One of the central policy issues injected into the current case of AMP v. Myriad Genetics is whether the BRCA patents are good for innovation and ultimately for patients. Specifically, ACLU and PubPat allege that the patents have hindered research, blocked innovation, and harmed patient access to BRCA testing. No matter how many times these allegations are repeated, all available evidence shows concerns over research and innovation to be unfounded. More importantly, two natural experiments give us an opportunity to evaluate actual patient access to testing, the ultimate measure of whether the patents are doing their job of incentivizing delivery of new technology to the public. Both of these experiments show that exclusive licensing of strong “gene patents” not only does not harm patient access to quality testing, but is instead vital to it.
In the impassioned words of Linda Bruzzone, a Lynch syndrome mutation carrier and head of Lynch Syndrome International: “Many of us with Lynch Syndrome wish there had been a patent in place for us. It would have protected us and perhaps protected the lives of our loved ones.” L. Bruzzone, Oral Comments at USPTO Public Roundtable on Genetic Diagnostic Testing (January 10, 2013).
Since my last article here on IPWatchdog.com, the pharmaceutical industry has been simply overflowing with interesting developments, including the US Supreme Court hearing arguments concerning three significant cases.
The first case argued at the Supreme Court will determine whether generic drugmakers can be sued for alleged flaws in the design of their medications. At issue is whether federal law preempts such claims from proceeding in state court and if drugmakers can be held liable if they decline to withdraw their medicines from the marketplace.
Of course, the same concept could be applied to brand-name drugmakers, which is why the entire pharmaceutical industry is on edge. In fact, the Obama administration filed a brief in support of drugmakers over concerns the FDA regulatory review process could be undermine if medicines deemd safe and effective could later by considered ‘unreasonably dangerous.’
The court reviewed an appeal by Mutual Pharmaceutical to overturn a $21 million jury award to a New Hampshire woman who in 2004 had taken a generic painkiller called sulindac, but developed Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis. She’s nearly permnanetly blind and suffered burn-like lesions over most of her body, underwent numerous surgeries, and is now unable to read, drive or work, and must use a feeding tube, her lawsuit says.
Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. While the Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) is the named party in the case, it is really a case brought and forwarded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Myriad Genetics is the patent holder on various innovations relating to isolated DNA comprising an altered BRCA1 DNA and various methods of screening for cancer built upon various observations of the altered BRCA1 DNA. Essentially, AMP and the ACLU, along with researchers, competitors of Myriad Genetics and consumers filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a number of gene patents owned by Myriad and argued that gene patents should not be granted because patenting a gene is the same as patenting something that exists in nature.
This argument succeeded at the district court, but has twice failed at the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit initially reversed the district court, but appeal was made to the Supreme Court by AMP/ACLU. See As Predicted, Federal Circuit Rules Isolated DNA Patentable. In the meantime the Supreme Court issued a decision in Mayo v. Prometheus and remanded this case to the Federal Circuit for further consideration in light of the Court’s decision in Mayo v. Prometheus. The Federal Circuit again sided with Myriad Genetics. See AMP v. USPTO Remand Déjà Vu. Appeal was taken to the Supreme Court, which accepted certiorari. See Supreme Court Grants Cert in Amp v. Myriad. The only issue accepted by the Supreme Court was the broadest issue: are human genes patent eligible?
Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. Myriad Genetics was founded in 1991, and licensed, exclusively in the field of diagnostics, and also invented a group of patents associated with the five to ten percent of breast cancers known to have a strong hereditary component. The biomarkers disclosed, discussed, and claimed in these patents are also associated with an increased lifetime risk of ovarian and other cancers. See this U.S. Government website Genetics of Breast and Ovarian Cancer, updated 3/04/2013, and accessed April 14, 2013, for timely information on the significance of these biomarkers.
Social policy concerns have influenced the AMP v Myriad debate. This article is intended to address certain misstatements of fact and draw attention to other facts not generally considered.
