Federal Circuit Finds Patent Eligibility for Application of Natural LawJuly 5, 2016

 The Federal Circuit has handed down its decision in Rapid Litigation Management v. CellzDirect.  The technology at issue in the case is a method of freezing-and-thawing a group of hepatocytes and then selecting those that are still viable.  The patent-owner sued the defendant for infringement of the patent, and the defendant in turn filed a motion for summary judgment of invalidity under, in relevant part, 35 U.S.C. § 101.  The district court granted summary judgment for lack of patent eligible subject matter under § 101 on the basis that the claims-at-issue are directed at an ineligible law of nature–the discovery that hepatocytes are capable of surviving multiple freeze-thaw cycles–but lack the requisite inventive concept. 

On appeal, the Federal Circuit determined that the inventors did not merely seek to tie up the discover that the cells were able to survive multiple freeze-thaw cycles, but rather claimed a particular application of that discovery.  Accordingly, the claims were not directed a natural law, but the particular application of the discovery, which is a patent-eligible concept under the first step of the § 101 patent eligibility test.  The court went on to hold that even if the claims had been directed to a natural law, the additional elements recite in the claims are sufficient to transform the process into an inventive application, and would also be patent-eligible under this step of the test.  

This case provides a notable holding of patent eligibility under § 101 by the Federal Circuit.  While the case may still be reversed on appeal, the Federal Circuit’s rationale is an effective counterpoint to other recent decisions finding subject matter ineligible. The full decision can be found here.

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