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Ironburg Inventions Ltd. v. Collective Minds Gaming Co. Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

June 14, 2018

IRONBURG INVENTIONS LTD., Plaintiff,
v.
COLLECTIVE MINDS GAMING CO. LTD., a Canadian Limited Company, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS W. THRASH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a patent infringement action. It is before the Court for a Claims Construction Order regarding eight disputed claim terms in U.S. Patent Nos. 8, 641, 525 (“the ‘525 Patent”), 9, 089, 770 (“the ‘770 patent”), 9, 289, 688 (“the ‘688 Patent”), 9, 352, 229 (“the ‘229 Patent”), and 9, 308, 450 (“the ‘450 Patent”).

         I. Background

         The Plaintiff, Ironburg Inventions LTD., is a British company that manufactures and sells custom video game equipment and accessories through its American partner Scuf Gaming International, LLC, which is based in Georgia. It is seeking to enforce its rights under a series of patents for a video game controller. In particular, Ironburg's patents describe controllers which have been modified from the standard gaming controller in two ways: through the addition of controls onto the back of the controller, and through the added ability to adjust the throw of a trigger control. The Defendant, Collective Minds Gaming Co. Ltd., is a Canadian company that also manufactures and sells video game equipment, including video game controllers. Collective Minds now seeks construction of a number of terms in Ironburg's patents.

         II. Legal Standard

         The construction of claims in a patent case is a matter of law for the Court.[1] In construing patent claims, the Court looks first to the intrinsic evidence. The intrinsic evidence consists of the patent itself, the claim terms, the specification (or written description), and the patent prosecution history, if in evidence.[2] However, not all intrinsic evidence is equal.[3] First among intrinsic evidence is the claim language.[4] A “bedrock principle” of patent law is that the claims of the patent define the patentee's invention.[5] Thus, the Court's focus must “begin and remain centered on the language of the claims themselves, for it is that language that the patentee chose to use to particularly point out and distinctly claim the subject matter which the patentee regards as his invention.”[6] When reading claim language, terms are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning, which is the meaning that the term would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art at the time of the invention.[7]

         As a result, an objective baseline from which to begin claims construction is to determine how a person of ordinary skill in the relevant art would understand the terms.[8] Although “the claims of the patent, not its specifications, measure the invention, ”[9] the person of ordinary skill in the art is deemed to read the claim terms in the context of the entire patent, including the specification, rather than solely in the context of the particular claim in which the disputed term appears.[10] For instance, the patentee may act as his own lexicographer and set forth a special definition for a claim term.[11]

         Claims are part of a “fully integrated written instrument” and, therefore, “must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part.”[12] In fact, the specification is “the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term” and is often dispositive.[13] “It is therefore entirely appropriate for a court, when conducting claim construction, to rely heavily on the written description for guidance as to the meaning of the claims.”[14] Nevertheless, the Court must be careful not to read a limitation into a claim from the specification.[15] In particular, the Court cannot limit the invention to the specific examples or preferred embodiments found in the specification.[16] In addition to the specification, the prosecution history may be used to determine if the patentee limited the scope of the claims during the patent prosecution.[17] The prosecution history helps to demonstrate how the patentee and the Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) understood the patent.[18] However, because the prosecution history represents the ongoing negotiations between the PTO and the patentee, rather than a final product, it is not as useful as the specification for claim construction purposes.[19]

         Extrinsic evidence - such as expert and inventor testimony, dictionaries, and learned treatises - is only considered when the claim language remains genuinely ambiguous after considering all of the patent's intrinsic evidence.[20]Although less reliable than the patent and prosecution history in determining construction of claim terms, extrinsic evidence may be used to help the Court understand the technology or educate itself about the invention.[21] In particular, because technical dictionaries collect accepted meanings for terms in various scientific and technical fields, they can be useful in claim construction by providing a better understanding of the underlying technology and the way in which one skilled in the art might use the claim terms.[22] But extrinsic evidence, including dictionary definitions, cannot be used to vary or contradict the terms of the patent claims.[23]

         III. Discussion

         A. Locations on the Controller

         1. “top edge” and “front” - ‘525 Patent, Claims 5 and 17

         The parties first dispute the meaning of the terms “top edge” and “front” in dependent Claim 5 of the ‘525 Patent, and “front” as used in dependent Claim 17 of the ‘525 Patent. Ironburg contends that no construction is necessary because “top edge” and “front” are terms with ordinary meanings that are easily understood in the context of the patent. Collective Minds contends that “top edge” should be construed as the “uppermost edge of the controller (i.e., the edge furthest from the user when the controller is held horizontally), ” and that “front” should be construed to mean the “front face of the controller (if a curved surface, the measurement uses the tangent of the center point of the front face).”

