In both common usage and patent drafting, "computer" has become shorthand for an incredibly broad range of hardware and software, across almost every possible technological space. The breadth of meaning attributable to that single word can be a challenge for litigants and courts working through issues of claim construction or other issues (e.g., Section 101 motions, in which references to concrete computer components can lift a patent out of abstractness, and references to generic components can doom it). On the one hand, "computer" is readily understood by almost everyone in a general sense; on the other, standing alone, it has no specific meaning.
Judge Noreika recently addressed the question of whether a claimed "'computer . . . to computationally' obtain, change, or calculate specified aspects of the radiation beam arrangement or weights" should be construed as a means-plus-function term under 35 U.S.C. § 112, ¶ 6 (pre-AIA).