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Intel Corp. v. Tela Innovations, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 4, 2019

INTEL CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
TELA INNOVATIONS, INC., Defendant.

          CLAIM CONSTRUCTION ORDER RE: DKT. NO. 163

          WILLIAM H. ORRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before me are six patents from the same patent family, all assigned to declaratory judgment defendant Tela Innovations, Inc., and all asserted against plaintiff Intel Corporation. The patented technology aims to improve the design and manufacturability of integrated circuits by ameliorating difficulties associated with the lithographic gap, or the size difference between ever-shrinking semiconductor features and the wavelength of light used to fabricate them. The parties have asked me to construe seven terms from the asserted claims. My constructions are below.

         BACKGROUND

         Between November 4, 2008 and January 22, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) issued United States Patent Nos. 7, 446, 352 (“the '352 Patent”), 7, 943, 966 (“the '966 Patent”), 7, 948, 012 (“the '012 Patent”), 10, 141, 334 (“the '334 Patent”), 10, 141, 335 (“the '335 Patent”), and 10, 186, 523 (“the '523 Patent”) (collectively, the “patents in suit”). See Declaration of Frank Liu (“Liu Decl.”), Exs. 1-6 [Dkt. Nos. 166-2, 166-3, 166-4, 166-5, 166-6, 166-7]. All of the patents in suit are part of the same patent family, all claim priority to Provisional Application No. 60/781, 288, filed on March 9, 2006, and all list Tela as the sole assignee.

         Intel filed this declaratory judgment action on May 15, 2018.[1] Dkt. No. 1. Since that time, I have resolved a motion to transfer, several motions to dismiss and strike, a disputed motion for a protective order, and several discovery disputes. See Dkt. Nos. 64, 70, 86, 162. The parties briefed claim construction starting on June 13, 2019, and each submitted an electronic technology tutorial in advance of the claim construction hearing. See Dkt. Nos. 163, 173. After providing the parties with my tentative opinions, I heard argument on September 27, 2019. Dkt. Nos. 172, 173.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Claim construction is a matter of law. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996); Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). “Generally, a claim term is given its ordinary and customary meaning-the meaning that a term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention.” Howmedica Osteonics Corp. v. Zimmer, Inc., 822 F.3d 1312, 1320 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In determining the proper construction of a claim, a court begins with the intrinsic evidence of record, consisting of the claim language, the patent specification, and, if in evidence, the prosecution history. Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005); see also Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. “A claim term used in multiple claims should be construed consistently . . . .” Inverness Med. Switzerland GmbH v. Princeton Biomeditech Corp., 309 F.3d 1365, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

         “The 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). “[T]he 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, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312. “There are only two exceptions to this general rule: 1) when a patentee sets out a definition and acts as his own lexicographer, or 2) when the patentee disavows the full scope of a claim term either in the specification or during prosecution.” Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1365 (Fed. Cir. 2012). Such redefinition or disavowal need not be express to be clear. Trustees of Columbia Univ. in City of New York v. Symantec Corp., 811 F.3d 1359, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

         Courts read terms in the context of the claim and of the entire patent, including the specification. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. The specification is “the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.” Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582. “The construction that stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention will be, in the end, the correct construction.” Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Societa' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998). The court may also consider the prosecution history of the patent, if in evidence. Markman, 52 F.3d at 980. The prosecution history may “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 (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1582-83); see also Chimie v. PPG Indus., Inc., 402 F.3d 1371, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (“The purpose of consulting the prosecution history in construing a claim is to exclude any interpretation that was disclaimed during prosecution.”) (internal quotations omitted).

         In most situations, analysis of the intrinsic evidence alone will resolve claim construction disputes, Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583; however, a court can further consult “trustworthy extrinsic evidence” to compare its construction to “widely held understandings in the pertinent technical field, ” Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1309 (Fed. Cir. 1999). 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. All extrinsic evidence should be evaluated in light of the intrinsic evidence, Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1319, and courts should not rely on extrinsic evidence in claim construction to contradict the meaning of claims discernible from examination of the claims, the written description, and the prosecution history, Pitney Bowes, 182 F.3d at 1308 (citing Vitronics, 90 F.3d at 1583).

         DISCUSSION

         I. THE TECHNOLOGY

         The patents at issue aim to improve the design and manufacturability of integrated circuits by creating solutions to manage the lithographic gap. '352 Patent 1:49-51. Integrated circuit chips are the building blocks of devices like computers, smart phones, and tablets, and transistors are the building blocks of integrated circuit chips. Today, a single integrated circuit chip includes billions of transistors, which form the bottom layer of the chip, connected to the layers above by metal interconnects. Transistors are effectively switches that control the flow of electrical current through a circuit.

         Transistors are made up of a substrate, a source region, a drain region, and a gate. A semiconductor material forms the substrate. The source and drain regions have the same charge, either positive or negative, which is created by introducing impurities during the fabrication process. The transistor gate can be made of metal or polysilicon. Voltage applied to the transistor gate determines whether a channel forms underneath the gate, allowing charge to flow between the source and drain regions. When the opposite charge is applied to the gate, a current begins to flow through the substrate between the source and drain regions (i.e., the transistor is “on”).

