Monday, March 17, 2014

Federal Circuit - Verderi v. Google - District Court's Claim Construction Error Vacates Non-Infringement Judgment

In Verderi, LLC v. Google, Inc., the Federal Circuit vacated a judgment of non-infringement of four U.S. patents owned by Verderi, LLC because the district court erred in claim construction.

On October 15, 2010, Vederi LLC sued Google alleging Google Street View infringed U.S. Patent No. 7,239,760U.S. Patent No. 7,577,316U.S. Patent No. 7,805,025, and U.S. Patent No. 7,813,596 describe methods for creating synthesized images of a geographic area that can be displayed on a computer.

As background, Google Street View produces images and view that are curved or spherical, and never flat because it combines images of a wide range of views recorded by multiple cameras having wide-angle lenses mounted on a moving vehicle. Those photographs are overlapping pictures taken from a single location at approximately the same time. These images are stitched together into a virtual spherical composite image. The resulting image is a two-dimensional representation of a spherical shape.

Claim 1 of the '760 patent is representative of the claims:

1. In a system including an image source and a user terminal having a screen and an input device, a method for enabling visual navigation of  geographic area from the user terminal, the method comprising:
  • receiving a first user input specifying a first location in the geographic area;
  • retrieving from the image source a first image associated with the first location, the image source providing a plurality of images depicting views of objects in the geographic area, the views being substantially elevations of the objects in the geographic area, wherein the images are associated with image frames acquired by an image recording device moving along a trajectory;
  • receiving a second user input specifying a navigation direction relative to the first location in the geographic area;
  • determining a second location based on the user specified navigation direction; and
  • retrieving from the image source a second image associated with the second location (emphasis added).
In the Markman hearing, Google argued "views being substantially elevations of the objects" in claim 1 required "vertical flat (as opposed to curved or spherical) depictions of front or side views." Verderi stated that it merely meant "front and side views of the objects." The district court stated the patents "did not disclose anything about spherical views" and entered summary judgment in favor of Google.

The Federal Circuit stated when it interprets claims it relies primarily on intrinsic evidence: the claim language, the specification, and the prosecution history and apart from the claims, the specification is the single best guide to the meaning of a claim term. After considering the intrinsic evidence, a court may seek guidance from extrinsic evidence, but should understand it may be less reliable than intrinsic evidence (quotations and citation omitted).

The Federal Circuit noted that the district court erred by not relying the intrinsic evidence: (1) the claims broadly recited "substantially elevations," but the court adopted an architect's strict definition of an elevation view, which read "substantially" out of the claims; (2) Figure 16 of the patents depicted buildings with depth and perspective not just front and side, which is more than an elevation view; and (3) The specification described taking a photo with a fish-eye lens, which produces photos which are not flat and not an elevation. 

After reading the opinion, I think the specification was contrary to Google's "substantially elevations" = "flat images" argument at the Markman hearing so the decision was not surprising. On the other hand, using a relative term such as "substantially" in a claim is not risk free as it may raise an indefiniteness defense.

Copyright © 2014 Robert Moll. All rights reserved.