United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM, District Judge.
In these consolidated cases, plaintiff Sprint Communications Company, L.P. ("Sprint") has brought patent infringement claims against various defendants. The parties have submitted their written arguments concerning the construction of various terms found in the relevant patents' claims, and the Court construes those terms as set forth herein.
Sprint, a telecommunications company, holds various patents relating to technology employing packet networks to carry telephone calls that initiate or terminate on the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Defendants provide Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to local cable companies. Sprint alleges that defendants' VoIP technology infringes 12 of its patents, which the parties have addressed as divided into four groups. Group 1 includes United States Patent Nos. 6, 452, 932 ("the '932 Patent"), 6, 463, 052 ("the '052 Patent"), 6, 633, 561 ("the '3, 561 Patent"), and 7, 286, 561 ("the '6, 561 Patent"). Group 2 includes United States Patent Nos. 6, 473, 429 ("the '429 Patent"), 6, 343, 084 ("the '084 Patent"), and 6, 298, 064 ("the '064 Patent"). Group 3 includes United States Patent Nos. 6, 330, 224 ("the '224 Patent") and 6, 697, 340 ("the '340 Patent"). Group 4 includes United States Patent Nos. 6, 262, 992 ("the '992 Patent"), 6, 563, 918 ("the '918 Patent"), and 6, 639, 912 ("the '912 Patent").
Many of these same patents were at issue in previous cases brought in this Court by Sprint against Vonage Holdings Corporation and Vonage America, Inc. (collectively "Vonage") and against Big River Telephone Company ("Big River"). The Court construed various terms from the claims of the patents at issue in those cases (hereafter referred to as the Vonage case and the Big River case) in three written opinions. See Sprint Comm. Co. L.P. v. Vonage Holdings Corp., 500 F.Supp.2d 1290 (D. Kan. 2007); Sprint Comm. Co. L.P. v. Vonage Holdings Corp., 518 F.Supp.2d 1306 (D. Kan. 2007); Sprint Comm. Co. L.P. v. Big River Tel. Co., LLC, 2009 WL 1992537 (D. Kan. July 8, 2009). Those opinions contain additional information concerning the patents and technology at issue and their history. Moreover, in the Vonage and Big River opinions, the Court construed many patent terms that are also in dispute in the present case.
II. Claim Construction Standards
Claim construction is governed by the methodology set forth by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc). It is a bedrock principle of patent law that the claims of the patent define the patentee's invention. Id. at 1312. Thus, claim construction begins with the words of the claim itself. Id. The words of a claim should be given their ordinary and customary meaning as understood by a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention. Id. at 1312-13. "[T]he claims themselves provide substantial guidance as to the meaning of particular claim terms." Id. at 1314. Both "the context in which a term is used in the asserted claim" and the "[o]ther claims of the patent in question" are useful for understanding the ordinary meaning. Id.
The claims do not stand alone, but are part of "a fully integrated written instrument." Id. at 1315. Therefore, they "must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part." Id. (quotation omitted). In fact, the specification is "the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term" and is often dispositive. Id. The specification may reveal a special definition given to a claim term by the patentee that differs from the meaning it would otherwise possess, in which case the inventor's lexicography governs. Id. at 1316. In other cases, it may reveal an intentional disclaimer, or disavowal, of claim scope by the inventor; in that case, "the inventor has dictated the correct claim scope, and the inventor's invention, as expressed in the specification, is regarded as dispositive." Id. The fact that the specification includes limited and specific embodiments is insufficient to define a term implicitly, and it is improper to confine the scope of the claims to the embodiments of the specification. Id. at 1323. "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." Id. at 1316 (quotation omitted).
