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The University of Florida Research Foundation, Inc. v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Gainesville Division

November 16, 2017

The University of Florida Research Foundation, Inc., Plaintiff,
General Electric Company, GE Medical Systems Information Technologies, Inc., and GE Medical Systems, Inc. Defendants.


          Mark E. Walker United States District Judge

         This is a patent case. The University of Florida Research Foundation, Inc. (“UFRF”) sues the General Electric Company, GE Medical Systems Information Technologies, Inc., and GE Medical Systems, Inc. (collectively “GE”) for direct and indirect patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a)-(b). GE moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that UFRF's patent is ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because it claims an abstract idea. ECF No. 17. This Court, following a hearing on November 8, 2017, GRANTS GE's motion to dismiss.

         I. Factual Background

         UFRF is a direct support organization to the University of Florida, a nonprofit public university located in Gainesville, Florida. UFRF holds more than 2, 400 active patents. ECF No. 1, at ¶ 4. Among them is the patent at issue, U.S. Patent No. 7, 062, 251 (the “'251 patent”), officially entitled “Managing Critical Care Physiologic Data Using Data Synthesis Technology.” Id. at ¶¶ 4, 12; see also ECF No. 1-1 (attaching the ‘251 patent as exhibit). UFRF licensed the patent to ICU DataSystems, which developed a product known under its tradename, “iCuro.” ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 63-65. ICU DataSystems “faced capital concerns, ” and various entities acquired its assets, including the license to the ‘251 patent. Id. at ¶ 86. As of 2016, the license to the patent “became nonexclusive so that UFRF could recoup from market free-riders.” Id. at ¶ 90.

         UFRF asserts that GE is directly infringing on the ‘251 patent with a product known as the CARESCAPE Network that uses a “Unity Network Interface Device, ” or UNITY NETWORK Id. Id. at ¶¶ 96-104. GE is also charged with indirect infringement of the ‘251 patent by distributing marketing, training, and instructional materials related to CARESCAPE and the UNITY NETWORK Id. Id. at ¶ 106.

         An honest and thorough description of the ‘251 patent is helpful and necessary in determining whether it is patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Patent ‘251, in short, “utilizes data synthesis technology . . . to integrate physiologic data from at least one bedside machine with data from other data sources” in medical facilities. ECF No. 1-1, at 11. The patent permits medical personnel to quickly access critical, complex, and organized data. ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 30-33. In the pre-computer and early-computer eras, medical personnel “were faced with a large amount of available data but had no reliable means to collect or consolidate that data in real-time.” Id. at ¶ 19; see also id. at ¶ 37. In response to this need, the patent's inventors worked to perfect technology that permitted medical personnel to obtain data from multiple bedside devices, organize that data, create translation tables, and present that data in a “singular display.” Id. at ¶ 28. The iCuro technology is grounded on the patent's concepts.

         The technology uses “drivers, ” which UFRF describes as “sets of rules.” Id. at ¶ 53. These drivers serve to, among other things, translate or interpret data that has been inputted into a “data stream” from a bedside machine. See id. at ¶¶ 47-49; see also ECF No. 1-1, at 13 (describing drivers in similar terms). Drivers are able to identify different data streams from various bedside machines; in turn, each bedside machine's drivers can “correctly interpret the segment data stream for the machine.” ECF No. 1, at ¶ 51. Drivers also can help to cross-reference multiple data sets from databases or machines to create standardized data. Id. at ¶ 54. This process allows data to be “combined, compared, and analyzed” in formats independent from the specific bedside machine. ECF No. 1-3, at ¶ 35. In other words, the ‘251 patent converts data from bedside machine-dependent to machine-independent format. ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 54-56; see also ECF No. 1-3, at ¶ 37 (“[T]he ‘251 patent details how data from multiple monitors can be read into a common data store.”). Overall, drivers “improve[] the existing technological process by allowing the automation of . . . tasks.” Id. at ¶ 53. They assist the ‘251 patent to use medical computer technology to present solutions that have synthesized “vast amounts of synthesized data in a manner that can help save lives.” Id. at ¶ 57.

         Technology based on the '251 patent performs tasks that allow for “true clinical decision support, including multi-variate graphs collected from different machines, review of trends over time, and multiple-variable alerts to detect true clinical issues.” Id. at ¶ 59. In doing so, the technology “collect[s], manipulate[s], interpret[s], and display[s] information in a manner that could not be and was not performed by humans.” Id. at ¶ 60.

         II. Threshold Issues

         Before diving into the muddy waters of patent eligibility, this Court must first dip its toes into threshold issues that impact the substantive analysis.

         a. No Claim-Construction Hearing is Necessary

         UFRF identifies terms that it argues GE has erroneously construed as “mere generic.” ECF No. 25, at 42. These terms are “bedside, ” “bedside machine, ” “bedside device, ” “central data repository, ” “machine-independent, ” “machine-dependent, ” “convert, ” and “graphical user interface.” Id.

