Today the U.S. Supreme Court in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., __ U.S. __ (2013) (opinion here), held that genes and DNA fragments merely isolated from nature without alteration are not patent-eligible. Justice Thomas, who delivered the opinion of the Court, stated that claims to isolated DNA (in this case, isolated BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are used to determine an increased risk of certain cancers) are excluded for falling within the law of nature exception to patent-eligibility. The Court conceded that Myriad found the location of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but that this discovery, by itself, does not render the BRCA genes new compositions of matter that are patent-eligible. The Court explained that with respect to isolated DNA molecules:
In this case, … Myriad did not create anything. To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention. Groundbreaking, innovative, or even brilliant discovery does not by itself satisfy the Section 101 inquiry. (citing Funk Brothers Seed Co. v. Kalo Inoculant Co., 333 U.S. 127 (1948)).
In contrast to isolated DNA, altered or modified DNA, the Court explained, remain patent-eligible as well as applications of any information gleaned from the isolation of the gene or a new method used to isolate the DNA. The Court in footnote 8 also noted that the possibility that an unusual and rare phenomenon that might randomly create a molecule similar to one created synthetically, such as a synthetic cDNA molecule made through human ingenuity, would not render the synthetic molecule unpatentable.
Thus, the Supreme Court has removed from patent-eligibility a class of discoveries that has been the backbone of the biotechnology industry for the last few decades. Isolated DNA molecules, such as isolated genes that describe the gene as it exists in nature, microRNA and interfering RNA, if claimed as isolated molecules, now fail the Supreme Court’s patent-eligibility test. To meet the new standard, the patent claim must contain an element that explicitly shows human intervention, such as a modification to the DNA sequence or the addition of an element useful in the application of the technology. Unlike the Supreme Court’s Prometheus decision which incorporated patent concepts of novelty and non-obviousness into the patent-eligibility standard, this Myriad decision did not intermix the separate criteria for patentability. Therefore it is likely that if the isolated DNA molecule is novel and non-obvious, the addition of the element showing human intervention into the claim would qualify the claim for patent-eligibility under the new standard.
On the same day that the Supreme Court issued its decision, the USPTO issued guidelines (attached) for its examiners instructing them that isolated DNA molecules that are unaltered should be rejected for failing to satisfy 35 U.S.C. Section 101. Synthetic or altered DNA molecules remain patent-eligible.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak again with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN regarding last week’s oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. In the interview, I share some quick observations on the oral arguments and offer my thoughts why I believe the Justices will “split the baby” with their ruling.
In a companion case to the “gene patenting” dispute presently before the U.S. Supreme Court, Myriad Genetics, Inc. successfully defended the patent-eligibility of “gene patents” in Australia. In Cancer Voices et al. v. Myriad Genetics Inc. et al. [Myriad] the Federal Court of Australia held that a claim that covers an isolated naturally occurring nucleic acid – either deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA) – is patentable provided that the other requirements for patentability have been met.
The Challenged Claims
The challenged patent entitled “In vivo mutations and polymorphisms in the 17q-linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene” claims 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. The invention also includes detection methods, isolated antibodies, and screening methods.
In reaching its holding, the Australian court reviewed the relevant case law in Australia and the United States and its application to the patenting of products of nature. The court highlighted prior decisions where the technology may depend on the operation of natural laws or the natural properties of the materials involved. Similar to Judge Lourie’s reasoning in the companion U.S. case [see prior post of August 16, 2012], the Australian court focused on the isolated nature of genetic material. Isolated or purified nucleic acids, the court reasoned, is the product of human intervention. Moreover, the court placed importance on the long standing practice of patenting isolated DNA in Australia and other countries. The court also determined that it would be difficult, on any rational basis, to confine the holding of this case to patenting in other fields, such as the patenting of pure and isolated chemicals that occur in nature; where the consequences of such are unknown.
Myriad and the biotechnology community now wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of the patent-eligibility of human genes. Oral argument is expected in April. Stay tuned.
