2020 IP Law Year in Review: Patents
In 2020, the US Supreme Court and Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit continued to refine key aspects of intellectual property law on issues that will have an impact on litigation, patent prosecution and business strategy. This Special Report discusses some of the most important decisions.
The Federal Circuit issued several panel decisions clarifying the bounds of patent-eligible subject matter in the area of life sciences and computer technology. In the life sciences space, the court found several patents satisfied the conditions for patent eligibility. For example, the Federal Circuit found patent-eligible claims directed to preparing a fraction of cell-free DNA enriched in fetal DNA, claims directed to a method of operating a flow cytometry apparatus with a number of detectors to analyze at least two populations of particles in the same sample to be patent eligible, and claims directed to a method of treating type 2 diabetes mellitus using a DPP-IV inhibitor. In the area of computer technology, the court clarified that claims directed to an improvement to computer networks were patent eligible, but that claims directed to applying longstanding commercial practices to generic computer components remain ineligible. Given the uncertainty of patent eligibility law, questions surrounding life sciences and computer-related technology will continue to be raised in cases.
The Supreme Court issued one decision in 2020, in which it found that the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s application of the time bar for filing a petition for inter partes review (IPR) is not appealable. The Federal Circuit issued two en banc decisions, including one decision confirming discussing the use of the phrase “consisting essentially of” in patent claims and patent eligibility of mechanical inventions.
Following on the heels of the Supreme Court’s 2017 TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods decision addressing patent venue, the Federal Circuit addressed patent venue in Hatch-Waxman litigation. The court explained that for the purposes of determining venue, infringement occurs only in judicial districts where actions related to the submission of an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) occur, and not in all locations where future distribution of the generic products specified in the ANDA is contemplated. This ruling may have far-reaching consequences, including the ability for ANDA defendants to effectively control venue for litigation.
The Supreme Court is set to hear at least two patent cases and one copyright case this term. In The United States of America v. Arthrex, Inc., the Court will consider whether PTAB judges are unconstitutionally appointed and the other addressing whether assignor estoppel and in Minerva Surgical, Inc. v. Hologic, Inc., et al., the Court will consider whether the doctrine of assignor estoppel bars an assignor from asserting invalidity of an assigned patent in district court. A decision is also expected in Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc. on the issue of copyright ownership of application programming interfaces used in computer technology. We also expect to see many patent trials occurring toward the middle and end of 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a backlog of cases that were set to be tried and parties are likely to face pressure from Court to narrow the issues to be tried. Judge Alan Albright has also made headlines and has attracted case to the filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. We expect even more cases to be filed this year.