In Advanced Ground Information Sys. Inc. v. Life360, Inc., Appeal No. 2015-1732, the Federal Circuit held that a claim term was governed by 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6, even though it did not use the word “means.”

Advanced Ground Information Systems (“AGIS”) asserted two patents directed to a cellular communication system that allows multiple cell phone users to monitor others’ locations, which are indicated by various symbols that can be reprogrammed by a network administrator.  Life360 asserted that the claim term “symbol generator” invoked means-plus-function claiming, and that the term was indefinite under § 112, ¶ 2.  The district court agreed, finding that AGIS intended to invoke § 112, ¶ 6 without using the word “means.”  The parties stipulated that the claims were invalid and AGIS appealed the district court’s indefiniteness decision.

The Federal Circuit found that “symbol generator” was in means-plus-function form.  The court affirmed that the term failed to describe sufficient structure and otherwise recited abstract elements “for” causing actions.  The court also found that the term did not identify a structure by its function, nor did the claims suggest that the term connoted a definite structure.  AGIS’s own expert testified that AGIS coined the term for the purposes of the patents-in-suit, and that it was not used in common parlance or by persons of ordinary skill in the art.  As a result, § 112, ¶ 6 applied to the claims at issue.  

Regarding § 112, ¶ 2, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court’s determination that the term “symbol generator” was indefinite.  For computer-implemented functions, the specification must disclose an algorithm for performing the claimed function.   Because the specifications did not disclose an algorithm for the “symbol generator” function, the claims were held to be indefinite.