Two contested patent terms upheld as means-plus-function
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Robert Bosch, LLC v. Snap-On Inc., 2014-1040 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 14, 2014) affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan that two contested patent terms were means-plus-function terms under section 112, paragraph 6. However, the Federal Circuit held that the district court was wrong to apply the presumption of a means-plus-function claim based on the language. Although the contested claim included references to functions performed “by means of the program recognition device,” the court held that the presumption of a means-plus-function claim is limited to situations in which the claim uses the word “means…as a noun in the claim,” and that this presumption did not extend to the phrase “by means of.” However, because each disputed term lacked sufficiently definite structure, this error was harmless; both terms constituted means-plus-function limitations, and were invalid as indefinite.
Judgment of damages sufficient to render plaintiff a prevailing party for fee awards
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed in SSL Services, LLC, v. Citrix Systems, Inc., 2013-1419 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 14, 2014) the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas’s denial of various findings of non-infringement. However, the court vacated the district court’s denial of prevailing party status, finding that SSL was the prevailing party. First, the court noted that the general verdict rule—the rule providing that “where one or more of multiple claims is found legally invalid, a reviewing court must reverse and order a new trial if they are unable to determine whether the invalid theory tainted the verdict”—applies “with the same force in patent cases as it does in all other cases.” However, prejudice will not be presumed from the fact that the verdict makes it impossible to determine the specific limitation that the jury found non-infringed; the burden of establishing a threat of a tainted or improper verdict rests on the party challenging the verdict. Second, because one patent was found non-infringed and the second was found willfully infringed, the district court held that neither party was the prevailing party for the purpose of eligibility for fee awards. The Federal Circuit reversed: even where a plaintiff does not prevail on all of its infringement claims, a judgment of damages is sufficient to make the plaintiff the “prevailing party” for the purpose of fee awards, although it does not automatically entitle it to fees.