Judge Paul Michel (ret.) became a private citizen on June 1, 2010 for the first time since he graduated from law school at the University of Virginia in 1966. Upon graduating from law school he became an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia, thus embarking upon the career of a public servant from 1966 to his retirement from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 2010. Michel served on the Federal Circuit, which is the main patent appeals court in the United States, from 1988 to 2010, serving as Chief Judge from 2004 to 2010.
The only president ever to obtain one, Abraham Lincoln knew the essential role patents have played in the scientific and technological innovations that have driven American growth and prosperity since the founding of the republic. Lincoln listed the development of patent laws—along with the invention of writing and the discovery of America—among the most important events in world history. Patents have “peculiar value…in facilitating all other inventions and discoveries,” he said in a speech in 1858. Giving inventors exclusive use of their inventions for a limited time, “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things.” What was true a century and a half ago remains true today. But a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is threatening to bank the fire and limit the inventions of the future. Last August, a three-judge Circuit Court panel invalidated Sloan Kettering’s patent for its CAR T-cell cancer immunotherapy and overturned the $1.2 billion awarded Sloan Kettering and its partner and exclusive licensee, Juno Therapeutics, after a jury trial found Kite Pharma had infringed upon the patent. The court, en banc, refused to reconsider the ruling.
The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the nation’s patent court, is at a crossroad. Today, unlike in earlier decades, nearly all its cases are patent-related, yet, to my eye, barely half its members can be considered lifetime patent lawyers. And although any diligent lawyer can learn “black letter” patent law on the job (as I myself did), that is no longer sufficient, because judges also need a deep understanding of how inventors and investors, including corporate CEOs, rely on patents in making difficult and fateful decisions about whether to fund new R&D and manufacture new products, or not. Such decision-makers crave predictability of outcome and stability of legal requirements. Because uncertainty generates excess risk, when in doubt, they usually opt against going forward…. To me, this all suggests that the nominee to fill the vacancy on the CAFC expected in May should be a seasoned patent litigator.
On Monday,, March 2, an Amici Curiae Brief in Support of the Petition by American Axle was filed by Senator Thom Tillis, Honorable Paul Michel and Honorable David Kappos. The three amici conclude that they are “all convinced that section 101 is gravely damaging our country’s ability to succeed in the race for global innovation leadership, and all convinced that the solution to the dilemma lies with the Court taking up the American Axle case.”
If you’re looking for some positive patent news from 2020, count the heightened civic awareness of our intellectual-property/innovation policies, as a result of the global pandemic, as a silver lining. But our present task is to report on the 2020 highlights from the Federal Circuit; unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here. If 2019 had Section 101 law as its defining issue, given the Federal Circuit and
Supreme Court’s slate of rulings and non-rulings, 2020 only seemed to make the Section101 exclusions even broader. The capstone was AAM, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings LLC, 966 F.3d 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2020), the Federal Circuit’s denial of en-banc consideration (again) of Section 101 rulings that, all judicial protests aside, seemed to plainly expand a reviewing court’s power under Section 101 (again). And in ways many would’ve thought unimaginable just six-to-eight years ago, when Mayo-Alice emerged from the Supreme Court with only “inventive-concept” tests ringing about. Neapco’s panel ruling in the fall of 2019 was the proverbial shot across the Section112 bow.