April 26, 2018 is a remarkable date: first it’s World IP Day celebrating IP around the world. Second, and this is unique, the British IP Minister Sam Gyimah MP announced that the UK ratified the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPC Agreement). By doing so the UK agreed to be bound to both the UPC agreement and the UPC’s Protocol on Privileges and Immunities (PPI). The UPC will be a court common to the contracting member states within the EU having exclusive competence in respect of European Patents and European Patents with unitary effect.
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 June 27, 2017, the U.S. Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the Patent Trial and Appeal Board’s (Board) decisions in three interference proceedings between the Board of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior University (Stanford) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) (Case No. 2015-2011).
Competing inventors at Stanford and CUHK developed methods for diagnosing aneuploidies—conditions characterized by an abnormal number of chromosomes (e.g., Down’s Syndrome and Turner’s Syndrome)—using maternal blood samples. Maternal blood contains very small amounts of fetal DNA, and maternal blood sampling is far less invasive than previous methods of sampling fetal DNA. Competing inventors developed techniques for detecting the fetal DNA in maternal blood.
A Stanford application was filed in 2007 with claims to analyzing certain “target sequences” of fetal DNA. A CUHK application, published in 2009, described a “random sequencing” method. This method uses a massively parallel sequencing (MPS) technique that does not require use of “target sequences.” After the CUHK application published, Stanford cancelled its original claims and replaced them with claims to sampling “randomly selected” DNA fragments using MPS. The 2007 Stanford application had disclosed that “the Illumina [DNA] sequencing platform” could be used to perform MPS.
Both Stanford and CUHK requested interferences before the Board to determine who invented the random sequencing method. CUHK claimed that, in 2011, Stanford saw CUHK’s claims to random MPS, and changed its application to claim that technique. CUHK moved to have Stanford’s claims held unpatentable for lack of written description support for random MPS. The Board found that Stanford’s specification disclosed “targeted” rather than “random” MPS, and would not have indicated to one of ordinary skill in the art that the inventor was in possession of the claimed random MPS method. It held Stanford’s claims unpatentable for lack of written description.
The Federal Circuit, inter alia, vacated the Board’s decision, stating that the Board erred in analyzing written description, and remanded the case. The Circuit first found the Board erred by relying on CUHK’s expert testimony and several publications discussing a DNA sequencing platform that differed from the Illumina platform. The Circuit further stated that the Board erred because “the Board’s task was to determine whether the [Stanford specification’s] written description discloses random MPS,” “not whether the description does not preclude targeted MPS.” Finally, the Circuit stated that the Board failed to compare specific sentences and phrases referencing the sequencing process of the Stanford specification to the Stanford claims, e.g., the specification phrase “using the attachment of randomly fragmented genomic DNA.”
On remand, the Circuit instructed the Board to examine whether a person of ordinary skill in the art would have understood that the Stanford specification disclosed random MPS sequencing, as opposed to whether the specification did not preclude targeted MPS sequencing. Specifically, it instructed the Board to determine whether a person of ordinary skill would have known, as of the Stanford priority date, that the reference to Illumina products meant random MPS sequencing as recited in the claims, by examining pre-filing date factual record evidence.
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.
K&L Gates has prepared the first edition of Patent and Plant Breeder’s Rights Year in Review which examines the significant judgments, development and events effecting patents and plant breeder’s rights in Australia.
The Review looks at a number of cases over the year including the Australian High Court’s decision in D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc in the biotech industry, whether an Australian affiliate of an international pharma company was an exclusive licensee and whether it had standing to sue, and the Productivity Commission’s “IP Arrangements” Inquiry Report plus other updates. Click here for the summary or click here for the ePublication.
By Naomi Pearce
FCA Confirms Commonwealth may Claim Relief Under “Usual Undertakings as to Damages”
The much anticipated Court of Appeal decision in Commonwealth of Australia v Sanofi ¹ was handed down on Monday. The decision is a win for the Commonwealth, and for generic/biosimilar companies in Australia, and (if upheld in any appeal) will result in Sponsors adopting a more circumspect approach to seeking interlocutory injunctions for patent infringement in Australia.
Except where a generic/biosimilar applicant has “cleared the way” (cleared any patent impediments to launch through the Courts in Australia) or all relevant patents have expired, interlocutory injunctions are routinely sought by the Sponsor, and are routinely granted.
By Naomi Pearce
There are two weeks left to make submissions to the Productivity Commission (the Commission) on the Commission’s Intellectual Property Issues Paper published in October.
By Rachel Young and Nigel Lokan
The Australian Patent Office has commenced a public consultation on their proposed changes to examination practice, as a result of the recent High Court decision in D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc¹.
As reported in our earlier blog² the High Court unanimously decided that claims directed to an isolated nucleic acid coding for mutant or polymorphic BRCA1 polypeptide were not patentable subject matter.
On 7 October 2015, the High Court of Australia (High Court) issued its decision in the long running dispute concerning Myriad Genetics, Inc.’s (Myriad) patent relating to an isolated nucleic acid coding for mutant or polymorphic BRCA1 polypeptide. Mutations in the BRCA1 gene can serve as indicators of a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
In a unanimous decision, the High Court found that claims directed to the isolated nucleic acid are invalid on the basis that they are not a ‘manner of manufacture’ and therefore not patentable subject matter. The High Court took the view that the claimed invention would extend the scope of the concept of “manner of manufacture” and that this was not something which was appropriate for courts to do. In light of the High Court’s decision, it will be interesting to see whether there is a legislative response to this issue.
Many businesses operate in the Middle East through entities licensed to use their trade marks. These businesses should be aware that many Middle Eastern countries require that trade mark licence agreements are recorded with the respective Trade Mark Registers or other named authorities in these countries. Not recording a licence agreement could lead to monetary penalties being imposed on the licensee or an inability to enforce trade marks against third party infringers.
For example, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates each have more or less equivalent provisions in which a trade mark licence agreement must be in writing, it cannot include unregistered trade marks and it has no legal effect against third parties unless it is recorded on the respective Trade Mark Registers (or other named authorities in these countries). Each of these countries has slightly different processes and requirements for seeking registration of a trade mark licence agreement. Read More