I’m working on a trio of cases today, all of which deal with claim construction. The first case includes – buried deep in a 117 page order a finding of indefiniteness with respect to a means-plus-function term that it worth analysis. Of course any opinion of that length will also have a wealth of useful standards that serve as a snapshot of what at least one court understands to be the law as of the end of January, in the year of our Lord 2018 (actually 2011 but once upon a time there was a monk that wasn’t so strong in math, and the rest is, literally, history).
It’s often helpful to cut something open to see how it works. During World War II, the Navy cut open a damaged PBY Catalina flying boat and mounted it on a wall in a training facility in Pensacola to help train sailors who would be crewing its sister craft. The cutaway PBY was a local fixture from 1944 to 1997, and was eventually moved to the nearby National Museum of Naval Aviation to sit under a fully restored version, where my youngest son Parker (who’s a certified WW II plane nut) got to study it up close. (That I have a PBY on my work bench at the moment had nothing to do with the trip. Honest)
Readers will recall that I posted last month that a Marshall jury in Judge Roy Payne’s court returned a verdict last month in favor of Ericsson in a case brought against TCL Communications and set damages at $75 million. Two of the numerous pretrial rulings in that case were on the defendant’s motions for summary judgment under Section 101, and on the plaintiff’s claims of willful infringement, both of which Judge Payne denied.
Since the 101 ruling runs against the recent trend of more than half of 101 rulings going the defendant’s way, it is worth a review. But the one I really want to focus on is the willfulness ruling because, as the Court wrote, “it is helpful to explain the standard as it stands today [post-Halo]” which began a metaphorical popping off of the fuselage panels on the standard in order to spend several pages poking around on what the wilfulness standard requires, and what factors need to be considered when deciding whether to bifurcate a willfulness claim. When you’re done reading it, you might find yourself with the same thought I had after studying the interior of a full-size PBY – I have really not understood how this thing fits together, and I have really screwed up ….
I have commented repeatedly about EDTX judges’ use of the “mini-Markman” process to take up a limited set of claim terms that may be dispositive on an expedited basis. The idea is, of course, that if one or more claim terms will be dispositive of the case, as in Iris Connex, for example, it makes sense to focus on that on an expedited basis.
A recent case provides a good example of how the process works, with the court soliciting input as to allegedly dispositive claim terms and then setting a schedule for briefing and hearing those terms separately and substantially in advance of the regularly scheduled Markman hearing.
I miss Pulp Fiction. I really do. But it provides a really great image for this couple of cases dealing with the issue of when a party does (and doesn’t) have to pay for the cost of certain rebriefing. Our story starts last summer,
Serially-sued patent defendants often want to know why they can’t just get a case stayed so they can show the Court that it’s obvious that they don’t infringe. Well, here’s how you do it.
A few months ago I posted on an order granting a motion for an early claim construction on three terms appearing in the asserted claims. “Defendants allege a pattern [by plaintiff] of serially filing groups of cases and then settling those cases before the Court has had a chance to construe the asserted claims,” Judge Payne wrote. (Emphasis added). “The Court finds that determining the meaning of the three terms identified by defendants as early as possible may aid in the just and speedy resolution of this in future cases in which [the plaintiff] asserts the patents.” Accordingly, Judge Payne granted the request for early claim construction and ordered the parties to jointly submit a briefing schedule. The court deferred the issue of whether to stay further discovery and proceedings until it had established a workable early claim construction briefing schedule, but did later stay the case.
The post also explained the history of the “mini Markman” procedure, and cited it as an example of courts finding similar opportunities to achieve efficiencies in addressing repeat issues through special procedures or processes – in much the same way that in my hobby of modelbuilding I find opportunities to achieve efficiencies by using templates or jigs to handle repetitive tasks, using my scratchbuilt 1/200 LUT. So what you’re wanting to know before we talk about mini-Markmans and stays is, of course, “Michael, how’s that scratchbuilt 1/200 LUT coming along?” Well, thanks for asking. It’s coming along pretty well – I’ve finished the levels, and am working my way up the tower adding detail and researching the crane on top (did you know it was made by Colby Crane of Seattle – a subsidiary of Lockheed Shipbuilding?).
But back to the mini-Markman. Judge Payne conducted the hearing yesterday, and the order was out before lunch today. The order, and my analysis, follow (no more modeling updates, I promise):
As readers know, Federal Circuit Judge William Bryson handles patent cases in Marshall on a regular basis, coming down as needed for hearings and trials. “As needed” is the key, because he recently declined to come down for an abbreviated claim construction hearing, and denied a motion seeking to force the parties to travel from across the country to watch the defendant’s PowerPoint presentation.
The defendant in this case filed an opposed motion to hold an “in-court” hearing as opposed to one by telephone, claiming as the primary basis that they could “more effectively present their argument” because “the in-court format would more readily allow the parties to use demonstrative exhibits” (meaning Power Point slides).
Judge Bryson disagreed, “for several reasons.”
“First, the Court almost never finds such demonstratives or other visual presentations to be useful in Markman hearings or hearings on other issues and typically instructs attorneys not to use such demonstratives. The Court prefers to have the attorneys argue to the Court and to use documents in the record (which are fully available to the Court) in the course of their presentation.”
Don’t you just hate it when the judge wants you to use documents in the record instead of your slides? Next thing you know he’ll start talking about “evidence” like it’s something special.
“Second, the claim construction issue in this case is a very simple one involving a single claim limitation that has been the subject of a previous claim construction order. The Court has fully familiarized itself with the arguments of the parties and does not feel the need for basic instruction as to the technology or the legal issue in question. The plaintiff has suggested that the Markman hearing would last about one hour. The defendants estimate that it would last two hours. The Court believes that even one hour is likely to be more than enough to fully explore the issue presented.”
And this second issue leads to the third:
“Third, the Court is keenly aware of the costs that parties incur in complex civil litigation and is interested in minimizing those costs to the extent possible. Although the defendants have represented, in effect, that they are willing to incur the extra costs that would be involved in conducting an in-court hearing, they do not speak for the plaintiff. The plaintiff has opposed the motion and has represented to defendants’ counsel that plaintiff would prefer not to incur those costs. Dkt. No. 102-1, at 2. In addition to the out-of-pocket costs to the clients, an in-court hearing would impose additional scheduling burdens on the attorneys who are forced to attend. A telephone conference can fairly easily be fit into a day of other productive work. An appearance in court in another city cannot.”
Yesterday I posted on a case where the defendants persuaded the court to conduct an expedited mini-Markman on three terms. That reminded me that several weeks back I posted briefly about Judge Gilstrap’s ruling in another case where he sua sponte set a mini-Markman on two terms and after construing them granted summary judgment as to thirteen defendants. I wanted to go back and analyze that order (attached) in more detail.
For defendants with potentially dispositive claim construction issues, an expedited “mini-Markman” with accompanying stay of discovery and other deadlines until after the court considers the disputed claim terms is the Holy Grail of procedural treasures. Yet another group of defendants successfully completed this crusade in the EDTX recently when, as the attached orders show, the court granted an expedited Markman hearing on three disputed claim terms, then stayed all other deadlines in the case until after the hearing.