The patenting of human genes in Australia remains under court review. As reported in the blog Patentology, an appeal of the Australian decision, Cancer Voices et al. v. Myriad Genetics Inc. et al., was filed on March 4, 2013 to a Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia by the law firm of Maurice Blackburn on behalf of cancer survivor Yvonne D’Arcy. As reported in my February 19, 2013 post, the lower court upheld claims to isolated polynucleotides comprising all, or a portion of the BRCA1 locus or of a mutated BRCA1 locus. The polynucleotides can be RNA, DNA, cDNA and synthetic forms.
On November 30th, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court will conference and consider whether to review the patent-eligibility of isolated DNA sequences. Our prior post of September 25, 2012 addressed Petitioners’ brief and request for review of the Federal Circuit’s decision that upheld the patent-eligibility of isolated DNA. On October 31st, 2012, Myriad Genetics, Inc. et al. responded and filed its brief in opposition to Supreme Court review (see our post of November 14, 2012). Seven “friend of the court” briefs were filed in support of Petitioners’ request for review and reversal of the Federal Circuit’s decision.
On October 31, 2012, Myriad Genetics, Inc. et al. (“Respondent” or “Myriad”) filed its brief in opposition to Petitioners’ (The Association for Molecular Pathology et al., represented by the American Civil Liberties Union or “ACLU”) quest for U.S. Supreme Court review in the ongoing legal battle over whether isolated DNA is patent-eligible subject matter. Myriad argued that U.S. Supreme Court review is not warranted, and that if it is, the question for the Supreme Court is not whether human genes are patentable, but whether isolated DNA molecules that were identified and defined by human inventors are patent-eligible subject matter in the United States. Continue reading this entry
Patents protect proprietary information but are of limited duration. After expiration, the patented technology becomes part of the public domain. Trade secrets, in contrast, never expire and therefore are not accessible to the public as long as the information remains secret. Thus, the authors of “The Next Controversy in Genetic Testing: Clinical Data as Trade Secrets?“ argue that trade secret protection of genomic data is inappropriate because it impedes the free flow of information that is necessary to advance personalized medicine.
Myriad’s Proprietary Technology – Patents and Trade Secrets
In positioning their argument, the authors take aim at Myriad Genetics (“Myriad”), the provider of BRCA1/2 diagnostic testing. Through its diagnostic services, Myriad has tested nearly one million patients and compiled genetic data from the tests. In most instances, the authors argue, the test results are simple to interpret — whether or not the patient sample contains the wild type or variant version of the gene. In a minority of cases, however, sequence differences from wild type are difficult to interpret. These are variations of unknown significance (termed “VUS”) and are valuable to those tested and to other researchers who are trying to interpret the unknown variations. This information, which Myriad for the most part has chosen to maintain as a trade secret, creates an economic inequality that, the authors argue, was created through its patent monopoly. While Myriad has access to public databases in interpreting mutations, outsiders do not have access to Myriad’s data and analytic algorithm. Thus, the authors argue, Myriad’s proprietary database gives Myriad an indefinite exclusivity independent of patent protection unless and until others can repeat Myriad’s sequencing and analysis of patient samples.
Comprehensive databases of genetic information such as VUS data exist, but Myriad has not consistently contributed to them. The objectives of these databases and research consortia, the authors state, are to accumulate data and to refine interpretive methods in order to create publicly available information for improving clinical interpretation of genetic testing. The authors acknowledge that as public resources accumulate data, the value of proprietary databases will erode. In the meantime, however, health plans will pay for many genetic tests that cannot be accurately interpreted based on publicly available information. Several options for encouraging the sharing of this information are suggested.
One option is that free access be a prerequisite to publication. Those having access to genetic information should be required to share data and algorithms as a prerequisite to publication of that information. However, only those who choose to publish would be required to share the data.
Another option would require that databases that list mutations or availability of genetic tests (e.g., the NIH’s nascent Genetic Testing Registry) mandate that test providers share sequence data and interpretive algorithms as a condition of listing their tests.
