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In re VTran Media Technologies LLC

September 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MDL Docket No. 1948


This multi-district litigation involves numerous patent infringement actions that Plaintiff VTran Media Technologies, LLC ("VTran") commenced throughout the United States.*fn1 On June 10, 2008, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation coordinated and consolidated these actions for pretrial proceedings before now retired Judge Bruce Kauffman in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. VTran alleges, inter alia, that Defendants,*fn2 who are cable television providers, offered "video on demand" services ("VOD services") that purportedly infringe upon VTran's two patents-U.S. Patent No. 4,890,320 (filed Jun. 9, 1988) ("the '320 Patent") and U.S. Patent No. 4, 995,078 (filed Oct. 10, 1989) ("the '078 Patent," collectively with the '320 Patent, "VTran Patents" or "the Patents").*fn3 In short, the VTran Patents, titled "Television Broadcast System for Selective Transmission of Viewer-Chosen Programs at Viewer-Requested Times" and which have virtually identical specifications, describe "an invention that allows multiple viewers to view the same transmission of a program at the same time." In re VTran Media Techs., 2009 WL 2169155 (July 17, 2009) (Kauffman, J.) ("VTran I").

On July 17, 2009, Judge Kauffman construed the disputed claim terms in the VTran Patents pursuant to Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir.1995) (en banc), aff'd 517 U.S. 370. Id. Subsequently, this case was reassigned to the undersigned. (ECF No. 60.) On October 15, 2009 VTran moved to allow discovery. (ECF No. 63.) Although Defendants opposed VTran's motion, inter alia, on the basis that the Markman claim constructions support summary judgment, rendering VTran's infringement contentions "fatally flawed" (ECF No. 64, at 3--10), the Court granted in part VTran's Motion to Allow Discovery (ECF No. 67), which authorized written discovery, i.e., interrogatories, requests for documents, and requests for admissions. Defendants apparently objected to certain discovery. The Court scheduled a hearing on the discovery disputes, but the parties resolved all issues before the hearing. No other motion to compel pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 has been filed. (See Summ. J. Hr'g Tr. 56:5-10, Aug. 26, 2010, ECF No. 94.)

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement (ECF No. 80), filed on May 21, 2010, which contends that the VOD services that Defendants offer are not covered by, and thus, do not infringe upon, the VTran Patents (ECF No. 80). On August 13, 2010, the Court heard oral argument on the Motion. (ECF No. 94.) For the reasons that follow, the Court is inclined to grant Defendants' Motion, but will give VTran an opportunity to submit an affidavit pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), that explains the need and scope of the additional discovery it requests.

I. Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility for informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party's response must, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56] set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

B. Patent Infringement

"Determining whether a patent claim has been infringed involves two steps: (1) claim construction to determine the scope of the claims, followed by (2) determination whether the properly construed claim encompasses the accused structure." Bai v. L & L Wings, Inc., 160 F.3d 1350, 1353 (Fed. Cir. 1998); see also Markman, 52 F.3d at 976. As already noted, in this case, the first step has been completed. A patent owner may establish infringement under one of two theories: literal infringement or the doctrine of equivalents. See id.

The first of the two theories, literal infringement, requires "every limitation in a patent claim [to be] found in an accused product, exactly." Southwall Techs., Inc. v. Cardinal IG Co., 54 F.3d 1570, 1575 (Fed. Cir. 1998). "A literal infringement issue is properly decided upon summary judgment when no genuine issue of material fact exists, in particular, when no reasonable jury could find that every limitation recited in the properly construed claim either is or is not found in the accused device." Bai, 160 F.3d at 1353.

In contrast, "[i]nfringement may be found under the doctrine of equivalents if every limitation of the asserted claim, or its 'equivalent,' is found in the accused subject matter, where an 'equivalent' differs from the claimed limitation only insubstantially." Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 149 F.3d 1309, 1315 (Fed. Cir. 1998). In performing the infringement analysis pursuant to the doctrine of equivalents, a court may consider "[w]hether a component in the accused subject matter performs substantially the same function as the claimed limitation in substantially the same way to achieve substantially the same result." Id. At its core, "[t]he doctrine of equivalents allows the patentee to claim those insubstantial alterations that were not captured in drafting the original patent claim but which could be created through trivial changes." Festo Corp. v. Shoketsu Kinzoku Kogyo Kabushiki Co., 535 U.S. 722, 733 (2002).

