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ALJ Bullock Issues Claim Construction Order In Certain Flash Memory Chips (337-TA-893)




by:
Eric W. Schweibenz
Thomas C. Yebernetsky
Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, L.L.P. - Alexandria Office

 
August 14, 2014

Previously published on August 11, 2014

On July 21, 2014, Chief ALJ Charles E. Bullock issued Order No. 31 (dated July 3, 2014) construing the disputed claim terms of the asserted patents in Certain Flash Memory Chips and Products Containing Same (Inv. No. 337-TA-893). Due to the size of the order, we have split the document into part 1, part 2, and part 3.

By way of background, the investigation is based on a complaint filed by Spansion LLC ("Spansion") alleging violation of Section 337 by Macronix International Co., Ltd.; Macronix America, Inc.; Macronix Asia Limited; Macronix (Hong Kong) Co., Ltd.; Acer Inc.; Acer America Corporation; ASUSTek Computer Inc.; Asus Computer International (America); Belkin International, Inc.; D-Link Corporation; D-Link System, Inc.; Netgear Inc.; Nintendo Co., Ltd.; and Nintendo of America, Inc. (collectively, "Respondents") in the importation into the U.S. and sale of certain flash memory chips and downstream products containing the same that infringe one or more claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 6,369,416 (the '416 patent); 6,900,124 (the '124 patent); 7,018,922 (the '922 patent); 6,459,625 (the '625 patent); 7,151,027 (the '027 patent); and 6,731,536 (the '536 patent).

The '124 and '922 Patents

The first dispute centered on whether the preambles to claim 1 of the '124 and '922 patents were limiting. ALJ Bullock held that the words "forming a contact in a flash memory device" are limiting and the words "that improves the depth of focus (DOF) margin and the overlay margin between a plurality of stacked gate layers and the respective contact" are not limiting. As to the "flash memory device" term, ALJ Bullock determined that the term should be construed to mean "a type of erasable electronic memory media which can be rewritten and hold its content without power."

The second disputed term was "stacked gate layer(s)" from claims 1 and 5 of the '124 and '922 patents. ALJ Bullock rejected Spansion's proposed construction of "structure(s) made up of multiple stacked layers that include a gate." ALJ Bullock also rejected Respondents and the Commission Investigative Staff's ("OUII") construction of "a structure of a flash memory device that includes a floating gate and a control gate in a stacked configuration." ALJ Bullock held that the term should take on its plain and ordinary meaning.

The third set of terms in dispute were "major axis" and "minor axis," as recited in claims 1, 5, and 10 of the '124 patent and claims 1 and 5 of the '922 patent. ALJ Bullock held that a person of ordinary skill in the art would understand the "major axis" to mean the longest axis of the elliptical or elongated shape and the "minor axis" to be the shortest axis. ALJ Bullock noted that this understanding is simple and the plain and ordinary meaning of the terms.

The fourth disputed term was "DOF limit." ALJ Bullock held that the term should be construed to mean "the limit in axis length (for contact hole) beyond which the optical wafer stepper, or like equipment, encounters focus issues."

The fifth and final disputed term of the '124 and '922 patents was "the contact hole is dimensioned along the major axis so as to maintain focus of an image of the contact hole as the minor axis is reduced in size towards a DOF limit." ALJ Bullock held that no construction beyond what he has provided for "DOF limit" was necessary and that the plain and ordinary meaning of the remaining terms is sufficient.

The '416 Patent

The first disputed term was "gate stacks." Based on the intrinsic and extrinsic record, ALJ Bullock held that the claim should take on its plain and ordinary meaning.

ALJ Bullock held that the second disputed claim term, "(the at least one contact having) a side defining a sloped profile (including) an angle between the side of the at least on[e] contact and a surface of a substrate," should be construed to mean "(the at least one contact having) a side, between the base of the contact and the top of the contact, having a tapered profile and (including) an angle formed by two lines corresponding to the sloped profile of the side of the contact and to a surface of a substrate."

For the same reasons discussed in relation to the second disputed claim term, ALJ Bullock held that the third disputed claim term "(the at least one contact hole having) a second side defining a sloped profile (including) a second angle between the second side of the contact and the surface of a substrate" should mean "(the at least one contact hole having) a second side between the base of the contact and the top of the contact, having a tapered profile and (including) a second angle formed by two lines corresponding to the sloped profile of the second side of the contact and to a surface of a substrate."

The '027 Patent

Regarding the first disputed claim term, "(at an interface between) a memory array (and) a periphery (of said memory device)," the parties dispute centered on the "memory array" and "periphery" terms. ALJ Bullock held that both terms should take on their plain and ordinary meaning.

ALJ Bullock agreed with Respondents and OUII and construed the second disputed claim terms "proximate to said memory array" and "proximate to said periphery" to have their plain and ordinary meaning.