Moreover, the court must be careful not to import limitations from the specification into the claim. Id. at 1323. In walking the "fine line" between using the specification to interpret the meaning of a claim and importing limitations from the specification into the claim, the court must "focus... on understanding how a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the claim terms." Id. The purposes of the specification are to teach and enable those of skill in the art to make and use the invention and to provide a best mode for doing so. Id. Reading the specification in context should reveal whether the patentee is setting out specific examples of the invention to accomplish those goals, or whether the patentee instead intends for the claims and the embodiments in the specification to be strictly coextensive. Id. Thus, the court's task is to determine "whether a person of skill in the art would understand the embodiments to define the outer limits of the claim term or merely to be exemplary in nature." Id.
The court should also consult the patent's prosecution history, if in evidence. Id. at 1317. Like the specification, the prosecution history "provides evidence of how the PTO [Patent and Trademark Office] and the inventor understood the patent." Id. "Yet because the prosecution 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.
Finally, the court may consult extrinsic evidence such as expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises. Id. These have all been recognized as tools that can assist the court in determining the meaning of particular terminology. Id. at 1318. Extrinsic evidence may be helpful to the court in understanding the technology or educating itself about the invention. Id. In particular, because technical dictionaries collect accepted meanings for terms in various scientific and technical fields, they can be useful in claim construction by providing the court with a better understanding of the underlying technology and the way in which one skilled in the art might use the claim terms. Id. at 1318. "However, conclusory, unsupported assertions by experts as to the definition of a claim term are not useful to a court." Id. Extrinsic evidence is less reliable than intrinsic evidence in determining the construction of claim terms, and therefore the court should discount any expert evidence that is at odds with the intrinsic evidence. Id.
With respect to a number of patent terms at issue here, defendants do not rely on any particular language from the patent claims to support their construction, but instead argue that the relevant specification "repeatedly and consistently" describes (and limits) the claimed invention in a particular way consistent with their urged construction. Defendants rely specifically on the Federal Circuit's opinion in Microsoft Corp. v. Multi-Tech Sys., Inc., 357 F.3d 1340 (Fed. Cir. 2004), in which the court relied for its construction on the fact that the specification "repeatedly and consistently" described the overall invention-and not merely a preferred embodiment-in a particular way. See id. at 1347-48; see also Netcraft Corp. v. eBay, Inc., 549 F.3d 1394, 1398 (Fed. Cir. 2008) ("repeated" use of the phrase "the present invention" described the invention as a whole; specification "consistently" described the invention in a particular way); Praxair, Inc. v. ATMI, Inc., 543 F.3d 1306, 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (reading claim in light of specification's consistent emphasis on a fundamental feature of the invention); Honeywell Int'l v. ITT Indus., 452 F.3d 1312, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (description did not refer merely to a preferred embodiment, but shows that the scope of the relevant claim is limited); C.R. Bard, Inc. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 388 F.3d 858, 864 (Fed. Cir. 2004) ("Statements that describe the invention as a whole, rather than statements that describe only preferred embodiments, are more likely to support a limiting definition of a claim term.").
III. Construction of Disputed Terms
A. "Processing System"
The parties dispute the construction of the term "processing system, " which may be found in claims 1 and 24 of the '3, 561 Patent, claim 1 of the '052 Patent, claim 1 of the '932 Patent, and claim 11 of the '6, 561 Patent (Group 1); claim 1 of the '429 Patent and claim 1 of the '064 Patent (Group 2); and claim 1 of the '224 Patent (Group 3). Sprint contends that this term does not require further construction. Defendants contend that this term as used in the Group 1 patents is impermissibly indefinite. In the alternative, defendants propose a construction that would limit the claimed "processing system" to the communication control processor ("CCP") disclosed in the patents' specification. With respect to the Group 2 and Group 3 patents, defendants propose constructions that would limit the claimed "processing system" to the call connection manager ("CCM") disclosed in those patents' specifications. In the Vonage and Big River cases, the Court rejected the defendants' proposed limitations and declined to construe the term as used in the Group 1 and Group 2 patents at issue in those cases. See Vonage, 518 F.Supp.2d at 1315-17; Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *16-17.
