Today, Mon., Mar. 26, 2012, in Ergo Licensing v. Carefusion, No. 2011-1229, the Federal Circuit (Newman (dissenting), Linn and Moore) affirmed a district court’s ruling that claim limitations “control means” and “programmable control means” – that both parties stipulated were means-plus-function limitations – were indefinite because no corresponding structure was disclosed in the specification. This case provides incremental insight into computer-based means limitations and litigating the gray area of how specific structural disclosure must be to satisfy §112 ¶ 6.
The Majority held that the term “control device” in the claim and specification provided no more structure than the term “control means.” The fact that those skilled in the art would know about different types of “control device” structures to perform the claimed function showed that the term “control device” “is not a specific structure.”
The Majority also held that, even assuming that a “control device” were a general-purpose computer, “the specification fails to disclose a corresponding algorithm.” The Majority limited the prior Katz decision – that had accepted a general-purpose computer as structure for “processing”, “receiving” and “storing” means – because it was a “rare” case where “‘means for processing’ requires no more than merely ‘processing,’ which any general-purpose computer may do without any special programming.”