Headlines emphasized the $6.75 million dollar damages award in the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Castillo v. G&M Realty LP. However, the primary significance of the case is that it establishes a test that is highly deferential to experts for when a work of visual art has achieved “recognized stature” — and thus merits protection from destruction under the Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA,” 17 U.S.C. § 106A).
In a unanimous decision issued on March 23, 2020, the Supreme Court held that Congress’ attempt to strip states of their sovereign immunity from copyright infringement suits “lacked a valid constitutional basis.” (Slip Op. at 1.) Justice Kagan’s opinion in Allen v. Cooper, 589 U.S. ___ (2020), follows closely the Court’s prior decision in Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. V. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627 (1999). That case held that Congress’ parallel attempt to abrogate sovereign immunity in the patent context was also unconstitutional.
In American Axle & Manufacturing, Inc., v. Neapco Holdings, LLC (Fed. Cir. Oct. 3, 2019), a split Federal Circuit panel affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment holding claims from plaintiff’s patent ineligible under § 101. Even among the many post-Alice Federal Circuit decisions that have fractured the court, American Axle stands out for several reasons. Some background on the technology at issue helps to illustrate why.
In Curver Luxembourg, SARL v. Home Expressions, Inc. (Fed. Cir. September 12, 2019), the Federal Circuit held that claim language can limit the scope of a design patent to a specific article of manufacture even where the patent’s drawing figures never depict that article. In doing so, the court rejected the patentee Curver’s argument that patent coverage should be defined solely by the patent drawing figures, which showed an ornamental surface design disembodied from any article of manufacture. After limiting the design patent’s scope to the article of manufacture mentioned in the claim, the Federal Circuit affirmed the grant of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion that dismissed Curver’s infringement claim.