Thursday 15 February 2018

Federal Circuit Pushes Back on U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice Decision on Procedure

In a pair of interesting software-related cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit appears to push back on one of the supposed goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice v. CLS Bank International decision.  In Alice, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified and restated the Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus decision’s test concerning patent eligible subject matter.  In doing so, the Supreme Court started a new era of U.S. patent law which made patent eligible subject matter a very important inquiry with respect to the patentability of inventions, particulary those in the software space—although Alice’s impact is felt in other technological areas.  Since Alice issued, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has clarified the Alice test and notably provided guidance to patent lawyers on how to “avoid” or “comply” with Alice. 

Importantly, one of the purported benefits of Alice was to allow for the early dismissal of claims based on patent eligible subject matter.  An alleged infringer could conceivably quickly raise patent eligible subject matter and get a claim dismissed on either a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim or a motion for summary judgment.  In additional push-back to Alice, the Federal Circuit in Berkheimer v. HP (February 8, 2018) has recently held that even after claim construction a motion for summary judgment on patent eligible subject matter may be improper because of genuine issues of material fact.  While this is standard law concerning motions for summary judgment, the case provides a blueprint for how genuine issues of material fact can be created with patent eligible subject matter.  Because of this possibility of creating that genuine issue of material fact, patentees will have additional settlement leverage to realistically threaten a case through trial—a costly endeavor.  What will the effect of this case be on Alice’s attempt to curb so-called patent troll litigation? 
In another recent case, the Federal Circuit in Aatrix Software v. Green Shades Software (February 14, 2018) remanded a case because the district court did not allow the patentee to amend its complaint to survive a 12(b)(6) motion on claim construction.  While the Federal Circuit was careful to note that a complaint can be dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, this case cautions district court judges to carefully consider motions to amend complaints. 

It will be interesting to see if the Federal Circuit’s decisions about the procedural challenge of patents based on patent eligible subject matter in the courts will have an impact on the analysis in the pending Oil States case before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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