Mediatube Corp v Bell Canada, 2017 FC 6

Courts may take a more binary approach in interpreting the scope of IT patents.

In this Federal Court (“FC”) case, MediaTube Corp. (“MediaTube”) and NorthVu Inc. (“NorthVu”), brought allegations of infringement against Bell Canada and Bell Aliant Regional Communications (collectively, “Bell”). The alleged infringement involved an information technology (“IT”) patent, Canadian Patent No. 2,339,477 (“the ‘477 Patent”), entitled “Audio/Video Signal Redistribution System.” [2] The ‘477 Patent was invented by NorthVu and is licensed by MediaTube. [2] The plaintiffs asserted that Bell had infringed the ‘477 Patent with Bell’s Fibe TV and FibreOp TV, both of which are Internet Protocol Television (“IPTV”) services. [2]

The FC deemed the ‘477 Patent to be valid, but not infringed. [13] Costs were decided in Bell’s favour and were elevated by 50% to reflect the punitive damages claimed by MediaTube and the weak argument they had put forth. [13]

Background and Issues

The ’477 Patent was filed on July 30, 1999, issued on November 20, 2007 and is due to expire on July 30, 2019. [14] The invented device works by receiving a plurality of audio/video input signals in different formats and redistributing user-selected signals to multiple users over existing telephone wires. [18, 19] The parties were in agreement that the signals received may be either analog or digital, and while nothing in the ‘477 Patent explicitly excludes digital signals, it was written with an analog format in view. [25] As such, the FC decided to consider the following four issues: claim construction, validity, infringement and costs. [26]

Claim Construction, Validity and Infringement

Wording in the claims of the ‘477 Patent was agreed upon by both parties to be quite broad – broad enough even to encompass other unrelated modes of communication, such as fiber optics. [54, 66] As such, the FC did not find the claims to be plain and unambiguous. [58, 74] A purposive reading of the disclosure conveyed that the ‘477 Patent was envisioned for use with analog signals, not digital ones. [91] In regards to validity, the court did not find the ‘477 Patent invalid for anticipation, [116] obviousness [162] or lack of utility [179]. Thus, none of the claims of the ‘477 Patent were found to be invalid. [180] Finally, the FC did not find that any infringement of the ‘477 Patent had taken place. [225]

Costs

Following the legal analysis, this case quickly became a discussion of costs. [226] Bell had successfully defended itself against the patent infringement allegations, and was therefore entitled to costs. [228] During the second round of discoveries, Bell had provided a set of “Corrected Information,” but the FC decided not to make any special awards for it. [235] The FC also refused to award aggravated costs for Bell’s allegations that MediaTube was a patent troll. [242] Bell had provided 753 prior art references during the litigation, but the FC did not impose any cost consequences against them for this multitude. [246] Ultimately, Bell was awarded costs, elevated by 50%, however, costs for the punitive damages claims were to be calculated on a solicitor-and-client basis. [268]

Commentary

In Canada, it is rare for an information technology (IT) patent litigation matter go to trial and judgment. The paucity of Canadian IT patent-litigation makes way for pharmaceutical patent litigation to be the primary driver of Canadian patent jurisprudence. A number of important principles were canvassed in this case and the general principles derived from pharma-patent jurisprudence were perfectly applicable to these facts. Even though a broad range of issues were originally raised, the final issues were narrowed considerably by the parties during litigation, and the decision primarily focused on costs.