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“Memory Means” and “Display Means” Are Not Means-Plus-Function Limitations

April 06, 2001

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - May 2001

Judges:     Linn (author), Schall, and Gajarsa (dissenting- in-part)

In Optimal Recreation Solutions, LLP v. Leading Edge Technologies, Inc., No. 00-1339 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 6, 2001) (nonprecedential decision), the Federal Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment of no literal infringement in favor of Leading Edge Technologies, Inc. (“Leading Edge”) and remanded the case for further consideration of literal infringement. The Court affirmed, however, the district court’s evidentiary sanctions against Optimal Recreation Solutions, LLP (“Optimal”) for discovery abuses.

Optimal had sued Leading Edge for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,364,093 (“the ‘093 patent”), which concerns a Global Positioning System (“GPS”) that adapts a standard GPS receiver to compute various distances on a golf course. The GPS may compute distances between various locations, for example, the user’s location, the cup, and arbitrary user-selected locations.

In finding no literal infringement, the district court had construed the claim terms “position” and “location” as, respectively, “position on the face of the earth in terms of latitude and longitude” and “location on the face of the earth in terms of latitude and longitude.” The district court also construed “global positioning receiver means,” “memory means,” and “display means” as means-plusfunction limitations.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that the district court had erred in these constructions. The Court determined that Optimal had used the claim terms “position” and “location” in their ordinary sense; that is, to mean “where a thing is.” The Court looked to the specification and found that the patentee did not redefine these terms more narrowly than their ordinary meaning. The Court also noted that the claims utilize these terms without any modifier or qualification; specifically, the claims do not require “position” and “location” to be provided in terms of latitude and longitude.

Regarding the “means” limitations, the Federal Circuit determined that a “global positioning receiver,” a “memory,” and a “display” have reasonably well understood structural meanings in the arts of GPS receivers and computer programming. Thus, these claim limitations were not subject to 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6, because they defined sufficient structure, despite the use of the term “means.”

The Federal Circuit found no abuse of discretion by the district court in sanctioning Optimal for discovery abuses by precluding Optimal from presenting evidence of infringement under the DOE. Optimal argued that the sanction effectively dismissed their claim in view of the district court’s claim construction. The Court rejected Optimal’s argument because Optimal continued to assert plans to prove literal infringement, after the district court’s claim construction, until imposition of the sanction.

Judge Gajarsa dissented from the majority on the issue of claim construction, arguing that “memory means” and “display means” do not impart sufficient structure to rebut the presumption that the limitations are subject to 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6. Disagreeing with the majority’s analogy of devices such as “brakes” and “screwdrivers” that take their names from the functions they perform, Judge Gajarsa asserted that the terms “memory” and “display” simply describe functions.