1. APPLICATION OF SECTION 112(f)
With respect to this term and a number of other disputed terms, defendants argue that the relevant patent claims should be construed to include "means-plus-function" limitations in accordance with 35 U.S.C. § 112(f). Section 112(f) provides as follows:
An element in a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.
Id. Defendants concede that there is a presumption against applying Section 112(f) in this case because the claims do not use the phrase "means for, " but they argue that the presumption should be overcome here because the claims speak only in terms of function and do not include a definite structure. See Mas-Hamilton Group v. LaGard, Inc., 156 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Defendants further argue that the corresponding structures from the patent specifications are the CCP and the CCM, and that those structures are impermissibly indefinite because they are described only as the equivalent of general purpose computers without disclosure of the necessary programming or algorithms. See Aristocrat Tech. Australia Pty Ltd. v. International Game Tech., 521 F.3d 1328, 1337-38 (Fed. Cir. 2008). In the alternative, if the CCP and the CCM are deemed to be sufficiently definite structures, defendants argue that "processing system" should be defined as the disclosed CCP or CCM pursuant to Section 112(f).
The Court rejects defendants' arguments based on Section 112(f). Sprint notes, and defendants do not dispute, that the relevant patent claims at issue here are method claims, not apparatus claims. The Federal Circuit has made clear that Section 112(f) may also apply to method claims; but the court has distinguished the provision's application to apparatus claims ("means" without recital of "structure" or "material") from its application to method claims ("step[s]" without recital of "acts"). See O.I. Corp. v. Tekmar Co., Inc., 115 F.3d 1576, 1582-83 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (citing 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6, which was later renamed as Section 112(f)). Thus, in the case of a method claim, Section 112(f) "is implicated only when steps plus function without acts are present." See id. at 1583 (emphasis in original). Defendants have not offered any analysis under that standard or otherwise shown how the method claims here fail to recite any acts in support of the claimed steps. Accordingly, defendants have not shown that the presumption against the application of Section 112(f) in this case should be deemed overcome, and the Court declines to apply that provision here with respect to any of the claims or terms at issue.
Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 112(b), patent claims must "distinctly" claim the subject matter of the invention. See id. Defendants argue that the term "processing system" and other disputed terms are impermissibly indefinite in violation of Section 112(b). Patents are "presumed valid, " and "[t]he burden of establishing invalidity of a patent or any claim thereof shall rest on the party asserting such invalidity." 35 U.S.C. § 282. An invalidity defense must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. See Mircosoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. Partnership, 131 S.Ct. 2238 (2011); see also Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2120, 2130 n.10 (2014) (noting presumption of validity and citing the Court's clear-and-convincing standard from Microsoft in the context of indefiniteness). Indefiniteness is to be evaluated from the perspective of one skilled in the relevant art at the time the patent was filed, and claims are to be read in light of the patent's specification and prosecution history. See Nautilus, 134 S.Ct. at 2128.
In Nautilus, the Supreme Court recently rejected the Federal Circuit's "insolubly ambiguous" standard for indefiniteness under Section 112(b). The Court discussed the competing concerns in setting the proper standard as follows:
Section 112, we have said, entails a delicate balance. On the one hand, the definiteness requirement must take into account the inherent limitations of language. Some modicum of uncertainty, the Court has recognized, is the price of ensuring the appropriate incentives for innovation. One must bear in mind, moreover, that patents are not addressed to lawyers, or even to the public generally, but rather to those skilled in the relevant art.
At the same time, a patent must be precise enough to afford clear notice of what is claimed, thereby apprising the public of what is still open to them. Otherwise there would be a zone of uncertainty which enterprise and experimentation may enter only at the risk of infringement claims. And absent a meaningful definiteness check, we are told, patent applicants face powerful incentives to inject ambiguity into their claims. Eliminating that temptation is in order, and the patent drafter is in the best position to resolve the ambiguity in patent claims.
