Xbox Patent Suit Dismissed

A patent infringement suit targeting a multiplayer, networking feature of Microsoft’s Xbox video game console was dismissed because the court found that, based on how the patent claims were written, the Xbox’s network connectivity mechanism differed from that required in the patent. This case, like many patent infringement cases, turned on the Court’s interpretation of the patent claim language and highlights the importance of the patent attorney’s wording of the patent claims. It is one thing to get a patent. It is another to get one that is commercially significant and can be viably enforced. A patent attorney who understands a range of alternatives can add significant value to a patent.

Interestingly, Sony previously settled a patent infringement suit involving the same patent relating to its PlayStation video game console.

The case, which was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, alleged infringement by Microsoft of  U.S. Patent No. 5,292,195, entitled “Apparatus and method for electrically connecting remotely located video games” (“the ‘195 Patent”). The ‘195 Patent issued way back in March 8, 1994.  The court stated:

The ‘125 Patent involves an invention that allows “for two or more players playing the same video game to compete with each other without using the same physical video game which alleviates the necessity of proximity of the players.” ‘125 Patent col. 2 ll. 39-43. The ‘125 Patent describes a system where a video game player can talk and play with a remote opponent at the same time over a telephone line.

The Court ruled that Microsoft did not infringe the asserted claims because micro-processor to modem coupling in the Microsoft Xbox was accomplished via inductive coupling, while the court found that the claims require that the components be electrically
connected.  A Special Master had recommended that the claims should be interpreted to include inductive coupling.  However, the Court did not follow the Special Master’s recommendation, holding that the Special Master had improperly relied on extrinsic evidence, rather than relying on “the ordinary meaning of [the] claim language” which, as the Court indicated “may be readily apparent even to lay judges” [quoting Phillips v. AWH Corp., 415 F.3d 1303, 1314 (Fed. Cir. 2005)].  Along with the plain meaning of the term “electrically connected”, the Court relied on the fact that the term “electrically connected” was used in the ‘195 Patent description to refer only to connections accomplished via conductive electrical wires.

Because the Court’s interpretation is a legal determination, it is subject to review on appeal. Stay tuned to this blog for further developments should an appeal proceed.

Click here for a copy of the Decision.