direct infringement : CAFC Alert

A Patent of Few Words and a Defendant with a Few Parts cannot avoid a Trier of Fact

| February 22, 2019

Centrak, Inc. v. Sonitor Tech., Inc.

February 14, 2019

Before Reyna, Taranto and Chen.  Opinion by Chen.


The CAFC reversed and remanded a Motion of Summary Judgment finding that the District Court errored in focusing on the length of a written description and dismissing a plausible theory for direct infringement based on the final assembly being done by the defendant within a customer’s system.


  1. Background

CenTrak, Inc. sued Sonitor Technologies, Inc. for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent No. 8,604,909 (’909 patent), which claims systems for locating and identifying portable devices using ultrasonic base stations. The district court granted Sonitor’s MSJ that the relevant claims   are invalid for lack of written description and are not directly infringed because Sonitor does not individually provide for all the aspects of the claims.

The claims are directed to ultrasonic base stations which can be mounted in various fixed locations in a facility, such as rooms in a hospital, and the portable devices can be attached to people or assets that move between rooms. Each portable device is configured to detect the ultrasonic location codes from the nearby ultrasonic base stations and “transmit an output signal including a portable device ID representative of the portable device and the detected ultrasonic location code.” While the portable devices receive location codes from ultrasonic base stations via ultrasound, they might transmit location and device information via RF to an RF base station.

The asserted claims generally recite: (1) ultrasonic (US) base stations; (2) portable devices (tags); (3) a server; (4) radio frequency (RF) base stations; and (5) a backbone network that connects the server with the RF base stations.

All the claims of the ’909 patent are directed to “ultrasonic” components.  However, the specification focuses on infrared (IR) or RF components. Only two sentences of the ’909 patent’s specification discuss ultrasonic technology:

Although IR base stations 106 are described, it is contemplated that the base stations 106 may also be configured to transmit a corresponding BS-ID by an ultrasonic signal, such that base stations 106 may represent ultrasonic base stations. Accordingly, portable devices 108 may be configured to include an ultrasonic receiver to receive the BS-ID from an ultrasonic base station.

In regard to lack of written description, Sonitor argued that the two sentences in the specification dedicated to ultrasound, did not show that the inventors had possession of an ultrasound-based RTL system.

Regarding invalidity, the district court ruled that while the specification “contemplated” ultrasound, “[m]ere contemplation . . . is not sufficient to meet the written description requirement.

In regard to infringement, the accused Sonitor Sense system includes three pieces of hardware sold by Sonitor: RF “gateways,” ultrasonic location transmitters, and portable locator tags. Sonitor also provides software for installation on a customer’s server hardware.

Sonitor’s main non-infringement argument was that Sonitor does not make, use, or sell certain elements recited in the claims, including the required backbone network, Wi-Fi access points, or server hardware.

CenTrak argues that the resulting system infringes the ’909 patent when the components Sonitor sells are integrated with a customer’s existing network and server hardware. CenTrak asserted only direct infringement.  Since, Sonitor does not sell all of the hardware necessary to practice the asserted claims, so, on appeal, CenTrak only pursued a theory under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) that Sonitor “makes” infringing systems when it installs and configures the Sonitor Sense system.  In short, the crux of CenTrak’s assertion is that there is direct infringement when the party assembles components into the claimed assembly (i.e. the party “makes” the patented invention, even when someone else supplies most of the components).

The district court granted summary judgment of non-infringement.  It held that a defendant must be the actor who assembles the entire claimed system to be liable for direct infringement, and CenTrak had not submitted proof that Sonitor personnel had made an infringing assembly.

CenTrak appealed both MSJ grants.

  2. Opinion

In regard to invalidity, the CAFC held that, the district court leaned too heavily on the fact that the specification devoted relatively less attention to the ultra-sonic embodiment compared to the infrared embodiment.  Quoting their ScriptPro LLC v. Innovation Associates, Inc., 833 F.3d 1336, 1341 (Fed. Cir. 2016), they reiterated that “a specification’s focus on one particular embodiment or purpose cannot limit the described invention where that specification expressly contemplates other embodiments or purposes.”

The Court explained that the real question is the level of detail the ’909 patent’s specification must contain, beyond disclosing that ultrasonic signals can be used, to adequately convey to a skilled artisan that the inventors possessed an ultrasonic embodiment.  Citing their Ariad Pharm., Inc. v. Eli Lilly & Co., 598 F.3d 1336, 1351 (Fed. Cir. 2010) en banc: “the level of detail required to satisfy the written description requirement varies depending on the nature and scope of the claims and on the complexity and predictability of the relevant technology.”  They further noted per Ariad that the issue of whether a claimed invention satisfies the written description requirement is a question of fact.

The opinion details that the parties disputed the complexity and predictability of ultrasonic RTL systems, and the district court erred at the summary judgment stage by not sufficiently crediting testimony from CenTrak’s expert that the differences between IR and ultrasound, when used to transmit small amounts of data over short distances, are incidental to carrying out the claimed invention.  The Court specifically noted the testimony from CenTrak’s expert that those details were not particularly complex or unpredictable, and Sonitor does not explain why a person of ordinary skill in the art would need to see such details in the specification to find that the named inventors actually invented the claimed system.