See id. at 2128-29 (footnotes and internal citations and quotations omitted). The Court announced the following standard to reconcile those concerns:
Cognizant of the competing concerns, we read [Section 112(b)] to require that a patent's claims, viewed in light of the specification and prosecution history, inform those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty. The definiteness requirement, so understood, mandates clarity, while recognizing that absolute precision is unattainable.
See id. at 2129.
Defendants argue that the term "processing system" is indefinite under the Nautilus standard of reasonable certainty. The parties agree that claim 1 from the '3, 561 Patent is representative of the use of this term in the patents; that claim reads as follows:
1. A method of operating a processing system to control a packet communication system for a user communication, the method comprising:
receiving a signaling message for the user communication from a narrowband communication system into the processing system;
processing the signaling message to select a network code that identifies a network element to provide egress from the packet communication system for the user communication;
generating a control message indicating the network code;
transferring the control message from the processing system to the packet communication system;
receiving the user communication in the packet communication system and using the network code to route the user communication through the packet communication system to the network element; and
transferring the user communication from the network element to provide egress from the packet communication system.
Essentially, defendants argue that "processing system" is indefinite because it merely defines that structure by reference to its functions-that is, by reference to what it does and not to what it is. Defendants note that the patent does not disclose the programming or algorithm for the processing system. Defendants have not cited to any authority (other than cases involving Section 112(f), which does not apply here), however, that would support the argument that such definition by functional limitation renders a claim indefinite.
Defendants have also failed to show that any particular patent claim (as opposed to a term) is invalid as indefinite. In construing this same term in Big River, this Court concluded that "the context of the claims makes clear the different features and functions of the processing system that are actually claimed in the patents." See Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *17. Similarly here, the claim is limited by the functions that must be performed by the processing system, and, again, defendants have not cited any authority to suggest that such a claim is inherently indefinite. Indeed, method claims are clearly permissible.
Nor have defendants shown that the term "processing system" would not have been understood by one skilled in the relevant art. Sprint's expert has opined that the term would have been understood in the telecommunications context to mean a system that processes signaling to assist in call control, and he has cited various other patents that have used the term in this field. Defendants' expert complains that he has not been told how to program the processing system, but he concedes that the phrase must refer to some kind of computer to perform the tasks described in the patent. He also notes that the system in the patents cited by Sprint's expert had different limitations, but those differences do not undermine the basic idea that the term "processing system, " by itself, would refer to a system of processing signals in specified ways. Moreover, defendants' expert has not explained how the particular patent claims containing this term are indefinite such that the scope of the claim could not be reasonably determined.
Finally, defendants also complain that the patents do not explain how one could have a device that performs all of the functions listed in the claims but that is not a processing system and thus does not infringe. Defendants have not cited any authority, however, requiring that the patent teach the public how not to infringe. Nautilus only requires that "a patent be precise enough to afford clear notice of what is claimed, thereby apprising the public of what is still open to them." See Nautilus, 134 S.Ct. at 2129 (citation and internal quotation omitted). "Processing system" has an ordinary meaning that may easily be understood, and the claims provide notice that such a system may infringe if it performs certain functions as set forth in those claims. Thus, the public has been given reasonable notice of what has been claimed-and therefore, of what has not been claimed.
For these reasons, the Court concludes that defendants have not met their burden to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that claims containing the term "processing system" are invalid as indefinite.
3. CONSTRUCTION UNDER Microsoft
With respect to the Group 1 patents, defendants propose construing "processing system" to mean a CCP, with an additional limiting definition of a CCP. Defendants do not contend that "processing system" is defined in the specification or elsewhere as a CCP; rather, defendants argue, pursuant to Microsoft Corp. v. Multi-Tech Sys., Inc ., that the specification repeatedly and consistently describes the invention as including a CCP.
