June 7, 2017

“Means” Does Not Always Mean “Means Plus Function”

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In Skky, Inc. v. Mindgeek, S.A.R.L. [2016-2018] (June 7, 2017), the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB decision in IPR 2014-01236 that all of the challenged claims in U.S. Patent 7,548,875 were invalid for obviousness.

The ‘875 patent relates to a method of delivering audio and/or visual files to a wireless device.  The prosecution lasted almost seven years, and the claims were only allowed after they were amended to recite a “wireless device means.”  The Board determined that “wireless device means” was not a means plus function element, but even if it was it did not require a device with multiple processors.

The Federal Circuit said that in determining whether a claim term invokes § 112 ¶ 6, the essential inquiry 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.  It is sufficient if the claim term is used in common parlance or by persons of skill in the pertinent art to designate structure, even if the term covers a broad class of structures and even if the term identifies the structures by their function.

The Federal Circuit agreed with MindGeek that “wireless device means” does not invoke § 112 ¶ 6 because it recites sufficient structure.  Although the term uses the word “means” and so triggers a presumption, the full term recites structure, not functionality.  The claims do not recite a function or functions for the wireless device means to perform, and “wireless device” is “used in common parlance … to designate structure.  The Federal Circuit further found that “wireless device means” did not require multiple processors, noting that at least one disclosed embodiment was exclusively software, and thus it would be improper to construe “wireless device means” to require multiple processors.

The Federal Circuit found that substantial evidence supported the Board’s claim construction, and its resulting finding of obviousness.