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TC Technology LLC v. Sprint Corp.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 15, 2019

TC TECHNOLOGY LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
SPRINT CORPORATION and SPRINT SPECTRUM L.P., Defendants.

          Kelly E. Farnan, Katharine L. Mowery, RICHARDS, LAYTON & FINGER, P.A., Wilmington, DE; Lawrence J. Gotts, Saswat Misra, LATHAM & WATKINS LLP, Washington, D.C.; Kevin L. Mallen, LATHAM & WATKINS LLP, New York, NY; Gabriel S. Gross, LATHAM & WATKINS LLP, Menlo Park, CA; Stephanie N. Solomon, QUINN EMANUEL URQUHART & SULLIVAN, LLP, New York, NY; David S. Benyacar, Daniel L. Reisner (argued), Maxwell C. Preston, Michael J. Block, ARNOLD & PORTER KAYE SCHOLER LLP, New York, NY. Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Shanti M. Katona, Christina M. Belitz, POLSINELLI PC, Wilmington, DE; Robert Reckers (argued), David Morehan (argued), SHOOK, HARDY & BACON LLP, Houston, TX; Christine A. Guastello, Jordan T. Bergsten, Colman D. McCarthy, Thomas M. Patton, SHOOK, HARDY & BACON LLP, Kansas City, MO. Attorneys for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court are Defendants' motion for summary judgment of noninfringement (D.I. 257) and Plaintiffs motion for partial summary judgment (D.I. 266). I have reviewed the parties' briefing. (D.I. 258, 267, 288, 293, 304, 306). I heard oral argument on March 7, 2019.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff TC Technology LLC ("TC Tech") filed this action on March 10, 2016, alleging that Defendants Sprint Corporation and Sprint Spectrum, L.P. (collectively, "Sprint") infringed U.S. Patent No. 5, 815, 488 ("the '488 patent") with certain wireless services on its LTE network. (D.I. 1).

         The '488 patent has two independent method claims, both of which are asserted. The claims provide:

         1. A method for enabling a plurality of remote locations to transmit data to a central location comprising the steps of:

at each remote location, coding data to be transmitted by translating each group of one or more bits of said data into a transform coefficient associated with a particular baseband frequency in a particular subset of orthogonal baseband frequencies allocated to the remote location, the particular subset of orthogonal baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being chosen from a set of orthogonal baseband frequencies, the subsets of baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being mutually exclusive[;]
at each remote location, using an electronic processor, performing an inverse orthogonal transformation on said transform coefficients to obtain a block of time domain data;
at each remote location, utilizing a modulator to modulate said block of time domain data onto a carrier signal for transmission to said central location, said carrier signal having the same carrier frequency for each remote location;
receiving at said central location from one or more of said remote locations, one or more blocks of time domain data modulated on one or more of said carrier signals;
using a demodulator, demodulating said one or more blocks of time domain data from the carrier frequency signal[;]
performing said orthogonal transformation on said demodulated time domain data to reconstruct said transform coefficients, and
translating said transform coefficients into said data to be translated from each remote location.

         2. A method for enabling a plurality of remote locations to transmit data to a central location comprising the steps of:

at each remote location, coding data to be transmitted by translating each group of one or more bits of said data into a transform coefficient associated with a particular baseband frequency in a particular subset of orthogonal baseband frequencies allocated to the remote location, the particular subset of orthogonal baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being chosen from a set of orthogonal baseband frequencies, the subsets of baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being mutually exclusive;
at each remote location, using an electronic processor, performing an inverse orthogonal transformation on said transform coefficients to obtain a block of time domain data;
at each remote location, utilizing a modulator to modulate said block of time domain data onto a carrier signal for transmission to said central location, said carrier signal having the same carrier frequency for each remote location[;]
receiving at said central location from one or more of said remote locations, one or more blocks of time domain data modulated on one or more of said carrier signals;
using a demodulator, multiplying said received one or more blocks of time domain data with in-phase and quadrature carrier signals to obtain in-phase and quadrature baseband signals, converting said in-phase and quadrature baseband signals to digital form, and using an electronic processor, performing said orthogonal transform using said in-phase and quadrature baseband signals as real and imaginary values, respectively, to demodulate said one or more blocks of time domain data from the carrier frequency signal, and
performing said orthogonal transformation on the demodulated time domain data to reconstruct said transform coefficients.

         '488 patent at 10:47-12:24.

         Sprint's LTE network operates through a series of "cell sites." Each cell site consists of a cell tower with antennas connected to a computer that is referred to as a "base station" or "eNodeB." (D.I. 259, Ex. A at 36:8-37:6; D.I. 294, Ex. 2 ¶ 167). Each base station is divided into three "sectors," where each sector roughly corresponds to a 120-degree arc around the cell site. (D.I. 268, Ex. 2, Ex. A ¶¶ 112-113; D.I. 294, Ex. 2 ¶ 103). Each sector has dedicated hardware and software to receive and process information from, as well as to allocate frequencies to, user devices such as cellular phones. (Id., Ex. 5 ¶ 34). The following is a simplified illustration of a cell site and its three sectors:

         (Image Omitted)

         (Id., Ex. 2 ¶ 103, Ex. 5 ¶ 35). The parties focus on the operations of a single base station in Sprint's LTE network.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         ''The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those "that could affect the outcome" of the proceeding. Lamont v. New Jersey, 637F.3dl77, 181 (3dCir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "[A] dispute about a material fact is 'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         The burden then shifts to the non-movant to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). A non-moving party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support such an assertion by: "(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations ..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited [by the opposing party] do not establish the absence ... of a genuine dispute ...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The non-moving party's evidence "must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Williams, 891 F.2d at 461.

