Skyline Software Systems v. Keyhole, Inc. (06-10980-DPW), D. Mass - March 7, 2007
Skyline sued Keyhole (who was subsequently purchased by Google) in 2004 for allegedly infringing US Patent No. 6,496,189, which describes a method and apparatus for streaming three-dimensional terrain data over a network, using data blocks arranged in a hierarchical data structure to improve performance.
Skyline also alleged that Google software for three-dimensional terrain visualization (i.e., Google Earth) also infringed. Keyhole's 3-D mapping technology has been considered one of Google's biggest successes outside of its search engine (according to Google, the Earth software has been downloaded more than 100 million times).
Google moved for summary judgment of noninfringement after Judge Woodlock held two Markman hearing on the claim terms. One of the interesting aspects of this case was the fact that Skyline's method claim recited data being transmitted to and from a "renderer":
While Skyline pointed to various aspects of the Google Earth enterprise suite that performed "rendering," Skyline could not define a "renderer" in the context of a single discrete entity. Judge Woodlock noted that reciting a claim element as a "thing" with an associated function does not give the patentee permission to stretch that function among multiple "things" that happened to collectively perform the function. In other words, "identifying a set of tasks which are performed is not the same as identifying an object which performs a set of tasks, even if the end result is the same."
Claim 1. A method of providing data blocks describing three-dimensional terrain to a renderer, the data blocks belonging to a hierarchical structure which includes blocks at a plurality of different resolution levels, the method comprising:
receiving from the renderer one or more coordinates in the terrain along with indication of a respective resolution level . . .
Of course, being a Yale graduate, Judge Woodlock could not resist injecting Yeats into the analysis:
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." . . . 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 . . . 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).Download/view the entire order here.