Amid the crush of patent-eligibility case law, see 35 U.S.C. §101, patent lawyers and even courts can lose sight of the key principles and precedents that serve as the foundation of the eligibility analysis. Or they may not have appreciated in the first place the underlying bases for these §101 cases and whether, for example, those cases accord with precedents they cite from decades before. In any event, this article addresses these foundational Supreme Court precedents for §101 and the Mayo-Alice ineligibility regime that dominates the patent landscape today. In particular, we trace the Court’s precedents from nearly 50 years ago, with an emphasis on key cases separated by some 30 years but tied together by the Court’s representation that it has faithfully followed (and not overruled) any such precedent. After analyzing the precedent in this light, with due emphasis on the Supreme Court’s decisions in Diamond v. Diehr, 450 U.S. 175 (1981) and Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S.Ct. 1289 (2012), the article briefly examines the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s 2019 Patent Eligibility Guidance on §101—the Article II branch’s response to the §101 sea change wrought by the Article III courts. Finally, based on these authorities, the article offers a mix of points and observations for patent litigators and judges to consider as they continue to shape §101’s eligibility law.
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