Federal Circuit Affirms Summary Judgement Relating to Self-Optimizing Network Technology and Network-Based Navigation: Traxcell Techs., LLC v. Sprint Communs. Co. LP

In Traxcell Techs., LLC v. Sprint Communs. Co. LP, Nos. 2020-1852, 2020-1854 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 12, 2021), the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court that granted summary judgement in favor Defendants, Sprint and Verizon, in a suit relating to alleged infringement of four of Plaintiff’s, Traxcell’s, patents: U.S. Patents 8,977,284 (“the ’284 patent”), 9,510,320 (“the ’320 patent”), 9,642,024 (“the ’024 patent”), and 9,549,388 (“the ‘388 patent”). Patents ‘284, ‘320, and ‘024 relate to self-optimizing network technology for making “corrective actions” to improve communications between a wireless device and network. Patent ‘388 relates to network-based navigation—namely, having the network, rather than a wireless device itself, determine a device’s location. Traxcell appealed both the claim construction and the noninfringement determinations of the district court in granting the defendants’ separate motions for summary judgment.

Summary judgment is granted when the moving party shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgement as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). All evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and all reasonable inferences drawn must be in the nonmoving party’s favor. Kariuki v. Tarango, 709 F.3d 495, 501 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Pierce v. Dep’t of the Air Force, 512 F.3d 184, 185 (5th Cir. 2007)). The nonmoving party cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsupported assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Batiste v. Lewis, 976 F.3d 493, 500 (5th Cir. 2020).

In this case, summary judgment was granted and affirmed on five separate grounds: (1) claim 12 of the ‘284 patent was not infringed because Traxcell hadn’t met the “way” prong of the function-way-result test in asserting an infringing structural equivalent to a means-plus-function limitation; (2) Traxcell hadn’t shown a genuine dispute about the “location” limitation in the patent claims; (3) Traxcell hadn’t shown a genuine dispute about the “first computer” and “computer” limitations asserted in most of the patent claims; (4) claim 1 of the ‘284 patent was held indefinite for failure to disclose sufficient structure for a means-plus-function limitation; and (5) regarding the ‘388patent, Traxcell couldn’t show that the accused technology determined a wireless device’s location on the network itself, as claimed, rather than by the device.  Each of these grounds are discussed below.

(1) Claim 12 of the ‘284 patent was not infringed because Traxcell hadn’t met the “way” prong of the function-way-result test in asserting an infringing structural equivalent to a means-plus-function limitation

The parties agreed that claim 12 of ‘284 included the means-plus-function limitation “means for receiving said performance data and corresponding locations from said radio tower and correcting radio frequency signals of said radio tower.”  The corresponding function was “receiving said performance data and corresponding locations from said radio tower and correcting radio frequency signals of said radio tower.”  

The court discussed the function-way-result test, citing to Applied Med. Res. Corp. v. U.S. Surgical Corp., 448 F.3d 1324, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2006). The court stated that literal infringement of a means-plus-function claim requires the structure of the accused device preform the identical function of the claim and have identical or equivalent structure in the specification. The party must prove that the accused device and the claimed device perform an identical function in substantially the same way, with substantially the same result. The court determined that Traxcell neglected to address a significant fraction of the structure from the specification and only showed the function and results, not the way the results were achieved. Only showing identical function is not enough to show literal infringement of a means-plus-function claim. Ultimately, the court agreed with the district court and sided with defendants affirming summary judgement on this ground.

(2) Traxcell hadn’t shown a genuine dispute about the “location” limitation in the patent claims

The parties stipulated to the meaning of the term “location,” agreeing that “location” meant “a location that is not merely a position in a grid pattern.”  Trexcell tried arguing that the stipulated meaning was not correct because Trexcell insisted that it preserved the issue in a related case Traxcell Techs., LLC v. Nokia Sols. & Networks Oy, No. 20.-1440, slip op. at 6–7 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 12, 2021), (“Nokia”). The court ultimately disagreed, stating that Trexcell could not change its mind about the stipulation in this case.

Regarding the infringement of the “location” limitation, the court agreed with the district court that Trexcell failed to create a genuine issue of material fact about whether Sprint or Verizon’s technologies use “location” as construed. Traxcell merely listed a laundry list of approaches for determining a devices location rather than explaining how the list created a genuine issue of material fact. Again, the court agreed with the district court and sided with the defendants.

(3) Traxcell hadn’t shown a genuine dispute about the “first computer” and “computer” limitations asserted in most of the patent claims

The court first turned to claim construction regarding the terms “first computer” and “computer.”  The court used the construction found in the Nokia case, stating that “first computer” and “computer” means “a single computer.”

Next, the court discussed infringement of these limitations. Again, Traxcell did not show a genuine issue of material fact that the limitations associated with the “first computer” and “computer” were met by Sprint and Verizon’s technologies. The court stated that Traxcell lacked in providing evidence or explanation as to why the Sprint and Verizon technologies related to single computers. Any evidence provided by Traxcell was not enough to show that the technologies related to a single computer. Yet again, the court sided with defendants and affirmed the summary judgement conclusion.

(4) Claim 1 of the ‘284 patent was held indefinite for failure to disclose sufficient structure for a means-plus-function limitation

The claim was held indefinite on two grounds: (1) lack of reasonable certainty about which “wireless device” the term “at least one said wireless device” referred to and (2) lack of an adequate supporting structure in the specification for the claim’s means-plus-function limitation. The limitation states “means for receiving said performance data and suggest[ing] corrective actions obtained from a list of possible causes for said radio tower based upon the performance data and the corresponding location associated with said at least one wireless device” A means-plus-function claim is indefinite if the specification fails to disclose adequate corresponding structure to perform the claimed function. Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC, 792 F.3d 1339, 1351–52 (Fed. Cir. 2015). The court ultimately determined that the specification of ‘284 lacked the necessary structure for the claim’s means-plus-function limitation.

(5) Regarding the ‘388 patent, Traxcell couldn’t show that the accused technology determined a wireless device’s location on the network itself, as claimed, rather than by the device

The claims of ‘388 required that the device’s location is (1) determined on the network, (2) communicated to the device, and (3) used to display navigation information. Traxcell did not show this limitation was met under the summary judgment standard. In the case of both Sprint and Verizon, Traxcell failed to provide evidence that the defendant’s technologies determined a wireless device’s location on the network, not the device. In both cases, the Traxcell did not rebut the defendant’s arguments and the court determined that Traxcell’s only arguments were broad and conclusory. Yet again, the court sided with the defendants and stated that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding infringement of the ‘388 patent.