         District courts are tasked with the responsibilities for claim construction as a matter of law. Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F.3d 1576, 1582 (Fed. Cir. 1996). “It is a ‘bedrock principle' of patent law that ‘the claims of a patent define the invention to which the patentee is entitled the right to exclude.'” Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1313 (Fed. Cir. 2005) (en banc) (quoting Innova/Pure Water, Inc. v. Safari Water Filtration Sys., Inc., 381 F.3d 1111, 1115 (Fed. Cir. 2004)). Words in patents' claims “are generally given their ordinary and customary meaning” known to “a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1313. Claims are only shed of their ordinary and customary meanings “if the patentee acted as his own lexicographer and clearly set forth a definition of the disputed claim term.” CCS Fitness, Inc. v. Brunswick Corp., 288 F.3d 1359, 1366 (Fed. Cir. 2002).

         This Court acknowledges a split among the Federal Circuit's judges on claim construction. Some judges construe patents' claims to capture an invention's scope. See, e.g., Retractable Techs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 653 F.3d 1296, 1305 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (“[W]e strive to capture the scope of the actual invention, rather than strictly limit the scope of the claim to disclosed embodiments or allow claim language to become divorced from what the specification conveys is the invention.”). Other judges-Judge Moore in particular-emphasize that the claims themselves define an invention's boundaries and that specifications cannot narrow claim terms by themselves unless the patentee has offered his own definitions. See generally Retractable Techs., Inc. v. Becton, Dickinson & Co., 659 F.3d 1369, 1370-76 (Fed. Cir. 2011) (Moore, J., dissenting from en banc denial). With this split in mind, this Court follows Phillips as articulated in the Retractable Techs. majority and in Judge Moore's dissent from the court's denial of an en banc petition in that case. See Retractable Techs., 653 F.3d at 1303 (“To ascertain the scope and meaning of the asserted claims, we look to the words of the claims themselves, the specification, the prosecution history, and any relevant extrinsic evidence”) (citing Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1315-17); see also Retractable Techs., 659 F.3d at 1371 (Moore, J., dissenting from denial of en banc petition) (stating that “claim terms are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning to one of skill in the art” and “claims are to be construed in the context of the entire patent”).

         A claim construction hearing is not necessary here. This Court can construe the terms using their plain and ordinary meaning and-when the patent so directs-using “the inventor's lexicography.” Phillips, 415 F.3d at 1316. For example, the patent defines the term “bedside” as meaning “an environment in close proximately [sic] to a patient being treated” that does not necessarily need to include a bed. ECF No. 1-1, at 11. The terms that are not explicitly defined in the ‘251 patent have plain and ordinary meanings.

         District courts may need to hold a claim construction hearing even if the terms' plain meanings are clear. “A determination that a claim term ‘needs no construction' or has the ‘plain and ordinary meaning' may be inadequate when a term has more than one ‘ordinary' meaning or when reliance on a term's ‘ordinary' meaning does not resolve the parties' dispute.” O2 Micro Intern. Ltd. v. Beyond Innovation Tech. Co., 521 F.3d 1351, 1361 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (citations omitted in original). Neither exception applies here. None of the terms UFRF identifies has more than one ordinary meaning in the context of the ‘251 patent nor does reliance on the terms' ordinary meaning fail to resolve the dispute.

         Rather, any claim-construction-related disputes are over how broad or narrow these terms should be construed. Based on the procedural posture of a motion to dismiss, this Court construes these terms narrowly and within their ordinary meaning to a skilled individual familiar with the art. For example, the term “convert”-likely the broadest term that UFRF flags as potentially problematic-refers to its plain and ordinary meaning “to change or turn into another substance or form.” Webster's Dictionary 400 (2d. ed. 1983). The act of converting in this context, however, narrowly refers to converting data from bedside machine-dependent to machine-independent formatting-not the conversion of just any object to something else.

         Finally, this Court finds Claim 1 representative of the other claims.[1] See, e.g., Content Extraction & Transmission LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, Nat'l Ass'n., 776 F.3d 1343, 1348 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (finding more than one patent claims as representative because they were “substantially similar in that they recite little more than the same abstract idea”). The remaining seventeen dependent claims do not add anything to this Court's analysis. They simply explain what is already set out in the specifications. And this Court analyzes Claim 1 in light of those specifications. Even if, however, this Court construed the dependent claims separate and apart from Claim 1, the following analysis and its conclusions over the ‘251 patent's eligibility would not change.

         b. Expert Declarations Attached to the Complaint May Be Considered

         UFRF attaches two declarations to the complaint, both attesting to the benefits of the ‘251 patent, particularly in the application of patent-based technology in the declarants' practices. GE objects, arguing generally that this Court need not consider anything ...

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