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Recitation of Sufficient Structure May Overcome Means –Plus-Function Presumption

Feb.06.2008

The Federal Circuit, in TriMed, Incorporated v. Stryker Corporation (No. 07-1327; January 29, 2008), reverses a district court’s judgment of noninfringement based on a finding that the claim at issue contained a means-plus-function limitation. 

TriMed alleged that Stryker’s wrist fracture fixation devices infringed its patent whose only independent claim contains the limitation “said holes in said plate providing means for allowing the pin to slide axially therein but preventing compression across the fracture, and stabilizing said near end of the pin against displacement in the plane of the plate.” Stryker moved for summary judgment, alleging, inter alia, that this limitation is a means-plus-function limitation governed by 35 U.S.C. § 112 ¶6 and that this means-plus-function limitation is not present in the accused devices. Stryker asserted that the only structures corresponding to the claimed “means” disclosed in the specification of the patent were “hole[s] plus some other structure.” As the accused devices contain holes and nothing more, they do not infringe.

In reversing the district court’s judgment, the Federal Circuit panel observes that “the use of the word “means” in claim language creates the presumption that § 112 ¶6 applies” but also says that if a claim “recites sufficient structure for performing the described functions in their entirety, the presumption of § 112 ¶6 is overcome.” In concluding that the district court erred in concluding that the language at issue was means-plus-function language, the panel finds that “the claim articulates the structure for performing the claimed functions-the holes” and “[t]he claim language makes clear that the structure for performing these functions is the holes themselves.”

[http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions/07-1327.pdf]

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