Petitioners (The Association for Molecular Pathology et al., represented by the American Civil Liberties Union or ”Petitioner” or “ACLU”) filed their brief with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday urging the Court to reverse the Federal Circuit’s decision and the USPTO’s decades long practice of granting patents on isolated DNA. Similar to their arguments in all prior briefings, the Petitioners argue that the patents issued to Respondent Myriad Genetics, Inc. et al. (“Myriad”) were erroneously issued because they claims products of nature. Petitioner also applied the Supreme Court’s Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., 132 S. Ct. 1289 (2012)(“Mayo”). A copy of the brief is attached [MyriadPetitionersMeritsBrief].Continue reading this entry
Patenting diagnostic methods is more challenging in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Mayo Collaborative Services v. PrometheusLaboratories, Inc., 566 U.S. __ (2012) (Prometheus) and the USPTO’s application of the decision, as set forth in its Guidance Document distributed to patent examiners. Patent examiners are advised to follow the Guidance Document in examining a process claim (e.g., medical method claim) 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. Thus, a medical diagnostic claim that correlates or relates to a genetic marker or physiological measurement (typical in personalized medicine) is subject to the Guidance Document as the claim necessarily includes an element interpreted by the USPTO as a natural principle. Continue reading this entry
Following up on my post examining the Myriad gene patenting case, which is heading to the Supreme Court, I had the chance to discuss the subject with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN. In the interview, I discuss the legal and commercial issues at the core of the controversy, and whether or not genes are indeed patented.
As reported in my November 30th, 2012 post, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the issue “are human genes patentable?” The issue arises from the long-running dispute among a consortium of plaintiffs, led by the American Civil Liberties Union (collectively “ACLU”) who sued Myriad Genetics, Inc. and the Directors of the University of of Utah Research Foundation (collectively “Myriad”) challenging the patentability of composition and method claims related to human genetics. The Supreme Court’s opinion has the potential to overrule over 30 years USPTO practice that supported the growth of the U.S. biotechnology industry. Continue reading this entry
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.
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.”
The biotechnology industry, including those investing in personalized medicine, have been waiting for the Federal Circuit’s decision that answers the questions whether isolated DNA and use of the isolated material are patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. As reported in our August 16th post, the same three judges (Lourie, Bryson and Moore) held that isolated DNA and cells transformed with the DNA are patent-eligible. Claims that broadly claim detecting alterations in a gene, in this case the BRCA1 gene, were held to be patent-ineligible. The Ass’n for Molecular Pathology et al. v. USPTO, et al., No. 2010-1406 (Fed. Cir. 2012). In addition, the court determined that the plaintiffs had standing to maintain the action. This decision validates that the tools (DNA and isolated naturally occurring materials) underlying personalized medicine are still patent-eligible. Moreover, the court’s evaluation of the claimed methods are informative to those seeking to patent medical diagnostic tests because the court compared and contrasted a patent-ineligible claimed method to a patent eligible one.Continue reading this entry
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.
Advances in information technology, such as high-performance computing, enables the collection, analysis and sharing of information between patients and medical providers. Computer technology makes possible the sequencing and analysis of huge data sets of genomic information. It also connects clinical and genomic information to support personalized health care. As a result, life science companies and health care providers are incorporating hardware and software into the delivery of healthcare and the management of patient information. These technologies are patentable as business methods, provided the technologies satisfy the criteria for patentability: patent-eligibility, novelty, non-obviousness and adequacy of disclosure.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. PrometheusLaboratories, 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
This post is co-authored by Antoinette F. Konski and Jacqueline D. Wright Bonilla
The U.S. Supreme Court entertained oral argument today in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. The case is being closely monitored by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, and in particular those in the industry that patent diagnostic methods and companion diagnostics. At its core, the case addresses whether certain patent claims directed to diagnostic methods or methods of optimizing therapeutic efficacy for treatment recite patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.
On August 31, 2011, the Federal Circuit issued a precedential decision in Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. v. Biogen Idec (App. 2006-1643, -1649), a patent case of significant interest to the personalized medicine industry. As with the Prometheus case, this case addresses patent-eligibility of certain types of method claims. The Federal Circuit decided Classen on remand from the Supreme Court after Bilski v. Kappos (U.S. 2010). The Federal Circuit previously issued a first decision in Classen in 2008. The original panel, comprising Circuit Judges Newman and Moore and District Judge Farnan (sitting by designation), held in a one paragraph, non-precedential decision authored by Judge Moore that Classen’s claims failed to satisfy 35 USC § 101.
This time around, the Federal Circuit takes a closer look at Classen’s claims, and determines that two of the three Classen patents at issue are directed to patent-eligible subject matter under 35 USC § 101.
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.