Ambiguity As To Whether A Patentee Intended To Depart From The Ordinary Meaning Of A Term Does Not Indicate A Clear Intent To Depart

In Starhome GmbH v. AT&T Mobility LLC, No. 12-1694 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 24, 2014), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's SJ of noninfringement.

Plaintiff Starhome GmbH ("Starhome") sued Defendants AT&T Mobility LLC, Roamware, Inc., and T-Mobile USA, Inc. (collectively "AT&T") for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,920,487 ("the '487 patent"). The '487 patent is directed to a system and method of improving the functionality of phone services for users in a roaming telephone network by use of an "intelligent gateway" that assists in translating a dialing sequence while in the roaming network. Starhome alleged that AT&T's network platform, which runs applications that allow mobile-network operators to translate numbers dialed by roaming cell-phone users, infringed the '487 patent. AT&T's network platform does not connect to an external packet-switch network or other external network.

After a Markman hearing, the district court issued its claim construction order, where the district court found that the word "gateway" in the claims has a well-known technical meaning in the telecommunications industry, and that Starhome did not clearly redefine the term in the '487 patent. The district court found that the word "gateway" refers to a device that connects two or more networks. Finding that AT&T set forth a compelling argument of noninfringement based on the construction of "intelligent gateway," the district court granted AT&T's request for SJ of noninfringement. Starhome appealed.

"At best, Figure 2 inserts ambiguity as to whether the patentees intended to depart from the ordinary meaning of 'intelligent gateway.' But such ambiguity does not rise to the level of the clear intent our case law requires." Slip op. at 12-13 (citing Teleflex, Inc. v. Ficosa N. Am. Corp., 299 F.3d 1313, 1325 (Fed. Cir. 2002)).

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court's construction of the claim term "intelligent gateway" and judgment of noninfringement. The Court first noted that, as a general rule, the words of a claim are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning as understood by a person of ordinary skill in the art when read in the context of the specification and prosecution history. The Court noted that there are only two exceptions to this general rule: (1) when the patentee sets out a definition and acts as his own lexicographer; or (2) when the patentee disavows the full scope of a claim term either in the specification or...

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