Petitioners have cast the case as “patients versus patents”. Petitioners comprise primarily molecular pathologists and women who assert they had to provide, and receive, respectively, inferior medical care because of Respondent’s patents. In part, because the SACGHS found that so called “genetic” diagnostic tests which were covered by patents cost no more than such tests which were not covered by patents, alleged negative impacts on future medical research have been more forcefully added into the mix of policy concerns creating a biased context for the debate.
I began by describing the facts of the Myriad case, which is currently before the Supreme Court, and the science behind the issues, as well as introducing the panelists. I then began the discussion by asking the panelists if genetic sequence and cDNA patents interfere with scientific research and with those who provide health care. Vern Norviel of Wilson Sonsini argued that it does not matter either way with regards to patents and new biotech product innovations. Mr. Norviel pointed out that the entire human genome was already mapped and the company who mapped it was not sued. More importantly, he argued, is that human genes are limited and it would be a very small bit of information that could be determined to not be patentable. He did, however, caution that the Court should try and restrain itself and not go too far such that it destroys what is currently a massive and successful life sciences industry. The bottom line is that regardless of whether a patent exists, professors and researchers will continue to do the research. Dr. James Mullen of Morrison & Foerster further argued that patents encourage research and innovation as venture capitalists want to know if (1) the research does what it is claimed to do and (2) if the party owns that research.
The Honorable Alex Kozinski immediately posed the question—by way of an analogy to scientists who stare at the stars—of why should someone be able to get a gene patent just because there was a significant amount of effort put in to discover that gene. Throughout the event, Judge Kozinski took on the role of the generalist judge, who would need to be convinced that the invention in the lab is anything other than a product of nature. Professor David Winickoff of UC Berkeley followed that question up by discussing James Watson’s amicus brief and the idea that genes are both symbolic in our culture and shared by all humans, thus making them a unique item in our world.
2013 is going to be an exciting year for patent law and the policies which govern it. From implementation of sections of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act to anticipated decisions from the Supreme Court, we can expect changes to the patent system that will affect the high tech and biotechnology industries, start up companies and established businesses of all sizes. Just some of the developments we can expect to see include a determination of whether genes are patentable, proposed legislation addressing the litigation strategies of non practicing entities, and harmonization of the US with much of the world through the implementation of the first-to-file patent application system and the introduction of an international design patent application process.
The Patentability of Human Genes
Isolated genes and DNA sequences are claimed in numerous patents and patent applications and are extremely important to the biotechnology industry. Myriad Genetics was granted patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer, and is the sole provider in the US of tests for cancers involving the BRCA genes.
Depiction from 1876 of a Salem Witch Trial circa 1692.
A good old fashioned witch trial can be jolly fun for most participants (save one). They are briefly cathartic, providing accusers a platform to be sanctimonious, while misleading a trusting public. Such efforts are best conducted behind closed doors as they lose credibility in the light of day. Thus, it was a relief to see the Patent and Trademark Office resist this approach in its January 10th Roundtable on Genetic Testing. This openness exposed claims that have driven the debate so far to a rare scrutiny. Perhaps the bonfires being prepared for the accused are premature.
The PTO is charged under section 27 of the America Invents Act with conducting a study on the influence of patents and exclusive licensing on the availability of confirmatory genetic testing – that is, the ability to obtain an independent confirmation of a genetic test by a second laboratory for patented tests only available from an exclusive provider. The sponsor, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, is a breast cancer survivor who had to make serious medical decisions based on her own genetic test. Understandably, anyone in that situation wants to ensure they received the most accurate testing possible.
You may have heard about the “breast cancer gene patent wars.” Most likely, you have heard from various individuals and popular media asking “how can someone patent my genes?” One can’t and never could patent your genes as they are in you.
One side in the “gene patent war” has nevertheless convinced the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of whether DNA sequences derived from the human genome are patentable, in Association for Molecular Pathology (AMP) v. Myriad Genetics, while disingenuously labeling the patents at issue as “human gene patents.”