The Court rejects this attempt by defendants to import such a limitation into the patent claims. In support of this argument, defendants cite a number of large excerpts from the specification that refer to and discuss the operation of a CCP. The specification is consistent, however, in discussing the CCP as an element of particular embodiments of the invention. Defendants have not pointed to any specific language in the specification indicating that the overall invention (and not merely an embodiment) involves the use of a CCP. Moreover, as Sprint notes, the specification does contain the following language:
The CCP is a processing system, and as such, those skilled in the art are aware that such systems can be housed in a single device or distributed among several devices. Additionally, multiple devices with overlapping capabilities might be desired for purposes of redundancy. The present invention encompasses these variations.
('3, 561 Patent, at 13:40-45 (emphasis added).) This language undermines any argument that the specification consistently refers to the entire invention as including a CCP and not other types of processing systems. Finally, neither the claims nor the specification defines "processing system" to be a CCP or contains similarly limiting language, and there is no express disavowal of claim scope. Accordingly, the Court rejects defendants' proposed construction under Microsoft. 
Similarly, with respect to the Group 2 and Group 3 patents, defendants propose construing "processing system" pursuant to Microsoft to mean a CCM, with additional limiting definitions or descriptions of a CCM. For the same reasons, the Court rejects such a construction. The specifications for those patents consistently refer to the CCM in discussing particular embodiments. Defendants cite only a few excerpts from the specifications in support of their argument, and none of those excerpts contains language suggesting that the entire invention involves a CCM. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the specifications do not repeatedly and consistently refer to the inventions as involving a CCM.
With respect to the term "processing system, " defendants have not shown that Section 112(f) applies or that the claims containing that term are impermissibly indefinite. Nor does the Court agree that limitations of that term are warranted under Microsoft. Defendants have not otherwise explained why the term "processing system" cannot be understood by jurors in accordance with its plain meaning. Therefore, as it did in Vonage and Big River, the Court declines to construe the term "processing system" as used in these patents.
B. "Communication Path"
The parties dispute the construction of the term "communication path" found in claim 4 of the '052 Patent (Group 1). Sprint argues that no construction is necessary. Defendants argue that the term should be defined to mean the combination of connections and network elements over which all user communication for a call is transferred.
In support of their construction, defendants first quote the Group 1 specification's statement that "[a] communications path is the combination of connections and network elements that physically transfers the information between points." ('3, 561 Patent at 5:16-18.) Defendants would then alter that statement essentially by changing "information" to "user communication" and by requiring all communications for a call to be transferred along the particular path. The Court rejects both of those proposed limitations.
In support of the first change, defendants point to language in the specification indicating that user information travels over connections while signaling (another type of information) travels over links. Defendants have not cited any language, however, limiting the information that travels over a communications path to user communications. Nor have they demonstrated that the specification repeatedly and consistently describes the invention or "communication paths" in that manner. The Court concludes that there is no basis to impose this proposed limitation.
In support of the second change, defendants point to their general argument that, in these patents, communication paths are pre-established (prior to the transmission of data) on a call-by-call basis (such that a single path is used for any call). In Big River, the Court rejected this same argument and proposed limitation in construing a number of different terms. See Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *4-5, 8, 9, 16, 19. In arguing for this construction of "communication path, " defendants have not addressed that holding and rationale from Big River. Accordingly, the Court rejects this argument again for the same reasons expressed in Big River.
Finally, defendants have not explained why this term may not stand on its plain meaning. Both "communication" and "path" are readily understood by their plain meaning, and defendants have not shown that this term should have a different meaning when used in this patent claim. Accordingly, the Court declines to construe the term "communication path."
C. "Route" and "Routing"
The parties dispute the construction of the terms "route" and "routing", which may be found in claims 1 and 24 of the '3, 561 Patent and claim 11 of the '6, 561 Patent (Group 1); claim 1 of the '084 Patent and claim 2 of the '429 Patent (Group 2); claim 11 of the '340 Patent (Group 3); and claim 1 of the '992 Patent and claim 1 of the '912 Patent (Group 4). In both Vonage and Big River, the Court construed these terms to mean direct/directing through a communication system by a selected route or in a specified direction. See Vonage, 518 F.Supp.2d at 1312; Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *19. Sprint would construe these terms in the same way in this case. Defendants would construe these terms to mean direct/directing through a communication system along a communications path pre-selected on a call-by-call basis.