Another option would rely on the power of payors and regulators. Health plan payors currently reimburse bundled genetic tests and interpretive services. Payors, it is argued, could demand the evidence underlying the clinical determinations when interpretations cannot be independently verified. Payors could also refuse payment unless clinically relevant data are shared and subject to independent verification.
The authors alternatively suggest that national authorities that regulate genomic tests mandate public disclosures as a condition of pre-market approval. Yet further, national and international institutions could fund research to re-create the data in proprietary databases by ensuring that results of genetic analysis be incorporated into large databases. Finally, national health systems could craft payment policies to create incentives for disclosure of data needed to interpret genetic tests – e.g., establishing payment codes for public deposit and interpretation of genomic data.
Patents, Trade Secrets and Public Benefit
One of the benefits of patents is their limited duration. After the patents expire, the technology is placed into the public domain in a manner that allows the public to reproduce the technology. Those involved in the debate over patenting genes (brought to the fore by the challenge to Myriad’s BRCA gene and testing patents, see for example, my prior post of September 25, 2012) have cautioned that removing the ability to protect intellectual property with patents could result in companies deciding to protect the information by the use of trade secrets, rather than patents. Thus, as noted by the authors, the public ultimately loses as the technologies may never enter the public domain.
While the authors pose some interesting solutions to gain access to Myriad’s technology, they never consider that if Myriad had chosen to patent the technology, the patents would expire and the technology would eventually become publicly available. Indeed, Myriad’s patents on the BRCA1/2 technology will expire in a few years. In addition, most patent applications are published prior to grant, thereby disclosing the technology 18 months after filing.
Myriad’s patents did not give rise to its expansive database, it was access to patient samples and Myriad’s expertise in analyzing that information and creating value from it. It is well documented that patents do not impede genetic research. In a recent letter to the journal Nature Methods, Jim Greenwood of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, reports that the number of reported patent lawsuits involving gene patents is practically nonexistent. “Gene patents do not hinder academic research” Nature Methods, Vol. 9(11), page 1039. He states:
“A 2008 study identified only six instances in which such patents had been briefly asserted against clinical diagnostic testing, and none against basic research. This finding is consistent with earlier reports by the US National Research Council and Walsh et al., [citation omitted] which found little empirical evidence to support the notion that patents created obstacles to biomedical research… Gene patents, like other patents, are critical to the development of basic research inventions into cures and therapies for patients as well as drought- and pest-resistant crops and renewable sources of energy. Encouraging the notion that scientists today routinely incur legal liability whenever they conduct genetic research may inflame public debate over ‘gene patents’ but it has nothing to do with a realistic appraisal of the role of patents in academic research. The likelihood that a researcher will infringe a technology patent by using a smartphone is much higher than the risk of infringing a ‘gene patent’ by doing benchwork.” (Embedded citations omitted)
The ACLU and PUBPAT issued a press release today announcing that they are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the U.S. Federal Circuit’s decision upholding the patent-eligibility of isolated DNA . The release announces in part:
“The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate patents for two genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer that allow a Utah company to control access to crucial genetic tests that could lead to life-saving treatment.”
A copy of the petition is attached [Cert. Petition].
Today, in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., No. 2010-1406 (Fed. Cir. 2012), the Federal Circuit held that non-naturally occurring DNA is patent eligible as well as the use of a transformed, non-naturally occurring cell for screening drug candidates. Myriad’s method claims directed to “comparing” or “analyzing” DNA sequences were held to be patent-ineligible. A copy of the Federal Circuit’s decision is attached Federal Circuit Myriad Decision. A detailed analysis by Foley & Lardner, LLP and this blog post will follow.
