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Does a data connection have to be completely established before it can transmit data? You'd think so, and if you didn't, you'd have lost a $147 million jury award and be out about $200,000 in court costs.
A company called mFormation Software Technologies (MST) claimed that BlackBerry infringed its patent to "the wireless activation and management of an electronic device without the need to have physical access to the device" -- in this case, basically remotely deleting the contents of the phone.
Reversal of Fortune
A jury returned a verdict in favor of MST and awarded the company $147 million. But BlackBerry moved for judgment as a matter of law on the ground that MST failed to prove that BlackBerry's technology followed all the same steps, in the same order, as MST's patent. Judge Edward Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted the motion, summarily reversing MST's fortunes.
The crux of the case involves whether Judge Chen impermissibly altered the claim construction after the verdict; MST insisted that, when Judge Ware (who presided over the case before his retirement) construed the claim, there was no requirement that the listed steps happen in the order defined by Judge Chen in the JMOL grant. Specifically, MST argued that Judge Ware's construction didn't require that the "establishing a connection sub-step" happen before the "transmitting the contents of the mailbox" step. Judge Ware construed "establishing a connection" to mean "initiating the wireless activation and management of an electronic device without the need to have physical access to the device." But MST argued that nowhere in Judge Ware's construction did he say that the connection had to be completed; it merely said that the connection had to be initiated.
The Federal Circuit agreed with BlackBerry, finding no impermissible broadening of the claim. Instead, Judge Chen "clarified what was inherent in the construction." The claim as construed by Judge Ware would logically require that a connection be established, then completed, before data could be transmitted. Judge Chen's JMOL order merely clarified that this was the case.
MST also insisted that established and establishing are two different things: The -ing means that the connection has not yet been established. BlackBerry insisted that, even if that's the case, the next step -- data transmission -- can't occur unless the connection has been completely established. The Federal Circuit again sided with BlackBerry: "[T]he separate sub-step for establishing a connection would become 'superfluous' if we concluded that a connection did not have to be established (completed) before transmission."
Because MST's whole theory of infringement rested on order not mattering in the transmission steps, the Federal Circuit affirmed the grant of JMOL. Order clearly does matter, and a completed connection is required before transmission, meaning BlackBerry couldn't have infringed on MST's patent.