Means plus function : CAFC Alert

In 6-4 en banc decision, Federal Circuit maintains no-deference review of District Courts’ claim constructions

Nicolas Seckel | March 11, 2014

Lighting Ballast v. Philips Electronics (en banc, Precedential)

Decided February 21, 2014

Before NEWMAN, LOURIE, O’MALLEY.  Opinion by NEWMAN, Concurrence by LOURIE, Dissent by O’MALLEY.

Summary:

In a patent dispute involving the interpretation of a “means-plus-function” term, a three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit revised the District Court’s claim construction on appeal and held the patent claim invalid for indefiniteness, in the absence of any structure in the description corresponding to the “means” recited in the claim.

The Federal Circuit granted rehearing of the panel decision by the full Court (“en banc”), for the purpose of revisiting its practice of reviewing claim construction without giving any deference to the District Court.  In a 6-4 decision, the Federal Circuit en banc maintains the plenary review (“de novo”) rule established by its 1998 decision Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc.


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The Great IBM Escape

Michael Caridi | October 14, 2013

Tecsec, Inc. v. Int’l. Business Machines et al. (2012-1415)

October 2, 2013

Panel:  Moore, Linn, and Reyna.  Opinion by Linn.  Dissent by Reyna.

Summary

Following an earlier affirming of an Eastern District of Va. decision granting IBM Summary Judgment, TecSec stipulated that it could not prove infringement by the remaining defendants under the claim construction adopted during the IBM proceedings. Based on TecSec’s stipulation, the district court entered judgment of noninfringement as to the remaining defendants (a “who is who” of the server industry, including EBay, Cisco, Sun, Oracle, Paypal, Adobe and others).    The CAFC reversed, finding that the Mandate Rule and Collateral Estoppel did not apply to claim construction adopted during the IBM proceeding.  The CAFC then ruled on issues of claim construction and computer implemented means-plus-function terms, finding that the terms either were not means-plus-function under §112¶6 or that sufficient structure was presented in the specification in the form of three detailed examples.


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Divided Claim Construction Leads to Reversal of Jury Verdict Against Alleged Infringer

Cindy Chen | April 17, 2013

Saffran v. Johnson & Johnson

April 4, 2013

Panel: Lourie, Moore, and O’Malley.  Opinion by Lourie. Concurrence Opinions by Moore and O’Malley.

Summary

The Federal Circuit reversed a $482 million jury verdict against Cordis, a member of the Johnson & Johnson family. The reversal came as a result of the Federal Circuit’s significant narrowing of the district court’s construction of two key claim limitations. One claim term was narrowed because the Federal Circuit found that the patentee’s arguments made during prosecution of the asserted patent, for the purpose of distinguishing over cited prior art, amounted to prosecution disclaimer. Meanwhile, a structure identified in the specification by the patentee as the corresponding structure to a means-plus-function limitation was disregarded as such, because the specification failed to link the identified structure to the recited function with sufficient specificity.


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Applicant’s failure to request claim construction under §112, 6th paragraph may invoke waiver of such claim construction

Yoshiya Nakamura | January 23, 2013

In re Avid Identification Systems, Inc.

January 8, 2013

Panel:  Lourie, Clevenger and Bryson.  Opinion by Lourie.  Dissent by Clevenger.

Summary:

The Examiner rejected claims of a patent at issue, and the PTO board maintained the rejection finding that a means-plus function limitation was found in prior art where its broadest reasonable meaning was given.  CAFC affirmed the PTO decision, and denied the Applicants’ request for a claim construction under § 112, 6th paragraph, instead of the broadest reasonable interpretation.  CAFC reasoned that the Applicants waived that claim construction by failing to raise the issue during the procedure in the PTO.  The dissenting opinion pointed out that the claim construction according to § 112, 6th paragraph is mandatory as the statutory requirement where the claim term clearly invokes the application of § 112, 6th paragraph.

出願人はクレームが自明であるとして拒絶した特許庁審判部の判断を不服として、CAFCに控訴した。問題のクレームには、ミーンズプラスファンクション(”means for”の用語を用いた限定 )を記載がある。そのような記載があると通常、特許法112条第6パラグラフの適用があり、その機能限定は明細書に開示されている構造もしくはそれと均等な構造を記載していると限定解釈される。しかしながら、本件では、特許庁審査官および審判部は、そのミーンズプラスファンクションの限定を、一般的な構造限定のときのように合理的な範囲で最も広い意味(broadest reasonable meaning)の基準を用いて解釈した。この広い解釈に基づいてその機能限定は先行技術に記載されていると特許庁は判断した。この経緯に関してCAFCは、出願人は特許庁の手続きにおいて112条第6パラグラフの適用を自ら主張しなかったためその機会を放棄したと判断し、出願人の主張を退けた。CAFC裁判官の1人は、112条第6パラグラフの適用は制定法上の要求であり、出願人や審査官が同法に基づく限定解釈を要求しなくても先ずその解釈を採用すべきであるとの反対意見を述べた。


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Method Claim Survives Over MPF Claim’s Demise Under Aristocrat

John Kong | November 28, 2012

ePlus, Inc. v. Lawson Software, Inc.

November 21, 2012

Dyk, Prost, O’Malley.  Opinion by Prost.

