Patent Must Clearly Disclose Structure Corresponding to the 'Means,' or the Doctor Can't Cure the Indefiniteness Disease

Author:Mr Keith George
Profession:McDermott Will & Emery

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has recently held that if a patent specification fails to disclose structure clearly corresponding to the function of a means-plus-function clause, the claim is invalid for indefiniteness. Cardiac Pacemakers, Inc. v. St. Jude Medical, Inc., Case No. 01-1198 (Fed. Cir. July 11, 2002).

The one independent claim, directed to a defibrillator, listed numerous "means" elements, including detecting means, charging means and three monitoring means. The Court interpreted the functional language regarding the "third monitoring means" as requiring one structure to perform two functions, monitoring an ECG signal from the detecting means and activating a charging means in the presence of an abnormal cardiac rhythm needing correction. As disclosed, a doctor could perform both functions, but the specification did not disclose structure that was part of the defibrillator which performed both the monitoring and activating functions in the manner claimed. The Court noted that the doctor is not an element of the claimed defibrillator.

The Court explained that construction of a means-plus-function limitation involves two steps, identifying the claimed function and determining the corresponding disclosed subject matter. Ordinary principles of claim construction govern interpretation of the claim language describing the function. After identifying the claimed function, the claim interpreter must determine what structure disclosed in the specification, if any, corresponds to the claimed function. In order to qualify as corresponding structure, a structure must not only perform the stated function, but the specification must clearly associate the structure with the performance of the stated function. This inquiry is undertaken from the perspective of a person of ordinary skill in the art. Alternative embodiments may disclose different corresponding structure(s). However, at least one embodiment must disclose corresponding structure for the claim to be valid. If no...

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