Defendants again rely on their general argument that the inventions here require a pre-selected path on a call-by-call basis. That argument is based on their expert's opinion that the inventions require the use of a CCP, CCM, or ATM system. The Court has rejected defendants' attempt, however, to limit the inventions to the use of a CCP or a CCM. See supra Part III.A. Moreover, as noted above, see supra Part III.B, the Court has previously rejected this argument in construing various terms in Big River, and defendants have not attempted to show how the Court erred in its reasoning in that case. Accordingly, the Court again rejects defendants' proposed limitation.
With respect to these specific terms, defendants argue that in Vonage and Big River, the Court relied solely on dictionary definitions, while its own proposed construction is rooted in the specification. The Court's rejection of this general argument in Big River concerning pre-selection and a call-by-call basis, however, was rooted in an analysis of the intrinsic evidence. See Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *4-5. Moreover, in construing these terms specifically in Vonage, the Court noted that the specification did not support a similar argument by Vonage that the term required actual delivery to the final destination. See Vonage, 518 F.Supp.2d at 1312. The Court also noted in Big River that its construction was consistent with the intrinsic record. See Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *19. Finally, the Court rejects defendants' argument that the concept of "direction" is inapt in this context. The Court's construction includes the alternatives of a selected route or a specified direction, and such alternatives adequately convey that the "routing" must be directed and not done aimlessly. See id. at *18.
Accordingly, as it did in Vonage and Big River, the Court construes "route" and "routing" to mean direct/directing through a communication system by a selected route or in a specified direction.
D. "Network Element"
The parties dispute the construction of the term "network element, " found in claims 1 and 24 of the '3, 561 Patent, claim 1 of the '052 Patent, and claim 14 of the '6, 561 Patent (Group 1). Sprint contends that no further construction is necessary. Defendants propose to construe the term to mean a telecommunications device which, in operation, forms a part of a communications path.
In support of their construction, defendants point to the specification's statement that a communications path is typically comprised of a series of connections between network elements. ('3, 561 Patent, at 1:32-34.) As defendants concede, however, there may be network elements that are not part of a communications path. Thus, defining "network element" as something found in a communications path would not be accurate in the context of this specification. Defendants nonetheless argue for such a definition because, in the context of these particular patent claims, the "network element" referenced in the claims provides egress for the communication from the system. As Sprint, points out, however, the claims themselves provide that limitation. Thus, there is no need to construe this term to include such a limitation, especially at the cost of a technically-inaccurate definition.
Defendants have not provided an alternative construction, and the Court agrees with Sprint that this term is easily understood by its plain meaning of an element within a network. Accordingly, the Court declines to construe the term "network element."
E. "[Telecommunication] Signaling Message"
The parties dispute the construction of the terms "signaling message, " found in claims 1 and 24 of the '3, 561 Patent and claim 11 of the '6, 561 Patent (Group 1); and "telecommunication signaling message, " found in claim 2 of the '224 Patent (Group 3). In Vonage and Big River, the Court construed "signaling message" in various patent claims to mean a message used to set up or tear down a call. See Vonage, 518 F.Supp.2d at 1318; Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *8 (construing term as used in the '3, 561 Patent). Sprint proposes that the Court adopt the same construction for these terms in this case. Defendants propose to construe the terms to mean a message that is used to establish a communications path on a call by call basis.
For the same reasons set forth above, the Court again rejects defendants' attempt to limit the invention and the claims to a single path set up on a call-by-call basis. See supra Part III.B. Defendants point to the specification's statement that "[s]ignaling is the transfer of information among points and network elements and is used to establish communication paths." ('3, 561 Patent, at 5:23-25.) As noted in Big River, however, that definition does not limit signaling to a single path for each call. See Big River, 2009 WL 1992537, at *4-5. As noted in the Court's previous opinions, its prior construction is supported by the patents' specifications, and defendants have not explained why that definition is inaccurate for purposes of these claims. The Court also rejects defendants' suggestion that "signaling message" is indefinite under the Court's prior construction, as that construction adequately allows for the scope of the claims to be determined.
