Richard A. Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC et al. (Withdrawn, see June 16, 2015 rehearing en banc re: means-plus-function)

Docket Nos. 2013-1130

November 5, 2014

Brief Summary: DC claim found erroneous for limiting definition to preferred embodiment. Presumption against means-plus-function found not to be overcome. Stipulated judgment was therefore vacated.

Summary: Williamson (trustee for At Home Corporation Bondholders’ Liquidating Trust) appealed stipulated final judgment of no infringement of US 6,155,840 relating to virtual classrooms by Citrix. The judgment was based on construction of the claim terms “graphical display representative of a classroom”, “first graphical display comprising…a classroom region”, and “distributed learning control module”. The DC held that the first two terms mean “a pictorial map illustrating an at least partially virtual space in which participants can interact, and that identifies the presenter(s) and the audience member(s) by their locations on the map.” The FC panel agreed with Williamson that this definition improperly limited the terms to a preferred embodiment, “the claim language itself contains no such ‘pictorial map’ limitation” (“[I]t is the claims, not the written description, which define the scope of the patent right…[A] court may not import limitations from the written description into the claims.” (Laitram, FC 1998)), and the specification does not limit the graphical display to the examples and embodiments described therein (Teleflex, FC 2002 and Innova, FC 2004 (the claims must “not be read restrictively unless the patentee has demonstrated a clear intention to limit the claim scope using words or expressions of manifest exclusion or restriction”)). The DC also held that the “distributed learning control module” was a mean-plus-function term (in claim 8) and that the “specification failed to disclose the necessary algorithms for performing all of the claimed functions.” The FC panel agreed with Williamson that the DC “failed to give appropriate weight to the ‘strong’ presumption against means-plus-function claiming that attaches to claim terms that do not recite the word ‘means’” (Personalized Media, FC 1998; DePuy Spine, FC 2006; Lighting World, FC 2004 (“This presumption is ‘a strong one that is not readily overcome.”)) To overcome the presumption, “it must be demonstrated that ‘skilled artisans, after reading the patent, would conclude that [the] claim limitation is so devoid of structure that the drafter constructively engage in means-plus-function claiming” (Inventio, FC 2011; Apex, FC 2003 (it is important to consider the claimed expression as a whole, and not merely any single word, as well as its surrounding textual context”); Linear Tech., FC 2004 (technical dictionaries “may inform whether terms connote structure”)). It found the DC erred by failing “to appreciate the structure-connoting meanings of the word ‘module’ reflected in dictionaries” and “to consider the claimed expression ‘distributed learning control module’ as a whole”. Thus, the stipulated judgment was vacated. Judge Reyna’s dissent argued “the specification and prosecution history make clear that the ‘graphical display representative of a classroom’ terms are properly construed” (citing Callicarate, FC 2005 (error for DC to read out a limitation clearly required by the claim language and specification)) and that sufficient structure was not disclosed to keep claim 8 outside the means-plus-function requirements (words such as “mechanism”, “element”, “device”, and other “nonce” words do not connote structure (citing Mass. Inst. Tech., FC 2006)).

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