Magistrate Sets Language for Virgin Patent Case

     (CN) – A federal magistrate judge recommended the parties in Virgin Atlantic Airlines patent infringement lawsuit against Delta Airlines adopt a court-determined claim construction to resolve issues of “ambiguity” that have arisen prior to trial.
     The lawsuit revolves around Virgin Atlantic’s second-generation “Upper Class Dream Suite” for business class on its aircraft. Virgin’s patent describes the suite as an advance on its existing business class seating, comprised of newly-styled seats, an updated cabin, and a “staggered herringbone” layout for the center seats.
     In the herringbone design, the passenger seats are oriented at an angle to the aisle of the plane. “There are multiple embodiments of such a seating system described and depicted in [Virgin’s] ‘861 patent, but its principal focus appears to be on seating systems that convert to a “substantially flat bed,” wrote Magistrate Judge Christopher J. Burke.
     Compared to existing seating systems, those included in the Dream Suite are intended to extend the converted bed length, maximize passenger comfort in sleeping position and maximize cabin space, Burke added.
     Virgin Atlantic sued Delta complaining of patent infringement in January 2011; Delta responded by saying it could not have infringed on the patent because Virgin’s patent terminology is not worded properly.
     The case wound up before Burke so that he could resolve all outstanding pretrial issues, notably, determining the proper construction of claim terms.
     “The Court should generally give claim terms their ‘ordinary and customary meaning[,]'” which is “the meaning that the term[s] would have to a person of ordinary skill in the art in question at the time of the invention, i.e., as of the effective filing date of the patent application,” Burke wrote, citing Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 979 (Fed. Cir. 1995), affd, 517 U.S. 370 (1996).
     “However, when determining the ordinary meaning of claim terms, the Court should not extract and isolate those terms from the context of the patent, but rather should endeavor to reflect their “meaning … to the ordinary artisan after reading the entire patent,” he continued.
     Delta suggested that eight terms that appear in the claims of the ‘861 patent need court reconstruction with one that is too vague to be changed. The words in question are “seat”, “substantially flat bed”, “having”, “behind”, “substantially horizontal surface”, “upper sleeping surface”, “about the same height”, “usable space to a passenger”, and “fixed angle”.
     Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, argued that the patent is written in plain English and “will be easy for a jury to understand.”
     It further objected to specific definition’s suggested by the defendant airline, saying phrases such as “rear of the plane” would make jurors think of the rear of the aircraft rather than the geographic plane.
     As he waded through the argument, Burke reminded the parties that in considering a patent and its written descriptions, “the inventor’s lexicography governs.”
     “Even if the specification does not contain a special definition of the term-at-issue, it is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis,” he said.
     Judge Burke agreed that at trial, “a jury could understand what a substantially flat bed is-i.e. a bed that is largely, but not entirely, level and even,” but said that this statement is out of context in relation to the Virgin Atlantic patent, and is “directed to a very particular kind of bed, formed from an airline seat in combination with other surfaces, resulting in a space that is available for a passenger to lie in a prone position.”
     Burke ultimately recommended the court should make seven out of the nine proposed Delta changes in Virgin’s patent terms. Burke also gave the parties 14 days to file objections.

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