The United States Solicitor General has recommended granting review in American Axle & Manufacturing v. Neapco Holdings, a case many in the patent community hope will provide clarity on U.S. patent eligibility law. The Supreme Court asked for the views of the Solicitor General in May of 2021 and the response has been highly anticipated. The SG’s brief says that inventions like the one at issue in American Axle have “[h]istorically…long been viewed as paradigmatic examples of the ‘arts’ or ‘processes’ that may receive patent protection if other statutory criteria are satisfied” and that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit “erred in reading this Court’s precedents to dictate a contrary conclusion.”
With about one month left in the U.S. Supreme Court’s current term, several petitions for writ of certiorari in patent cases being appealed from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit remain pending in front of the nation’s highest court. Several of these petitions raise important questions on Section 101 patent eligibility jurisprudence in the wake of Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, a subject which the Supreme Court has punted on dozens of times after handing out that landmark decision on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions back in 2014. With several petitions on other areas of patent law that have grown more uncertain in recent years, including Section 112 enablement issues and patent-specific preclusion doctrines, the last few weeks of the Supreme Court’s term could presage coming changes to U.S. patent law, while recent cert denials indicate other areas of patent law that are of no concern to the nation’s highest court.
Gilbert Hyatt, an inventor who has been granted more than 70 patents and has filed more than 400 applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Justices to weigh in on his challenge of a policy he alleges the USPTO implemented in the 1990s to categorically deny him issuance of any additional patents. Hyatt has been embroiled in litigation with the USPTO for decades and won a previous Supreme Court appeal in 2012.
Earlier this year, we discussed Amgen’s petition for Supreme Court review of the Federal Circuit’s affirmance invalidating several antibody patent claims based on a lack of enablement for genus claims. At that time, we believed Amgen had a slim chance of its petition being granted—mainly because the Supreme Court denied a similar petition from Idenix in 2021 (No. 20-380, January 19, 2021).
However, on April 18, the Supreme Court invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the U.S. government on the questions presented. The Supreme Court’s likelihood of granting cert. in any particular case increases by about 10-fold when a Solicitor General’s brief is requested, but more importantly, the Supreme Court follows the Solicitor General’s recommendation about 75% of the time.
Comcast and the High Tech Inventors Alliance (HTIA) filed amicus briefs last week backing a Supreme Court petition brought by Cisco Systems, Inc. last month. The petition asks the Court to consider whether: 1) enhanced damages may be awarded absent a finding of egregious infringement behavior; and 2) whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) may award enhanced damages without first allowing the district court to exercise its discretion to decide that issue. Cisco filed the petition for a writ of certiorari on March 16, following a November 2021 decision of the Federal Circuit that reversed a district court’s denial of SRI International’s motion to reinstate a jury’s willfulness verdict against Cisco. That ruling restored the district court’s award of enhanced damages and affirmed an award of attorney fees for SRI. The CAFC specifically clarified that its reference to language in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Halo Elecs., Inc. v. Pulse Elecs., Inc., 136 S. Ct. 1923, 1934 (2016) on a first appeal in the case was not meant to create a heightened requirement for willful infringement.
A group of patent practitioners told the Supreme Court on Thursday that a case involving a patent for a type of content player would be a better vehicle for unraveling the patent eligibility problem than American Axle & Manufacturing v. Neapco Holdings, which has been awaiting a brief of the U.S. Solicitor General for about one year now. The case is Interactive Wearables, LLC v. Polar Electro Oy and Polar Electro, Inc. Interactive Wearables petitioned the High Court in March 2022.
As part of the ongoing confirmation process for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) submitted a number of questions for the record, including 35 IP-related questions on topics ranging from patent eligibility to anti-suit injunctions and 15 antitrust questions, to which Judge Jackson recently responded. While Tillis voted against Judge Jackson’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court due to concerns about her judicial philosophy, he recently indicated that she has the appropriate temperament for the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee is voting on Jackson’s confirmation today.
