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Thought, Inc. v. Oracle Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 9, 2015

THOUGHT, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ORACLE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

DISCOVERY ORDER DENYING REQUEST TO COMPEL FINANCIAL DOCUMENT PRODUCTION Re: Dkt. No. 137

MARIA-ELENA JAMES, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

The Court is in receipt of the parties' joint discovery dispute letter, filed April 7, 2015. Dkt. No. 137. Plaintiff Thought, Inc. moves for an order compelling production of documents responsive to its Requests for Production ("RFP") Nos. 48 and 49, which request financial documents relating to "Accused Products." Jt. Ltr., Ex. A. Having considered the parties' positions, relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court issues the following order.

BACKGROUND

According to Thought, this dispute resolves itself upon the proper construction of claim 7 of U.S. Patent No. 5, 857, 197 (197 Patent), which it contends encompasses a combination of three distinct tiers of software: applications, middleware, and databases. Jt. Ltr. at 1. Thought maintains that it accused such combinations in its infringement contentions, and RFP Nos. 48 and 49 seek financial documents relating to Oracle's products accused of infringement. Id. & Exs. A, B. Thought contends that Oracle has unreasonably limited its production to a small subset of its middleware sales. Id. at 1.

In response, Oracle states that Thought's claimed inventions are directed to technology that appears only in Oracle's middleware, not in its databases or applications. Id. at 3. According to Oracle, Thought's patents relate to a software technique called object relational mapping ("ORM"). Id. ORM is performed by middleware that converts object-oriented programming data ("object data") into a format that can be stored in a relational database ("relational data") or vice versa. Id. Oracle contends that Thought's patent claims do not concern the operation of front-end applications that generate object data nor the back-end databases that store the relational data. Id. Instead, the applications and databases are merely the media upon which Thought's ORM technology acts; there is no invention in the patents regarding how applications and databases perform their functions. Id. Thus, Oracle argues that there is no basis to conduct discovery- financial or otherwise-on its database and application products that merely interface with the middleware. Id. at 4.

Thought argues that Oracle's rationale fails based on the express terms of Thought's claims:

Claim 7 of the '197 Patent (relevant portions below) expressly recites in the body of the claim (see rectangle) steps performed by software in three different layers: application software (underlined), middleware (italics), and database software (bold small caps):
A method for accessing AT LEAST ONE DATA STORE HAVING A DATA STORE CONTENT AND A DATA STORE SCHEMA as at least one object from at least one object application comprising the steps of:
... communicating a request including an object comprising object attributes and an object name from the object application to an adapter abstraction layer...
extracting the object attributes and the object name from the object;
packing the object attributes and the object name as data...
EXECUTING AT LEAST ONE SUCH COMMAND;....

Id. at 2. Thought argues that there is no legally recognizable or protected "essential" element, gist, or heart of the invention in a combination patent; rather, the invention is defined by the claims, and discovery should be provided for all claimed elements. Id. It contends that Oracle's middleware products cannot alone perform all the steps in the body of claim 7, because only an application can perform the underlined portion above, and only a database can perform the portion shown in bold small caps. ...


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