Summary:

This case serves as a reminder of the importance of having different claim types.  ePlus’ jury verdict of infringement of two systems claims was vacated because the Federal Circuit found one means-plus-function element recited therein to lack the requisite corresponding structure being disclosed in the specification, thereby rendering the claims indefinite under 35 USC §112, second paragraph.  However, the infringement of a similar method claim reciting the same function as the means-plus-function element was affirmed.


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CAFC discusses interplay between means-plus-function and claim differentiation

Thomas Brown | November 19, 2012

Icon Health & Fitness, Inc. v. Octane Fitness, LLC.

October 14, 2012

PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

ICON Health & Fitness, Inc. (“ICON”) owner of USP 6,019,710 (the “’710 patent”) sued Octane Fitness (“Octane”) for infringement in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.   The District Court granted summary judgment of non-infringement of claims 1–5, 7, and 9–10 of the ’710 patent by concluding that the “stroke rail” and “means for connecting” limitations were absent in Octane’s Q45 and Q47 machines.  On appeal, the CAFC agreed with the District Court’s claim construction and affirmed the District Court’s holding of non-infringement.


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CAFC does not find means-plus-function in a “height adjustment mechanism”

Scott Daniels | November 7, 2012

Flo Heathcare Solutions v. Kappos

October 23, 2012

Panel: Newman, Plager, and Wallach.  Opinion by Wallach.

PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

The patentee sued the defendant for infringement.  The defendant then requested inter partes reexamination of the patent.  The trial judge stayed the infringement action, pending completion of the reexamination.  The patent reexamination examiner and the Patent Office Board rejected the claims as being anticipated by the prior art.  On appeal, the CAFC disagreed with the PTO Board’s claim construction; but even under the CAFC’s claim construction, it found that the claims were anticipated and therefore affirmed the PTO’s rejection of the claims


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Means-Plus-Function: The Achilles’ Heel

Thomas Brown | May 9, 2012

Noah Systems, Inc. v. Intuit, Inc.

April 9, 2012

Panel: Rader, O’Malley and Reyna. Opinion by Judge O’Malley

Summary

This decision illustrates that a patent could become invalidated even after surviving challenges of reexamination, which strengthen the presumption of validity, when a challenger discovers the Achilles’ Heel of a means-plus-function claim element resulting in a summary judgment of invalidity by the CAFC.   Noah appeals the granting, by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (DC), of Intuit’s Motion for Summary Judgment of Invalidity of USP 5,875,435 (the ‘435 patent) based on indefiniteness for a means-plus-function claim element without the DC hearing evidence of how one of skill in the art would view the specification.  The CAFC affirms by finding that the specification discloses no algorithm when the specification discloses an algorithm that only accomplishes one of two identifiable functions performed by the means-plus-function limitation.


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Computer-implemented “control means” requires description of step-by-step algorithm even if not key feature of claimed invention

Nicolas Seckel | April 4, 2012

Ergo Licensing, LLC v. Carefusion 303, Inc.

March 26, 2012

Panel: Newman, Linn and Moore.  Opinion by Moore.  Dissent by Newman.

Summary

Another reminder that under US patent law, a “means-plus-function” element recited in a patent claim covers only the corresponding structures described in the specification and their equivalents.  If insufficient or no corresponding structures are described in the specification, the claim is invalid as indefinite.  The rule is strictly applied even if the functional element is only a peripheral aspect of the invention.  Here, the patent claims were directed to a multichannel drug infusion system.  A “control means” was recited (for controlling the motor that adjusts the drug dosage).  The Federal Circuit affirms the invalidity of the claims.  The specification disclosed a “control device,” but no “step-by-step process.” Since the recited function could not be performed by a general computer without special programming, disclosure of an algorithm was required to avoid “pure functional claiming.”


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The Patent Court revisits IPXL doctrine regarding prohibition on hybrid claiming

Rob Raheja | February 29, 2012

HTC Corporation v. IPCom GmbH & Co.

January 30, 2012

Panel:  Bryson, Linn and O’Malley.  Opinion by O’Malley.

Summary

HTC Corporation and HTC America, Inc. sued IPCom GmbH & Co., KG seeking a declaration that it did not infringe claims of IPCom patents. IPCom counterclaimed alleging infringement. HTC moved for summary judgment of invalidity on the ground that claims 1 and 18 of U.S. Patent No. 6,879,830 owned by IPCom were indefinite because (1) they claimed both an apparatus and method steps; and (2) the means-plus-function limitation “arrangement for reactivating,” found in the last paragraph of claims 1 and 18, was indefinite because the patent failed to disclose structure corresponding to the claimed function. On summary judgment, the district court agreed with HTC that claims 1 and 18 were indefinite based on the Federal Circuit’s precedent in IPXL Holdings, L.L.C. v. Amazon.com, Inc prohibiting hybrid claiming of apparatus and method steps in the same claim, but rejected HTC’s argument that the claims were indefinite for failing to disclose the structure corresponding to the means-plus-function limitation. On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment of invalidity based on hybrid claiming, but did not disturb the district court’s finding regarding the means-plus-function limitation. The Federal Circuit held that the district court misconstrued the asserted claims and that the patent did not describe any improper hybrid claiming of apparatus and method steps in the same claim because the claims, when properly construed, were drawn to only an apparatus and the prohibition on hybrid claiming under IPXL was inapplicable to claims 1 and 18.
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