Dispatches

High Level Description for a Software Means Limitation Fails 112 Definiteness

by Andrew DeLizio

In  Function Media vs. Google, the Federal Circuit addressed the issue of indefiniteness vis-à-vis software means-plus-function claims.  See  Id., No. 07-CV-0279, slip op. at 8. (Fed. Cir. Feb. 13, 2013).   Function Media's (FM) claim recites, "means for transmitting said presentations to a selected media venue of the media venues."    US Patent 6,446,045 at col. 64, line 1.    The Federal Circuit upheld the District Court's holding of indefiniteness.

In Function Media vs. Google, the Federal Circuit addressed the issue of indefiniteness vis-à-vis software means-plus-function claims. See Id., No. 07-CV-0279, slip op. at 8. (Fed. Cir. Feb. 13, 2013).  Function Media's (FM) claim recites, "means for transmitting said presentations to a selected media venue of the media venues."  US Patent 6,446,045 at col. 64, line 1.    The District Court held that FM's means claim does not describe means or steps taken to accomplish the end result, and FM's specification merely provides a black box that accomplishes the claimed function.  See Id. at 8-9.  As a result, FM's means claim was indefinite under 35 U.S.C.  §112.  See Id. at 11-12.    FM argued that their specification describes software as a “means for transmitting.” Id. at 8.

The Federal Circuit upheld the District Court's holding of indefiniteness.  See Id. at 12.    The Federal Circuit held that FM's specification included no specific algorithm or structure for the means element.  See Id. at 10.    The specification does not describe the transmitting in prose, as mathematical formula, in flowcharts, or otherwise. See Id.   Although FM cites several passages in the specification describing the software, those citations merely explain that the software automatically performs a transmission function.  See Id.  The passages do not explain how such a transmission function is performed.  SeeId. The specification does not go beyond the program's high-level function, and does not disclose an algorithm for the means element.  See Id.  Because the specification does not disclose an algorithm/structure for the claim’s "transmitting” function, FM cannot rely on one of ordinary skill to fill in the gaps. See Id. at 11.   

Thoughts -    For software means-plus-function claims, claim drafters cannot rely on a high-level flowcharts or black box drawings.  Instead, drafters must explain how each means-plus-function element is performed.  For FM's means element, the drafter may have provided an adequate algorithm/ structure by describing network types used for transmission, protocols used for the transmission,  conditions that when met cause the transmission, etc.   Drafters can provide these details in prose, flow charts, mathematical formulas, etc.  For each means claim, drafters should review the specification to verify that the specification provides an algorithm/structure for each means element.  If your specification includes an algorithm/structure for each means element, your means claim will be better off under a §112 indefiniteness analysis.

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