Skyline/Google judgment: Dance != Dancer

Google Copyright Blog has a link to the summary judgment in the Skyline vs. Google patent dispute issued on March 7, below a history of the dispute and a overview of the decision.

The upshot: Skyline’s patent doesn’t describe how the Google Earth client receives data and renders it on the screen. The overall function of what Skyline’s and Google’s systems do may be similar, but that’s not what a patent covers. Here is the nut graph of the decision:

Skyline has not identified any “thing” that corresponds to the renderer as defined in the ‘189 patent. Skyline admits as much in its Corrected Memorandum in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment of Infringement, when it accuses Google of “quibbling that these three functions [of the renderer] are not performed by the same ‘logical entity’ or ‘object’.” The demand that a “renderer” be identifiable as a discrete entity of some sort is not a quibble, however; it is fundamental to a finding of infringement. The ‘189 patent describes a particular way of structuring a system for streaming three-dimensional data. Not any system that achieves the same result is covered. To succeed on its motion for summary judgment, Skyline must show that the accused Google Earth products infringe on the particular system described in the ‘189 patent. The “renderer” is at the core of that system. The failure to identify some thing that performs the functions of the renderer is fatal to Skyline’s motion for summary judgement on Claim 1.

A footnote is even clearer:

Skyline’s ultimate position, as presented at the summary judgment oral argument, appears to be that the Google Earth Client, a “software application, running on the local processor,” itself “performs the three renderer functions.” [Skyline Slide #29] However, Skyline also suggests that unspecified pieces of the Google Earth Client source code perform the functions of the renderer, suggesting a more granular definition. [Id.] In either formulation, the Skyline position, which I reject, erroneously conflates the functions of the renderer with the separate thing that is a renderer. This takes considerable and unwarranted poetic license with the Markman construction and, as I noted during the hearing on the motions, calls to mind Yeats’ question: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” W. B. Yeats, Among School Children, THE COLLECTED POEMS OF W. B. YEATS, 215, 217 (Richard J. Finneran ed., rev. 2d ed. 1996).

Avi Bar-Ze’ev has a detailed dissection of the judgment, which he lauds (and which is well worth a read).