Intellectual Science and Technology v. Sony Electronics (Fed. Cir. 2009).
This decision follows a long line of cases warning against the use of means-plus-function claim language. The decision should also be seen as guidance to technical experts (to be more technical).
Intellectual Science's Patent No. 5,748,575 covers a computer configured to simultaneously access multiple optical discs (such as CD-ROMS). According to the description, an "intelligent time-division multiplexer" is used to combine the multiple information sets into a single data stream for the host computer to process. Following the advice of an appointed special master, the district court on summary judgment held the patent not-infringed. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed.
The appeal focused on the claimed "data transmitting means." The parties agreed that the limitation should be interpreted under 35 U.S.C. 112p6 as a means-plus-function term. The dispute turned on whether the claimed means covers the accused device.
For a means-plus-function claim term, the term literally covers an accused device if the relevant structure in the accused device performs the identical function recited in the claim and that structure is identical or equivalent to the corresponding structure in the specification.
The patentee's problem was that its technical expert's report failed to tie the accused device to the claimed means and its corresponding structures found in the patent specification.
[T]he problem . . . is the absence of any showing that the identified structure accomplishes the same function in the same way as the claimed structure. . . . [T]he record must specifically identify the infringing features of those components and the reason that one of skill in the art would recognize them as infringing. Without that further identification and explanation, a reasonable juror would not be able to determine that those allegedly infringing components are actually present.
A court can properly find summary judgment of non-infringement if the patentee's expert fails to provide "foundation for his infringement opinion in sufficient detail for the court to be certain that features of the accused product would support a finding of infringement under the claim construction adopted by the court, with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of the non-movant." Here, the Federal Circuit held that the patentee's expert had failed that test.
Judgment of NonInfringement Affirmed.
Notes: There is nothing "wrong" with writing means-plus-function claim language -- especially to accompany a well drafted specification. However, an applicant should not expect that its broadest claim is the MPF.
Claim 1 of the patent reads as follows:
1. An information processing apparatus with multitasking function, the information processing apparatus comprising:
(a) a plurality of turntables, each comprising a disc-setting table for mounting an optical disc;
(b) a plurality of optical units, each comprising a driving means and an optical read head, wherein said driving means is provided for moving said optical read head in a radial direction of said optical disc to a predetermined disc position on a surface of said optical disc;
(c) means for simultaneously controlling a plurality of said driving means to move a plurality of said optical read heads to a plurality of predetermined disc positions on at least two optical discs for retrieving information stored thereon;
(d) a plurality of signal-process systems for converting a plurality of information sets retrieved by said plurality of optical read heads from a compact disc format to the original state of the information; and
(e) data transmitting means for transmitting a plurality of the information sets converted by said plurality of signal-process systems to a host computer.