The recent Full Court decision in Garford v DYWIDAG Systems1 has provided confirmation of how “means for” claim language should be construed in Australia.

Amongst the various appeal points raised was whether an earlier patent application  filed by the patentee anticipated the claims of the patent in suit. Claim 1 of the patent was directed to:

An apparatus for manufacturing multi-strand rock bolts having spaced apart bulbs formed therein, characterised by a feed means for supplying a multi-strand cable from a rotatable supply reel …

At first instance it was held that the earlier patent application did not anticipate this claim because it did not “disclose the presence and use of a rotatable supply reel as part of the apparatus that is described”.

On appeal, the Full Court identified the question to be answered as “whether claim 1 requires that the apparatus have a rotatable supply reel or that it merely be capable of receiving cable from a rotatable supply reel”.

In answering that question, the Court stated that:

A claim to an apparatus for a particular purpose is a claim to an apparatus that is suitable for that purpose … To establish infringement of such a claim it is not  necessary for the patentee to establish that the apparatus is intended to be used for that purpose. The patentee need only show that the apparatus is suitable for that purpose.

The evidence established that the apparatus disclosed in the earlier application was suitable for use with a rotatable supply wheel and therefore anticipated claim 1.

The decision highlights the care which needs to be taken in using “means for” or equivalent language in patent claims.