         Fabrication of integrated circuits occurs one layer at a time, beginning with the bottom transistor layer, known as the front end. To fabricate transistors, different materials are added, altered, and removed until the desired features are present. The Asserted Patents are primarily directed to one tool used during fabrication, called photolithography, or lithography. Lithography is used to create a specific pattern of gates on the substrate. Once the gate material has been deposited onto the substrate, a material called photoresist, which is sensitive to light, is placed on top.[2] A light is shone through a patterned mask, altering the chemical nature of the photoresist that it reaches and creating the desired pattern. When the photoresist is developed, depending on what type of photoresist was used, either the parts that were exposed to light or the parts that were not exposed to light will remain. The exposed gate material, i.e. without photoresist on top, is chemically etched away, leaving the desired gate pattern. Finally, ashing removes the remaining photoresist.

         When transistors are too close, they can electrically interfere with one another. With up to billions of transistors on a single chip, they might be separated by only the space of only one one-hundredth of a human hair. Despite this proximity, there are a few ways to prevent transistors from interfering with one another. Dummy gates, which lack source and drain regions, can separate transistors. In addition, field oxide can be used as an insulator to cover the portions of the substrate that do not have active transistors, and gates can be formed on top of the field oxide.

         At the time of the '352 Patent, transistor feature sizes had decreased and were approaching 45 nm (nanometers).[3] '352 Patent 1:27-30. Because those feature sizes are smaller than the wavelength of light, unintended interactions can occur between neighboring features during lithography. See Id. at 1:24-27. Specifically, unwanted shapes may be created (constructive interference) or desired shapes may be removed (destructive interference). Id. 1:35-41. The patented technology aims to create a solution “for managing lithographic gap issues as technology continues to progress toward smaller semiconductor device features sizes.” Id. at 1:49-51.

         II. CLAIM CONSTRUCTION

         The parties agree on the construction of the following two terms:

Claim Term

Agreed Construction

“diffusion region”

selected portions of the substrate within which impurities have been introduced to form the source or drain of a transistor

“a lithography process”

plain and ordinary meaning, i.e., a process by which a pattern is imprinted on a resist or semiconductor wafer using light using a mask

         Joint Claim Construction and Prehearing Statement [Dkt. No. 163] 2. The parties dispute seven terms, and I construe them as follows.

         A. “linear gate electrode segment, linear conductor segment(s), linear conductive segment(s), and (interconnect) linear conductive structures”



Tela’s Proposal

Intel’s Proposal Court’s Ruling
a 3D conductive structure having a rectangular shape of a given width defined in a plane parallel to a top surface of the substrate and defined to have a length that extends in one direction having a consistent vertical cross-section shape and extending in a single direction over the substrate extending in a single direction over the substrate
’352: 1, 17; ’966: 2, 31, 33; ’012: 2, 8, 11, 13, 28

         The parties first dispute the term “linear, ” which is found in the '352, '966, and '012 Patents. Tela argues that “linear” is to be defined and understood from the top-down view, while Intel counters that it should be understood in terms of a cross-section view. Because the claims themselves do not support the limitation Intel seeks to place on the term, nor does the specification clearly do so, I agree with Tela's position on the term “linear.”

         1. The plain and ordinary meaning of the claim language

         I begin by analyzing the language of the claims themselves. Claim 2 of the '966 Patent reads in part, “wherein the gate electrode level region includes a plurality of linear conductive segments each formed to have a respective length and a respective width as measured parallel to the substrate region . . . .” '966 Patent 27:45-48. Claim 2 of the '012 Patent reads, “wherein the gate electrode level region includes a plurality of linear conductive segments each formed to have a respective length and a respective width as measured parallel to the substrate region . . . .” '012 Patent 33:3-6.

         This language shows-and the parties agree-that “linear” at the very least means free of bends on the x-y axis. Op'g 10; Resp. 11. Indeed, that is the plain and ordinary meaning of the term: a straight line. According to Tela, this understanding is enough to construe the term because “linear” is properly understood according to the x-y axis, from the top-down view. Because the patents are directed to layout files, and features in a layout file are defined from a top view, this term too should be understood from the top view. See Liu Decl. Ex. 7, Declaration of Daniel Foty (“Foty Decl.”) [Dkt. No. 166-8] ¶ 83 (asserting that the patentee used “linear” from the top view).

         The difficulty with construing this term arises from the fact that-despite the patents' focus on the x- and y-axes rather than the z-axis-“linear features” are three-dimensional. The specifications of the Asserted Patents do not describe or represent linear features only from the top view, although Tela rightly points out that most figures show that perspective. See Reply 3. But the patents do include and describe some three-dimensional figures. Because the claim language does not expressly address the z-axis of linear-shaped features, it is necessary to review the intrinsic evidence to determine whether it clearly communications anything about the z-axis. My review of the intrinsic evidence is guided by this admonition from the Federal Circuit:

[E]ven where a particular structure makes it ‘particularly difficult' to obtain certain benefits of the claimed invention, this does not rise to the level of disavowal of the structure. It is likewise not enough that the only embodiments, or all of the embodiments, contain a particular limitation. We do not read limitations from the specification into claims; we do not redefine words. Only the patentee can do that. To constitute disclaimer, there must be a clear and unmistakable disclaimer.

Thorner v. Sony Computer Entm't Am. LLC, 669 F.3d 1362, 1366-67 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (internal citation omitted).

         2. The intrinsic evidence

         The specification serves as “the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term.” See Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315. The specification of the patents at issue primarily discusses linear features by reference to the x and y directions. For example, the '352 Patent reads, “It should be appreciated that the linear-shaped feature may be oriented to have its length 305 extend in either the first reference direction (x), the second reference direction (y), or in diagonal direction defined relative to the first and second reference directions (x) and (y). . . . Also, it should be understood that the ...


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