The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a lower court’s findings of noninfringement, in part because the plaintiff had failed to prove the “way” element of the function-way-result test for a first means-plus-function claim, and because the specification lacked disclosure of a structure for the “way” to perform a second means-plus-function claim. Traxcell Techs., LLC v. Sprint Commc’ns Co., Case Nos. 20-1852, -1854 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 12, 2021) (Prost, J.); Traxcell Techs., LLC v. Nokia Sols. & Networks Oy, Case Nos. 20-1440, -1443 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 12, 2021) (Prost, J.)
Traxcell asserted several related patents against multiple defendants in parallel litigations. One of the patents related to self-optimizing network technology for making “corrective actions” to improve communications between a wireless device and a network (SON patent). The SON patent included two means-plus-function limitations. One of the other patents related to network-based navigation in which the network, as opposed to the wireless device, determined the device’s location (navigation patent).
Traxcell asserted the SON and navigation patents against Verizon and Sprint in one action and the SON patent against Nokia in another. In both cases, the magistrate judge entered a claim construction order construing several common terms of the asserted patents and determining that the claims of the SON patent were indefinite. The lower court adopted the magistrate’s recommendations and subsequently granted summary judgment for all three defendants on each of the patents. Traxcell appealed. The issues on appeal related to infringement and indefiniteness of means-plus-function claims.
First, Traxcell disputed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment for Sprint on the SON patent, arguing that Sprint’s accused technology included a structural equivalent to the disclosed structure under the function-way-result test. The asserted claim required a “means for receiving said performance data and corresponding locations from said tower to correcting radio frequency signals of said radio tower,” the corresponding function of which was “receiving said performance data and corresponding locations from said tower and correcting radio frequency signals of said tower.” The Federal Circuit explained that the disclosed structure of this means-plus-function limitation was a “very detailed” algorithm in the patent. Citing more than two decades of precedent, the Court emphasized that infringement of means-plus-function claims requires proof of three things: That the accused structure performs the (1) identical function, (2) in substantially the same way (3) with substantially the same result, as the disclosed structure. Because Traxcell neglected to even address at least nine steps of the algorithm, i.e., the disclosed structure, with respect to Sprint’s accused system (opting instead to focus on the function and result), the Court affirmed the lower court’s finding of noninfringement.
Second, the lower court found another claim of the SON patent indefinite based on the specification’s failure to disclose the necessary structure for its means-plus-function limitation. Traxcell did not appeal the indefiniteness finding itself, but sought leave to amend the claim to cure the indefiniteness, the denial of which Traxcell raised on appeal. The Federal Circuit explained that a “means-plus-function claim is indefinite [...]