Docket No. 2011-1229
NEWMAN(D), LINN, MOORE
March 26, 2012
Brief summary: Computer-related means-plus-function claims typically must include an algorithm for carrying out the claimed function.
Summary: The Federal Circuit affirmed a DC finding that Ergo’s claims were indefinite because no corresponding structure for the terms “control means” and “progammable control means” was found in the specification. The disputed patent relates to an infusion system for metering (e.g., adjusting) and delivering fluids from multiple sources into a patient’s body. The parties agreed that the disputed structures have the function of “controlling the adjusting means”. Ergo argued that the corresponding structure for “control means” is the generally disclosed “control device” described by the specification (“a generic structure known to those skilled in the art…synonymous with a general-purpose computer”) and that the “programming means” was “the structure with which control and monitoring functions can be performed.” But the FC concluded that “even if we were to accept that one skilled in the art would understand a control device to be a general-purpose computer, the specification fails to disclose a corresponding algorithm required by our precedent” (citing WMS Gaming, FC 1999 (“computer-implemented means-plus-function terms are limited to the algorithms disclosed in the specification”); Harris, FC 2005). This was not, the panel found, a “rare circumstance” like that of In re Katz (FC 2011) where “any general-purpose computer may do without any special programming”. Thus, the FC concluded the claims were indefinite because “the specification merely provides functional language and does not contain any step-by-step process for controlling the adjusting means”. Judge Newman’s dissent argued that “[t]he court again, irregularly and unpredictably, departs from the established protocols of claim drafting” (“PTO expertise in such matters as patent examination for statutory compliance warrants deference”; “specification contains descriptive text in detail and completeness”; “panel majority is not explicit as to the specific area of inadequacy of structure on which it relies for its rejection”).