Yesterday, thanks to PriorSmart‘s Daily Litigation Alerts, I noticed Dell, HP and Lenovo all targeted in the same Delaware patent lawsuit by Graphics Properties Holdings, Inc. The titles of the two patents at issue were both “Display system having floating point rasterization and floating point framebuffering” (6,650,327 and 7,518,615). It sounded a bit familiar, so after a little searching, I found out that, sure enough, just a few days before the same company filed suit on the same 2 patents against Apple, Nintendo, Sony, Toshiba and Acer in the Southern District of New York. That said, I still wasn’t satisfied that I had correctly identified the source of my recollection. (You don’t often forget a term like “rasterization.”)
After a little more searching, I came across an older case, Silicon Graphics v. ATI Technologies, which had gone to trial in Madison, Wisconsin in 2008. The case was a close to a total loss for SGI, with Judge Barbara Crabb ruling that co-defendants ATI and AMD did not infringe the ‘327 Patent, and that both defendants were authorized for certain uses under a license to Microsoft. So why are these new lawsuits being filed, and who is Graphics Properties Holdings? Graphics Properties is essentially what’s left of SGI after filing bankruptcy last year. (That’s right, again.) As for why these former SGI patents are now being asserted again, a court of appeals decision from earlier this year may help explain. Chief Judge Rader, in a unanimous opinion, undid just about everything that Judge Crabb had done.
Because the district court erroneously construed two of the three contested limitations in the ’327 patent this court vacates the summary judgment on claims with those terms. This court also determines that the district court erred with respect to the effect of the Microsoft license on direct infringement.
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[As a result,]this court vacates the district court’s non-infringement ruling … and remands for consideration in light of the correct construction.
In other words, because Judge Crabb misinterpreted the meaning of critical terms in the patent, the ultimate conclusion of non-infringement was incorrect. Specifically, the phrase “a rasterization process which operates on a floating point format” was interpreted by Judge Crabb as requiring that the process “as a whole” needs to operate on a floating point format. It was undisputed that the accused products performed some rasterization processes on a floating point format, but others using fixed point values. Based on this construction, Judge Crabb (correctly) concluded that the accused products did not exactly match the claimed invention.
However, on appeal, Judge Rader noted that the specification recites a number of different rasterization processes, and that the patent claim uses the indefinite article a when describing rasterization on a floating point format. The correct construction, according to Judge Rader, is that “one or more of the rasterization processes (e.g., scan conversion, color, texture, fog, shading) operate on a floating point format.” Because it was also admitted that some of the rasterization process did use a floating point format, a judge simply can’t deny the patent holder its opportunity to prove infringement of the patent to the jury.
The contrast between these two constructions is dramatic, as potential design around opportunities for Judge Crabb’s narrower interpretation are significantly easier than for Judge Rader’s broader construction. Having emerged from this first battle with a broader interpretation of the patent claims, Graphics Properties has apparently decided to turn up the heat and pursue an even broader class of targets, including PC and game console manufacturers, and to do it on multiple fronts.