On September 4, 2014, I had the opportunity to do a webinar conversation with Bob Stoll, former Commissioner for Patents at the United States Patent and Trademark Office and current partner at Drinker Biddle in Washington, D.C. Our wide ranging discussion lasted for just over one hour. This conversation, the first of many, was made possible with support from Innography, which is one of our sponsors on IPWatchdog.com. You can access the entire recording, which is free, by visiting Patent Eligibility in a Time of Patent Turmoil.
What follows is a bit of our conversation to wet your appetite. We discuss the Supreme Court generally, the lack of technical expertise at the Supreme Court, the realities of creating software, amicus briefs, the ramifications for watering down patent rights, the need for bright line rules and whether Congress needs to get involved.
STOLL: As someone very interested in the patent arena and getting the standards correct, I’ve been really worrying about things. I think we are in a very confusing state at the moment. I think that the courts are actually undermining patent eligibility in many different areas. And the irony seems to be, Gene, that the Supreme Court and now this Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit seem to be not considering the fact that the United States is leading in many of these emerging technologies and specifically thinking about software and diagnostic methods and personalized medicine and gene sequences. I mean we are actually leading the world in this subject matter. We’ve developed these emerging technologies. We’re quite good at building upon a base of patents in these areas and I don’t think anybody’s taking into consideration the job creation and economic growth that these industries bring to the United States before mucking around in the standards.
On the very same day that the U.S. jobs report shows unexpectedly weak growth, the Federal Court of Australia issued a ruling directly opposite to the ruling rendered by the United States Supreme Court relative to gene patents. In Yvonne D’Arcy v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., the Federal Court of Australia ruled that Myriad’s claims to isolated DNA are patentable under the laws of Australia. That is the correct ruling, and it is the ruling the U.S. Supreme Court should have reached in Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. As the patent eligibility laws of the U.S. become increasingly inhospitable to high-tech innovative businesses we can expect more job losses and worse news for the U.S. economy on the horizon.
There are a great many people inside the patent industry that are working hard to convince themselves that the Supreme Court decision in Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics is not so bad. The argument goes that the Supreme Court explicitly stated that cDNA is patent eligible and that Chakrabarty remains good law. The trouble with both rationales is that they are incorrect.
It seems to me that anyone who tries to convince themselves that Myriad is anything other than a disaster is just fooling themselves. It does no good to put our heads in the sand and ignore what the Supreme Court said as if by doing so it will make a difference. Anyone who is honest with themselves knows how the district courts will interpret Myriad, and it will not be in a patentee friendly manner.
But before going to far, let me conclusively demonstrate with the Supreme Court’s own explicit language why those who are trying to convince themselves, and others, that the decision is workable are wrong.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday that isolated DNA is not patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. §101. SeeAssociation of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. Or, put more precisely, the Court ruled that Myriad’s isolated DNA claims as written are not patent eligible. The Court further ruled that similar cDNA claims are for the most part patent eligible, seemingly because the information underlying the claimed molecule omits some content of the information which underlies the full gene.
Spoiler alert: If you are the type of person who enjoys reading about convoluted analogies to baseball bats, plucked leaves, mined gold and surgically removed livers, you are out of luck. Mercifully, and quite amazingly, the Court managed to avoid that morass.
A pivotal point is the question of whether Myriad was claiming information or a chemical compound. Of course, the unique thing about DNA is that it is both (i) a chemical compound comprised of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and hydrogen, and can be bound to cellular proteins, and (ii) an informational blueprint for proteins which form the building blocks of every living thing.
Earlier today the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that fundamentally changed the law of patent eligibility that has existed in the United States for the past 30 years, calling into question at least many tens of thousands of issued patents and many tens of thousands of pending patent applications. See Supremes Rule Isolated DNA and some cDNA Patent Ineligible.
With lightening speed, the United States Patent and Trademark Office has sent a memorandum to patent examiners relating to the aforementioned Supreme Court decision in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. The 1-page memorandum from Drew Hirshfeld, who is Deputy Commissioner for Patent Examination Policy, is direct. “Examiners should now reject…”
UPDATED June 13, 8:24pm ET (see comment #15 & #19)
Earlier this morning the United States Supreme Court issued its much anticipated ruling in Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. Justice Thomas wrote for a a nearly unanimous Court, only Justice Scalia wrote separately and he concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. The decision is not long, and approximately half of the decision is background, yet at the end of the day much damage has been done to the biotechnology industry, the medical industry and the patent system. Indeed, the assault on patents continues.
According to Todd Dickinson, Executive Director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, the outcome was fairly predictable given the oral argument, although 9-0 was a bit surprising. Dickinson told me via telephone earlier today the the decision itself is disappointing because it “keeps framing an anti-patent narrative.” He went on: “Patents are terribly useful to incent innovation and necessary to provide funding. If we undermine the patent system further I think we will be shooting ourselves in the foot.” I couldn’t agree more!
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.
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.
Given the remand of the Federal Circuit’s original panel decision for reconsideration in view of Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., I’m not surprised that the Supreme Court granted the ACLU’s/Pubpat’s petition for certiorari in AMP v. Myriad. What is somewhat surprising is that the Supreme Court granted certiorari only as to the first question (“Are Human Genes Patentable”) posed by the ACLU/PubPat. The patent-eligibility under 35 U.S.C. § 101 of Myriad’s claimed method of screening potential cancer therapeutics that was (again) unanimously upheld by the Federal Circuit panel, but will not be before the Supreme Court. Nor will the issue of “lack of standing” with respect to but one of the plaintiffs be considered.
I’ve been following the various meanderings and wanderings of the Myriad case for almost three years now. One unfortunate aspect of this case is that, from the beginning, the ACLU/PubPat has manipulated and fabricated what this case is about in terms of the applicable “science,” as well as the applicable “patent law.” In fact, in distorting what this case is really about (i.e., the patent-eligibility of Myriad’s claimed “isolated” DNA sequences under 35 U.S.C. § 101), the ACLU/PubPat has also tried to hide the fact that the real plaintiffs in the Myriad case are none other than the ACLU/PubPat themselves; that has become readily apparent, given that all but one of the “alleged” plaintiffs have been knocked out of this case on “lack of standing” grounds.
Before the Myriad case becomes further obscured by the “pseudoscientific” nonsense foisted by the “real plaintiffs,” as well as the PR smokescreen of “politics, policy and philosophy” that the ACLU/PubPat has used to manipulate the applicable “patent law,” the Supreme Court needs to understand, to use Judge Lourie’s words, what this case “is not about.”
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).
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.