Defendants have submitted the same proposed construction for "telecommunication signaling message" as used in the '224 Patent, and for the same reasons, the Court rejects that construction and instead adopts the same construction as for "signaling message" in the Group 1 patents. In the alternative, defendants argue that this term is indefinite, based primarily on the fact that this term is not used in the '224 Patent's specification. Again, however, defendants have failed to explain how the Court's prior definition of "signaling message" is deficient or how the addition of the word "telecommunication" (the field at issue) alters the meaning of the term. The Court's construction gives sufficient definition to the term to allow the claim's scope to be determined. This patent's specification is consistent with the idea that signaling messages would be those messages used in setting up or tearing down calls, and defendants have not proffered any other construction supported by the intrinsic evidence. Finally, for the reasons set forth in the next section, see infra Part III.F, the Court rejects defendants' argument that "telecommunication signaling message" is indefinite because it cannot be distinguished from "control message" in this patent.
Accordingly, the Court construes these terms to mean a message used to set up or tear down a call.
F. "Control Message/Messaging"
The parties dispute the construction of the terms "control message" and "control messaging" found in claims 1 and 24 of the '3, 561 Patent and claim 11 of the '6, 561 Patent (Group 1); claim 11 of the '340 Patent (Group 3); and claim 11 of the '918 Patent, claim 1 of the '992 Patent, and claim 1 of the '912 Patent (Group 4). Sprint contends that no further construction is necessary, while defendants argue that the term is indefinite or propose various constructions, depending on the patents.
1. GROUP 1 PATENTS
Defendants argue that the term "control message" as used in the Group 1 patents is impermissibly indefinite. In the alternative, defendants propose to construe the term to mean a message that is used to establish a communications path on a call-by-call basis. As a preliminary matter, the Court rejects the alternative construction for the same reasons stated above for the rejection of such a limitation. See supra Part III.B.
In arguing that this term is indefinite, defendants note that the term "control message" is not used in the specification for these patents, and they argue, based on their expert's declaration, that the term has no standard meaning in this field. The term certainly has an easily understood plain meaning, however-a message involved in the control of a call. Moreover, defendants' expert stated that the term's meaning depends on its context, and the Court agrees with Sprint that the requirements of the claims themselves provide sufficient context to inform those skilled in the art about the scope of the claims with reasonable certainty. For instance, the method in claim 1 of the '3, 561 Patent includes the steps of generating a control message that indicates a selected network code that identifies a network element to provide egress from the packet communications system; and transferring the control message from one particular system to another. Claim 24 of that patent includes similar steps of generating and transferring a control message. Claim 11 of the '6, 561 Patent refers to the transfer and receipt of a control message. The Court concludes that these claims are not indefinite, and that the term "control message" as used in the Group 1 patents need not be construed further.
2. '918 AND 340 PATENTS
Defendants argue that the term "control message" in claim 11 of the '918 Patent and the term "control messaging" in claim 11 of the '340 Patent are indefinite. Defendants rely on the following statement contained in these patents' specifications: "The term control message' as used herein means a control or signaling message, a control or signaling instruction, or a control or signaling signal, whether proprietary or standardized, that conveys information from one point to another." ('340 Patent, at 6:63-67; '918 Patent, at 3:67-4:5.) Defendants argue that, based on that apparent definition, "control message" and "signaling message" appear to be synonymous, but that because both "control" messaging and the concept of signaling are found in the patent claims, they must mean different things-which different meanings are unclear. See, e.g., CAE Screenplates Inc. v. Heinrich Fiedler GmbH & Co. KG, 224 F.3d 1308, 1317 (Fed. Cir. 2000) ("In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must presume that the use of... different terms in the claims connotes different meanings.").
