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Guest Post – American Axle Relies Upon Misreading of Old Precedent to Create New Law

Jeffrey A. Lefstin serves as a Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Prior to serving as a professor, he clerked for Federal Circuit Judge Raymond C. Clevenger III. Prof. Lefstin holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California San Francisco and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. He has written extensively and testified before Congress concerning the doctrine of patent eligibility.

Though described by the majority as “narrow,” the American Axle v. Neapco panel opinion sets forth two far-reaching expansions in the law of patent eligibility. First, the panel opinion holds that a patentee’s alleged failure to describe how to implement an invention defined by a claim renders the claim ineligible under § 101—without needing to resort to the factual inquiries associated with the written description or enablement requirements of § 112. Second, the panel opinion holds that a claim may be “directed to” an ineligible law of nature in step one of the Mayo/Alice inquiry, even though neither the claim nor the specification recites it directly.

Authority for the first proposition is said to be the “O’Reilly test” for patent eligibility articulated by the Supreme Court in O’Reilly v. Morse in 1854.[1] That case, however, represented a conventional application of the statutory disclosure requirements now lodged in § 112, as I explain in detail below. As authority for the second proposition, the revised panel opinion invokes Neilson v. Harford, the famous case on James Neilson’s hot-blast patent, decided by the Court of Exchequer in 1841. But, again, in seeking to force the American Axle claims into the mold of the Mayo/Alice test,

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit. Highlights include modified opinions issued in two patent cases raising questions related to eligibility; new petitions filed in two cases raising questions related to obviousness; a new invitation to respond to a petition raising questions related to venue; and the denial of petitions in cases raising questions related to jurisdiction over an appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, restriction requirements, and patent term adjustments. Here are the details.

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En Banc Activity / Opinions

Opinion Summary – Illumina, Inc. v. Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc.

As we previously reported, yesterday the Federal Circuit issued a modified panel opinion in Illumina, Inc. v. Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc., a patent case we have been tracking because Ariosa Diagnostics filed a petition for rehearing en banc. In the modified panel opinion, Judges Lourie and Moore maintained their original position, reversing the district court, which had held that the claims at issue were not directed to patent-eligible subject matter. While the modified panel opinion did not change the holding of the court, it did more explicitly lay out the facts of the case that affected the court’s reasoning. Judge Reyna still dissented, but also issued a modified opinion. Here is a summary of the modified opinions.

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En Banc Activity / Opinions

Opinion Summary – American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC

As we previously reported, earlier today the Federal Circuit issued a modified opinion in American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC, a case we have been tracking because American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) petitioned for rehearing en banc. In the modified opinion, the court vacated a district court’s judgment that one independent patent claim and its dependent claims are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101, but affirmed the district court’s judgment of invalidity for lack of eligibility with respect to other claims. In addition to the modified panel opinion, the court issued an order denying a petition for rehearing en banc. The petition failed narrowly—by a vote of 6-6. Judges Dyk and Chen filed opinions concurring in the denial of the petition for rehearing en banc, while Judges Newman, Stoll, and O’Malley filed dissenting opinions. Here is a summary of the opinions, orders, and dissents.

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit. Highlights include a petition filed in a pro se case; a new response to a petition raising questions related to injunctions; and the denial of four petitions raising questions related to standing, obviousness, and assignor estoppel. Here are the details.

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit. In NOVA v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a veterans case in which the en banc court will consider the court’s jurisdiction to review interpretive rules the Department of Veterans Affairs promulgates in its Adjudication Procedures Manual, three new amicus briefs were filed. Other highlights include new petitions in two patent cases raising questions related to venue and claim preclusion; a new response to a petition in another patent case raising questions related to jurisdiction; an invitation to respond to a petition raising questions related to patent eligibility; and the denial of a petition raising questions related to obviousness. Here are the details.

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit in patent cases. Highlights include a new petition by a pro se appellant and the denial of two petitions in cases raising questions related to standing and obviousness. Here are the details.

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit. Highlights include a response to a petition in a case raising questions related to standing; a new invitation for response to a petition in a case raising questions related to Jurisdiction over an appeal from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board; and the denial of a petition raising questions related to inequitable conduct and obviousness. Here are the details.

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit. Highlights include the filing of the opening brief in National Organization of Veterans Advocates, Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, in which the Federal Circuit granted a petition for initial hearing en banc to address two questions related to jurisdiction and veterans law. As for petitions in patent cases, highlights include a new petition raising questions related to restriction requirements and patent term adjustments; a new response to a petition raising questions related to obviousness; a new invitation for a response to a petition raising questions related to injunctive relief; and the denial of three petitions raising questions related to claim construction, prevailing party status, and forum selection clauses. Here are the details.

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En Banc Activity / Petitions

Recent En Banc Activity

Here is an update on recent en banc activity at the Federal Circuit. Highlights include new petitions filed in two cases raising questions related to obviousness; responses to petitions in two cases raising questions related to inequitable conduct, obviousness, and assignor estoppel; an invitation for a response to a petition raising questions related to standing; and the denial of four petitions raising questions related to claim construction and the Appointments Clause. Here are the details.

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