En Banc Federal Circuit Resets Rebuttable Presumption in MPF Analysis

On June 16, the Federal Circuit issued an en banc decision in WILLIAMSON v. CITRIX ONLINE, LLC overruling its prior holdings that the absence of the term “means” gave a “strong” presumption against construing a claim limitation as “means-plus-function” under 35 U.S.C. §112, ¶6 (pre-AIA), or 35 U.S.C. §112(f) (post-AIA).  The Federal Circuit held that while the absence of the term “means” still creates a rebuttable presumption that §112, ¶6, does not apply, the presumption should not be characterized as “strong” and can be overcome if it is shown that the claim term lacks “sufficiently definite structure” or recites “function without reciting sufficient structure for performing that function.”

Excerpt from Federal Circuit Decision

“I.  Background

A. The ’840 Patent

The ’840 patent describes methods and systems for “distributed learning” that utilize industry standard computer hardware and software linked by a network to provide a classroom or auditorium-like metaphor—i.e., a “virtual classroom” environment. The objective is to connect one or more presenters with geographically remote audience members. ’840 patent col.2 ll.10–14. The disclosed inventions purport to provide “the benefits of classroom interaction without the detrimental effects of complicated hardware or software, or the costs and inconvenience of convening in a separate place.” Id. at col.2 ll.4–7.

There are three main components of the “distributed learning” system set forth in the ’840 patent: (1) a presenter computer, (2) audience member computers, and (3) a distributed learning server. The distributed learning server implements a “virtual classroom” over a computer network, such as the Internet, to facilitate communication and interaction among the presenter and audience members.  The presenter computer is used by the presenter to communicate with the audience members and control information that appears on the audience member’s computer screen. Id. at col.4 l.66–col.5 l.2. An audience member’s computer is used to display the presentation and can be used to communicate with the presenter and other audience members. Id. at col.5 ll.11–14.”

Click the link to read more about the Federal Circuit en banc decision.

rebuttable presumption