has over 40 years of practice as a patent attorney, is registered to practice before the UK and European patent offices, the UK and European trademark offices and to conduct proceedings for infringement of intellectual property rights before the UK courts. He received an MA in chemistry from Oxford University and an LLM from Nottingham Trent University, and has worked as a patent attorney in both industry and in private practice, becoming a partner in Lucas & Co in 1999.
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The arrival of a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) office action citing no less than six earlier patents directed to various sub-combinations in the features of the main independent claim in an application which I was handling prompted the present note. Readers may recall the decision of Judge Rich In re Winslow 365 F.2d 1017 (C.C.P.A. 1966): “We think the proper way to apply the 103-obviousness test to a case like this is to first picture the inventor as working in his shop with the prior art references — which he is presumed to know — hanging on the walls around him.” However, Boltzmann’s entropy formula S = k log W where S represents entropy, a concept associated with a state of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty, and W represents the number of possible states in the relevant system, leaves an unforgettable impression on those who have studied it. Even if the fields from which the earlier patents might be selected are restricted to relevant general classifications, the number of combinations of six references which might have been collected together from the body of prior art in the relevant technical field randomly and without knowledge of the invention is mind-boggling.
The present U.S. eligibility jurisprudence, and especially that of the Federal Circuit, not only creates serious issues of U.S. domestic law but also arguably places the U.S. in violation of its obligations under the TRIPS treaty with respect to inventions at both ends of the subject-matter spectrum. Acts of Congress, including Section 101, where fairly possible, ought to be construed so as not to conflict with international law or with an international agreement with the United States, particularly where, as with TRIPS, the United States was the moving spirit behind the treaty. See Murray v. The Schooner Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118 (1804). Although there may have been room for doubt prior to the en banc refusal in Athena and the Australian decision in Ariosa, it is submitted following Judge Moore’s dissent that the situation has become a virtual certainty.
The presently pending petition for en banc review in Athena Diagnostics, Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Servs., LLC has been addressed by Sherry Knowles and Meredith Addy and is supported by a number of amicus briefs. The patent in issue has been described by the present author as a paradigm of patent eligibility, supporting the argument that en banc review is merited. Mayo has now filed its response brief, submitted on May 7, and argues that the panel’s decision invalidating the asserted claims as ineligible properly applied the two-step Alice framework in light of precedent, that the full Court need not re-examine it, and accordingly, that Appellants’ petition should be denied.
In Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc., 788 F.3d 1371, 1376 (Fed. Cir. 2015) the Federal Circuit belittled pioneering work at Oxford University, indisputably one of the world’s leading research institutions. In the Athena Diagnostics v. Mayo Collaborative Services decision handed down early in 2019, the Federal Circuit surpassed itself by belittling pioneering work representing the combined efforts of Oxford University and the Max-Plank Gesellschaft, two of the world’s leading research institutions. A petition for en banc review has been filed and is supported by amicus briefs. This article further supports the need for review, emphasizing inadequate attention paid to the positive eligibility provisions of 35 USC 101, conflict with Diamond v Diehr, an inadmissible extension of admissions within the patent description regarding a genus of techniques to cover a previously undisclosed species of techniques within the genus, and the need to give equal treatment to those who make pioneering inventions or discoveries and those whose inventions or discoveries are incremental.