Federal Court Dismisses Hyperphrase Patent Infringement Case Against Microsoft

Hyperphrase Technologies sued Microsoft for patent infringement of three of Hyperphrase’s patents relating to storage and retreival of information in computer systems. The first patent is for automatically storing and retreiving data records in computer systems. The other two are for improvements of the method disclosed in the first patent, such as resolving ambiguity in recognized terms, using a variety of techniques. One of the features of Microsoft Office XP is called Smart Tags. This feature allows users to perform actions based on recognized text in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. Smart Tages includes two components: recognizers and action handlers. The recognizers identify specific types of data in the document, such as names, dates, and telephone numbers, and the recognized text becomes a Smart Tag. Each Smart Tag is assigned a data type and underlined with dots that are visible to the user. The action handler then allows a user to request that certain actions, such as “send mail,” or “insert address” be performed.

The court noted that infringement analysis requires two steps: 1) the court interprets the patent claims to determine the meaning and scope, see Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967, 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (en banc), aff’d, 517 U.S. 370 (1996), and 2) the properly construed claims are compared to the device accused of infringement. See id.; see also Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1453 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (en banc). A device infringes a patent claim if it contains every limitation set forth in that claim, either literally or by equivalence. See Johnson Worldwide Assocs., Inc. v. Zebco Corp., 175 F.3d 985, 988 (Fed. Cir. 1999). The court analyzed whether the Smart Tags infringed either literally or by equivalence on Hyperphrase’s patents that included hyperlinks or real time, and found that Smart Tags did not contain every limitation set forth in the patent claims.

Looking first at the patents that required hyperlinks, the court analyzed whether Smart Tags literally infringed on the patents. The court stated that all the hyperlinks require an address and analyzed whether Smart Tags have an address. The court ruled that the address and information at that address must be linked to the keyword phrase, not just appear in other parts of the document. Since that was not the case with Smart Tags, the court held that no literal infringement occurred with the hyperlink patents. The court also held that the plaintiffs provided no evidence, besides conclusory assertions by their expert, that Smart Tags address was equivalent to the plaintiff’s address. The court pointed out that Smart Tags were similar to Hyperphrase’s patents, but Smart Tags characters were not equivalent to an address in the plaintiffs’ patents.

The court also analyzed literal infringement and the doctrine of equivalents for the real time patents. In determining the lack of literal infringement, the court noted its rejection of the claim that recognized text in Office XP includes an address to another location. The court ruled that the plaintiffs established no relationship between the text and information on a web page at the time the text is recognized as a Smart Tag. The court also held that the actual association between the records only occurs after further action by the user. As for the doctrine of equivalents, the court found that the plaintiffs offered no real argument that the doctrine applied to the real time patents.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show a genuine issue of material fact because they presented insufficient evidence to show that Microsoft’s product uses hyperlinks, links or hypertext linking references, that it associates in real time a data reference and the referenced record, or that it identified the referenced record when the data reference is identified. Since the plaintiffs’ claims required at least one of those elements to survive summary judgment, Microsoft’s motion for summary judgment was granted and the case was dismissed.

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