Hence, the Court concluded that:

…there is a material dispute of fact as to whether the named inventors actually possessed an ultrasonic RTL system at the time they filed their patent application or whether they were “leaving it to the . . . industry to complete an unfinished invention.”…

Here, as in ScriptPro, the fact that the bulk of the specification discusses a system with infrared components does not necessarily mean that the inventors did not also constructively reduce to practice a system with ultrasonic components … “the written description requirement does not demand either examples or an actual reduction to practice; a constructive reduction to practice” may be sufficient if it “identifies the claimed invention” and does so “in a definite way.” Ariad, 598 F.3d at 1352.

In regard to direct infringement, the Court noted that it is undisputed that Sonitor does not provide certain claimed elements in the accused systems, such as a backbone network, Wi-Fi access points, or server hardware.  Moreover, the district court analyzed the evidence CenTrak offered and concluded that no reasonable jury could find that Sonitor “made” the claimed invention by performing installations relying on Centillion Data Systems, LLC v. Qwest Communications International, Inc., 631 F.3d 1279 (Fed. Cir. 2011) for the proposition that to “make” a system, a single entity must assemble the entire system itself.

The CAFC found that Centillion does not rule out CenTrak’s infringement theory. In this case, Cen-Trak argued that the final, missing elements are the configuration that allows the location transmitters to work with the network and the location codes that are entered into the Sonitor server.  According to CenTrak, admissible evidence that Sonitor is the “final assembler” raises a triable issue of fact on infringement even though Sonitor does not “make” each of the claimed components of the accused systems.

The Court further held that under Lifetime Industries, Inc. v. Trim-Lok, Inc., 869 F.3d 1372 (Fed. Cir. 2017),  and Cross Med. Prods., Inc. v. Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., 424 F.3d 1293, 1311 (Fed. Cir. 2005), a final assembler can be liable for making an infringing combination—assuming the evidence supports such a finding—even if it does not make each individual component element.

  3. Decision

The CAFC found that the District Court errored in both: (1) finding a lack of written description as it relied too heavily on the briefness of the ‘909 patents comments on ultrasonic RTL systems rather than the amount of knowledge needed for a skilled artisan to consider; and (2) finding that there was no dispute of fact as to whether Sonitor was a “final assembler” by virtue of performing the final system installation for its customers.  The Court therefore reversed and remanded.

Take away

  • The measure of a sufficient written description is not in its length.  Rather, the test is to the amount of disclosure necessary for a skilled artisan to discern that the inventor in fact possessed the invention.
  • A case for direct infringement can be made even where the defendant does not “make all the parts” if there is sufficient evidence that the accused infringer is a “final assembler” in terms of actuating the combination of elements to infringe.

Direct infringement requires that party exercises “control or direction” over performance of each claimed step, but inducement does not have single-entity requirement

| March 11, 2013

Move, Inc. v. Real Estate Alliance Ltd.

March 4, 2013

Panel:  Rader, Lourie and Moore.  Opinion by Lourie


REAL owns the ’989 patent, directed to methods for locating real estate properties using a zoom-enabled map on a computer.  Move operates websites that allow users to search for available real estate properties.  REAL alleged that the functions employed by Move’s websites infringed REAL’s claims.  In the recent en banc decision of Akamai, CAFC decided an issue of divided infringement under § 271(b).  On the issue of direct infringement under § 271(a), CAFC found that there is no genuine issue of material fact that Move does not control or direct the performance of each step of the claimed method.  Therefore, Move is not liable for direct infringement.  However, CAFC vacated the summary judgment regarding indirect infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b).  In en banc in Akamai, all the steps of a claimed method must be performed in order to find induced infringement, but that it is not necessary to prove that all the steps were committed by a single entity.  Since the district court summarily concluded that because Move, as a single party, was not liable for direct infringement, it could not be liable for joint infringement.  However, in Akamai, a single-entity requirement is not required in the inducement context.

Real社はコンピュータ上で拡大することが可能な地図を使用して、不動産物件の所在地を示す方法に関する特許を所有していた。一 方、Move社らは、ユーザーが不動産物件を探すことができるウェブサイトを運営していた。Real社は、Move社のウェブサイト機能がReal社の特 許を侵害すると主張した。

CAFCは特許法271条(b)項における共同侵害の成立要件に関して、昨年、Akamai判決(大法廷)を下し たが、本件では、Move社はクレーム方法の各ステップの実行を監督したり指示したりしていないので、特許法271条(a)項の直接侵害に関しては事実関 係についての実質的な争いはない。したがって、Move社の直接侵害はないと判断した地裁判決は正しい。

しかしながら、誘発侵害成立のため には、方法クレームの全てのステップが実行されることが条件ではあるが、全てのステップが単独で被告によって実行されていることは必ずしも要件ではないこ とをAkamai判決では判示した。ところが、本件の地裁判決は、Move社が単独で直接侵害がないがゆえに、共同侵害もないと判断している。 Akamai判決に従うならば、被告が単独で全てのステップを実施したかどうかは誘発侵害成立の要件にはならない。よって、特許法271条(b)項の間接 侵害に関する地裁のサマリージャッジメントを破棄し、誘発侵害の認定を地裁に差し戻した。

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