The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court's decision finding a patent directed to a method of sorting particles using flow cytometry technology ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. The Federal Circuit also vacated the district court's conclusion that the patent owner was precluded from asserting certain patents based on claim preclusion. XY, LLC v. Trans Ova Genetics, LC, Case No. 19-1789 (Fed. Cir. July 31, 2020) (Stoll, J.).
XY, Beckman Coulter and Inguran (collectively, XY) sued Trans Ova in 2016 for infringement of seven patents relating to technology for sex selection of non-human mammals. Trans Ova filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the asserted claims of one of the patents are ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. Applying the Supreme Court's two-step Alice framework for determining patent eligibility, the district court determined that the claims are ineligible under § 101. At Alice step one, the district court found that the patent's sole independent claim was directed to the abstract idea of a "mathematical equation that permits rotating multi-dimensional data." At Alice step two, the district court found that the asserted claims lacked an inventive concept because XY admitted that each claim element was known in the art.
Trans Ova also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the district court should hold XY's infringement allegations barred by claim preclusion. The argument was based on XY's 2012 lawsuit against Trans Ova on infringement of different patents directed to similar technology (which was pending on appeal when the 2016 case was filed). The district court granted Trans Ova's motion to dismiss infringement allegations of three patents cited in the 2016 suit, and stayed proceedings on XY's remaining causes of action pending the outcome of the 2016 suit's appeal. XY appealed the district court's dismissal decision.
On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that the district court erred in finding that the claims are directed to a mathematical equation under Alice step one. The Court concluded that the asserted claims are directed to a patent-eligible improvement of a method of sorting particles using flow cytometry technology, not to an abstract idea. XY's claim described detailed improvements to a physical technique, a step-by-step method for a laboratory process, which is patent eligible.
As to the issue of claim preclusion, the parties' only dispute was whether the district court properly concluded that XY's 2012 and 2016 lawsuits present the same cause of action. A cause of action is defined based on the transactional facts from which it arises, which in a patent case include both the asserted patents and the accused activity. Claim preclusion will be triggered by different patents only if the scope of the asserted patent claims in the two suits is essentially the same.
XY argued that the district court erred by failing to compare the currently asserted patent claims to the previously asserted patent claims to determine whether the causes of action in the two lawsuits are essentially the same. The Federal Circuit agreed. The district court's conclusions were based merely on 1) the earlier patents having issued before XY filed the 2012 lawsuit, and 2) their finding that XY's allegations of infringement "address the same, or substantially the same subject matter as previously filed claims and [are] directed at a previously accused product or process" without further explanation. Comparison of the claims' scope was necessary.
Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court's judgment that the asserted claims are ineligible under § 101, vacated the district court's claim-preclusion judgment, and remanded for further proceedings.
Originally published by McDermott, August 2020
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