DC finding of means-plus-function invalidity of computer-related claims reversed

Dyfan, LLC v. Target Corporation

Docket No. 2021-1725 (https://cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions-orders/21-1725.OPINION.3-24-2022_1926111.pdf)


March 24, 2022

Brief Summary:   DC finding of invalid means-plus-function claims reversed and remanded as meaning of “code” and “application” would be understood by skilled artisans and claim included sufficient structure for “system”. Summary:  Dyfan appealed DC final judgment of invalidity of US 9,973,899 and 10,194,292 related to systems for communications systems “that provides users with information tailored to their particular interests or needs based on their presence within a specified location” (e.g., a shopping mall).  Target successfully argued to the DC that, although the claims do not actually use the term “means”, “each of the asserted claims included limitations that should be construed as means-plus-function limitations” (the “code”/”application” and “system” limitations) and that “the specification failed to disclose structure corresponding to these means-plus-function limitations”.  The DC found that the specification did not include an “algorithm for the claimed special-purpose computer-implemented function” and the claims therefore “indefinite for failing to disclose corresponding structure.”  The DC also held that “the ‘system’ limitations were subject to § 112 ¶ 6 because they recited ‘purely functional language without sufficient structure’”, “proclaimed it was unclear which of the recited components perform the specified function, and therefore that those claims “were ‘indefinite for lack of corresponding structure’”.  the means-plus-function analysis of claim that does not include the term “means” involves the two steps of determining “whether a claim limitation is drafted in means-plus-function format, which requires us to construe the limitation to determine whether it connotes sufficiently definite structure to a person of ordinary skill in the art” and if so then para. 112, section six (“means-plus-function”) does not apply (Williamson, FC 2015).  If the claim does not include “sufficiently definite structure” then the court “perform[s] the second step of determining “what structure, if any, disclosed in the specification corresponds to the claimed function.”  The FC panel also explained that if a claim includes the term “means”, it presumes § 112 ¶ 6 applies but also that that presumption is rebuttable and “can be overcome if a challenger demonstrates that the claim term ‘fails to ‘recite sufficiently definite structure.’”  “[T]he essential inquiry”, it explained, “is not merely the presence or absence of the word ‘means,’ but whether the words of the claim are understood by persons of ordinary skill in the art to have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure” (Williamson, FC 2015; Zeroclick, FC 2018; Greenberg, FC 1996 (“the term, as the name for structure, has a reasonably well understood meaning in the art”); Media Rights, FC 2015; Rain Computing, FC 2021; Apple, FC 2014 ().  The FC panel found the DC “erred by ignoring key evidence” including “unrebutted deposition testimony” that “application” and “code” are terms of art “that a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood as a particular structure” (e.g., “‘code’ is ‘a bunch of software instructions’”) and “by not following our court’s recent decision in Zeroclick” (and citing Apple, “Unlike in the mechanical arts, the specific structure of software code and applications is partly defined by its function.”)  The FC panel also found the DC erred because “the claim language itself defines the ‘system’ to include specified structure” in its “wherein” clause.  The DC decision was therefore reversed and remanded.

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