs., 138

F.3d 1448, 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (en banc). "The words of a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning." Phillips,

415 F.3d at 1312 (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts make this determination from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time the patent is filed. Chamberlain Grp., Inc. v. Lear Corp., 516 F.3d 1331, 1335 (Fed. Cir. 2008). "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." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313.

"In some cases, the ordinary meaning of the claim language as understood by a person of skill in the art may be readily apparent even to lay judges, and claim construction in such cases involves little more than the application of the widely accepted meaning of commonly understood woods." Accumed LLC v. Stryker Corp., 483 F.3d 800, 805 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314). However, "[b]ecause the meaning of a claim term as understood by persons of skill in the art is often not immediately apparent, and because patentees frequently use terms idiosyncratically, the court looks to 'those sources available to the public that show what a person of skill in the art would have understood disputed claim language to mean.'" Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314 (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1116 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). "Those sources include '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. (quoting Innova, 381 F.3d at 1116).

Sources in the intrinsic record are preferred. Chamberlain Grp., 516 F.3d at 1335. Often, "the claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms." Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. But "claims 'must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.'" Id. at 1315 (quoting Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995). In fact, the specification is usually "dispositive," as "it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Finally, the court should consider the patent's prosecution history, which is the record of proceedings before the Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") and includes prior art cited during the patent examination. Id. at 1317. Caution is warranted here, however. "[B]ecause the prosecution history represents an ongoing negotiation between the PTO and the applicant, rather than the final product of that negotiation, it often lacks the clarity of the specification and thus is less useful for claim construction purposes." Id.

If the intrinsic evidence resolves the ambiguity in the disputed claim terms, then "it is improper to rely on extrinsic evidence." Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1583 (Fed. Cir. 1996). If ambiguities in the claim terms remain, however, courts may consider extrinsic evidence. Id. at 1584. Extrinsic evidence includes expert testimony, inventor testimony, dictionaries, and scientific treatises. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1317.

The disputed terms are set out below. In almost every case, MCF contends no construction is necessary. However, because MCF disagrees with the opposing parties' constructions, it has proffered its own.

A. "mobile device"

Claim Term MCF's Proposed Foursquare/Yelp/Groupon's

Construction Proposed Construction

Mobile device "Portable handheld "Laptop computers, cell communication device" phones, PDAs or any general purpose mobile machine that processes data"

The dispute here is whether the term "mobile device" includes laptop computers. At the hearing, the parties agreed that it did and stipulated to a construction that added "including a laptop computer" to MCF's proposed language. Tr. of Claim Construction Hr'g at 8 ("Tr."). The Court finds this construction appropriate. One of ordinary skill in the art would construe "mobile device" to mean "a portable handheld communication device, including a laptop computer."

B. "the request"

Claim Term MCF's Proposed Foursquare/Yelp/Groupon's

Construction Proposed Construction

The request "A user inputted search for a "The user inputted search for merchant type" a merchant type within a geographical area and a user identification"

Of all the disputed terms, "the request" received, by far, the most attention at oral argument. The term appears in the first step of claim 1. It refers to information a user manually inputs on a mobile device:

Receiving, at a server system over a communication network from the mobile device, a user inputted search for a merchant type within a geographical area and user identification, the request having been received at the mobile device via a user interface presented by an application that runs on the mobile device; '752 Patent, col.13 ll.1-6.

To determine the scope of the request, i.e. what the user must input, the parties agree that the Court must look at the preceding clause, which describes information a server subsequently receives from the device, namely "a user inputted search for a merchant type within a geographical area and a user identification." The principal difference in their positions is how much of the so-called "receiving clause" is encompassed by "the request."

MCF contends that "the request" refers only to the front end-"a user inputted search for a merchant type." MCF doesn't dispute that a server must ultimately receive three pieces of information: (1) a merchant type; (2) a geographic area, and; (3) a user identification. Its position is that the only thing the user must input is the merchant type (the mobile device may be configured to provide the rest).

Defendants contend that "the request" refers to the receiving clause in its entirety. In effect, Defendants would require the user to manually input all three pieces of information. Both ...


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