Law School Case Brief
Williamson v. Citrix Online, LLC - 792 F.3d 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2015)
Henceforth, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will apply the presumption that a limitation expressed in functional language in patent's claim without using the word "means" is not subject to former 35 U.S.C.S. § 112, para. 6 (now 35 U.S.C.S. § 112(f)) as it did prior to deciding Lighting World, Inc. v. Birchwood Lighting, Inc., 382 F.3d 1354, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 18729, without requiring any heightened evidentiary showing and by expressly overruling the characterization of that presumption as "strong." The Federal Circuit also overrules the strict requirement of a showing that the limitation essentially is devoid of anything that can be construed as structure. The standard is whether the words of a patent's claim are understood by persons of ordinary skill in the art to have a sufficiently definite meaning as the name for structure. When a claim term lacks the word "means," the presumption can be overcome and former 35 U.S.C.S. § 112, para. 6 (now 35 U.S.C.S. § 112(f)) will apply if the challenger demonstrates that the claim term fails to recite sufficiently definite structure, or else recites function without reciting sufficient structure for performing that function. The converse presumption remains unaffected: use of the word "means" creates a presumption that former § 112, para. 6 (now § 112(f)) applies.
On March 22, 2011, Appellant Williamson filed suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, specifically asserting infringement of all 24 claims of the U.S. Patent No. 6,155,840 ("the '840 patent"). On September 4, 2012, the district court issued a claim construction order, construing, inter alia, the following limitations of independent claims 1 and 17: "graphical display representative of a classroom" and "first graphical display comprising . . . a classroom region" (collectively, the "graphical display" limitations). The district court held that these terms require "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." In its claim construction order, the district court also concluded that the limitation of claim 8, "distributed learning control module," was a means-plus-function term under 35 U.S.C.S. § 112, para. 6. The district court then evaluated the specification and concluded that it failed to disclose the necessary algorithms for performing all of the claimed functions. The district court thus held claim 8 and its dependent claims 9-16 invalid as indefinite under § 112, para. 2. Williamson conceded that under the district court's claim constructions, none of Appellees' accused products infringed independent claims 1 and 17 and their respective dependent claims 2-7 and 18-24, and that claims 8-16 were invalid. The parties stipulated to final judgment. Williamson appeals the stipulated entry of judgment, challenging these claim construction rulings.
Did decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that established a heightened bar to overcoming the presumption that limitations expressed in functional language without using the word "means" were not subject to former 35 U.S.C.S. § 112, para. 6 still apply?
The court held that the district court erred in a patent infringement action filed by the trustee of a trust that owned U.S. Patent No. 6,155,840 ("the '840 patent"), which described methods and systems for "distributed learning," when it construed the limitations "graphical display representative of a classroom" and "first graphical display comprising a classroom region," in finding that companies that provided distributed learning systems did not infringe claims 1-7 and 17-24 of the '840 patent. Decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that established a heightened bar to overcoming the presumption that limitations expressed in functional language without using the word "means" were not subject to former 35 U.S.C.S. § 112, para. 6 (now 35 U.S.C.S. § 112(f)) were unjustified and were abandoned.
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