Goss Int’l Am., Inc. v. K & M Newspaper Serves., Inc., __ F. Supp.2d __, 2006 L 3883318 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 29, 2006) (Colon, J.).

In this claim construction opinion, Judge Colon considered several issues regarding whether "means" terms were actually means plus function terms.  The patented technology at issue is "inserts" which are machines that insert advertising materials into newspapers at specific locations within the newspaper.  The Court first held that "article feeder means" was no means plus function language governed by Section 112, para. 6.  Citing the Federal Circuit’s MIT v. Abacus Software, 462 F.3d 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2006) decision, the Court concluded that "article feeder," like "circuitry" in the MIT case, described a known structure in the industry.  Additionally, the patent’s prosecution history showed that both the examiner and the patienter understood "article feeder" to refer to a specific structure.  And dictionaries definitions of "feeder" were consistent with its use in the patent-at-issue.  Furthermore, the claims that included the term described the location of the article feeder and certain of its components, giving it structural definition.  Finally, defendant’s means plus function definition failed because it sought to import structures that were not necessary to the "article feeder’s" function and because certain of the structures were recited in independent claims, violating the doctrine of claim differentiation.

The Court also held that "control means" was means plus function language, except as used in claims 12 and 24.  In claims 12 and 24,  "control means" was defined as including two structures:  "’control means’ . . . includes a main controller . . . and a plurality of sheet material feed controllers . . . ."  Because claims 12 and 24 defined the structure of the "control means," "control means" was not defined as means plus function term for those claims, although it was in the other independent claims.

Practice tip:  It is important to identify the terms actually in dispute and provide the Court with claim construction briefing focused on the disputed terms.  In this case, the Court noted that the initial briefs were "insufficient and unfocused" and required the parties to file a joint claim construction chart summarizing disputed terms and identifying the parties’ respective constructions, including whether each party thought the terms required means plus function analysis.