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Speedtrack, Inc. v. Amazon.Com, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 8, 2019

SPEEDTRACK, INC, Plaintiff,
v.
AMAZON.COM, INC., et al., Defendants.

          CLAIM CONSTRUCTION ORDER RE: DKT. NOS. 359, 362, 363

          JEFFREY S. WHITE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court has been presented with a technology tutorial and briefing leading up to a hearing pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370 (1996). This Order construes the disputed claim terms selected by the parties, which appear in the patent at issue in this case, United States Patent No. 5, 544, 360 (“the '360 Patent”), entitled “Method for Accessing Computer Files and Data, Using Linked Categories Assigned to Each Data File Record on Entry of the Data File Record.”

         BACKGROUND

         A. The '360 Patent

         Plaintiff SpeedTrack, Inc. (“SpeedTrack”) contends that Defendants Amazon.com, Inc. et al. (“Defendants”) infringe its patent. The '360 Patent is directed to a system and method for accessing computer files according to user-defined criteria. ('360 Patent, Abstract.) According the '360 Patent, “a typical computer system organizes data into files (analogous to papers in a paper filing system) and directories (analogous to the folders and hanging files).” (Id., 1:38-41.) To store and retrieve files, traditional prior art systems implemented a “hierarchical filing structure.” (Id., 1:28-31.) In such systems, directories are organized into “an upside-down tree” where a root directory contains “a number of subdirectories, ” and the subdirectories “contain other subdirectories and files.” (Id., 1:44-54.) One problem with hierarchical file systems is that “[i]t becomes more difficult for the user to decide where to store a particular file” because “a document may logically belong within many different folders.” (Id., 2:12-23.) To solve this problem, the '360 Patent proposes the use of logical “hybrid folders, ” which “contain those files whose content overlaps more than one physical directory.” (Id., 2:40-42.)

         The invention of the '360 Patent uses three components: (1) a “category description table” that contains “a plurality of category descriptions, ” (2) a “file information directory” that contains entries “corresponding to a file on the data storage system” each of which has an associated “set of category descriptions, ” and (3) a “search filter” defined by a user that comprises a set of category descriptions and an optional operator term. (Id., claims 1, 22.) The search filter implements a “guarantee” that there is “at least one entry in the file information directory having a set of category descriptions matching the set of category descriptions of the search filter.” (Id.) This guarantee is achieved because “[a]ll category descriptions are disabled which, if added to the search filter defined by the user, would result in no matching files.” (Id., 12:21-24.)

         B. Prior Claim Constructions

         The '360 Patent has previously been construed by Judge Hamilton in this District in Speedtrack, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. C 06-7336 PJH, 2008 WL 2491701 (N.D. Cal. June 19, 2008). The Court notes the following Wal-Mart constructions:

Term

Wal-Mart Construction

“category description”

information that includes a name that is descriptive of something about a stored file

“category description table”

at least one list or array, configured in any desired manner, or taking any form, containing a plurality of category descriptions

“file information directory”

a directory comprising information corresponding to at least one file

“having no predefined hierarchical relationship”

The category descriptions have no predefined hierarchical relationship. A hierarchical relationship is a relationship that pertains to hierarchy. A hierarchy is a structure in which components are ranked into levels of subordination; each component has zero, one, or more subordinates; and no component has more than one superordinate component.

“search filter”

a set of one or more category descriptions (depending upon the context of claim 1 or claim 20) and at least one logical operator if there is more than one category description in the search filter that is used to search

“file”

any collection of data or information stored on a computer system

“such list”

a category description table

“means for reading and writing data from the data storage system, displaying information, and accepting user input”

a computer system, embodied in either a single computer or a distributed environment, having a hard disk drive, a computer display, and a computer mouse, and equivalents thereto

“user”

one that uses-may be a person or another computer

“creating in the computer system”

producing in the computer system

         The Federal Circuit affirmed Judge Hamilton's construction of “category description” in Speedtrack, Inc. v. Endeca Techs., Inc., 524 Fed.Appx. 651 (Fed. Cir. 2013). Accordingly, the Wal-Mart construction of “category description” governs under stare decisis. Ottah v. Fiat Chrysler, 884 F.3d 1135, 1139-40 (Fed. Cir. 2018).

         The remainder of the Wal-Mart constructions are entitled to “reasoned deference” based on their persuasive value. See Finjan, Inc. v. Symantec Corp., No. 14-cv-02998-HGS, 2017 WL 550453, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 10, 2017); Visto Corp. v. Sproqit Techs., Inc., 445 F.Supp.2d 1104, 1108-09 (N.D. Cal. 2006); but see Aircraft Technical Pub'rs v. Avantext, Inc., No. C 07-4154 SBA, 2009 WL 3817944, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 10, 2009) (noting that courts have a duty to render an “independent judgment” on claim construction). Accordingly, the Court will consider the Wal-Mart constructions, but will render an independent judgment as to the ultimate constructions in this case.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard.

         Claim construction is a question of law for the Court. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 384 (1996). “The purpose of claim construction is to determine the meaning and scope of the patent claims asserted to be infringed.” O2 Micro Int'l Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2008). The Court has an obligation “to ensure that questions of the scope of the patent claims are not left to the jury.” Every Penny Counts, Inc. v. American Express Co., 563 F.3d 1378, 1383 (Fed. Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). Accordingly, the Court must ensure that the parties' disputes are “fully resolved” and assign “a fixed, unambiguous, legally operative meaning to the claim.” Id.

