In a cross-appeal, Finisar asked the CAFC to overturn the lower court’s findings that its means-plus-function claims were invalid for failing to disclose any particular structure to perform the claimed function. A patent applicant is allowed to claim that her invention covers the “means” for accomplish certain results so long as the application also discloses the “structure” for accomplishing the result. That structural disclosure must be found somewhere in the specification. Means plus function claims are generally easier to write and are thought by many to be quite broad. Over the past decade, however, courts have increasingly been wary of particularly overbroad claims.
In this case, the claimed means and functions were software related. A number of CAFC cases have required that software means-plus-function claims provide more structural disclosure than just a general purpose computer. Rather, the disclosure must be “the special purpose computer programmed to perform the disclosed algorithm.” WMS Gaming; See also Aristocrat. The CAFC sees its structure requirement as quite minimal and easy to satisfy. Here, however, the complete lack of structure leaves the claims so vague that “one of skill simply cannot perceive the bounds of the invention.”
- One of the Finisar MPF clauses reads as follows:
- “database editing means, coupled to said one or more computer memory devices, for generating a hierarchically arranged set of indices for referencing data in said information database, including distinct indices for referencing distinct portions thereof, and for embedding said indices in said information database . . .”