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CAFC Weekly: January 21, 2011

by Orlando Lopez

The two patent related precedential opinions for this week include one opinion in which the CAFC further defines the meaning of “use” in patent infringement, holding that “the on-demand operation is a ‘use’ of the system as a matter of law,” and another opinion relating to claim interpretation (“claim construction”).

In Centillion Data Systems LLC v. Qwest Communications International Inc., Centillion owns a patent for a system for collecting, processing and delivering information from a service provider to a customer.  Centillion alleged that a number of Qwest’s billing systems infringed some of the claims of the patent.  The accused products include a back-office system controlled by Qwest and a front-end client application that a user installs in his/her computer.  The District Court determined that no single party used all the limitations of any of the claims in question and granted summary judgment of non-infringement.  The CAFC  reversed the summary judgment of non-infringement and held that when the user places the entire system into service that is “‘use’ of the system as a matter of law.”  In the system at issue, “the customer controls the system by creating a query and transmitting it to Qwest’s back-end,”  and the user places the entire system into service.  The District Court also determined that there was no evidence that Qwest had any direction or control over the users of the accused products and, therefore, could not be found vicariously liable for infringement.  The CAFC upheld the finding of no vicarious liability.  This opinion clarifies the definition of what “use” is in terms of infringement when the system accused of infringement is distributed (in this case a back-end and front-end, one being held by Qwest and other being held by the user).   It should be noted that the claims at issue here were system claims, the results would be different for method claims.

In Arlington Industries Inc. v. Bridgeport Fittings Inc., Arlington owns several patents for  improved electrical connectors and sued  Bridgeport for infringement.  Arlington had previously sued Bridgeport for infringement of the same patents, but alleged that other Bridgeport products, different from those in the present case, infringed.  The District Court, in that prior case, found that those other Bridgeport products had infringed Arlington’s patents.  In the present case, the District Court interpreted the term “spring metal adaptor” (a term used in the claims) differently from the previous District Court,  and granted summary judgment of non-infringement.  Arlington appealed  to the CAFC and the CAFC vacated the grant of summary judgment of non-infringement.  This opinion provides a good example of the difficulty of interpreting a claim based on the specification and prosecution history while not reading limitations from the specification into the claim.  The opinion illustrates the difficulties in claim interpretation (“claim construction”) and the fact that reasonable judges can arrive at different claim interpretations (the dissenting opinion providing a good example).

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