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CAFC vacates Summary Judgment entered against Intellectual Ventures

On Tuesday, September 4th, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a precedential decision in Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., et. al., vacating and remanding a grant of summary judgment entered by the district court finding the defendants in the case didn’t infringe a patent asserted by Intellectual Ventures. The Federal Circuit panel of Chief Judge Sharon Prost and Circuit Judges Kimberly Moore and Jimmie Reyna found that the district court had erred in its claim construction leading up to the grant of summary judgment in the case.

The patent at issue in this appeal is U.S. Patent No. 6640248, titled Application-Aware, Quality of Service (QoS) Sensitive, Media Access Control Layer. Issued in October 2003, it covers a layer as described by the patent’s title that comprises an application-aware resource layer at the media access control (MAC) layer that allocates bandwidth resource to an Internet protocol (IP) flow associated with a software application of a user based on IP QoS requirements of the application. The resulting invention achieves acceptable end user QoS for software applications through an IP-centric wireless broadband access system that grants sufficient priority to QoS as a guiding principle in architecting wireless systems.

This case originates from the District of Delaware where Intellectual Ventures filed suit against T-Mobile asserting the ‘248 patent in October 2013, alleging that T-Mobile infringed upon claims of the ‘248 patent through the company’s 4G LTE network services. In May 2017, U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark signed an order granting summary judgment on behalf of T-Mobile finding that there was no infringement of the ‘248 patent.

In discussing the background of the case, the Federal Circuit’s panel opinion noted that the district court had adopted T-Mobile’s construction of two terms which were contested by either side in the case. These terms include claim 1’s “application-aware resource allocator” and claim 20’s “allocating means for allocating resources to said IP flow . . . so as to optimize end user application IP QoS requirements of said software application.” For the claim 1 term, the Delaware court found that the allocator must take into account information from the application layer found at layer 7 of the networking protocol stack standard described in the patent. The district court also agreed with T-Mobile that the function for the “allocating means” described in claim 20 was indefinite. After claim construction, Intellectual Ventures submitted new infringement contentions which the district court struck down after T-Mobile moved for summary judgment against the contentions because those allegations omitted the court’s construction that included the “layer 7” language.

On appeal, Intellectual Ventures argued that the district court had erred in its construction by focusing on layer 7 of the stack, arguing that the resource allocator can also discern application type from network layer 3 and transport layer 4. The Federal Circuit agreed, finding that the combination of the plain language of the claims, the specification and the patent’s prosecution history all supported Intellectual Ventures’ argument. 

The Federal Circuit construed “application-aware resource allocator” in claim 1 and “application-aware media access control (MAC) layer” in claim 20 to have their plain meaning, permitting the resource allocator to allocate resources based on application type. Because the district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement based on a contrary construction, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded.

The Federal Circuit did not, however, find in favor of Intellectual Ventures’ argument on appeal relative to the definiteness of claim 20. The Court found that the QoS requirements described in claim 20 were entirely subjective and user-defined, noting that the patent’s specification described QoS as “a relative term, finding different meanings for different users.” This relation to the end user’s experience fails to provide a person with ordinary skill in the art with a way to determine that QoS has been optimized.

Thus, the ruling was not a complete victory for Intellectual Ventures, but the case does go back to the district court where they will have the opportunity to attempt to prove infringement based on the proper claim construct reached by the Federal Circuit.

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