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Cisco Systems Inc. v Arista Networks, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

June 15, 2016

CISCO SYSTEMS INC, Plaintiff,
v.
ARISTA NETWORKS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER CONSTRUING CLAIMS IN U.S. PATENT NO. 7, 047, 526 [Re: ECF 91]

          BETH LABSON FREEMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Cisco Systems Inc. brings this copyright and patent infringement lawsuit against Defendant Arista Networks, Inc. The patent portion of the lawsuit alleges Arista infringes two of Cisco’s patents: U.S. Patent No. 7, 047, 526 (the “’526 Patent”) directed at improving the control of administration and/or diagnostic software tools in processor-based systems and U.S. Patent No. 7, 953, 886 (the “’886 Patent”) directed at providing a comprehensive extensible markup language interface for monitoring and configuring a router, while still maintaining the router’s command line interface. The Court held a tutorial on March 11, 2016, and a Markman hearing on April 8, 2016, for the purpose construing six disputed terms in the ’526 Patent and four disputes terms in the ’886 Patents. Afterwards, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board instituted inter partes review on the ’886 Patent and the Court, at Cisco’s request, dismissed all claims under the ’886 Patent with prejudice in lieu of the Court’s indicated stay of the entire patent portion of the case.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND ON THE ’526 PATENT

         The ’526 Patent relates to the command and interface control of administration and/or diagnostic tools for complex processor-based executable software systems. ’526 Patent at 1:6-15, ECF 91-3. Typically, each administration and diagnostic tool had its own command format, function names, and syntax, which created a significant burden for system administrators. Id. at 1:31-37. The ’526 Patent attempts to solve this issue by providing a set of universal commands that a user can use to control various administration and diagnostic tools. Id. at 1:58-63. By using a set of universal commands, the user only needs to learn the universal command set as opposed to learning each administration and diagnostic tool’s command set. Id.; see also Id. at 4:58-60. When the user inputs an universal command, a parser (software), determines which administration or diagnostic tool should be used, and translates the universal command into the appropriate format for that tool. Id. at 1:48-63.

         A. Claim Terms at Issue

         The Patent Local Rules allow the parties to identify up to 10 terms “whose construction will be most significant to the resolution of the case.” Patent L.R. 4-3(c); see also Nortek Air Solutions v. DMG Corp., Case No. 14-cv-02919-BLF, 2015 WL 6674705, at *1, (N.D. Cal. Nov. 2, 2015) (declining to construe more than 10 terms). In contravention of the rules, the parties identified 17 terms for construction. Exhs. A and B to Joint Claim Construction Statement, ECF 70-1 and 70-2. As a result, the parties prepared an amended joint claim construction chart, which identified the following terms for construction:

1. ’526 Patent
a. “management programs”;
b. “generic command”;
c. “command parse tree”;
d. “the validating step including identifying one of the elements as a best match relative to the generic command”;
e. “the command parse tree having elements each specifying at least one corresponding generic command component and a corresponding at least one command action value”;
f. “means for validating a generic command received from a user, the validating means configured for specifying valid generic commands relative to a prescribed generic command format and having elements each specifying at least one corresponding generic command component and a corresponding at least one command action value, the validating means identifying one of the elements as a best match relative to the generic command”;

Am. Joint Claim Construction Chart, ECF 216.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. General Principles

         Claim construction is a matter of law. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 387 (1996). “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) (internal citation omitted), and, as such, “[t]he appropriate starting point . . . is always with the language of the asserted claim itself, ” Comark Commc’ns, Inc. v. Harris Corp., 156 F.3d 1182, 1186 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

         Claim terms “are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning, ” defined as “the meaning . . . the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question . . . as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313 (internal citation omitted). The court reads claims in light of the specification, which is “the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.” Id. at 1315; see also Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Elecs. N. Am. Corp., 744 F.3d 1272, 1284-85 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (en banc). Furthermore, “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.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316 (quoting Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa’ per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998)). The words of the claims must therefore be understood as the inventor used them, as such understanding is revealed by the patent and prosecution history. Id. The claim language, written description, and patent prosecution history thus form the intrinsic record that is most significant when determining the proper meaning of a disputed claim limitation. Id. at 1315-17; see also Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996).

         Evidence external to the patent is less significant than the intrinsic record, but the court may also consider such extrinsic evidence as expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises “if the court deems it helpful in determining ‘the true meaning of language used in the patent claims.’” Philips, 415 F.3d at 1318 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 980). However, extrinsic evidence may not be used to contradict or change the meaning of claims “in derogation of the ‘indisputable public records consisting of the claims, the specification and the prosecution history, ’ thereby undermining the public notice function of patents.” Id. at 1319 (quoting Southwall Techs., Inc. v. Cardinal IG Co., 54 F.3d 1570, 1578 (Fed. Cir. 1995)).

         B. Means-Plus-Function Claims

         Paragraph 6 of 35 USC § 112 provides for means-plus-function claiming: “An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means . . . for performing a specified function . . . and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.” When a claim uses the term “means” to describe a limitation, it creates a presumption that the inventor used the term to invoke § 112 ¶ 6. Biomedino v. Waters Technologies, 490 F.3d 946, 950 (Fed. Cir. 2007). The “presumption can be rebutted when the claim, in addition to the functional language, recites structure sufficient to perform the claimed function in its entirety.” Id.

         If a court concludes that a claim limitation is a means-plus-function limitation, “two steps of claim construction remain: 1) the court must first identify the function of the limitation; and 2) the court must then look to the specification and identify the corresponding structure for that function.” Id. The claim limitation will then be construed to cover that corresponding structure and equivalents thereof. 35 USC § 112 ¶ 6.

         C. Indefiniteness

         “The Patent Act requires that a patent specification conclude with one or more claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter which the applicant regards as the invention.” Nautilus v. Biosig Instruments, 134 S.Ct. 2120, 2124 (2014). “A patent is invalid for indefiniteness if its claims, read in light of the specification delineating the patent, and the prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention.” Id. While the scope of the claims must be clear enough to “apprise the public of what is still open to them, ” Markman v. Westview Instruments, 517 U.S. 370, 373 (1996), “the definiteness requirement must take into account the inherent limitations of language. Some modicum of uncertainty…is the price of ensuring the appropriate incentives for innovation.” Nautilus, 134 S.Ct. at 2128 (internal citations omitted). Thus, “the certainty which the law requires in patents is not greater than is reasonable, having regard to their subject-matter.” Id. at 2129 (quoting Minerals Separation v. Hyde, 242 U.S. 261, 270 (1916)).

         III. CONSTRUCTION OF DISPUTED TERMS

         A.Management Programs”

Cisco’s Proposal

Arista’s Proposal

Court’s Construction

“separate tools or external agents having their own respective command formats that provide management functions”

“tools that are configured to execute user-entered commands having their own respective command formats rather than the generic command format”

“tools or agents configured to execute user-directed commands having their own respective command formats that provide management functions”

         The disputed term “management programs” appears in independent claims 1, 10, 14, and 23 of the ’526 Patent. Claim 1 is representative of how the term is used in the claim language:

         1. A method in a processor-based system configured for executing a plurality of management programs according to respective ...


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