The opinion of the court was delivered by: RADER
RADER, Circuit Judge (Sitting by Designation)
In this patent case, Loral Fairchild Corp. (Loral) alleges that numerous defendants have willfully infringed United States Patents 3,931,674 (the '674 patent) and 3,896,485 (the '485 patent). The defendants deny liability and have asserted that the claims of the patents are, among other things, invalid and unenforceable. Defendants have also raised claims of laches and estoppel and challenged Loral's ownership of the patents. This court has scheduled this case for trial beginning on January 8, 1996.
The parties have filed motions for a summary judgment on many of the liability issues, including infringement and validity. On August 19 and 20, 1995, the court held a two-day evidentiary hearing to receive testimony from qualified experts about the meaning of the patent claims. This Opinion constitutes the court's conclusions about the disputed terms in the patents.
The '674 and '485 patents describe inventions in the field of charge coupled devices (CCDs). A charge coupled device is a significant advance over standard semiconductor devices. Like other semiconductor devices, a CCD stores electronic charges in a spatially defined depletion region (potential well) at the surface of the device. The CCD, however, adds the ability to move these stored charges to adjacent wells. Thus, the CCD enables swift transfer and manipulation of the information stored in the form of electronic charges. In a CCD, voltage applied to the surface of the device both forms the potential well for storing charges and regulates transfer of those charges.
Loral alleges infringement of claim 1 of the '674 patent. On January 13, 1976, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) issued the '674 patent to Gilbert F. Amelio from an application filed on February 8, 1974. The patent bears the title "Self Aligned CCD Element Including Two Levels of Electrodes and Method of Manufacture Therefor." Amelio assigned his rights to the '674 patent to Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation (Fairchild). Loral asserts its ownership in this patent through a series of transfers originating from Fairchild.
The '674 patent claims a process for making a CCD. It contains 9 claims. Claim 1 reads:
1. A process for fabricating a charge coupled device structure in a semiconductor substrate, comprising the steps of
selectively applying at least one layer of insulation material to said semiconductor substrate;
selectively forming a plurality of spaced-apart first gate electrodes on the uppermost surface of said at least one layer of insulation material;
forming a first insulation layer over said plurality of first gate electrodes;
forming implanted barrier regions in said semiconductor substrate in the intervals between said plurality of spaced-apart first gate electrodes, the edges of said implanted barrier regions being aligned with the vertical edges of the insulation layer on the respective first gate electrodes;
selectively forming a plurality of second gate electrodes on said uppermost surface of said at least one insulating layer between said plurality of spaced-apart first gate electrodes, each of said second gate electrodes substantially occupying the space between adjacent first gate electrode; and
connecting each of said second gate electrodes to and individual adjacent first gate electrode to form a composite electrode for a charge coupled element.
In addition, Loral alleges infringement of claims 1, 3, 7, and 8 of the '485 patent. The PTO issued the '485 patent to James M. Early on July 22, 1975, from an application filed on December 3, 1973. The patent bears the title "Charge-Coupled Device with Overflow Protection." Like Amelio, Early assigned his rights in the patent to Fairchild. Similar to the '674 patent, Loral alleges a chain of transfers as its basis for ownership of this patent.
The '485 patent claims an anti-blooming element in a CCD and a method of operating that device. It contains 8 claims. Claim 1 reads:
1. Structure which comprises:
a. a light sensing element comprising a first region of semiconductor material overlaid by a first electrode separated from said semiconductor material by insulation, said light sensing element being capable of containing a charge packet;
b. an adjacent region of said semiconductor material disposed for receiving said charge packet from said light sensing element;
c. means for controlling the transfer of said charge packet from said light sensing element to said adjacent regions; and,
Claim 3, which depends from claim 1 reads:
3. Structure as defined in claim 1, wherein said charge sink means comprises a region of conductivity type opposite to that of said semiconductor material.
Claim 7, another independent claim in the '485 patent reads:
7. A method of operating a charge-coupled imaging device formed in semiconductor material containing at least one light sensing element and a charge sink region having a contact for applying a first potential thereto located beneath the surface of said semiconductor material and extending laterally from said contact toward said at least one light sensing element, which comprises:
a. accumulating packets of charge in said at least one light sensing element; and,
b. allowing excess charges within said at least one light sensing element to transfer to said charge sink region by applying said first potential to said charge sink region during a selected time interval.
Claim 8, which depends from claim 7, reads:
8. A method as defined in claim 7 further including the step of preventing the accumulation of said packets of charge within said light sensing element by applying a second potential to said charge sink means during a second time interval.
During pendency of this action, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 52 F.3d 967 (Fed. Cir. 1995), petition for cert. granted, 64 U.S.L.W. 3201, 3238 (U.S. Sept. 27, 1995) (No. 95-26). The Federal Circuit in Markman clarified that, in a case tried to a jury, a trial judge must now interpret the meaning of words in a patent claim as a matter of law and instruct the jury accordingly: "Interpretation and construction of patent claims, which define the scope of the patentee's rights under the patent, is a matter of law exclusively for the court." Id. at 970-71. In accordance with Markman, this court examined extensive briefing on pending summary judgment motions and requested additional briefing on the meaning of the claims.
The extensive briefing convinced this court of the need for expert testimony to enlighten the meaning of claim terms to one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of invention. As a result, the court held a two-day bench trial on September 19 and 20, 1995. The court permitted each side to present two expert witnesses. These experts were extensively examined and cross-examined.
Loral called Dr. David Wen to testify on the '674 patent and Dr. David F. Barbe to testify on the '485 patent. Defendants, collectively, called Dr. James N. Fordemwalt to testify on the '674 patent and Dr. Robert W. Bower to testify on the '485 patent.
Dr. Wen holds a bachelor of science degree, a master of science degree, and a doctorate in philosophy in electrical engineering from the University of California at Berkley. He currently is the Director of Engineering for Loral Fairchild Imaging Sensors, part of Loral. Dr. Wen has worked for more than twenty-one years in the area of charge coupled device technology.
Dr. Barbe, Loral's other witness, holds a bachelor of science degree and a master of science degree in electrical engineering from West Virginia University. He also holds a doctorate in philosophy in electrical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Barbe is the executive director of the engineering research center at the University of Maryland.
Defendants' witness, Dr. Fordemwalt, holds a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and a master of science degree in analytical chemistry from the University of Arizona. He also holds a doctorate in philosophy in physical chemistry from the University of Iowa. Dr. Fordemwalt has worked for more than twenty years in the field of semiconductor fabrication processes. He is associate program coordinator for microelectronics and coordinator of graduate studies at the Arizona State University.