SecroNet Ltd. v. NetGear Inc. (PDF) Decided July 30, 2007 Judge Hamilton This is an in depth analysis of a claim construction, written by a person who would like to remain anonymous. Judge Hamilton construes 10 claim terms in this claim construction opinion. The 5 patents at issue relate to local area network technologies. Of particular interest is the court’s construction of the terms ââ?¬Å?local area networkââ?¬Â? and ââ?¬Å?electrical outlet.ââ?¬Â? In addition, the court discussed whether terms included in the claim preamble should be construed as limitations to the claim. Patents at Issue: The ‘360 patent discloses an intelligent network capable of distributed sensing, control and communication. The ‘510, ‘368, and ‘280 patents (collectively the ‘510 family) relate to local area networks. The ‘538 patent discloses a network for using a telephone line within a residence or another building. Construction of Disputed Terms and Phrases: 1. ââ?¬Å?Serially connected intelligent cell[s] (ââ?¬Å?SICS”)ââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet proposed that SICs should be construed as ââ?¬Å?two or more intelligent cells directly connected using point-to-point mediumââ?¬Â?, where ââ?¬Å?intelligent cellsââ?¬Â? refer to programmable elements for providing remote control, sensing, and/or communications that when interconnected with other like elements form a communications, control and sensing network or system with distributed intelligence. NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear agreed with SercoNet’s construction of intelligent cells, but differed in its interpretation of ââ?¬Å?serially connectedââ?¬Â? proposing ââ?¬Å?a device, which is connected to at least one other such device, by means of a bi-directionally communication channel. The devices are arranged in a serial (i.e. Daisy chained) fashion, but not a bus or star topology.ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: The court looked to the use of the term within the claims to determine that the term defines ââ?¬Å?connections at the cell to-to-cell level, indicating that the term ‘serial’ is focused on how each cell is connected to another cell, rather than referring to a pattern of cells in a larger topology.ââ?¬Â? Turning to the specification, the court found that every communication between ââ?¬Å?SICs is a ‘point-to-point communication’,ââ?¬Â? and that a unique feature of the ââ?¬Å?serial connect[ions]ââ?¬Â? of the claims was that each conducting media connects and communicates with no more than two intelligent cells. The court stated that any reference within the specification or the prosecution history to the term ââ?¬Å?daisy-chainââ?¬Â?, was in conjunction with a larger network topology, and thus was not determinative in construing ââ?¬Å?serially connected.ââ?¬Â? Accordingly, the court adopted SercoNet’s proposed construction of ââ?¬Å?SICsââ?¬Â?, construing the term to mean ââ?¬Å?two or more intelligent cells directly connected using point-to-point mediumââ?¬Â?, where ââ?¬Å?intelligent cellsââ?¬Â? refers to ââ?¬Å?programmable elements for providing remote control, sensing and/or communications that when interconnected with other like elements for a communications, control and sensing network or system with distributed intelligence. 2. ââ?¬Å?Line-powered, serially connected intelligent cells (PSICs)ââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet contended that the term PSICs should be construed to mean ââ?¬Å?SICs wherein one SIC receives power directly from the power source and other SICs are fed power from network wiring and/or may feed power to other conntected SICs.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that the term PSICs be construed to mean ââ?¬Å?an SIC capable of receiving and transmitting power on the data lineââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: Based on the plain claim language, the court determined that ââ?¬Å?PSIC’s are powered, and that this is not an optional featureââ?¬Â? of the invention. Turning to the specification, the court determined that some SICs receive power from the power source whereas other SICs receive power from serially connected SICs. Moreover, the specification disclosed that some SICs do not feed power, namely those located on the endpoints of a string of PSICs. Accordingly, the court adopted SercoNet’s proposed construction of ââ?¬Å?PSICsââ?¬Â? with a slight modification and construed the term to mean ââ?¬Å?SICs wherein one SIC receives power directly from the power source and other SICs are fed power from network wiring and may feed power to other connected SICs if capable.ââ?¬Â? 3. ââ?¬Å?Independent communicationââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet contended that ââ?¬Å?independent communicationââ?¬Â? be construed as ââ?¬Å?communication among a pair of devices that does not effect nor preclude the communication of any other communicating pair of devices.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that the term ââ?¬Å?independent communicationââ?¬Â? be construed to mean ââ?¬Å?capable of communicating with adjacent cells by means of different types of frames and protocols.ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: The court focused on the plain language of the claims to determine that independent communication ââ?¬Å?denotes a communication between each pair, in which such a communication operates irrespective of communications between any other communicating pair.ââ?¬Â? Turning to the specification, the court noted that ââ?¬Å?communication between SICs of a communicating pair is independent of the communication between SICs of any other communicating pair, in that these communications neither preclude nor affect one another in any way.ââ?¬Â? NetGear focused on the prosecution history of the patents as suggesting otherwise, however, the court did not find this determinative because ââ?¬Å?patent prosecution history is less important and less reliable in claim construction than the specification.ââ?¬Â? According, the court determine that ââ?¬Å?independent communicationââ?¬Â? should be construed to mean ââ?¬Å?communication among a pair of devices that does not effect nor preclude the communication of any other communicating pair of devices.ââ?¬Â? 4. ââ?¬Å?Local area network ââ?¬Å?LANââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet contended that ââ?¬Å?LANââ?¬Â? means ââ?¬Å?a short distance communications network (typically within a building or campus) used to link computers and peripheral devices (such as printers, CD-ROMS, modems) under some form of standard control.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that the term be construed to mean ââ?