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Ford Motor Co. v. Versata Software, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 15, 2017

FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
VERSATA SOFTWARE, INC. Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF FORD MOTOR COMPANY'S MOTION FOR SUPPLEMENTAL CLAIM CONSTRUCTION (ECF #280)

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, Versata Software, Inc., Trilogy Development Group, Inc., and Trilogy, Inc. (collectively “Versata”) allege that Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) infringed their software patents. Ford now asks the Court to construe a term used in one of Versata's patents at issue. Specifically, Ford moves the Court to rule that the term “product” as used in United States Patent Number 8, 805, 825 (the “‘825 Patent”) excludes “vehicles, computers, and financial products.” (Mot. for Supplemental Claim Construction, ECF #280 at Pg. ID 14606.) For the reasons explained below, the Court DENIES Ford's motion.

         I

         The patent currently at issue, the ‘825 Patent, describes a method “for using computer assisted configuration technology to generate one or attribute prioritized configuration answers to one or more configuration queries.” Ford Motor Company v. Versata Development Group, Inc., 2017 WL 1087387, at *1 (Patent Tr. & App. Bd. Mar. 20, 2017). Claim 1 of the ‘825 Patent, reproduced in relevant part below, is representative of the patent's independent claims:

1. A method for using computer assisted configuration technology to generate one or more attribute prioritized configuration answers to one or more attribute-based configuration queries, the method comprising:
[….]
receiving one or more attribute-based configuration queries from a client system, wherein the attribute-based configuration queries include a selection of one or more parts of a product;
processing the one or more attribute-based configuration queries, configuration rules, and attribute based preference algorithm using a combined configuration rules-attributes model and a configuration-rules processing engine to calculate valid confirmation answers in accordance with the combined configuration rules-attributes model, wherein a plurality of the configuration rules define relationships between parts of the product and a plurality of attributes represent details about the parts [....]

(‘825 Patent, ECF #280-3 at Pg. ID 14638; emphasis added.)

         The ‘825 Patent also includes a number of dependent claims. Unlike the broader independent claims, which refer to “products” generally, three of the patent's dependent claims - Claims 5, 10, and 15 - refer to specific product “groups.” Claim 5 is representative of these dependent claims. It provides:

The method of claim 1 wherein the one or more attribute based configuration queries comprise attribute-based configuration queries to configure at least one of the products from the group comprising: vehicles, computers, and financial products.

(Id. at Pg. ID 14639; emphasis added.)

         II

         In September 2016, Ford filed a petition with the United States Patent Trial and Appeal Board in which it requested that the Board institute Covered Business Method (“CBM”) review of the ‘825 Patent. “CBM review … allow[s] parties sued or charged with infringing a patent covering financial products or services to challenge that patent” before the Board. PPC Broadband, Inc. v. Corning Optical Communications RF, LLC, 815 F.3d 734, 740-41 (Fed. Cir. 2016). Under Federal Circuit precedent, a patent is eligible for CBM review only if “the patent ha[s] a claim that contains, however phrased, a financial activity element.” Secure Axcess, LLC v. PNC Bank Nat'l Assoc., 848 F.3d 1370, 1381 (Fed. Cir. 2017). Ford contended that the ‘825 Patent was eligible for CBM review because, among other things, certain of its dependent claims (one of which is quoted above) provided that the covered “products” specifically included “financial products.” Versata sought to avoid CBM review of the ‘825 Patent by disclaiming Claims 5, 10, and 15 - the three dependent claims that, as described above, specifically provided that the covered “products” included “vehicles, computers, and financial products.”[1] (See Disclaimers, ECF #280-2.) As a result of Versata's disclaimers, the Board concluded that the ‘825 Patent did not qualify for CBM review ...


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