On July 20th, 2012, the parties in the Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., No. 10-1406 (Fed. Cir. 2011)(also known as the “ACLU gene patenting” case) argued (again) before the Federal Circuit. Recall, the U.S. Supreme Court had asked the court to reconsider its prior ruling as to the patent-eligibility of claims to isolated DNA, in light of its unanimous decision in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., No. 10-1150 (S. Ct. 2012) (“Mayo”). In Mayo, the U.S. Supreme Court held that that certain diagnostic inventions cannot be patented under 35 USC Secion 101 because they effectively claim a law of nature.Continue reading this entry
The USPTO has just issued guidelines for its patent examining corps to assist them in determining whether a process claim is patent-eligible in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. __ (2012) (“Prometheus”) decision. A copy of the guidance document (“Guidance Document”) is attached. [2012_interim_guidance] The examiners are advised to follow the Guidance Document in examining process claims in which a law of nature, a natural phenomenon, or naturally occurring relation or correlation (collectively referred to as a “natural principle” in the Guidance Document) is a limiting element or step. The revised procedure is effective as of its date of issuance, July 3, 2012.Continue reading this entry
June 15th, 2012 was the deadline for the parties and interested parties to file briefs in the controversial ACLU gene patenting case (see our post of March 26th, 2012), remanded to the Federal Circuit after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Mayo Collaborative Servs. v. Prometheus Labs., Inc., 566 U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 1289 (2012) (“Prometheus”) decision which held that certain claims to medical methods are not patent-eligible for failing to satisfy 35 U.S.C. § 101. On June 12th, Eli Lilly and Company (“Lilly”) filed an amicus brief that urged the Federal Circuit to review the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Prometheus as it applies to multi-step process claims. Lilly’s amicus brief, filed in support of neither party, argued that new test is required to simplify the line between patent-eligible and ineligible subject matter, as [i]t is as best intellectually challenging to meaningfully apply the tripartite exclusions from patenting for laws of nature, natural phenomena and abstract ideas.” The issue of whether or not the DNA claims are patent-eligible, the most contentious issue in this proceeding, was not briefed by Lilly. Rather, in footnote 1 of the brief, Lilly stated that only the appealed process claim is addressed because Prometheus “appears to be irrelevant to the manifest patent-eligibility of man-made materials that are nowhere to be found as such in nature.”Continue reading this entry
The other day I had the opportunity to speak with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN TV on the subject of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. In the short interview, I explain the background of the case, offer my thoughts on why Prometheus’ patent wouldn’t have a detrimental impact on medical research and give my thoughts on what this means for the Myriad “gene patenting” case.
On November 2, 2011, England’s highest court issued an important decision, Human Genome Sciences v. Eli Lilly, relating to biotechnology and claims directed to genes in particular, and consequently personalized medicine. Interestingly, claims at issue in this U.K. case are very similar to the type of compositions claims at issue in the U.S. Myriad “gene patenting” case. See our previous posts on Myriad, such as our August 9, 2011 post. Specifically, in both cases, claims relate to “isolated DNA” encoding a particular amino acid sequence.
That said, the U.K. case resolves around whether the patent is valid under the requirement that an invention be “susceptible of industrial application” under Articles 52 and 57 of the European Patent Convention (the EPC). This EPC requirement mirrors the U.S. “utility” requirement under 35 U.S.C. §101, rather than subject matter eligibility under §101 at issue in Myriad. The U.K court reversed the lower court to find that HGS’s patent satisfied the industrial application requirement.
For those of you closely following Assn. Molec. Path. et al. v. USPTO et al., otherwise known as the Myriad “gene patenting” case, you already know that both sides petitioned the Federal Circuit for a rehearing by the three-judge panel (not en banc), albeit for different reasons. Specifically, on August 25, 2011, on behalf of Plaintiffs/Appellees, the ACLU filed a Petition for Panel Rehearing on the merits, while Myriad/Appellant filed its own Petition for Panel Rehearing on the standing issue four days later. Both parties filed petitions in response to the precedential decision by the Federal Circuit on July 29, 2011. The latest update is that yesterday, September 13, 2011, the Federal Circuit denied ACLU’s petition, although we still await word on Myriad’s petition.
On August 25, 2011, on behalf of Plaintiffs, the ACLU filed a Petition for Panel Rehearing with the Federal Circuit in Assn. Molec. Path. et al. v. USPTO et al., known as the Myriad “gene patenting” case. Four days later, on August 29, 2011, Myriad likewise filed its own Petition for Panel Rehearing. Both parties filed their Petitions in response to a precedential decision by the Federal Circuit a month earlier. In that decision, a three-judge panel held, among other things, that all “isolated DNA” claims at issue are patent-eligible, contrary to Plaintiffs’ position. All three judges wrote detailed opinions, with Judge Lourie writing the majority opinion, Judge Moore concurring-in-part, and Judge Bryson concurring-in-part but dissenting-in-part regarding claims encompassing isolated genomic DNA. For background details of the case, see August 9 post, July 31 post and July 29 post. (Many thanks to Kevin Noonan at Patent Docs for first providing the Petitions.)