ALJ Bullock held that the third and fourth disputed claim terms, "stacked gate etch" and "second gate etch," respectively, should be given their plain and ordinary meaning. ALJ Bullock determined that the "stacked gate etch" and "second gate etch" terms were known in the art and not specially defined or limited in the specification.

The '625 Patent

The first dispute centered on whether the portions "a periphery area in a flash memory," "a flash memory," and "a periphery area of a memory device" in the preambles of claims 1, 6, and 10, respectively, are limiting. ALJ Bullock agreed with Spansion, holding that all three claim terms are claim limitations.

ALJ Bullock held that the second dispute claim term, "flash memory," should be construed to mean "a type of erasable electronic memory media which can be rewritten and hold its content without power" for the same reasons as discussed above in relation to the '124 and '922 patents.

As to the third disputed claim term, "periphery area," ALJ Bullock held that the claimed "periphery area" is outside the core memory cell area of the claim memory and, otherwise, has its plain and ordinary meaning.

ALJ Bullock determined that a person of ordinary skill in the art would not have found that the patentees specifically define or limited the fourth claim term, "sub-circuit." Accordingly, ALJ Bullock rejected all the parties' proposed constructions and held that "sub-circuit" should have its plain and ordinary meaning.

ALJ Bullock held that the fifth disputed claim term, "completing the electrical interconnection of said circuit components in each respective sub-circuit with a second metal interconnect layer," should "have its plain and ordinary meaning, namely, completing the electrical interconnection of the claimed circuit components that had been partially interconnected at the first metal layer step."

Regarding the sixth and seventh disputed claim terms, "complete the electrical interconnection of said respective transistors within said sub-circuits" and "complete the electrical connection of said circuit components of said electric circuits," respectively, ALJ Bullock held that both claim terms should take on their plain and ordinary meaning for the same reasons discussed with respect to the completing step of disputed claim term five.

ALJ Bullock held that the eight disputed claim term, "the minimum source/drain spacing rule," should take on its plain and ordinary meaning.

The '536 Patent

The first dispute centered on whether, and to what extent, the preambles of certain claims were limiting. ALJ Bullock held that the phrase "protecting Flash memory against alterations" is limiting because it helps to define the invention.

The second disputed claim term was "providing difference degrees of protection." ALJ Bullock noted that the parties' dispute centered on "whether the word "providing" turns claim 1 into a method of making a Flash memory or into a method of using a Flash memory." ALJ Bullock held that the specification does not support Respondents' proposed construction, which required the use of the protection. Accordingly, ALJ Bullock held that the terms should take on its plain and ordinary meaning.

ALJ Bullock held that the third disputed term, "persistently locking a sector for preventing modification of the sector," should generally take on its plain and ordinary meaning with the term "persistently" meaning "in a non-volatile manner." Specifically, citing teachings in the specification, ALJ Bullock noted that "persistently locking" a sector "would involve non-volatile memory features that would continue to function across power cycles."

As to the fourth disputed term, "persistent[ly]," Respondents argued that the term should mean "not easily switchable back and forth between protected and unprotected conditions." ALJ Bullock rejected Respondents' proposed construction and, instead, agreed with Spansion and OUII in finding that the term does not require further construction beyond what was found above in relation to the third disputed claim term.

ALJ Bullock held that the fifth disputed term, "dynamically locking a sector which prevents modification of the sector without first resetting a protection hit," should generally take on its plain and ordinary meaning with the term "dynamically" meaning "in a volatile manner." Specifically, citing teachings in the specification, ALJ Bullock noted that "dynamically locking" a sector "involves volatile memory and is contrasted with persistent, or non-volatile, locking."

As to the sixth disputed term, "dynamic[ally]," Respondents argued that the term should mean "easily switchable back and forth between protected and unprotected conditions." ALJ Bullock rejected Respondents' proposed construction and, instead, agreed with Spansion and OUII in finding that the term does not require further construction beyond what was found above in relation to the fifth disputed claim term.

ALJ Bullock held that the seventh disputed claim term, "at least one Persistent Protection Bit (PPB) which has to be cleared in order to change the contents of the memory," should take on its plain and ordinary meaning. ALJ Bullock rejected Spansion's proposed "retains its state across power cycles" language as being extraneous and rejected Respondents' proposed "the only way" language as being unsupported by the intrinsic record.

The eighth disputed claim term was claim 21's use of "A method of claim 20" and claim 23's use of "A method of claim 21" because claim 20 claims a memory and not a method. Spansion argued that the claim 21 and claim 23 contain obvious drafting errors and should be corrected to show that "method" means "memory." Respondents argued that the Spansion's proposed correction is subject to reasonable debate and, therefore, should not be corrected. In light of the specification and file history, ALJ Bullock held that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood that the word "method" in claims 21 and 23 should mean "memory."



 

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Eric W. Schweibenz
Thomas C. Yebernetsky
 
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