Athena Rising? Brief of Professors Jeffrey A. Lefstin and Peter S. Menell as Amici Curiae in Support of Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in Athena Diagnostics v. Mayo Collaborative Services

38 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2019 Last revised: 16 Jun 2020

See all articles by Jeffrey A. Lefstin

Jeffrey A. Lefstin

UC Hastings Law

Peter S. Menell

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: October 29, 2019


In Bilski v. Kappos (2010), this Court explained that its interpretation of 35 U.S.C. § 101 has been guided by over 150 years of historical practice. Yet two years later in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories (2012), the Court triggered the most radical redefinition of patent-eligible subject matter in U.S. history by engrafting an inventive application requirement for patenting practical applications of scientific discoveries.

Mayo based this requirement on three critical assumptions: (1) Congress has never addressed the question of the patentability of scientific discoveries; (2) foundational precedent of the English courts and of this Court excluded scientific discoveries and demanded inventive application as a condition of patent eligibility; and (3) a new extra-textual limitation on patentability was necessary to address the undue preemption of laws of nature and other scientific discoveries. Unfortunately, inadequate briefing in Mayo led the Court astray.

The Nation’s patent statutes, stretching back to the founding era, unmistakably afford patent protection to technological innovations and scientific discoveries. Congress has expressly sought to encourage both technological inventions and scientific discoveries. The legislative concern has not been with preemption of inventive fields, which the durational limits and disclosure constraints of the Patent Act address, but rather with “min[ing]” the “exhaustless” “treasures” and “unlimited reach of science.” Specific legislative enactments in 1930, 1952, and 1954 refute any requirement of inventive application for patent eligibility.

Furthermore, the Mayo briefs failed to address critical context and meaning of key cases bearing on patent eligibility of applications of scientific discoveries. Both Parker v. Flook (1978) and Mayo relied on a mistaken reading of Neilson v. Harford (1841) to conclude that English and American courts restricted patents to inventive applications of new discoveries. To the contrary, Neilson became the primary authority in England and the United States for the position that practical applications of discoveries were patentable without any invention in the means of application.

Finally, contrary to Mayo’s supposition that a new extra-statutory doctrine was necessary to limit undue preemption of scientific discoveries, this Court has long held that this role was served by patent law’s express disclosure requirements. See O’Reilly v. Morse (1854) and subsequent cases. As reflected in the eight opinions in Athena Diagnostics, Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Services, as well as clear signals in numerous other cases, the Patent Office’s frequent revision of examiner guidance documents, and legislative hearings, the Federal Circuit, district courts, Patent Office, and inventors have struggled unsuccessfully to apply the Mayo/Alice decisions coherently and predictably. These decisions have imposed massive costs upon all of these institutions and the public, thereby undermining the patent system.

This case provides an ideal vehicle for the Supreme Court to revisit the standards for patent eligibility on the basis of thorough briefing of the proper statutory and jurisprudential considerations.

Keywords: Patent Eligibility, Section 101, Diagnostics, Patentable Subject Matter

JEL Classification: K21, K41, L86, O34

Suggested Citation

Lefstin, Jeffrey A. and Menell, Peter S., Athena Rising? Brief of Professors Jeffrey A. Lefstin and Peter S. Menell as Amici Curiae in Support of Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in Athena Diagnostics v. Mayo Collaborative Services (October 29, 2019). UC Hastings Research Paper No. 392, Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey A. Lefstin

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

Peter S. Menell (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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