Section 101 : CAFC Alert

The CAFC’s Holding that Claims are Directed to a Natural Law of Vibration and, thus, Ineligible Highlights the Shaky Nature of 35 U.S.C. 101 Evaluations

| November 1, 2019

American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Neapco Holdings, LLC

October 9, 2019

Opinion by:  Dyke, Moore and Taranto (October 3, 2019).

Dissent by:  Moore.


            American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. (AAM) sued Neapco Holdings, LLC (Neapco) for alleged infringement of U.S. Patent 7,774,911  for a method of manufacturing driveline propeller shafts for automotive vehicles.  On appeal, the Federal Circuit upheld the District Court of Delaware’s holding of invalidity under 35 U.S.C. 101.   The Federal Circuit explained that the claims of the patent were directed to the desired “result” to be achieved and not to the “means” for achieving the desired result, and, thus, held that the claims failed to recite a practical way of applying underlying natural law (e.g., Hooke’s law related to vibration and damping), but were instead drafted in a results-oriented manner that improperly amounted to encompassing the natural law.


  1. Background

            The case relates to U.S. Patent 7,774,911 of American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc. (AAM) which relates to a method for manufacturing driveline propeller shafts (“propshafts”) with liners that are designed to attenuate vibrations transmitted through a shaft assembly.   Propshafts are employed in automotive vehicles to transmit rotary power in a driveline.  During use, propshafts are subject to excitation or vibration sources that can cause them to vibrate in three modes: bending mode, torsion mode, and shell mode.

            The CAFC focused on independent claims 1 and 22 as being “representative” claims, noting that AAM “did not argue before the district court that the dependent claims change the outcome of the eligibility analysis.”

Claim 1 Claim 22
1. A method for manufacturing a shaft assembly of a driveline system, the driveline system further including a first driveline component and a second driveline component, the shaft assembly being adapted to transmit torque between the first driveline component and the second driveline component, the method comprising:   providing a hollow shaft member;   tuning at least one liner to attenuate at least two types of vibration transmitted through the shaft member; and   positioning the at least one liner within the shaft member such that the at least one liner is configured to damp shell mode vibrations in the shaft member by an amount that is greater than or equal to about 2%, and the at least one liner is also configured to damp bending mode vibrations in the shaft member, the at least one liner being tuned to within about ±20% of a bending mode natural frequency of the shaft assembly as installed in the driveline system. 22. A method for manufacturing a shaft assembly of a driveline system, the driveline system further including a first driveline component and a second driveline component, the shaft assembly being adapted to transmit torque between the first driveline component and the second driveline component, the method comprising:   providing a hollow shaft member;   tuning a mass and a stiffness of at least one liner, and   inserting the at least one liner into the shaft member;   wherein the at least one liner is a tuned resistive absorber for attenuating shell mode vibrations and wherein the at least one liner is a tuned reactive absorber for attenuating bending mode vibrations.


    As explained by the CAFC, “[i]t was known in the prior art to alter the mass and stiffness of liners to alter their frequencies to produce dampening,” and  “[a]ccording to the ’911 patent’s specification, prior art liners, weights, and dampers that were designed to individually attenuate each of the three propshaft vibration modes — bending, shell, and torsion — already existed.” The court further explained that in the ‘911 patent “these prior art damping methods were assertedly not suitable for attenuating two vibration modes simultaneously,” i.e., “shell mode vibration [and] bending mode vibration,” but “[n]either the claims nor the specification [of the ‘911 patent] describes how to achieve such tuning.”

            The District Court concluded that the claims were directed to laws of nature: Hooke’s law and friction damping.  And, the District Court held that the claims were ineligible under 35 U.S.C. 101.  AAM appealed.

  • The CAFC’s Decision

            Under 35 U.S.C. 101, “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof” may be eligible to obtain a patent, with the exception long recognized by the Supreme Court that “laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable.”

            Under the Supreme Court’s Mayo and Alice test, a 101 analysis follows a two-step process.  First, the court asks whether the claims are directed to a law of nature, natural phenomenon, or abstract idea.  Second, if the claims are so directed, the court asks whether the claims embody some “inventive concept” – i.e., “whether the claims contain an element or combination of elements that is sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent upon the ineligible concept itself.” 

            At step-one, the CAFC explained that to determine what the claims are directed to, the court focuses on the “claimed advance.”  In that regard, the CAFC noted that the ‘911 patent discloses a method of manufacturing a driveline propshaft containing a liner designed such that its frequencies attenuate two modes of vibration simultaneously.   The CAFC also noted that AAM “agrees that the selection of frequencies for the liners to damp the vibrations of the propshaft at least in part involves an application of Hooke’s law, which is a natural law that mathematically relates mass and/or stiffness of an object to the frequency that it vibrates.  However, the CAFC also noted that “[a]t the same time, the patent claims do not describe a specific method for applying Hooke’s law in this context.”