         Claim terms are generally given “their ordinary and customary meaning”- i.e., “the meaning that the terms would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention.” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). There are only two exception to this 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).

         In determining the ordinary and customary meaning, the claim language “provide[s] substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1314. However, a 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.” Id. at 1313. The scope of the claims must always be “determined and confirmed with a full understanding of what the inventors actually invented and intended to envelop with the claim.” Id. at 1316 (quoting Renishaw PLC v. Marposs Soceta' per Azioni, 158 F.3d 1243, 1250 (Fed. Cir. 1998)). The construction that “stays true to the claim language and most naturally aligns with the patent's description of the invention” governs. Id. Accordingly, the specification “is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis” and usually “dispositive.” Id. . at 1315.

         In addition to the claims and the specification, the prosecution history may be used “to provide[] evidence of how the PTO and the inventor understood the patent.” Id. at 1317. “Any explanation, elaboration, or qualification presented by the inventor during patent examination is relevant, for the role of claim construction is to ‘capture the scope of the actual invention' that is disclosed, described and patented.” Fenner Inv., Ltd. v. Cellco P'ship, 778 F.3d 1320, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2015). The claims, specification, and prosecution history together constitute the “intrinsic evidence” that forms the primary basis for claim construction. Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1312-17 (citation omitted). Courts may also consider extrinsic evidence, such as technical dictionaries and expert testimony, “if the court deems it helpful in determining the ‘true meaning of language used in the patent claims'” and it does not contradict the intrinsic evidence. Id. at 1318 (quoting Markman, 52 F.3d at 980).

         B. Claim Construction.

         1.[category descriptions] having no predefined hierarchical relationship”

Plaintiff's Proposed Construction

Defendants' Proposed Construction

Final Construction

The category descriptions have no predefined hierarchical relationship. A hierarchical relationship is a relationship that pertains to a hierarchy. A hierarchy is a structure in which components are ranked into levels of subordination; each component has zero, one, or more subordinates; and no component has more than one subordinate component.

The category descriptions have no predefined hierarchical relationship. A hierarchical relationship is a relationship that pertains to a hierarchy. A data field and its associated values have a predefined hierarchical relationship.

The category descriptions have no predefined hierarchical relationship. A hierarchical relationship is a relationship that pertains to a hierarchy. A hierarchy is a structure in which components are ranked into levels of subordination; each component has zero, one, or more subordinates; and no component has more than one subordinate component.

         The term “[category descriptions] having no predefined hierarchical relationship” appears in claims 1, 15, 20, and 22 of the '360 Patent. The full limitation containing the term states: “the category descriptions having no predefined hierarchical relationship with such list or each other” The “list” refers to the lists or arrays in the category description table.[1] Thus, the lack of “predefined hierarchical relationship” describes two relationships: (1) the relationship between a list in the category description table and the category descriptions of that list, and (2) the relationship among the category descriptions themselves.

         In the Wal-Mart litigation, Judge Hamilton adopted the parties' agreed-to construction for this term: “The category descriptions have no predefined hierarchical relationship. A hierarchical relationship is a relationship that pertains to a hierarchy. A hierarchy is a structure in which components are ranked into levels of subordination; each component has zero, one, or more subordinates; and no component has more than one subordinate component.” Wal-Mart, 2008 WL 2491701, at *9. Speedtrack now urges the Court to adopt the same construction. Defendants, however, seek to eliminate the definition of “hierarchy” and insert a statement that a field and value have a predefined hierarchical relationship. Defendants argue that the plain meaning of “hierarchy” includes relationships where a component has more than one superordinate component (i.e., a child with more than one parent). Defendants also argue that prosecution disclaimer prevents Speedtrack from arguing that a field and value have no predefined hierarchical relationship.

         The Court finds that the Wal-Mart construction is well-supported by the intrinsic evidence and legally correct. The definition of “hierarchy” disputed by Defendants comes from the specification of the '360 Patent. The '360 Patent describes a hierarchical relationship in Figure 1. ('360 Patent, 1:44-54.) Figure 1 shows a “tree-type” directory structure that has a “root directory” and multiple subdirectories, each of which has multiple children and only one parent. (Id.) One problem with such hierarchical structures is that “a document may logically belong within many different folders.” (Id., 2:14-23.) To solve this problem, the '360 Patent proposes the use of “hybrid folders, ” as shown in Figure 2. (Id., 2:30-48.) Figure 2 shows a structure similar to Figure 1, except that the “hybrid folders” belong to multiple parent directories. (Id., Fig. 2.) Notably, the '360 Patent states that hybrid directories “are not possible” in a typical hierarchical directory structure. (Id., 2:59-50.) Thus, components that have more than one superordinate component (i.e., a child with two parents) are not hierarchical under the definition of the '360 Patent because the specification states that they are not “not possible” in a hierarchical structure.

         Furthermore, the Wal-Mart construction is supported by the prosecution history and accounts for the disclaimers made during prosecution. During prosecution, Speedtrack distinguished the Schwartz reference, which described a system that allowed a user to characterize files using file attributes (e.g., “language”) and values (e.g., “French”). Speedtrack acknowledged that the “‘category descriptions' of the present invention are somewhat similar to the values that can be assigned by a user to a new file attribute, ” while “[f]ile attributes under Schwartz are basically similar to the category types described in the present application.” (Dkt. No. 362-5 (“May 9, 1994 Amendment”) at 13 (emphases in original); see also '360 Patent at Fig. 3 (showing category types and category descriptions).) However, Speedtrack amended its claims ...


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