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Three disputed claim terms, three revised constructions, one remand
June 23, 2009
In a recent decision, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded a district court's judgment of noninfringement based on the parties' stipulation after claim construction. The district court construed three claim terms in a way that the parties agreed rendered all accused products noninfringing, and the plaintiff appealed.On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court's claim construction of each of the terms. The opinion followed a straightforward Phillips analysis for each term. Applying the revised construction, the court held remand was appropriate to determine the issue of infringement in the first instance, even though the defendant, for the first time at oral argument, claimed its devices did not infringe even under the revised constructions.More detail of Paragon Solutions, LLC v. Timex Corp. after the jump.Paragon owns a patent relating to an exercise monitoring system. The system contains a "data acquisition unit" which includes an "electronic positioning device" and a "physiological monitor" which tracks the users "location, altitude, velocity, pace [or] distance traveled" and retrieves "physiological data" from the user. The unit further provides the user with this information through a "display unit" in "real-time." Figures 1 and 3 describe the monitoring system:Figure 1 Figure 3Paragon brought suit against Timex alleging certain Timex products, including its BodyLink watches, infringed the patent. The patent's two independent claims read (relevant limitations emphasized):
1. An exercise monitoring system, comprising:
(a) a data acquisition unit comprising an electronic positioning device and a physiological monitor, said data acquisition unit configured to be worn by a subject performing a physical activity; and
(b) a display unit configured for displaying real-time data provided by said electronic positioning device and said physiological monitor, said display unit separate from said data acquisition unit;
wherein said display unit is configured to be worn by the subject, worn by someone other than the subject, or attached to an apparatus associated with the physical activity being performed by the subject so as to be visible to the subject while performing the physical activity, and
further wherein said system is configured such that said display unit displays real-time data comprising at least one of a subject's location, altitude, velocity, pace, and distance traveled. 29. An exercise monitoring system, comprising:
(a) an electronic positioning device configured to receive electromagnetic signals from three or more sources so that said monitoring system can determine at least one of a subject's velocity or pace, wherein said electronic positioning device is provided as part of a data acquisition unit;
(b) a physiological monitor;
(c) a display unit configured to be worn by a user and for simultaneously displaying real-time data provided by said electronic positioning device and said physiological monitor, wherein said display unit is separate from said electronic positioning device; and
(d) an alarm, wherein said alarm is activated when a subject's velocity or pace does not meet a predetermined target.
The parties disputed the construction of three terms: (1) "data acquisition unit"; (2) "display unit"; and (3) "displaying real-time data." The district court reviewed the disputed terms and construed them to mean "one structure that includes the electronic positioning device and the physiological monitor," "a unit for displaying real-time data provided by the data acquisition unit," and "displaying data substantially immediately without contextually meaningful delay so that the information is displayed in a time frame experienced by people," respectively. Under these constructions, the parties stipulated to noninfringement, subject to Paragon's right to appeal the claim constructions.The Federal Circuit vacated the district court's claim constructions, examining each disputed term in turn. Data Acquisition UnitThe Federal Circuit, under Phillips, looked to the claim language, specification, and prosecution history. Beginning with the claims, the court observed that claims 6 and 7 stated the "data acquisition unit" can comprise a "support member" for a GPS unit and a physiological monitor, and that those devices may be "removably secured" from the support member. Further, in claim 29, the physiological monitor limitation is separate from the data acquisition unit limitation. This combination "suggest[s] persuasively that the data acquisition unit may be multiple structures. Turning to the specification, the court likewise found support that the data acquisition unit could be multiple structures in one particular passage: "Of course, the data acquisition component of a monitoring system according to the present invention may even comprise multiple structures which are physically separate from each other." In addition, as shown in figure 1 above, the structures are depicted as separate from one another.Finally, the court addressed the prosecution history. During prosecution, the inventors amended the claims to require the display unit to be in a separate structure from the electronic positioning device and physiological monitor in light of a prior art reference that disclosed all three in the same structure. So, while the amendment "clearly and unmistakably disavowed a single structure that encompassed an electronic positioning device, a physiological monitor, and a display unit," the amendment did not do the same for monitoring systems with more than two structures. Based on these considerations, the Federal Circuit disagreed with the district court's decision and determined the proper construction to be a "structure or set of structures that includes at least the electronic positioning device and the physiological monitor."Display UnitThe Federal Circuit examined in particular the claim language and specification to construe "display unit." Paragon argued the district court improperly limited this term to only display data from the data acquisition unit, arguing the data could come directly from the electronic positioning device and physiological monitor. The court agreed.The claim language explicitly required only "a display unit configured for displaying real-time data provided by said electronic positioning device and said physiological monitor." The specification also contemplated independent communication between these devices, such that the data may be transmitted to the data acquisition unit and display unit in parallel, for example. Based on the claim language and specification, there was no reason to add the requirement that the data be transmitted via the data acquisition unit. Accordingly, the court construed the term to mean "a structure or set of structures, separate from the data acquisition unit, for displaying real-time data provided by both the electronic positioning device and the physiological monitor independently or over a common transmission path."Displaying real-time dataTimex argued that this limitation required the information to be displayed at the time of measurement. The Federal Circuit disagreed. Here, the court again looked to the claim language, specification, and prosecution history, but also considered extrinsic evidence presented to the district court. First, examining the claim language, the court noted the claims require the display unit to be separate from the data acquisition unit that includes the positioning device and physiological monitor. As a result, the court concluded that the term "real-time" could not possibly be construed to mean "literally instantaneously," because "even assuming the transmission happens at the speed of light, it still takes a non-zero amount of time." Further, some of the displayed data required calculations over time, such as velocity and pace, which cannot, therefore, be instantaneous. Turning next to the specification, the court observed that while the specification criticized prior art systems that did not provide "instantaneous feedback," it is clear from the context that this meant the feedback had to be provided during exercise, rather than after exercise is completed. As stated by the court: "The specification's references to 'instantaneous' feedback do not preclude some delay to allow for the processing limitations of the system and the time required to accurately measure the data that is to be displayed." The prosecution history provided further support that "real-time" did not mean instantaneous, as the statements there compared the invention to previous systems which reported data after exercise is complete. Finally, the court found the district court's reliance on the dictionary definition of "real-time" to be inconclusive on the basis that the definition was "too vague to be of significant help." The definition, from the 1999 edition of Microsoft Computer Dictionary, did not specify whether "real-time" must be instantaneous or if not, how long a delay is permissible. Further, the court noted other dictionaries state "real-time" processes simply cannot involve intentional delay. Based on all these considerations, the Federal Circuit determined the proper claim construction for "displaying real-time data" to be "displaying data without intentional delay, given the processing limitations of the system and the time required to accurately measure the data."Timex argued that even under this construction its devices did not infringe, because they added an artificial time delay. However, this argument was raised for the first time at oral argument, and the court was unable to determine as a matter of law that Timex's products did not infringe based on the parties' stipulations. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit vacated the district court's judgment of noninfringement.To read the full decision in Paragon Solutions, LLC v. Timex Corp., click here.
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