The Western District of Texas recently held that patent holder Innovative Wireless Solutions (IWS) acted as its own lexicographer by expressly referencing the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.3 Ethernet standard’s definition of a disputed claim term in the patents-in-suit.  Therefore, the disputed claim was construed to incorporate the standard’s definition.

Background.  Cisco and Ruckus Wireless both filed complaints against IWS seeking declarations of non-infringement and invalidity of three of IWS’ patents allegedly covering WiFi technology.  Cisco’s complaint alleges that IWS is a “patent assertion entity that, on information and belief, has been set up to monetize patents by filing strike suits against mere end users of 802.11 standard compliant products (also known as Wi-Fi products) for the purpose of obtaining licensing and settlement amounts to which they are not entitled.”  ”[R]ather than seek to license its patents to Cisco and other manufactures of Wi-Fi compliant products, IWS instead sent demand letters to end users that have purchased Cisco products that are compliant with the Wi-Fi standards.”  According to Cisco, “[w]ithin one week of sending the letters, IWS filed 41 lawsuits against these end users of Cisco products and other similar parties.”  ”In turn, Cisco received indemnity demands from a number of these purchasers.”  ”Although the 41 lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice,” Cisco claims that “IWS is intent on re-filing these lawsuits against these retail purchasers after correcting one or more procedural deficiencies.”  Cisco therefore filed suit “to protect the purchasers” of its WiFi compliant products. 

Ruckus’ complaint makes similar allegations and, like Cisco, requests a declaratory judgment of non-infringement and invalidity to protect purchasers of its WiFi compliant products.

IWS filed answers generally denying the substantive allegations of both complaints but admitting that a case or controversy existed for purposes of Cisco and Ruckus’ request for declaratory relief.  IWS also counterclaimed for infringement of the three patents against both Cisco and Ruckus.

The disputed claim term.  The term “CSMA/CD” appears in claims in all three of the IWS patents at issue.  This stands for ”Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection.”  The parties disputed whether the term needed to be construed at all.  In their claim construction brief, Cisco and Ruckus argued that CSMA/CD is a well-known protocol defined by the IEEE 802.3 Working Group and that IWS’ patents defer to the published IEEE standard.  Therefore, a skilled artisan at the time of the patent would understand the use of the term CSMA/CD and no construction was necessary.

IWS, on the other hand, argued that “CSMA/CD is a term the jury cannot readily understand” and requested that the court construe it to mean:    

Techniques compatible with connecting to networks such as Ethernet networks, where a device that wishes to transmit on the network listens and checks to see if the channel is free for sending data.  If the channel is not free, or if a collision is detected during transmission, the device waits for a small amount of time and tries again.

IWS contended that its proposed construction was “supported by the specification and the IEEE 802.3 standard.” Specifically, IWS cited to one sentence in the specification that states: “The term CSMA/CD is used herein to refer generically to this technology.”  IWS argued that “this sentence indicates that CSMA/CD is used throughout the patents-in-suit to describe any network technology that employs a contention scheme similar to the 802.3 scheme.”  IWS asserted further that “the contention scheme contained in its proposed construction is consistent with the contention scheme overview in the 802.3 standard.”  Finally, IWS contended that the “MA” in CSMA/CD “shows that CSMA/CD is a technology that relates to connecting to a network” and that “multiple access” shows “that the technology relates to connecting to networks in addition to facilitating communications.”

The court’s ruling.  The court rejected IWS’ proposed construction as well as Cisco and Ruckus’ position that the term required no construction.  ”In light of the clear language contained in the patents’ specification, the court concludes that the patentee acted as his own lexicographer and specifically defined the term’s use in the context of the patents.”  The court relied on the specification, which defines CSMA/CD as follows:

Different technologies can be used to facilitate communications on any LAN [Local Area Network] and throughout the Network, the most common being . . . (CSMA/CD) technology.  This is documented in IEEE Standard 802.3 . . .   The 802.3 Standard is based on the 1985 Version 2 Standard for Ethernet and, although there are some differences  . . . the two Standards are largely interchangeable and can be considered equivalent as far as this invention is concerned.  The term ‘CSMA/CD’ is used herein to refer generically to this technology.  Using CSMA/CD, packets of data are communicated in frames that are generally referred to as Ethernet frames.  This term is also used herein, regardless of whether the frames comply with the 802.3 Standard or Ethernet Standard . . .

In other words, “CSMA/CD is a technology, documented in the IEEE 802.3 standard, used to facilitate network communications” and “[t]he 802.3 standard is based on the 1985 Version 2 Standard for Ethernet (‘Ethernet 2 Standard’).”  The court held that “[a]s far as this invention is concerned, the two standards are equivalent.”  ”In the patents-in-suit, CSMA/CD is used to generically refer to the technology as defined in either standard.”  ”Moreover, the specification references the documented IEEE standard when describing a network technology that uses CSMA/CD.”  ”The specification further references the IEEE standard when describing the contention scheme employed in CSMA/CD.”

According to the court, “Cisco’s argument that the term should be given its ordinary and customary meaning fails.”  While there “is a heavy presumption that the term carries its ordinary and customary meaning,” the “presumption is overcome when the patentee acted as his own lexicographer and clearly set forth a definition of the disputed claim term.”  

The court also rejected IWS’ proposed construction.  IWS’ “relies on the use of ‘generically’ in the specification to argue for a particularly broad interpretation.”  ”However, within the context of the paragraph, the word generically refers to CSMA/CD as defined in either the 802.3 Standard or the Ethernet 2 Standard.”  ”As the patents-in-suit explain, the two standards are interchangeable and equivalent as far as this invention is concerned.”

The court therefore construed the term CSMA/CD to incorporate the definition in the standard:  ”CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection) as defined in either the IEEE 802.3 Standard or the 1985 Version 2 Standard for Ethernet.”

Thus, litigants should also be mindful that the definition of patent claim terms may be impacted by a patent’s reference to definitions of claim terms in industry standards.