In Superguide v. DirectTV Enterprises, Inc. et al., Nos. 02-1561, -1562, -1594 (Fed. Cir. February 12, 2004), the federal circuit affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part a district court decision that defendants did not infringe the asserted claims of Superguide's '578, '211, and '357 patents, all relating to devices (referred to as "IPGs") that allow a TV viewer to display, on a television screen, only the program information desired by the user.
Based on the district court's decision construing the claims of the three patents-in-suit, defendants moved for summary judgment of noninfringement, which was granted (except for two EchoStar IPG models).
On appeal, the federal circuit reversed the construction of certain claim terms in the '578 patent as unsupported by the specification or the prosecution history. According to the court, nothing in the intrinsic record precluded a construction of the terms "regularly received television signal," "radio frequency information," and "mixer," as covering any particular type of signal format, and thus, the claims did not exclude digital signals. (Interestingly, and as noted in the concurrence, the '578 patent was based on an application filed a decade before digital signals were "regularly" broadcast for home television use.) In addition, the federal circuit reversed the district court's construction of the term "to perform a search" as inconsistent with the ordinary dictionary definition of "search," which did not require an examination of all the records present in RAM.
The court affirmed the district court's construction of the phrase "at least one of" claimed in Superguide's '211 patent as meaning "one or more," rather than Superguide's proposed definition requiring the selection and storage of one or more of the four listed criteria (start time, end time, service channel, or type), and not requiring storing all four criteria.
Finally, construing three disputed claim terms of Superguide's '357 patent, the federal circuit reversed the construction of "event timer" as limited to the storage only of "event timer information sequences" because claim 1 is a "comprising" claim, and both the specification and the prosecution history supported a broader construction of event timers that include nonvolatile memory -- which controls the recording device.
Judge Michel's concurrence criticized the breadth of the claims accorded the '578 patent under the majority's construction, because a person of ordinary skill in the art in 1985 would not have understood the patent to include home receivers for digital television signals. More broadly, Judge Michel expressed concern that application of the "ordinary meaning" axiom of claim construction would unduly enlarge claim scope unless constrained by the knowledge of a person of ordinary skill at the time the invention was made:
our precedent requires that the correct meaning of claim terms is that determined from the standpoint of a person of ordinary skill in the relevant art and at the time of the patent. (emphasis added).
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