The Court rejects this argument by defendants. The claims may refer to particular types of "signaling" or "signaling information, " but they do not use the term "signaling message, " and thus the Court's construction of that term is not applicable to these patent claims. Moreover, the most reasonable reading of the statement in the specifications is that "control message" is a broader term than signaling message. Defendants have not explained why the plain meaning of "control message" and "control messaging"-a message involved in control of the call-is not sufficiently definite to make the scope of the claims reasonably certain. Nor have defendants provided an alternative construction. As in the case of the Group 1 patents, the language of the particular claims, with their explicit limitations, provides the necessary context.
Accordingly, the Court declines to construe these terms as used in these two patents.
3. '992 PATENT
With respect to claim 1 of the '992 Patent, defendants propose to construe the term "control message" to mean the following: A message sent by the signaling processor which includes an identifier of a connection to be used for the call. A "connection" is the "transmission media to be used for the call." Defendants argue that, in order to avoid indefiniteness, the term as used in this patent must be construed to mean the "processor control message" disclosed in the specification, and they purport to provide limitations based on language in the specification.
For the reasons already stated, the Court does not agree that this claim is indefinite if the term "control message" is given its ordinary meaning, as elucidated by the particular requirements of the claim. Defendants cite to language in the specification referring to control messages that designate connections. As Sprint points out, however, the specification also contains language indicating that the signaling processor may receive a control message ('992 Patent, at 2:17-20), which undermines defendants' definition requiring that the control message be sent by the processor. Defendants' citations generally refer to particular embodiments of the invention, and the Court cannot conclude that the specification repeatedly and consistently defines "control message" or the invention generally in a manner consistent with defendants' proposed construction. Finally, the language of the claim indicates that the control message must indicate the selected identifier for routing the call; thus, defining "control message" to require an identifier is unnecessary.
Accordingly, the Court declines to construe this term as used in this patent.
4. '912 PATENT
Defendants propose to construe "control message" in claim 1 of the '912 Patent to mean a message which identifies an assignment between a DS0 and an ATM VPI/VCI. Defendants cite to two places in the specification to support their proposed limitation, but those descriptions are clearly referring to particular embodiments of the invention. See, e.g., '912 Patent, at 5:22-25 ("These control messages are typically provided....) (emphasis added). Defendants have not explained why this term as used in this patent claim should be limited to an application using ATM technology, and the Court cannot conclude that the specification repeatedly and consistently defines "control message" in this way. Again, the Court concludes that this term may be understood by its ordinary meaning within the context and requirements of the particular patent claim, and it therefore declines to construe the term.
G. "Signaling Formatted for a Narrowband System"
The parties dispute the construction of the term "signaling formatted for a narrowband system, " which is found in claim 1 of the '052 Patent (Group 1). Sprint argues that the term should not be construed further. Defendants propose that the term be construed to mean signaling message in a format that can be processed by a narrowband system.
Defendants essentially seek to make two changes to this phrase. First, defendants would change "signaling" to "signaling message." Defendants argue that this change is intended to avoid jury confusion because "signaling message" appears in other claims. Defendants have not provided any support for equating "signaling" with "signaling message" in this context, however. Therefore, the Court rejects this proposed addition.
Second, defendants would define "formatted for a narrowband system" to mean "in a format that can be processed by a narrowband system." As Sprint points out, however, the claim makes clear that the signaling is processed by a processing system, not by a narrowband system. Therefore, the Court rejects this construction by defendants as inconsistent with the language of the claim. Defendants have not cited any intrinsic or other evidence in support of their construction.
Defendants suggest that this phrase would be indefinite if their construction is not used, but they have not explained how the claim scope would not be understood. Neither side has addressed what it means for something to be "formatted for" a narrowband system. Indeed, defendants' own construction uses the term "format". In the absence of any ...