Myriad (the “other” side) owns several patents with claims directed to “isolated” nucleic acid molecules (e.g., DNA) and fragments thereof which are referred to as either “probes” or “primers,” based on their function. Probes anneal, i.e., bind, to a particular part of a DNA and are used to detect the presence of certain genes which indicate abnormalities or disease states. Primers anneal to particular parts of a DNA and are used to make additional pieces of DNA, e.g., make multiple copies of a single abnormal sequence such that it is readily detectable and/or become capable of being utilized in other useful applications, e.g. forensic science.
On Friday, July 20, the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in the remand of the AMP et al. v. USPTO et al. appeal – the case better known as the Myriad Genetics “gene patent” case. The supplemental briefing in this case, and the oral argument itself, continue to reveal how those with diverse perspectives on DNA patents misunderstand each other. Scientists are making dubious assumptions about the operation of patent law. Patent lawyers are making inaccurate assumptions about how the science works. And those who are neither patent lawyers nor scientists just go by what they’ve been told. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) supplemental amicus brief and oral argument in this case are a good example of the widening disconnect.
“Kitschy, Not Catchy”
Readers will recall that this is not the first time DOJ appears in this case. Two years ago when the Myriad case first reached the Federal Circuit, DOJ filed an unsolicited brief, replete with hypothetical examples of elemental lithium, cotton, coal, isolated electrons, and other things having nothing to do with molecular biology, siding in part with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and arguing that Myriad’s claims to BRCA-encoding DNA molecules are patent-ineligible under Section 101.
In the immortal words of baseball great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again”. A little more than a year after they previously heard AMP v. USPTO, the CAFC panel of Judges Lourie, Bryson and Moore have once again taken up the question of whether isolated DNA and related methods are patent eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. §101.
To recap, last year, the same panel ruled that the composition claims reciting isolated DNA were patent eligible, with Judges Lourie and Moore supporting patent eligibility and Judge Bryson dissenting. All three Judges also agreed method claims involving “analyzing” or “comparing” DNA were not patent eligible. Lastly, all three Judges agreed that a screening claim (claim 20 of the ‘282 patent) was patent eligible. For a full discussion of last year’s decision (in English and Japanese), please click here. After the decision, AMP appealed to the Supreme Court, who later vacated the CAFC decision and remanded the case to the CAFC for further consideration in view of their Mayo decision (English summary;Japanese summary).
The supplemental briefs for the parties and amicus are now finally in for the remand of the AMP v. USPTO case to the Federal Circuit. As I’ve previously stated, the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., which caused this remand should not change the fact that Myriad’s isolated DNA sequence claims are patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. That’s based on the Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty (man-made living organism is patent-eligible) being the controlling precedent, not Mayo Collaborative Services. See Chakrabarty Controls on Isolated DNA Sequences, not Mayo*
Not surprisingly, the ACLU and PubPat’s supplemental brief assert that these Myriad’s isolated DNA sequence claims are patent-ineligible in view of Mayo Collaborative Services, arguing that these claims “patent laws of nature and products of nature.” This further mischaracterization of Myriad’s isolated DNA sequence claims perpetuates the unfortunate “myth” by the ACLU and PubPat that this case “is about the validity of certain patent claims on human genes.” See page 8 of Brief for Appellees that filed for the original Federal Circuit panel decision. But what the Federal Circuit panel should especially take note of in the remand of the AMP case is the supplemental amicus brief filed by Professor Christopher Holman of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.
Not too surprisingly, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in AMP v. USPTO, vacated the Federal Circuit’s panel decision, and remanded for reconsideration in view of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. On remand, the Federal Circuit is unlikely to “resurrect” the claims to the methods of “comparing” or “analyzing” DNA sequences that were deemed unanimously by the Federal Circuit panel to be invalid as being patent-ineligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101, and nothing in Mayo Collaborative Services changes that result, but simply reaffirms it. But the story should also be no different for the claim directed to the method of screening potential cancer therapeutics that was unanimously upheld by this same panel as being patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101 because the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Mayo Collaborative Services is distinguishable for reasons given in the original AMP decision, as well as for reasons given in Judge Newman’s opinion in the remand of Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. v. Biogen IDEC. See The Way Forward from Mayo Collaborative Services is through the Classen Immunotherapies Remand*.
