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Explicit Statement In Patent Specification Does Not Limit Claims To Preferred Embodiment

January 17, 2006

While the specification of a patent describes only one embodiment and explicitly states that “all routing is accomplished based on logical addresses, not physical addresses” in that embodiment, a divided Federal Circuit panel concludes that the patent claims are not limited to the preferred embodiment described in nCube Corporation (now c-Cor Inc.) v. SeaChange International, Inc. (Nos. 03-1341, -1366; January 9, 2006).

SeaChange's systems are used by cable TV networks to allow a client flexible access to various multimedia sources over a network. To receive a particular program, a client requests the program from a control manager block through a DNCS block, which subsequently routes a request for service message to the control manager block. The trial court construed the disputed term “upstream manager” in nCube's patent as a computer system component that accepts messages from a client bound for services on a server; routes messages from a client to services on a server; and is distinct from a downstream manager. After this claim construction, a jury concluded the DNCS block to constitute an “upstream manager,” and found SeaChange to have willfully infringed certain claims of nCube's patent. nCube was awarded double its actual damages and two-thirds of its attorneys fees. SeaChange contends on appeal that the upstream manager must also receive and route all messages from clients that are bound for services, and must do so using only logical, not physical, addresses, of both sender and receiver of a message.

The Federal Circuit panel majority affirms the district court judgment. While the specification of the patent at issue explicitly states that “all routing is accomplished based on logical addresses, not physical addresses,” the panel majority concludes that this statement applies only to the preferred embodiment. Despite the lack of any reference in the specification of nCube's patent to the use of physical addresses, and notwithstanding the further statement in the specification that the “network protocol of the present invention defines its own independent [logical] address space,” the panel majority finds that the trial court's claim construction was proper, and determines that there was no abuse of discretion in the damages and attorneys fees awards made.

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