means-plus function : CAFC Alert

The term “receiver” connotes sufficiently definite structure to avoid interpretation under §112, sixth paragraph

| February 7, 2014

EnOcean Gmbh v. Face International Corporation

 Decided January 31, 2014

 Before Radar, Lourie and Prost.  Opinion by Prost


 Face’s patent (USP 7,084,529) issued in 2006, having claims directed to a self-powered switch. EnOcean owns the rights to U.S. Patent Application No. 10/304,121, also having claims directed to a self-powered switch.  The EnOcean ‘121 application claims priority back to a German application filed on May 24, 2000.  Face’s priority only goes back to 2001.  After Face’s patent issued, EnOcean amended the claims in the ‘121 application to match those of the ‘529 patent, and requested an interference. 

 In the interference proceeding, EnOcean identified a set of prior art references, including published PCT Application No. PCT/GB01/00901 to Burrow, that invalidated the Face’s ‘529 patent as obvious.  However, the prior art date of the Burrow reference is March 5, 2001, which is an intervening date between the US filing date of EnOcean’s application (November 25, 2002) and the filing date of the German priority application (May 24, 2000).

 The Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (“Board”) treated the amended claims in EnOcean’s application reciting a “receiver” as means-plus-function claims, and, as such, found that these claims were not supported by the German priority application because the priority document did not describe the structure corresponding to the “receiver”.  The Board found that these claims were not entitled to the earlier priority date of the German application, and that these claims were invalid as obvious over the same combination of prior art that invalidated Face’s patent.

 EnOcean appealed.  The CAFC held that the Board erred in treating certain of EnOcean’s claims as means-plus-function claims.

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