Unfortunately this unspecific remand by the Supreme Court in AMP vacates as well the two-to-one ruling by this same Federal Circuit panel (Judges Lourie and Moore in the majority, Judge Bryson in dissent) that the claimed isolated DNA sequences were also patent-eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. What, pray tell, does Mayo Collaborative Services change with regard to that ruling in the original AMP decision? For those, like the plaintiffs in AMP (including the ACLU), who would like to upset this “applecart,” they’re likely to be very disappointed. I can describe what should be the impact of the ruling (and reasoning) in Mayo Collaborative Services on the claimed isolated DNA sequences in three short monosyllabic words: NONE AT ALL. And the Federal Circuit can (and should) say likewise, perhaps in far more words.
The July 29, 2011 Federal Circuit decision in Assoc. for Molecular Pathology et al. v. U.S.P.T.O. and Myriad Genetics has been eagerly awaited by the biotechnology community and by persons concerned with the ethical implications of DNA technology. Although a significant part of the decision involved standing to sue, I will only discuss the scientific portions of the decision that deals with the very real ethical question of whether human genes and/or gene sequences should be patented.
The decision in Myriad was written by Judge Alan Lourie with concurrences-in-part by Judges Moore and Bryson. Judge Bryson also filed a dissent-in-part. Judge Lourie, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, is well suited to understand all the issues associated with genetic sequence cases and has written some key biotechnology decisions, such as the Regents of the University of California v. Eli Lilly, 119 F.3d 1559 (Fed. Cir. 1997) (Cloned human insulin product did not infringe patented rat insulin.) and In re Deuel , 51 F.3d 1552 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (Settled an issue of obviousness between genetic sequences). Judge Bryson was also part of the Lily decision.
Structure of a DNA double helix,
Fig. 1 from the CAFC majority opinion.
After much anticipation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit earlier today issued a decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. The decision on first glance will seem to be a split decision, particularly by Federal Circuit standards. The majority opinion was written by Judge Lourie, Judge Moore wrote a concurring opinion and Judge Bryson concurred in part and dissented in part. Having said that, the outcome largely seems to be what was predicted by the patent community. On the major substantive issue — are isolated DNA molecules patent eligible subject matter — the Federal Circuit reversed the decision of the district court and ruled that isolated DNA molecules do constituted patent eligible subject matter. The Federal Circuit also ruled that methods relating to the screening for potential cancer therapeutics are, likewise, patent eligible subject matter. All three Judges also found the “comparing” and “analyzing” claims to be ineligible for patent protection because they were not transformative, and thus were merely abstract mental steps.
On April 4, 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in the case dubbed Association for Molecular Pathology v. United States Patent and Trademark Office. This case has been commonly referred to here and elsewhere as either the ACLU case or the Myriad Genetics case. Myriad Genetics is the patent holder on various innovations relating to isolated DNA comprising an altered BRCA1 DNA and various methods of screening for cancer built upon various observations of the altered BRCA1 DNA. The patents challenged are U.S. Patent Nos. 5,747,282, 5,837,492, 6,593,473, 5,709,999, 5,710,001, 5,753,441 and 6,033,857.
Essentially, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with researchers, competitors of Myriad Genetics and consumers filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of gene patents and argued that gene patents should not be granted because patenting a gene is the same as patenting something that exists in nature. While this argument did succeed at the District Court, it won’t succeed at the Federal Circuit. The District Court Judge fundamentally based his ruling on the fact that, as he understood it, Supreme Court precedent “establishes that purification of a product of nature, without more, cannot transform it into patentable subject matter.” First, this is truly an oversimplification of the purification issue and, second, it demonstrates an acute lack of understanding of the science involved.
How to Write a Patent Application is a must own for patent attorneys, patent agents and law students alike. A crucial hands-on resource that walks you through every aspect of preparing and filing a patent application, from working with an inventor to patent searches, preparing the patent application, drafting claims and more. The treatise is continuously updated to address relevant Federal Circuit and Supreme Court decision impacting patent drafting.
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