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Judge Andrews denies partial summary judgment motion of indefiniteness


In a recent memorandum opinion, Judge Richard G. Andrews denied defendant’s partial summary judgment motion of indefiniteness. Pi-Net International Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., C.A. No. 12-282-RGA (D. Del. Apr. 7, 2014). Given the potential for judicial efficiency, Judge Andrews had granted defendants leave to file their partial motion for summary judgment, in which it was argued that the following five terms, which appeared in several claims of the three patents-in-suit, were indefinite:

(1) “means for transmitting a transaction request from said transactional application”;
(2) “means for processing said transaction request”;
(3) “a computer system executing the Back-end transactional application for processing the transaction request in real-time”;
(4) “keeping a transaction flow captive”;
(5) “routed transactional data structure.”

Id. at 2. As to the first two terms, defendant argued that the terms were “computer-implemented means-plus-function terms for which no algorithm is disclosed.” Id. Judge Andrews explained that in general, when there exists the “special case where the corresponding structure of a means-plus-function term is a computer, the patent must disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed function.” Id. at 6. Judge Andrews further explained, however, that there is a “narrow” exception to that general rule: the Federal Circuit has held that “it is ‘not necessary to disclose more structure than the general purpose processor’ when the claimed functions ‘can be achieved by any general purpose computer without special programming.’” Id. (quoting In re Katz Interactive Call Processing Patent Litig., 639 F.3d 1303, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 2011)).

As Judge Andrews explained, “[a]t this stage, the Court cannot rule out the possibility that a general purpose computer without special programming could perform the claimed function, or that an algorithm is disclosed.” Id. at 8. Specifically, Judge Andrews explained that defendant argues strenuously that the terms are invalid because the functions at issue require more than simply plugging in a general purpose computer.” Id. at 12. Judge Andrews explained, however, that in order to agree with defendant’s position, “an expert opinion comparing the functional capabilities of a general purpose computer during the relevant time frame with the disputed functionalities might have been helpful.” Id. Defendant, however, did not provide any such opinion. Judge Andrews thus concluded that based on the current record, which lacked “the benefit of a claim construction hearing, it [was] difficult to say that no disputed issue of material fact exists regarding whether the claimed functions could have been performed by a general purpose computer without special programming.” Id. at 13. Judge Andrews additionally noted that even if the exception for a “general purpose processor” did not apply, “the flow chart in Figure 8, common to all three patent specifications, might be sufficient to satisfy the algorithm requirement.” Id. at 12.

As to the third term, Judge Andrews noted in a parenthetical that a court will not construe a limitation as a means-plus-function term if it contains a term that “is used in common parlance or by persons of skill in the pertinent art to designate structure.” Id. at 13. As Judge Andrews explained, the claim term at issue included “computer system,” and therefore could not be said to be “devoid of anything that can be construed as structure.”Id. at 15. In other words, “[a] computer system is a physical structure that [was] sufficient to prevent [defendant] from rebutting the presumption” that a term that does not contain the word “means” should not be construed as a means-plus-function term. Id.

As to the last two terms, plaintiff asserted that they were “insolubly ambiguous because the patentee did not define them in the specification or the prosecution history and they do not have a generally accepted meaning to a PHOSITA.” Id. at 2-3. Judge Andrews explained that “[a]lthough it does appear that the link between [plaintiff’s expert’s] cited passages and his proposed definitions is somewhat tenuous in places, there is no competing declaration or affidavit from [a defendant] expert for the Court to rely upon.” Id. at 16. That is, “[w]ithout an opposing expert to identify the deficiencies, if any, in [plaintiff’s expert’s] declaration, it is difficult to say that his opinion regarding a PHOSITA’s understanding of the claim language is incorrect.” Id.

In accordance with the analysis above, Judge Andrews denied defendant’s partial motion for summary judgment.

Pi-Net International Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., C.A. No. 12-282-RGA (D. Del. Apr. 7, 2014).

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