         Here, there is no reason to depart from the plain and ordinary meaning of “top edge” and “front.” Both of these terms are clearly recited in the ‘525 Patent as referring to particular faces of the controller. While it perhaps may have been easier to label each face with generic terms that do not carry with them directional baggage (e.g., A, B, C, etc.), that does not mean that a person of ordinary skill in the art would be unable to understand what “top edge” and “front” mean in the context of the entire patent. Rather, a person of ordinary skill in the art would easily understand what was meant by “top edge” and “front” simply by looking to the rest of the patent. Claim 1 describes the controller as comprising four faces: “a front, a back, a top edge, and a bottom edge, wherein the back of the controller is opposite the front of the controller and the top edge is opposite the bottom edge.”[24] Further, Claim 1 goes on to describe that the front of the controller has a control, and that the controller is shaped “such that the user's thumb is positioned to operate the front control.”[25]This language alone provides enough context such that a person of ordinary skill in the art would be able to orient himself determine which face is which.

         Collective Minds' proposed constructions, meanwhile, would unnecessarily limit both of these terms. For instance, while the “top edge” may be the “uppermost” edge, or may include the “uppermost” edge, it may also encompass more than just the “uppermost” part, such as when a controller has a curved “top edge.” In such a situation, the clear intent of the patent is to refer to the entire curved face as the “top edge, ” but Collective Minds' definition would only consider the “uppermost” portion of this curved edge to be the “top edge.”

         Further, in the event the front face is a curved surface, Collective Minds wants to go so far as to specifically define the front face as the tangent of its center point. But Collective Minds comes up with this definition out of whole cloth. While it is true that one could not mathematically determine whether the top edge was exactly perpendicular to a curved front without choosing a tangent, nothing in the patent language requires exact mathematical perpendicularity.

         Instead, it merely requires that the top edge be “substantially perpendicular” to the front. And even if exact perpendicularity was required, nothing in the patent suggests that the tangent must necessarily be the center point of the front face.

         Rather than using Collective Minds' wholly novel construction of “front, ” the Court finds that its plain and ordinary meaning is both sufficient and more appropriate here.

         2. “located at/on the back of the controller” - ‘525 and ‘770 Patents

         The parties next dispute the meaning of the terms referencing the location of the back controls. Claims 1 and 20 of the ‘525 Patent refer to the back controls as being “located on the back of the controller, ” while Claim 1 of the ‘770 Patent refers to the back controls as being “located at the back of the controller.” Ironburg argues the plain meaning is sufficient here as well, while Collective Minds would like these terms to be construed to say that the rear controls are those which are “positioned to be engaged by the user at the back of the controller.”

         Once again, however, Collective Minds' construction is an unjustified rewriting of the claim language. Collective Minds claims that its construction is more true to the descriptions of the specification. While it may be true that the specification often uses language that describes its position as something able to be controlled by the user, the fact remains that the patentee chose to claim the positional relationship between the controls and the back of the controller, and not the relationship between the controls and the user. The plain language contained in the claim language is not confusing or ambiguous, and there is no reason to completely redefine the claim language.

         3. “Medial portion” -‘770 Patent, Claims 4 and 5

         The parties next dispute the meaning of the term “medial portion” as used in Claims 4 and 5 of the ‘770 Patent. Those claims read in relevant part as follows:

Claim 4: A controller “wherein the first distance is between the top edge and the medial portion and the second distance is between the top edge and the medial portion.”
Claim 5: A controller “wherein the medial portion is closer to the top edge than a distal end of each of the first handle and the second handle.”

         Collective Minds would define “medial portion” in Claim 4 as “the lowest edge of the controller (i.e., the edge closest to the user when the controller is held horizontally) between the handles.” Ironburg, meanwhile, argues the ordinary language of the patent is sufficient. The Court agrees with Ironburg as to Claim 4. The patent itself defines what the medial portion is in Claim 5, and Collective Minds' definition does not clarify the term any further.

         As for Claim 5, Collective Minds would have the Court construe the phrase to read “the medial portion is closer to the top edge than the medial portion is to a distal end of each of the first handle and the second handle.” Ironburg once again argues that the plain language is sufficient. Ultimately, the dispute centers around some ambiguity in the claim language which could lead to one of two interpretations. Either (1) the medial portion is closer to the top edge than ...


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