ACLU/Plaintiffs Petition for Panel Rehearing
In their recent petition, Plaintiffs ask the same three judges rehear the case again. Notably, they do not ask for a rehearing en banc, which would entail reconsideration by all active Federal Circuit judges.
As most in the biotech industry know by now, the Federal Circuit recently issued its decision in Assn. Molec. Path. et al. v. USPTO et al., a case otherwise known as Myriad or the “gene patenting” case. For more discussion, see July 29 post and July 31 post. The majority (Judge Lourie, joined by Judge Moore) held all “isolated DNA” claims at issue patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. §101. The majority (joined by both Judges Moore and Bryson) also held as patent-ineligible certain diagnostic method claims that in effect recited only “comparing” or “analyzing” DNA sequences. Notably, each of the three judges on the panel wrote a separate opinion. In doing so, each expressed a different view, even if two of the three judges agreed on the ultimate holding regarding “isolated DNA,” and all judges agreed regarding the method claims at issue.
Late last week the Federal Circuit issued its much anticipated opinion – Assn. Molec. Path. et al. v. USPTO et al. - which addressed, inter alia, the issue of whether and to what extent is genetic material patent-eligible. Judge Lourie, writing for the majority, held that isolated genetic material is patent-eligible. Judge Moore concurred-in-part that isolated DNA can be patent-eligible while Judge Bryson dissented and opined that cDNA, but not isolated DNA, is patent-eligible.
Subject Matter Patent-Eligibility of Isolated DNA and Diagnostic Methods Addressed Head-on
On Friday, July 29, 2011, in one of the most controversial and publicized biotech patent cases in recent years, the Federal Circuit decided the “ACLU/Myriad” gene patenting case, formally known as Assn. Molec. Path. et al. v. USPTO et al. In a majority opinion by Judge Lourie, the court addressed the case on the merits, after finding that at least one plaintiff had standing to sue. The court held all “isolated DNA” claims at issue patent-eligible, but held as patent-ineligible diagnostic method claims that in effect recited only “comparing” or “analyzing” DNA sequences. While this ruling could ultimately be subject to en banc review before all judges at the Federal Circuit and/or find its way to the Supreme Court, this decision now and its impact will undoubtedly be of great interest to everyone working in the biotechnology and diagnostic medicine fields.
Even for patent attorneys who specialize in personalized medicine, confusion still exists as to the best way to pursue and enforce diagnostic method patent claims in light of patent eligibility considerations under 35 U.S.C. §101. While the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit have provided some guidance regarding patent eligibility of certain method claims, details of how to proceed when drafting relevant claims, and which existing diagnostic method claims are viable, remain unclear to many.
It is possible that the Federal Circuit and/or Supreme Court may provide additional direction in cases yet to be decided. Such cases include the AMP et al. v. USPTO et al. (Myriad) “gene patenting” case (pending at Federal Circuit after oral argument on April 4, 2011), Classen Immunotherapies v. Biogen IDEC (pending at the Federal Circuit after remand by the Supreme Court in 2010) and Prometheus Labs., Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Servs. (awaiting decision by Supreme Court on certiorari petition-again).
In the meantime, patent attorneys glean what they can from cases decided before and after Bilski v. Kappos (2010), such as In re Grams (Fed. Cir. 1989), Justice Breyer’s dissent from dismissal of the grant of certiorari in Lab. Corp of America Holdings v. Metabolite Labs., Inc. (2006), as well as the most recent Federal Circuit decision in Prometheus Labs., Inc. v. Mayo Collaborative Servs. (Fed. Cir. 2010) (albeit cert. pending at Supreme Court).
While such pending and decided cases are not an exhaustive list of ones that may impact patent eligibility of diagnostic method claims, it is informative to look at claims at issue in these cases. Below provides a brief summary of representative claims, and what the courts have said about them so far.