More on Typhoon: Knowledge in the Art as a Factor in Determining Sufficiency of Corresponding Algorithm

Dennis Hubbs | January 4, 2012

Since the CAFC was relatively quiet last week due to the holidays, this week we revisit Typhoon, which we discussed in our post last week.  In the second half of this case, the CAFC continued their review of the district court’s claim interpretation.  The CAFC reviewed the MPF claim term “means for cross-referencing responses to said inquiries with possible responses from one of said libraries.”  The CAFC chose to emphasize a 1985 case, Shatterproof Glass, in indicating that the amount of detail required in the specification is related to the existing knowledge in the field of endeavor.

The CAFC begins its analysis by first defining “algorithm” in the computer art:

A fixed step-by-step procedure for accomplishing a given result; usually a simplified procedure for solving a complex problem, also a full statement of a finite number of steps.

The CAFC states:

Precedent and practice permit a patentee to express that procedural algorithm “in any understandable terms including as a mathematical formula, in prose, or as a flow chart, or in any other manner that provides sufficient structure.” Finisar, 523 F.3d at 1340. In Finisar the court explained that the patent need only disclose sufficient structure for a person of skill in the field to provide an operative software program for the specified function. Id. The amount of detail required to be included in claims depends on the particular invention and the prior art.Shatterproof Glass Corp. v. Libbey-Owens Ford Co., 758 F.2d 613, 624 (Fed. Cir. 1985). In turn, the amount of detail that must be included in the specification depends on the subject matter that is described and its role in the invention as a whole, in view of the existing knowledge in the field of the invention.  (Emphasis added.)

The CAFC then looks to the specification to determine if any corresponding structure, in the form of an implementing algorithm for the function, is discussed.  The court notes two disjointed passages, the first in column 3 and the second in column 14, shown below.

Cross-referencing entails the matching of entered responses with a library of possible responses, and, if a match is encountered, displaying the fact of the match, otherwise alerting the user, or displaying in-formation stored in memory fields associated with that library entry.

Cross-Referencing imports that, for each answer field, the entered response can be related to a library to determine if the response in the answer field is existent in the library. In other words, the answer information is cross-referenced against that specific library. If it is available in that library, then, corresponding to that library entry, an action is executed. For instance, the associated action can involve an overlay window that alerts the user of the fact of the match with the library entry, or displays the contents of an information field stored in association with that entry in the memory.

The CAFC then notes that:

 The defendants have directed us to no evidence that a programmer of ordinary skill in the field would not understand how to implement this function.

The court’s statement is a little peculiar in that the defendants have no such burden.  However perhaps the court believes that in light of the cited passages, the burden has shifted.

Finally, the court notes three other minor passages in the specification which it contends provides an algorithm for implementing the function on a computer.  To wit, the specification recites:

the memory of the portable computer stores a data collection application and has locations for storing data entered manually by touching the touch sensitive screen,

[t]he CPU of the portable computer executes the application and processes the manually entered data pursuant to the application,

[c]ross-referencing entails the matching of entered responses with a library of possible responses, and, if a match is encountered, displaying the fact of the match, otherwise alerting the user, or displaying information stored in memory fields associated with that library entry.

The CAFC concludes that an adequate corresponding algorithm exists defining how to implement the claimed function.  Consequently, the MPF claim term is definite.

Final Thoughts:

The CAFC appears to have lessened the harshness of the Aristocrat analysis.  Now, the MPF claim term will be explicitly examined based on the subject matter that is described and its role in the invention as a whole, in view of the existing knowledge in the field of invention.

Thus, it is more likely that a reading means, writing means, memory means, or any other well known MPF structure, will be definite as long as a minimal amount of written description/corresponding algorithm is disclosed.

Further, the corresponding algorithm need not be in a flow chart in the drawings, or even described in a step-by-step implementation.  The algorithm could be in the form of disparate sentences/paragraphs throughout the specification.

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