            The CAFC also noted that “even the patent specification recites only a nonexclusive list of variables that can be altered to change the frequencies,” but the CAFC emphasized that “the claims do not instruct how the variables would need to be changed to produce the multiple frequencies required to achieve a dual-damping result, or to tune a liner to dampen bending mode vibrations.”

            The CAFC explained that “the claims general instruction to tune a liner amounts to no more than a directive to use one’s knowledge of Hooke’s law, and possibly other natural laws, to engage in an ad hoc trial-and-error process … until a desired result is achieved.”

            The CAFC explained that the “distinction between results and means is fundamental to the step 1 eligibility analysis, including law-of-nature cases.”  The court emphasized that “claims failed to recite a practical way of applying an underlying idea and instead were drafted in such a results-oriented way that they amounted to encompassing the [natural law] no matter how implemented.

            At step-two, the CAFC stated that “nothing in the claims qualifies as an ‘inventive concept’ to transform the claims into patent eligible matter.”  The CAFC explained that “this direction to engage in a conventional, unbounded trial-and-error process does not make a patent eligible invention, even if the desired result … would be new and unconventional.”  As the claims “describe a desired result but do not instruct how the liner is tuned to accomplish that result,” the CAFC affirmed that the claims are not eligible under step two.

NOTE:  In response to Judge Moore’s dissent, the CAFC explained that the dissent “suggests that the failure of the claims to designate how to achieve the desired result is exclusively an issue of enablement.”  However, the CAFC expressed that “section 101 serves a different function than enablement” and asserted that “to shift the patent-eligibility inquiry entirely to later statutory sections risks creating greater legal uncertainty, while assuming that those sections can do work that they are not equipped to do.”

  • Judge Moore’s Dissent

            Judge Moore strongly dissented against the majority’s opinion.  Judge Moore argued, for example, that:

  1. “The majority’s decision expands § 101 well beyond its statutory gate-keeping function and the role of this appellate court well beyond its authority.”
  2. “The majority’s concern with the claims at issue has nothing to do with a natural law and its preemption and everything to do with concern that the claims are not enabled. Respectfully, there is a clear and explicit statutory section for enablement, § 112. We cannot convert § 101 into a panacea for every concern we have over an invention’s patentability.”
  3. “Section 101 is monstrous enough, it cannot be that now you need not even identify the precise natural law which the claims are purportedly directed to.” “The majority holds that they are directed to some unarticulated number of possible natural laws apparently smushed together and thus ineligible under § 101.”
  4. “The majority’s validity goulash is troubling and inconsistent with the patent statute and precedent. The majority worries about result-oriented claiming; I am worried about result-oriented judicial action.”


  1. When drafting claims, be mindful to avoid drafting a “result-oriented” claim that merely recites a desired “result” of a natural law or natural phenomenon without including specific steps or details setting establishing “how” the results are achieved.
  2. When drafting claims, be mindful that although under 35 U.S.C. 112 supportive details satisfying enablement are only required to be within the written specification, under 35 U.S.C. 101 supportive details satisfying eligibility must be within the claims themselves.

Last month on §101: You Win Some (Amdocs), You Lose Some (FairWarning; Synopsys)

| November 21, 2016

Amdocs (Israel) Limited v. Openet Telecom, Inc.

November 1, 2016

Before Newman, Plager, and Reyna. Opinion by Plager. Dissenting opinion by Reyna.


A trio of Federal Circuit decisions on patent eligible subject matter in the past month offers additional guidance on how to survive scrutiny under 35 U.S.C. §101. The focus will be on Amdocs (Israel) Limited v. Openet Telecom, Inc., in which the Federal Circuit found eligibility, but for the sake of comparison, the Federal Circuit’s decisions in FairWarning IP, LLC v. Iatric Systems, Inc. and Synopsys, Inc. v. Mentor Graphics Corporation, in which the Federal Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, will be briefly summarized.

Read More/続きを読む

Surviving Alice Gone Wild

| November 26, 2014

Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice Corp. v CLS Bank Int’l [1], Judge Moore said “this case is the death of hundreds of thousands of patents, including all business method, financial system, and software patents as well as many computer implemented and telecommunications patents.”[2] This concern is premised on about twenty years of patent practice grounded in the en banc 1994 Federal Circuit decision in In re Alappat which previously established the “special purpose computer” justification for patent eligibility under 35 USC §101 for computer-implemented inventions.[3]  The Alice decision essentially eliminated the “special purpose computer” bright line rule as applied generally to computer-implemented inventions.  The new Mayo 2-part §101 test for computer-implemented inventions is, however, fraught with issues from the lack of guidance on how to properly apply it.  Some strategic arguments for surviving a §101 attack are presented in this article, as well as a new way to address what is “significantly more.”

Read More/続きを読む

Subscribe | 登録



词典 / 辞書 / 사전
  • dictionary
  • dictionary
  • 英語から日本語

Double click on any word on the page or type a word:

Powered by