American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC
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No Stay, But Please Fix

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a motion to stay issuance of a mandate while a petition for certiorari regarding patentability under § 101 was pending before the Supreme Court of the United States, finding no irreparable harm if it did not do so. American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC, Case No. 18-1763 D.I. 139 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 23, 2020) (Dyk, J.) (Moore, J., concurring). In her concurrence, Judge Moore encouraged the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in order to clarify the scope of § 101.

This decision was the fourth opinion issued by the Federal Circuit in this case. In the Court’s first opinion, a divided panel affirmed that method claims for a mechanical invention were invalid under 35 USC § 101. American Axle & Manufacturing I. The patent owner, American Axle, filed a petition for rehearing and a petition for rehearing en banc. American Axle & Manufacturing II. Several amicus briefs were filed, including one by former Federal Circuit Chief Judge Paul R. Michel. In view of these petitions and amicus briefs, the original panel modified and re-issued its opinion to affirm that certain claims were invalid and to reverse its holding that one claim was invalid. Subsequently, the full Federal Circuit denied the petition for a rehearing en banc, polling 6–6 and demonstrating the Court’s division on the application and scope of § 101.

American Axle filed a petition for certiorari at the Supreme Court and sought a stay from the Federal Circuit of the issuance of the mandate. The Federal Circuit denied a stay, citing Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, which “provides that a motion for stay of the mandate ‘must show that the petition would present a substantial question and that there is good cause for a stay.’” Fed. R. App. P. 41(d)(1). The Court explained that a three-prong test determines whether a stay in a patent case is appropriate under this rule. The applicant must show (1) a reasonable probability that four justices will grant certiorari, (2) a fair prospect that the Supreme Court will reverse judgment, and (3) a likelihood that irreparable harm will result if the stay is denied.

Relying exclusively on irreparable harm, the Federal Circuit denied a stay. With respect to the invalid patent claims, the Court explained that a stay was not warranted because no further action was required by the district court. The Court dismissed American Axle’s argument that it would have to recall its mandate if reversed by the Supreme Court, explaining that this occurrence is common for every case that is reversed. With respect to the valid patent claim, the Court explained that the burden of litigation and litigation expenses is insufficient to show irreparable harm. Thus, the Court dismissed American Axle’s motion to stay the mandate.

Judge Moore filed a concurring opinion asking the Supreme Court to grant certiorari. Moore explained that the Supreme Court often grants cases where there is a [...]

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Hooked on Precedent or Something New

Highlighting internal disagreement regarding patent eligibility under § 101, a divided panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a series of opinions revising and reissuing a previous opinion on § 101 patent eligibility for a mechanical invention and, in an even split, denied a petition for en banc review. American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC, Case No. 18-1763 D.I. 134 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 3, 2019) (Dyk, J.) (Moore, J., dissenting); id. D.I. 133 (denying en banc by a 6–6 vote).

In October 2019, a divided Federal Circuit panel in American Axle v. Neapco affirmed a district court finding that method claims for a mechanical invention were invalid under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The majority specifically found that the claimed invention was nothing more than a recitation of Hooke’s law, which undoubtedly is a law of nature. Judge Moore dissented, arguing that the majority improperly expanded the § 101 eligibility inquiry beyond its statutory gatekeeping function and distorted patent eligibility under § 101 and enablement under § 112.

Neapco filed a petition for rehearing and a petition for rehearing en banc. Several amicus briefs were also filed. Notably, retired Judge Paul R. Michel, formerly the chief judge of the Federal Circuit, filed an amicus brief in support of the en banc petition because he believed the panel’s original decision “conflicts with the Supreme Court’s and [Federal Circuit’s] precedent.”

In view of the petition for rehearing, the original panel modified and reissued its opinion. The Court affirmed its original decision that two of the three independent claims were invalid under § 101 (patent claims 22 and 36); however, the Court reversed its original decision invalidating claim 1. Regarding claims 22 and 36, the majority reiterated that the claims were merely an application of Hooke’s law and that it was simply applying Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent, analogizing this case to the Supreme Court’s 1853 O’Reilly v. Morse decision where the Supreme Court determined the patentability of claims directed to a natural law of using electromagnetic force to transmit messages. When responding to the dissent, the majority reiterated that it was not departing from prior precedent, and that its “holding is limited to the situation where a patent claim on its face and as construed clearly invokes a natural law, and nothing else, to accomplish a desired result.”

Regarding claim 1, the majority reversed its original decision because the claim had an additional limitation that could cause the claim to not merely be an application of Hooke’s law. Because the district court did not address this limitation, the majority remanded the case so the district court could address this issue in the first instance.

Judge Moore maintained her dissent, arguing that the majority was announcing a new patentability test: the “Nothing More” test. She argued that the decision created a new test for instances when claims are directed to a natural law even though no natural law is specifically recited in the claims. Judge Moore further reiterated [...]

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