Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) v. United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and Myriad Genetics (Myriad) (Fed. Cir. 2010)
In a May 2010 decision, Judge Sweet of the Southern District of New York issued an opinion that would render most gene patents invalid for failing to claim patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 101. That high-profile case is now on an appeal, and has the potential of shifting US patent law both by its in-court and out-of-court impact.
Even before filing a substantive brief on the merits, the declaratory judgment plaintiffs (AMP & ACLU) filed a motion asking that Chief Judge Rader recuse himself from potentially hearing the decision. AMP argues that the Chief’s public statements regarding this case “have created an appearance of partiality that calls into question his ability to engage in impartial legal analysis.”
Notably, while attending a BIO meeting, Judge Rader reportedly responded to a comment by Professor Whealan (and former Rader clerk) that there are no real “legal standards for making [a Section 101] decision. . . [U]sing Section 101 to say that the subject matter is unpatentable is so blunt a tool that there is no neutral step to [draw] a line here [between what is and is not patentable].” In Judge Rader’s construct, the lack of a clear legal standard means that the decision will then be based on “politics. It’s what you believe in your soul, but it isn’t the law.” In another conference (this time at Fordham Law School), AMP’s attorney Dan Ravicher was speaking and Chief Judge Rader asked Ravicher a question “hinting at disagreement” with Ravicher’s position. In particular, the Ravicher-Rader colloquy was quoted as follows:
Ravicher (pointing to a bottle of water): "Was that [purification] sufficient intervention between what God gave us … and what man created to merit a patent?"
Chief Judge Rader: "How many people have died of water pollution over the course of human events? Probably billions."
Two responses to the ACLU motion have been filed.
First, Myriad responded that the cited statements by Chief Judge Rader “do not even suggest how Chief Judge Rader might vote, were he a member of the panel assigned to decide this case.”
The second filing is by the Federal Circuit Bar Association (FCBA) as amicus. The FCBA argues strongly that Judges should be encouraged to participate in educational conferences such as the BIO meeting and Fordham Law School. The FCBA makes the important point that “Just as it is important that judges recuse themselves when the rules require it, it is equally important that judges refuse to recuse themselves where the rules do not require it.” Granting recusal on the thin-evidence presented here would have the two primary effects of (1) discouraging sitting Federal Circuit judges from participating in public conversations and (2) encourage more strategic recusal motions. The FCBA motion was a joint effort by former Deputy Solicitor General Thomas Hungar (Gibson Dunn) and the oft-paired team of Ed Reines & Amber Rovner (Weil Gotshal).
This particular motion may never be decided. Since the panel has not yet been assigned for this appeal, the CAFC has refrained from deciding the motion. In a letter to AMP, the court indicated that “[i]n the event that Judge Rader is assigned, the motion will be transmitted to him.”