The U.S. Supreme Court today granted cert in Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith, Lynn, et. al., a case that asks the High Court to review a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holding that Andy Warhol’s Prince Series did not constitute fair use of Lynn Goldsmith’s photograph. In its petition for certiorari, filed in December 2021, the Andy Warhol Foundation told the Court that “the Second Circuit’s decision…creates a circuit split and casts a cloud of legal uncertainty over an entire genre of visual art.”
On March 21, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order list denying petitions for writs of certiorari in a pair of patent cases that had worked their way up to the nation’s highest court. In denying these petitions, the Supreme Court turns down Intel Corporation’s challenge to the NHK-Fintiv discretionary denial framework at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), while the Court also dismissed an appeal asking whether a patent infringement case can be determined to be exceptional for purposes of awarding attorney’s fees without a finding that the patent owner engaged in litigation misconduct.
Earlier this month, Ameranth Inc. filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court requesting review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s (CAFC’s) decision affirming a district court ruling that Ameranth’s patent was ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Ameranth claims that “federal courts have declared thousands of new and useful inventions abstract and patent ineligible” based on SCOTUS’s decision in Alice Corp Pty. v. CLS Bank Int’l (U.S. Supreme Court, 2014). The culmination of the post-Alice upheaval is the CAFC’s paralytic gridlock of denying rehearing en banc in American Axle & Mfg. v. Neapco Holding LLC (CAFC, 2020) according to the petition. Ameranth pled that the court should provide guidance on the standard for patent eligibility, as federal circuits continue to apply the law in a non-uniform and unarticulated manner.
On March 2, amicus briefs were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of petitioner Universal Secure Registry’s (USR’s) appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), which challenges that court’s application of the Alice/Mayo framework on Section 101 subject matter patent eligibility in invalidating patent claims owned by USR. Both amicus filings urge the Supreme Court to rein in the Federal Circuit’s expansive application of Alice/Mayo, which has gone far beyond the original bounds intended by the Court. One of those briefs is made even more persuasive by the fact that it was authored by Judge Paul R. Michel, the former Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit.
On February 21, Houston, Texas-based professional photographer Jim Olive filed a reply brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of its petition for writ of certiorari asking the nation’s highest court to grant an appeal in Olive’s copyright infringement suit against the University of Houston System. This case is one of two separate suits seeking to hold Texas public universities accountable for copyright infringement; while sovereign immunity defenses have staved off liability thus far, a recent Takings Clause decision by the Supreme Court has created a path forward for these and other IP owners looking to hold state entities accountable for their IP infringements.
On February 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, L.P., No. 20–915 (Feb. 24, 2022). The Court held that a copyright registration applicant, if unaware of legal inaccuracies in a copyright application, does not submit those inaccuracies “knowingly” for purposes of Section 411(b)(2), and as such, does not lose the protections of the Copyright Act’s safe harbor for registrations with inaccuracies. Undoubtedly, the decision is a win for authors that, during the copyright application process, unwittingly submit inaccurate information to the U.S. Copyright Office (e.g., because they did not understand the law, and/or were not assisted by competent copyright counsel). That said, the decision does not do away with the risks associated with honest mistakes in U.S. Copyright Office filings, and authors should take care to mitigate such risks.
In a 6-3 decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Section 411(b) of the U.S. Copyright Act “does not distinguish between a mistake of law and a mistake of fact; lack of either factual or legal knowledge can excuse an inaccuracy in a copyright registration under §411(b)(1)(A)’s safe harbor.” The decision comes after Unicolors, Inc. petitioned the Court in January of last year, asking whether the Ninth Circuit erred in determining that Section 411 required referral to the Copyright Office on any inaccurate registration information, even without evidence of fraud or material error, in conflict with other circuit courts and the Copyright Office’s own findings on Section 411.
Nine months in, and we are still awaiting the Biden administration’s decision as to whether the law of patent eligibility should be clarified. This area of patent law has in recent years become increasingly unpredictable, and the consequences of that unpredictability have largely fallen on startups, whose primary assets are often inventions. On May 3, 2021, the Supreme Court invited the Solicitor General to recommend whether certiorari should be granted in American Axle v. Neapco Holdings, LLC—a case in which a method for manufacturing vehicle driveshafts was deemed ineligible under 35 USC § 101 as being directed to a law of nature.