By Jenny Choi – Edited by Ashish Bakshi
Vederi, LLC v. Google Inc., No. 2013-1057 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 14, 2014)
On March 14, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and vacated the United States District Court for the Central District of California’s decision entering summary judgment in favor of Google, Inc. The district court had held that Google’s “Street View” product did not infringe asserted patents of Vederi, LLC. because its images are a curved representation of the world and thus not elevation views. The Federal Circuit held that the district court erred in narrowly interpreting “substantially elevation,” based on extrinsic evidence, to cover only flat images. Vederi, slip op. at 9. After analyzing intrinsic evidence, the Federal Circuit held that “substantially elevation” covered both flat and spherical images. Id. at 10. Consequently, the Federal Circuit vacated the summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. Id. at 14. The Federal Circuit noted that it preferred claim construction based on intrinsic evidence and interpretation that “gives meaning to all the terms of the claim.” Id. at 10.
Bloomberg and Wiley Rein, LLP provide a short summary of the case. PatentlyO also provides an overview of the case and cites Vederi as an example of the Federal Circuit’s continuing denial of any direct patent-related input from Judge Kozniski, who is Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and who sat by designation in deciding on summary judgment in Vederi at the district court. The Wake Forest Journal of Business & Intellectual Property Law provides background on the case’s initial filing in 2010.
On October 15, 2010, Vederi sued Google for infringing the following four patents in Google’s “Street View” product: U.S. Patent Nos. 7,239,760; 7,577,316; 7,805,025; and 7,813,59. Id. at 2. These asserted patents are relevant to methods for synthesizing images collected by a car with a camera to create a virtual view of the area. Id. The main dispute focused on the meaning and scope of the “substantially elevations,” which appeared in all of the asserted claims. Id. at 6. The district court construed “substantially elevation” as “vertical flat (as opposed to curved or spherical) depictions of front or side views.” Id. Thus, since Google’s “Street View” consisted of spherical images and the asserted patents did not explicitly mention curved or spherical images, the district court entered summary judgment in favor of Google. Id. at 8.
The Federal Circuit unanimously reversed the district court’s decision. The Federal Circuit reasoned that the district court’s claim construction was based on extrinsic evidence of the technical meaning of “elevation,” which essentially implies flat images that are “vertical to the horizon.” Id. at 10. The Federal Circuit analyzed intrinsic evidence, such as the specification, claim language, and prosecution history, and held that “substantially elevation” in the asserted claims could include both flat and spherical images. Id. Of the three, the court found specification to be the “single best guide to the meaning of a claim term.” Id. The specification of the asserted patents discussed the use of a fish-eye lens, which provides “a curved, as opposed to vertical, projection.” Id. at 11. Further, the court reasoned that if “substantially elevation” were to cover only flat images, “substantially” would not have any independent operative meaning. Id. As claim construction that gives meaning to all the terms is preferable, the Federal Circuit held that “substantially elevation” covers both flat and spherical images. Id. at 10. Finally, the court ruled that the prosecution history did not support the district court’s claim construction either. Id. at 13.
This case is significant for two reasons. First, the Federal Circuit reemphasized its preference for intrinsic over extrinsic evidence in claim construction. Second, according to Duane Morris, LLP, the reversal of Chief Judge Kozinski’s decision highlights the complexity of patent matters and the need for consistency in rulings, which strengthen a policy argument in favor of the Federal Circuit’s exclusive jurisdiction in patent cases.
Jenny Choi is a first year student at Harvard Law School interested in cyber security and privacy.