The emergence of “plausibility” as a test for inventive step, sufficiency and industrial applicability represents a significant legal development in Europe in recent years. Now the concept of plausibility has reached Australian shores, with the Australian Patent Office applying it in a test for sufficiency.
On September 29, a jury in California awarded Columbia Sportswear more than US$3.4 million for infringement of its design patent on heat-reflective technology for clothing and outdoor gear. Columbia accused Seirus Innovative Accessories of infringing its utility and design patents for its wavy lining material, which reflects body heat, but allows for breathability and moisture-wicking. This appears to be the first jury verdict on a design patent after the Supreme Court’s decision in Samsung v. Apple.
On October 4, 2017, the Federal Circuit held en banc that the proper interpretation of 35 U.S.C. 316(d) and (e) requires the Petitioner in an inter partes review (IPR) to prove all propositions of unpatentability, including for amended claims. Aqua Prods., Inc. v. Matal, No. 2015-1177 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 4, 2017). The en banc Court further determined that the PTAB must consider the entirety of the record when assessing the patentability of amended claims under 318(a), not merely the face of a motion to amend.
The Aqua case resulted in five opinions totaling 148 pages, each presenting views on judgment and underlying rationale, ultimately leading to a narrowly tailored holding. In the decision, the Federal Circuit made clear that the burden of persuasion of patentability does not rest with the Patent Owner; instead, it is left to the Petitioner to establish that any proposed amended claims are not patentable.
The Australian Government has proposed significant changes to Australian patent law following an inquiry into the IP system recently completed by its advisory body, the Productivity Commission. These include:
- Amending the inventive step threshold to reflect that of the European Patent Office
- Phasing out innovation patents
- Requiring applicants to identify an invention’s technical features in their claims, and
- Adding an objects clause to the Patents Act.
The United Kingdom’s new Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Act 2017 (the Act) was recently granted royal assent and is set to come into force in October 2017. The Act should make it easier to advise clients, avoid litigation and facilitate the negotiation of settlements by outlining what types of threats are unjustified. The Act will also harmonise the UK law on unjustified threats across patents, trade marks and design rights.
Currently, the law allows those accused of infringing intellectual property to sue for damages if threats of legal action against them are revealed to be groundless. This can lead to rights-holders becoming wary of challenging perceived threats to their intellectual property because they do not want to risk their threats being perceived as groundless and, as a result, do not exercise full protection of their intellectual property rights.
On July 25, 2017, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued Patent Eligible Subject Matter: Report on Views and Recommendations From the Public (Report). The Report summarizes public comments on the state of subject matter eligibility law. Comments came from varied sources including industry, private practice, academia, trade associations, inventors, and small business.
After beginning with an overview of eligibility law in the U.S. and abroad, the Report summarizes the comments supportive and critical of the Supreme Court’s Bilski, Mayo, Myriad, and Alice decisions regarding subject matter eligibility. It polls opinions from the two most-impacted technology sectors, and reviews recommendations on how to move forward.
The 10 May 2017 draft act of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, amending certain acts in order to improve the legal environment for innovative activities, provided for the introduction of changes in the scope within which authors can be represented before the Polish Patent Office (PPO). The draft stipulated that, in cases related to submitting and considering applications and maintaining protection over inventions, medicinal products, plant protection products, utility designs, industrial designs, geographic signs and integrated circuit topography, attorneys in Poland (adwokat and radca prawny, hereinafter “advocate” and “legal advisor”) would also be able to represent the parties involved – previously, in such cases only patent attorneys or persons providing cross-border services in the meaning of the Act on Patent Attorneys of 11 April 2001 had been able to represent parties.
The development of new plant varieties can be a costly and time-consuming process. To incentivise breeding endeavours, governments around the world have developed legal mechanisms which effectively provide breeders with a period of market exclusivity in which to commercialise their new variety. The mechanisms vary from country to country, and this article briefly reviews those available in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
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The U.S. Courts have repeatedly invalidated patents under 35 U.S.C. § 101 as lacking patentable subject matter in areas such as business methods and computer-based inventions. However, decisions addressing inventions in the life sciences are substantially less frequent. In Cleveland Clinic Foundation v. True Health Diagnostics LLC (Fed. Cir. 2017), the Federal Circuit provided some additional guidance for patent eligibility of life sciences inventions.
Three of the patents at issue were directed to methods of detecting myeloperoxidase (MPO) (diagnostic patents), and the fourth patent was directed to methods of treating patients with heart disease based on the MPO detection methods of the other patents. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim because the diagnostic patents lacked patentable subject matter, and the Federal Circuit affirmed that decision.
According to the Federal Circuit, the diagnostic patents were directed to a law of nature: the correlation between MPO level and heart disease. Interestingly, the opinion notes that the correlation was known in the art prior to filing the patents, however, there was no way to directly detect the MPO or correlate the levels to a risk of heart disease. The Court found that the claims did not teach a new test or laboratory technique, nor did they alter the MPO levels. Rather, the levels existed in nature without human action. Thus, the Court concluded that the claims did “not result in an inventive concept that transforms the natural phenomena of MPO being associated with cardiovascular risk into a patentable invention.”
The Court left open the question of whether the method of treatment patent contained patent-eligible subject matter because the Court held that the pleadings for that patent were deficient (this patent was only alleged to be infringed through inducement or contributorily infringed).
Unlike other decisions on patentable subject matter in the life sciences area, the holding did not turn on whether the claims broadly preempted application of a law of nature. The Patent Owner argued that the claims should be patent eligible because they were narrow and did not preempt all uses of the alleged law of nature, but the Court stated that the preemption argument was fully addressed and made moot by its determination that the claims only disclosed patent-ineligible subject matter.
In view of this decision, care should be taken when drafting claims directed to diagnostic methods to be sure to clearly claim more than the diagnostic correlation.