"When, however, the patentee originally claimed the subject matter alleged to infringe but then narrowed the claim in response to a rejection," prosecution history estoppel bars the patentee from "argu[ing] that the surrendered territory comprised unforeseen subject matter that should be deemed equivalent to the literal claims of the issued patent." Id. at 733-34. "Were it otherwise, the inventor might avoid the PTO's gatekeeping role and seek to recapture in an infringement action the very subject matter surrendered as a condition of receiving the patent." Id. at 734. In such cases, "the amendment a patentee makes to a patent narrows the patent's scope and may be presumed to be a general disclaimer of the territory between the original claim and the amended claim," and "the patentee . . . bear[s] the burden of showing that the amendment does not surrender the particular equivalent in question. Id. at 740. The Supreme Court has recognized three situations in which "the patentee can overcome the presumption that prosecution history estoppel bars a finding of equivalence": (1) "The equivalent [was] unforeseeable at the time of the application," (2) "the rationale underlying the amendment . . . bear[s] no more than a tangential relation to the equivalent in question," or (3) "some other reason suggest[s] that the patentee could not reasonable be expected to have described the insubstantial substitute in question." Id. at 740-41. "The determination of infringement under the doctrine of equivalents [is a] question[] of law." Panduit Corp. v. HellermannTyton Corp., 451 F.3d 819, 826 (Fed. Cir. 2006).

II. Markman Decision

During the claim construction stage of this litigation, the parties disputed four claim term, two of which are relevant to the pending Motion for Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement.*fn4

The following chart sets forth the two relevant disputed claim terms*fn5 and the constructions Judge Kauffman adopted:

Disputed Claim Term Adopted Construction

"a viewer-requested time," '078 Patent, col. 13, "a specific time of day chosen and scheduled by 13, l. 23; col. 14, ll. 2, 6 (Claim 10), or "requested the viewer where at the time the choice is made time," '320 Patent, col. 10, ll. 51, 55-56, 60 the viewer can choose from any time of day" (Claim 1) (Defendants' modified construction)

"a television transmission system for "a system that allows multiple viewers to choose transmitting programs thereover for reception by the same program at the same time such that once a plurality of receivers," '078 Patent, col. 13, ll. the chosen program is scheduled for transmission 12-14 (Claim 10 Preamble); see also '320 Patent, on a particular channel, additional viewers can be col. 10, ll. 34-37 (Claim 1 Preamble) added by transmitting the appropriate descrambling signals to the requesting viewer's receiver" (Defendants' construction)

The Court asked VTran's counsel at the summary judgment hearing, "whether any discovery that you have taken, you believe warrant a reopening of the Markman issues." (Summ. J. Hr'g Tr. 5:16-17.) VTran, however, did not answer this question in the affirmative either at the hearing or in its supplemental brief to the Court. Because VTran has not requested reconsideration of the claim constructions in light of discovery, and because Judge Kauffman's reasoning, which is detailed below, is amply supported by the intrinsic record, the Court sees no reason to disturb his claim constructions.

A. "Viewer-Requested Time"

Turning first to "viewer-requested time" and "requested time," Judge Kauffman determined that "[t]he prosecution history makes clear that the applicants gave the term a special meaning by distinguishing the patents from prior art." Id. at &7 n.9. Judge Kauffman found that VTran oversimplified the terms in its proposed construction of "the time a viewer requests a program." Id. at *7. Judge Kauffman reasoned that the VTran Patents involved two "times," "the time that a request is made," and "the time scheduled by the viewer for the transmission of the chosen program to begin." Id. Judge Kauffman then found that the specification of the '320 Patent differentiated the VTran Patents from "prior art that did 'not allow the viewer to determine when the program is to be scheduled," id. (quoting '320 Patent, col. 2, ll. 42-43), which the applicants expressly described as "schedul[ing] transmission times (a) by the provider only (meaning that viewers could never schedule the time of the program), or (b) on-demand (meaning that programs are transmitted as soon as possible after the viewer requests the program, but viewers cannot schedule the program at a later, specific time)." Id.

Judge Kauffman, however, also declined to adopt Defendants' initial proposed construction that specified that "the viewer can choose from among multiple available times of day," "misleading[ly] . . . suggests that there is a predetermined number of times from which a viewer can select (e.g., in fifteen-minute increments, or every hour on the hour)," a limitation unsupported by the intrinsic evidence when "the system can, at least in theory, accommodate any requested time of day," which "clearly encompasses 'immediately' as a possible viewing time." Id. at *8, 8 nn.10, 11 (emphasis added). Judge Kauffman therefore adopted ...

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