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October 20, 2008

Means Streets

Net MoneyIN asserted 5,822,737 & 5,963,917, which go to "systems for processing credit card transactions over the Internet," against Verisign and other online credit card vendors. The claims, in the form of means-plus-function, were invalidated because they lacked specification support. The road to that invalidity is § 112 ¶ 2, indefiniteness, not § 112 ¶ 1, the written description requirement. Patents by Mark Ogram, inventor and patent attorney, turn Shakesperean: "hoist with his own petar." At least he only has himself to blame. Also herein, the arrangement requirement for anticipation.

Net MoneyIN (NMI) v. VeriSign et al (CAFC 2007-1565)

NMI argued that the '737 means claims weren't, or that spec support was good enough if they were.

Section 112, paragraph 6, of title 35 provides that:

An element of a claim for a combination may be expressed as a means or step for performing a specified function without the recital of structure, material, or acts in support thereof, and such claim shall be construed to cover the corresponding structure, material, or acts described in the specification and equivalents thereof.

A claim element that contains the word "means" and recites a function is presumed to be drafted in means-plus-function format under 35 U.S.C. § 112 ¶ 6. Envirco Corp. v. Clestra Cleanroom, Inc., 209 F.3d 1360, 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2000). The presumption is rebutted, however, "if the claim itself recites sufficient structure to perform the claimed function." Id.; see also Sage Prods., Inc. v. Devon Indus., Inc., 126 F.3d 1420, 1427-28 (Fed. Cir. 1997) ("[W]here a claim recites a function, but then goes on to elaborate sufficient structure, material, or acts within the claim itself to perform entirely the recited function, the claim is not in means-plus-function format.").

NMI argues that an ordinary artisan would understand the "bank computer" "to be a commonly known structure for generating authorization indicia in response to queries containing a custom account number and amount." VeriSign responds that the claim does not recite sufficient structure to rebut the presumption "because of the wide variety of types and classes of computers in existence, each being configurable in a variety of different ways using many different programming languages."

Because the claimed generating means is a subset of the bank computer, there must be a recitation of structure that is a component of the bank computer to rebut the presumption. The claim contains no such recitation. As a result, the district court correctly concluded that the presumption of means-plus-function treatment had not been overcome.

About specification support for means claims -

A patent applicant who employs means-plus-function language "must set forth in the specification an adequate disclosure showing what is meant by that language. If an applicant fails to set forth an adequate disclosure, the applicant has in effect failed to particularly point out and distinctly claim the invention as required by the second paragraph of section 112." In re Donaldson Co., 16 F.3d 1189, 1195 (Fed. Cir. 1994) (en banc). To avoid purely functional claiming in cases involving computer-implemented inventions, we have "consistently required that the structure disclosed in the specification be more than simply a general purpose computer or microprocessor." Aristocrat Techs. Austl. Pty Ltd. v. Int'l Game Tech., 521 F.3d 1328, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2008). "Because general purpose computers can be programmed to perform very different tasks in very different ways, simply disclosing a computer as the structure designated to perform a particular function does not limit the scope of the claim to 'the corresponding structure, material, or acts' that perform the function, as required by section 112 paragraph 6." Id. "Thus, in a means-plus-function claim 'in which the disclosed structure is a computer, or microprocessor, programmed to carry out an algorithm, the disclosed structure is not the general purpose computer, but rather the special purpose computer programmed to perform the disclosed algorithm.'" Id. (quoting WMS Gaming, Inc. v. Int'l Game Tech., 184 F.3d 1339, 1349 (Fed. Cir. 1999)). Consequently, a means-plus-function claim element for which the only disclosed structure is a general purpose computer is invalid if the specification fails to disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed function. See id. at 1337-38.

There is no dispute in this case that the specification fails to disclose an algorithm by which a general purpose bank computer "generat[es] an authorization indicia."

Asserted claim 1 of the '917 patent went down the same road.


Another '737 claim, 23, was found anticipated by the district court. The CAFC disagreed, discerning that anticipation requires "not only disclose all elements of the claim within the four corners of the document, but must also disclose those elements "arranged as in the claim.""