         When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). If the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp., Ml U.S. at 322.

         III. SPRINT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OF NONINFRINGEMENT

         A patent is infringed when a person "without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States ... during the term of the patent...." 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). A two-step analysis is employed in making an infringement determination. See Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 976 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff'd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996). First, the court must construe the asserted claims to ascertain their meaning and scope. See Id. The trier of fact must then compare the properly construed claims with the accused infringing product. See Id. at 976. This second step is a question of fact. See Bai v. L & L Wings, Inc., 160 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

         "Literal infringement of a claim exists when every limitation recited in the claim is found in the accused device." Kahn v. Gen. Motors Corp., 135 F.3d 1472, 1477 (Fed. Cir. 1998). "If any claim limitation is absent from the accused device, there is no literal infringement as a matter of law." Bayer AG v. Elan Pharm. Research Corp., 212 F.3d 1241, 1247 (Fed. Cir. 2000). If an accused product does not infringe an independent claim, it also does not infringe any claim depending thereon. See Wahpeton Canvas Co. v. Frontier, Inc., 870 F.2d 1546, 1553 (Fed. Cir. 1989). However, "[o]ne may infringe an independent claim and not infringe a claim dependent on that claim." Monsanto Co. v. Syngenta Seeds, Inc., 503 F.3d 1352, 1359 (Fed. Cir. 2007). A product that does not literally infringe a patent claim may still infringe under the doctrine of equivalents if the differences between an individual limitation of the claimed invention and an element of the accused product are insubstantial. See Warner-Jenkinson Co. v. Hilton Davis Chem. Co., 520 U.S. 17, 24 (1997). The patent owner has the burden of proving infringement and must meet its burden by a preponderance of the evidence. See SmithKline Diagnostics, Inc. v. Helena Lab. Corp., 859 F.2d 878, 889 (Fed. Cir. 1988).

         When an accused infringer moves for summary judgment of non-infringement, such relief may be granted only if at least one limitation of the claim in question does not read on an element of the accused product, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents. See Chimie v. PPG Indus., Inc., 402 F.3d 1371, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2005); see also TechSearch, L.L.C. v. Intel Corp., 286 F.3d 1360, 1369 (Fed. Cir. 2002) ("Summary judgment of noninfringement is ... appropriate where the patent owner's proof is deficient in meeting an essential part of the legal standard for infringement, because such failure will render all other facts immaterial."). Thus, summary judgment of noninfringement can only be granted if, after viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, there is no genuine issue as to whether the accused product is covered by the claims (as construed by the court). See Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 182 F.3d 1298, 1304 (Fed. Cir. 1999).

         Sprint moves for summary judgment of noninfringement of claims 1 and 2 of the '488 patent. Sprint argues that its LTE network does not meet two claim limitations-(1) "subsets of baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being mutually exclusive" and (2) "carrier signal having the same carrier frequency for each remote location." (D.I. 258).

         For the following reasons, Sprint's motion is GRANTED with respect to TC Tech's doctrine of equivalents theory relating to the Physical Uplink Control Channel ("PUCCH") and the "mutually exclusive" limitation. The rest of the motion is DENIED.

         A. "subsets of baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being mutually exclusive"

          The Court has construed "subsets of baseband frequencies allocated to each remote location being mutually exclusive," as "for any given time slot, no individual baseband frequency is allocated to more than one location." (D.I. 95). Sprint makes two noninfringement arguments. First, Sprint addresses the base station as a whole. Each base station in Sprint's LTE network is divided into three sectors. Sprint argues that baseband frequencies are not "mutually exclusive" across all three sectors. (D.I. 258 at 10-13). Second, Sprint focuses on the individual base station sectors. Sprint argues that baseband frequencies are also not "mutually exclusive" within each sector due to the frequencies on the Physical Uplink Control Channel ("PUCCH"). (Id. at 13-20).

         1. Frequencies Across Base Station Sectors

         For the following reasons, Sprint's motion is DENIED with respect to frequencies across base station sectors.

         It is undisputed that, viewing all three sectors together, a base station does not meet the "mutually exclusive" limitation, because different sectors may simultaneously allocate the same baseband frequency to different locations. (D.I. 258 at 10; D.I. 293 at 5-7). The key issue is whether infringement should be determined based on the sectors together or individually.

         The preamble of both claims states, "A method for enabling a plurality of remote locations to transmit data to a central location comprising the steps of. .. ." '488 patent at 10:47-48, 11:12-13 (emphasis added). The Court has not construed "central location." (D.I. 95). Sprint asserts that it is undisputed that the "central location" is an entire base station in Sprint's LTE network. (D.I. 304 at 4). I disagree. TC Tech's expert, Mr. Bates, makes clear that he believes each individual base station sector may be a "central location" as required by the '488 patent. (D.I. 294, Ex. 5 ΒΆ 31-32 (opining that Sprint meets the "mutually exclusive" limitation by "using ...


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