Life Sciences Patents After American Axle — Grave Danger or Temporary Uncertainty?
The Federal Circuit’s denial of en banc rehearing and the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari review mean the decision in American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC, 967 F.3d 1285 (Fed. Cir. 2020), is the latest word on subject-matter eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In American Axle, the Federal Circuit applied the Supreme Court’s two-part Alice/Mayo test to hold a method for manufacturing driveline propeller shafts with liners designed to attenuate vibrations invalid as directed to a use of a natural law. The Federal Circuit characterized the claims as simply “[c]laiming a result” without “limiting the claim to particular methods of achieving the result. . . .” Id. at 1295. The method claims were directed to nonpatentable subject matter because, even though neither the claims nor the specification explicitly referenced a natural law, the method steps required the application of a natural law, “and nothing more.” Id. at 1297. Although the panel in American Axle stressed its decision was consistent with Supreme Court and Federal Circuit precedent, see 967 F.3d 1295, 1296 (“Our cases as well have consistently rejected such claims as unpatentable.”), its rationale, literally applied, jeopardizes broad categories of patent claims that have traditionally been considered patent-eligible subject matter.