By Cheryl Beise, J.D.
The federal district court in San Antonio, Texas, did not err in construing disputed claim terms relating to hyperlinking system described in a database system patent owned by Indacon, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has decided. Stipulated judgment of noninfringement in favor of Facebook, Inc., was affirmed (Indacon, Inc. v. Facebook, Inc., June 6 2016, Stoll, K.).
Indacon owns U.S. Patent No. 6,834,276 (the ’276 patent), issued December 21, 2004, and entitled “Database system and method for data acquisition and perusal.” The patent is directed to a system and method for searching, indexing, perusing, and manipulating files in a database, particularly through the insertion of automatically generated hyperlinks.
Indacon alleged that the software architecture for Facebook’s social network infringed claims 1–4 and 8–11 of the ’276 patent. Following the district court’s claim construction, the parties stipulated to noninfringement, and the district court entered final judgment in Facebook’s favor.
On appeal, Indacon challenged that district court’s constructions of five claim terms: “alias,” “custom link,” “custom linking relationship,” and “link term.” Because the district court considered only intrinsic evidence in construing the disputed claim terms, the Federal Circuit’s review was de novo.
“Alias.” Several of the claims required a link to be established between an “alias” or “alias term” and a plurality of files. The district court first construed “term” as “textual expression, such as words,” finding an express definition of “term” in the specification as “words, numbers, spaces, etc.” The court then construed the claim term “alias” as a “textual expression that the user can define to serve as an alternative name or label.”
Indacon acknowledged that “alias” and “alias term” were used interchangeably. However, Indacon argued that the term encompassed a “textual or graphical hyperlink,” and not just “textual expression.” According to Indacon, the district court erred by basing its construction of “alias” on its construction of “term.”
The Federal Circuit found no error in the district court’s approach or construction. The ’276 patent defined “term” by referring to forms of textual expression (“words, numbers, spaces, etc.”). The use of “etc.” in this definition implied additional, but similar forms of expression and did not reasonably encompass graphical expression, according to the court. Nothing in the specification suggested that “alias” encompassed graphical expression.
Indacon argued that the specification’s reference to file formats (such as HTML and RTF) that may contain graphical elements supported that an “alias” could be graphical. The specification, however, did not support this argument. To the contrary, with respect to RTF files, the specification taught “discard[ing] all image byte sequences without affecting the absolute position determination of visible characters in words.”
The appeals court also agreed with the district court that an “alias” was not a hyperlink. The specification explained that “[t]he link module may further enable at least one alias term to be defined for any selected link term to enable a link to be established between each alias term and any of the files in the database.” “As such, a link can be established to connect an ‘alias’ or other link term to files in the database, but the alias is not itself the link,” the court said. The district court’s construction of “alias” was supported by the intrinsic evidence.
“Link claim” terms. The district court construed the term “custom link” as “a link the user can define using a chosen term that allows each instance of the term in the plurality of files to be identified and displayed as a link to a file chosen by the user, without modifying the original database files”; the term “custom linking relationship” as “a linking relationship the user can define using a chosen term that allows each instance of the term in the plurality of files to be identified and displayed as a link to a file chosen by the user, without modifying the original database files”; and the term “link term” as “a term chosen by a user that can be displayed as a link to a file specified by the user whenever the user encounters the term in the plurality of files.”
Indacon raised a single issue with respect to the district court’s constructions of the claim terms “custom link,” “custom linking relationship,” and “link term” (collectively, “the link claim terms”). Indacon argued that the district court erred by construing the link claim terms as being limited to “allowing each instance” of a link term to be identified and displayed as a link, thereby excluding creation of a link for less than all instances of a defined term.
Facebook maintained that the link claim terms had no plain or established meaning to one of ordinary skill in the art, and as such, they could not be construed broader than the disclosure in the specification. The Federal Circuit agreed. The specification of the ’276 patent stated that “[t]he link module enables association of any selected link term with any of the plurality of files in the selectable database.” The specification repeatedly demonstrated that all link terms were capable of being identified and displayed as a link. Thus, the district court properly construed the link claim terms as “allowing each instance” of a defined term to be identified and displayed as a link. This construction also was bolstered by the prosecution history and the statements made by the application (allowing “every instance” or “all instances” of designated terms to be linked to a file) to distinguish its invention from prior art.
Indacon also contented that claim differentiation precluded the district court’s constructions of the link claim terms because certain claims (2 and 9) recited linking instances while other claims (14 and 15) recited linking all instances of the link terms. The court noted, however, that claims 2, 9, 14, and 15 were independent claims, and the Federal Circuit has declined to apply the doctrine of claim differentiation in cases such as this where the claims are not otherwise identical in scope. Moreover, while claim differentiation is a useful analytic tool, it cannot enlarge the meaning of a claim beyond that which is supported by the patent documents or prosecution history.
Discerning no error in the district court’s constructions of “alias,” “custom link,” “custom linking relationship,” and “link term,” the Federal Circuit adopted the constructions and affirmed the judgment of noninfringement.
The case is No. 2015-1129.
Attorneys: Pratik A. Shah (Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP) for Indacon, Inc. Thomas G. Hungar (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP) for Facebook, Inc.
Companies: Indacon, Inc.; Facebook, Inc.
MainStory: TopStory Patent TechnologyInternet FedCirNews
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