¬Å?a configuration of devices, arranged in a serial (i.e., daisy-chained) fashion, but not a bus or star topology.ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: Based on the plain language of the claims, the court determined that the term ââ?¬Å?LANââ?¬Â? was used generally without any specific or unique meaning. Turning to the ordinary plain meaning as one skilled in the art of electrical engineering would interpret it, the court accepted SercoNet’s definition of the term, construing LAN to mean ââ?¬Å?a short distance communications network (typically within a building or campus) used to link computers and peripheral devices (such as printers, CD-ROMS, modems) under some form of standard control.ââ?¬Â? 5. ââ?¬Å?Electrical outletââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet contended that term be construed in accordance with its customary meaning ââ?¬â?? that of ââ?¬Å?a point on [a] wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipmentââ?¬Â? – as taken from the authoritative dictionary of the standard setting organization, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (ââ?¬Å?IEEEââ?¬Â?). NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that an ââ?¬Å?electrical outletââ?¬Â? be construed to mean ââ?¬Å?a power line termination from which electric power can be obtained by inserting a plug,ââ?¬Â? as provided by the McGraw-Hill Electronics Dictionaryââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: The court found that SercoNet’s definition, taken from the authoritative dictionary of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics (ââ?¬Å?IEEEââ?¬Â?) was more persuasive than NetGear’s, which was taken from the McGraw Hill Electronics Dictionary. The court also determined that the specification supported this definition. Accordingly, the court construed ââ?¬Å?electrical outletââ?¬Â? to mean ââ?¬Å?a point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment.ââ?¬Â? 6. ââ?¬Å?First and second data couplers, each coupled to a respective one of said first and second ports, and each having a data signal port operative to pass only a data signalââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?two data couplers, each coupled to a different port, where each such port transmits a data signal, but not a power signal.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?the device has two data couplers, each coupled to a different port (the first and second port). Each data coupler is capable of separating the data from the power receive at that port, and passing along the data signalââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: The court focused on the specification to construe this term, determining that the specification does not support NetGear’s interpretation that the separating function is necessary part of the invention in all circumstances. Accordingly, the court construed to term as ââ?¬Å?two data couplers, each coupled to a different port, where each such port transmits a data signal, but not a power signal.ââ?¬Â? 7. ââ?¬Å?A power supply coupled to the first power signal port and to at least one of said modems to be powered by the power signal and for powering said modemââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?the device receives a power signal and allows the transfer of the power signal with the modem and the power coupler.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?the device receives power and data on the first wiring segment, and filters the power. The filtered power is used to power a modem.ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: The court found that the plain language of the claim supported SercoNet’s proposed construction. In addition, the court found that ââ?¬Å?filteringââ?¬Â? the power is not required anywhere in the specification. Accordingly, the court construed the term as ââ?¬Å?the device receives a power signal and allows the transfer of the power signal with the modem and the power coupler.ââ?¬Â? 8. ââ?¬Å?First, second and third nodesââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?three distinct communication entities designated 1st, 2nd and 3rd.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?first, second and third SICs.ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: Based on the use of the term independent of the term SIC in the claim language, the court determined that ââ?¬Å?nodesââ?¬Â? were not equivalent to ââ?¬Å?SICs.ââ?¬Â? The specification identified addressable entities other than SICs in the exemplary network. Accordingly, the court construed to them to mean ââ?¬Å?3 addressable or identifiable entities designated 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.ââ?¬Â? 9. ââ?¬Å?First and second wiring segments in a buildingââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?two distinct wiring segments, each consists of 2 or more distinct wires exclusively located in a structure.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?the building’s conventional telephone wiring which has been modified so as to be split into fully separate segments.ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: The court found that the plain claim language does not support the limitation that the wiring must be telephone wiring, as proposed by NetGear. Turning to the specification, the court determined that although the specification disclosed use of the invention in telephone wiring, it did not explicitly limit the invention to such wiring. Accordingly, the court construed the term as ââ?¬Å?two distinct wiring segments, each consist[ing] of 2 or more distinct wires exclusively located in a building.ââ?¬Â? 10. ââ?¬Å?Telephone signalââ?¬Â? SercoNet’s Proposed Construction: SercoNet proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?an electrical signal carrying bi-directional speech information in either a digital or analog form.ââ?¬Â? NetGear’s Proposed Construction: NetGear proposed that this term be construed as ââ?¬Å?an analog telephone signal (i.e., the signal that is used for plain telephone service (POTS))ââ?¬Â? Court’s Construction: Turning to the plain claim language, the court found that nowhere is the specification is a telephone signal limited to an analog signal. From the specification, the court determined that at least one embodiment of the invention described both analog and digital telephone networks. Accordingly, the court adopted SercoNet’s construction, construing the term to mean ââ?¬Å?an electrical signal carrying bi-directional speech information in either a digital or analog form.ââ?¬Â?

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