Section 102(a) provides that an issued patent is invalid if "the invention [therein] was . . . described in a printed publication . . . before the invention thereof by the applicant." Section 102 embodies the concept of novelty--if a device or process has been previously invented (and disclosed to the public), then it is not new, and therefore the claimed invention is "anticipated" by the prior invention. As we have stated numerous times (language on which VeriSign relies), in order to demonstrate anticipation, the proponent must show "that the four corners of a single, prior art document describe every element of the claimed invention." Xerox, 458 F.3d at 1322 (quoting Advanced Display Sys., Inc. v. Kent State Univ., 212 F.3d 1272, 1282 (Fed. Cir. 2000)). This statement embodies the requirement in section 102 that the anticipating invention be "described in a printed publication," and is, of course, unimpeachable. But it does not tell the whole story. Because the hallmark of anticipation is prior invention, the prior art reference - in order to anticipate under 35 U.S.C. § 102 - must not only disclose all elements of the claim within the four corners of the document, but must also disclose those elements "arranged as in the claim." Connell v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 722 F.2d 1542, 1548 (Fed. Cir. 1983).

The meaning of the expression "arranged as in the claim" is readily understood in relation to claims drawn to things such as ingredients mixed in some claimed order. In such instances, a reference that discloses all of the claimed ingredients, but not in the order claimed, would not anticipate, because the reference would be missing any disclosure of the limitations of the claimed invention "arranged as in the claim." But the "arranged as in the claim" requirement is not limited to such a narrow set of "order of limitations" claims. Rather, our precedent informs that the "arranged as in the claim" requirement applies to all claims and refers to the need for an anticipatory reference to show all of the limitations of the claims arranged or combined in the same way as recited in the claims, not merely in a particular order. The test is thus more accurately understood to mean "arranged or combined in the same way as in the claim."

When the precise marching ants of anticipation stop at the shore of invalidity, Obzilla stomps in.

But differences between the prior art reference and a claimed invention, however slight, invoke the question of obviousness, not anticipation. See 35 U.S.C. § 103(a) ("A patent may not be obtained though the invention is not identically disclosed or described as set forth in section 102 of this title, if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains." (emphasis added)); see also In re Arkley, 455 F.2d 586, 587 (CCPA 1972) ("[R]ejections under 35 U.S.C. § 102 are proper only when the claimed subject matter is identically disclosed or described in the prior art." (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, it is not enough that the prior art reference discloses part of the claimed invention, which an ordinary artisan might supplement to make the whole, or that it includes multiple, distinct teachings that the artisan might somehow combine to achieve the claimed invention. See Arkley, 455 F.2d at 587 ("[T]he [prior art] reference must clearly and unequivocally disclose the claimed [invention] or direct those skilled in the art to the [invention] without any need for picking, choosing, and combining various disclosures not directly related to each other by the teachings of the cited reference.").

As the prior art reference employed did not disclose all of the limitations recited "arranged or combined in the same way as in the claim," the finding of invalidity was reversed, and the case remanded. Obzilla, your turn to dance.

Posted by Patent Hawk at October 20, 2008 11:55 PM | § 112


Mr. Ogram is not very polite either. I started an ex parte reexam on a patent he prosecuted (7,059,076, Control No. 90/010,272) and he repeatedly and personally called me a liar in the Patent Owner's Response he filed nearly every other paragraph.

Posted by: Josh at October 27, 2008 12:48 PM

Who files a patent's owners statement in a re-exam?

Posted by: JD at October 27, 2008 1:31 PM

Apparently Mr. Ogram does, which makes me happy.

Posted by: Josh at October 28, 2008 8:27 AM

That's some statement.

I was taught to never file an owner's statement.

Now I see why.

Posted by: JD at October 28, 2008 2:07 PM

I could see filing an owner's statement in the situation where the prior art, on it's face, was not actually prior art or some other error where you might be able to nip the whole reexam in the bud. But I would expect that the office would catch this type of error.

I feel he crossed a professional line, though, when he started batting me around personally. It's one thing to disagree with my interpretation of a prior art reference, and quite another to call me a liar and scheming to perpetrate a fraud on the PTO.

Needless to say, I am going to lay into him when I reply. My reply will, of course, be professional.

Posted by: Josh at October 29, 2008 5:06 AM