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Cox Communications Inc. v. Sprint Communications Company LP

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 15, 2017

COX COMMUNICATIONS INC., et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
SPRINT COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY LP., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

         At Wilmington this 15th day of May, 2017, having heard argument on, and having reviewed the papers submitted in connection with, the parties' proposed claim construction;

         IT IS ORDERED that the disputed claim language of U.S. Patent Nos. 7, 286, 561[1] ("the '6, 561 patent"), 6, 633, 561 ("the '3, 561 patent"), 6, 463, 052 ("the '052 patent"), 6, 452, 932 ("the '932 patent"), 6, 473, 429[2] ("the '429 patent"), and 6, 298, 064 ("the '064 patent") shall be construed consistent with the tenets of claim construction set forth by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303 (Fed. Cir. 2005), as follows:

         1. Background.

         The parties are engaged in complex, multi-jurisdictional patent litigation. (D.I. 231 at ¶¶ 1-3) On February 27, 2015, Cox moved for partial summary judgment of invalidity, under § 112, ¶ 2, of various claims in the '6, 561, '3, 561, '052, '932, '429 and '064 patents. (D.I. 207) On May 15, 2015, the court granted partial summary judgment and held that the "processing system" term within the relevant claims is indefinite under § 112, ¶ 2. (D.I. 231 at ¶¶ 6-15) Sprint appealed to the Federal Circuit, which reversed "[b]ecause 'processing system' does not prevent the claims, read in light of the specification and the prosecution history, from informing those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention with reasonable certainty." Cox Commc'ns, Inc. v. Sprint Commc'n Co. LP, 838 F.3d 1224, 1226 (Fed. Cir. 2016).

         2. In Cox, the Federal Circuit declared that "the sole source of indefiniteness that Cox complains of, 'processing system, ' plays no discernable role in defining the scope of the claims, " in that removing the term "processing system" would not change the meaning of the claim, nor would replacing the term with "computer." Id. at 1229-1231. "If 'processing system' does not discernably alter the scope of the claims, " the Court reasoned, "it is difficult to see how this term would prevent the claims . . . from serving their notice function under § 112, ¶ 2." Id. at 1231. The Court explained that while "the common practice [is] of training questions of indefiniteness on individual claim terms, . . . . indefiniteness under § 112, ¶ 2 must ultimately turn on the question set forth by Nautilus: whether the 'claims [and not claim terms], read in light of the specification delineating the patent, and the prosecution history, fail to inform, with reasonable certainty, those skilled in the art about the scope of the invention.'" Id. at 1232 (emphasis in original) (citing Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2120, 2129 (2014)). The court read claim 1 of the '3, 561 patent and claim 1 of the '064 patent in light of the associated disclosures in the specifications and concluded that a person having ordinary skill in the art would understand the limitations encompassing the "processing system" terms with reasonable certainty. Id. at 1233.

         3. Cox argues that Cox teaches that

a person of ordinary skill would understand the scope of these claims by reading them in light of what the specification teaches about the claimed method; namely, the disclosures which describe how the claimed invention "receives a signal from a traditional telephone network and processes information related to that voice call to select the path that the voice call should take through the data network."

(D.I. 505 at 11-12, citing Cox, 838 F.3d at 1226 and 1232-33) Cox contends that the Federal Circuit's opinion on indefiniteness stands in for claim construction, because the Court has identified "the basis on which a person of ordinary skill would understand the scope of the claim." (D.I. 505 at 15) As a result, Cox argues "that the claims [must] be read the way the Federal Circuit has instructed." (Id.) In the Cox opinion, the Federal Circuit found claim 1 of the '3, 561 patent not indefinite, because "[t]he specification discloses, as an embodiment of a 'processing system, ' the CCP and provides details about how it functions to 'select[] the network elements and the connections that comprise the communications path.'" Cox, 838 F.3d at 1233 (emphasis added) (citing '3, 561 patent, 6:23-25). Cox cites this (and other) language in the opinion as the reason for construing the "processing system" term as "a call processing system capable of receiving and transmitting signaling and processing signaling to select the path for routing a call." (D.I. 490 at 8) According to Cox, "the Federal Circuit has effectively resolved this dispute" over claim construction. (D.I. 505 at 23) The court disagrees. Even in the Federal Circuit's opinion, the cited example is identified "as an embodiment, " which reflects the specification's reference to the example as "one embodiment." ('3, 561 patent, 6:23) The court declines to read limitations into the claims based solely upon exemplary embodiments relied upon by the Federal Circuit in its opinion.

         4. "A network code that identifies a network element to provide egress from the packet communication system;"[3] "a network code that identifies a network element to provide egress ... from the packet communication system;"[4]and "a network code representing a network element to egress the call from the packet system:"[5] "A code identifying a network element that provides an exit from the packet communication system." Claim 1 of the '3, 561 patent recites:

         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.

('3, 561 patent, 22:12-32 (emphasis added)) The specification describes, with reference to figure 1, the role of the communication control processor ("CCP") in establishing communications paths:

On a standard call that establishes a communications path from first point 170 to second point 172, first point 170 will signal Telecommunications System 110 that it requests the communications path. This signaling is directed to CCP 120 over first link 191. CCP 120 processes the signaling and selects at least one network characteristic in response to the signaling. Network characteristics might be network elements, connections, network codes, applications, or control instructions to name a few examples.

('3, 561 patent, 6:8-16) "One skilled in the art will recognize that the selection process can be distributed among the CCP and the elements." ('3, 561 patent, 7:20-21) The specification identifies a number of possible architectures:

The CCP might select all the network elements, a portion of the network elements, or none of the network elements leaving the switches to select the remainder. The CCP might select all of the connections, a portion of the connections, or none of the connections, again leaving the elements to select the remainder. The CCP may select combinations of the above options, but the CCP will always select at least one network characteristic.

('3, 561 patent, 7:22-29) The specification also explains that:

The CCP performs many functions. In one embodiment, it accepts signaling from a first point or LEC and provides appropriate signals in accord with the communication control selections it has made. These selections are network characteristics. The CCP may select network elements such as switches, servers, or network codes. The CCP may select connections, such as DSO circuits and ports. The CCP may select particular telecommunications applications to be applied to the communications path. The CCP may select particular control instructions for particular devices. The CCP may also receive information from entities such as SCPs, operational control, or switches to aid in its selections.

('3, 561 patent, 13:28-39) The CCP may select network elements, and "[n]etwork codes are the logical addresses of network elements. One such code is a destination code that facilitates egress from telecommunications system 310." ('3, 561 patent, 12:49-51)

         5. "Packet routing information:"[6] "Information used to route user communication in a packet format."[7]

         6. "Route the user communication through the packet communication system to the network element:"[8] "Direct the user communication through the packet communication system to the network element."[9]

         7. "Routes the user communication based on the packet routing information:"[10] "Directs the user communication through the packet system based on the packet routing information."[11]

         8. "Transferring the communications to the selected narrowband switch:"[12] Consistent with Sprint's proposal, the court does not construe this limitation.[13]'[1 ...


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