Petition for Inter Partes Review by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., IPR2014-01378 (PTAB March 3, 2015, Order) (DeFranco, APJ)
Friday, March 6, 2015
No Institution of IPR for Indefinite Means-Plus-Function Claims
The Board denied the petitioner's request for institution of an inter partes review of a patent related to landing and recovering a reusable launch vehicle at sea, as the challenged means-plus-function claims were not amenable to construction. "[The petitioner] contends that, although the Specification discloses that 'the routine starts with booster engine ignition' and that 'booster engine cutoff occurs at a predetermined altitude,' the Specification is otherwise silent on details about igniting, shutting off, or reigniting the engines, in terms of both structure and function. . . . Unable to identify structure in the Specification corresponding to the recited functions, [the petitioner] urges us to construe the 'means for' limitations as 'any suitable structure' that ignites, shuts off, or reignites a rocket engine. That, we cannot do. . . . Interpreting means-plus-function language to encompass any structure for performing the recited function not only violates 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6, . . . but also violates our standard of applying the 'broadest reasonable construction' to claims undergoing inter partes review. . . . A lack of sufficient disclosure of structure under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6 renders a claim indefinite and, thus, not amenable to construction. . . . Because the challenged claims are not amenable to construction, we are unable to reach a determination on the reasonable likelihood of [the petitioner] prevailing on the prior art ground asserted in the Petition."