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Federal Circuit Clarifies Indefiniteness Standard

Federal Circuit
construes "indefiniteness"
in CRM case

The Federal Circuit has clarified what “indefiniteness” means in a patent case involving certain mixed subject matter claims.

MasterMine sued Microsoft Corporation for infringement of its two related patents for methods “that allow[] a user to easily mine and report data maintained by a customer relationship management (CRM) application.”

CRM applications “are used to manage all aspects of customer relations by integrating a company’s sales force, processes, sales channels and customers into one environment.”

The patents describe a process to automatically create an electronic worksheet. Within the worksheet, a multi-dimensional analysis table, called a pivot table, lets the user summarize or view CRM data.

One issue in the litigation was the meaning of the term “pivot table,” which the district court construed to mean “an interactive set of data displayed in rows and columns that can be rotated and filtered to summarize or view the data in different ways.”

Another issue was whether the patent claims were indefinite for claiming two different types of subject matter:  an apparatus and a method for using the apparatus.

The Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s finding of indefiniteness, citing the case of IPXL Holdings, L.L.C. v., Inc.

In IPXL, the court held that “a single claim covering both an apparatus and a method of use of that apparatus is indefinite…”

The court noted that:

The concern underlying our holding in IPXL Holdings was that claiming both an apparatus and method of using the apparatus within a single claim can make it “unclear whether infringement. . . occurs when one creates a[n infringing] system, or whether infringement occurs when the user actually uses [the system in an infringing manner].”

However, the court held that under IPXL creating an apparatus is enough for a finding of infringement. It’s not required to show that a patented apparatus is being used:

Because the claims merely use permissible functional language to describe the capabilities of the claimed system, it is clear that infringement occurs when one makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells the claimed system.

The case is Mastermine Software, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. 

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