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.
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.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Friday, October 29th, in an appeal of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a number of plaintiffs against Myriad Genetics, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and others. The brief, which was filed jointly with the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), supports the patentability of isolated DNA molecules, noting that invalidating the patentability of these molecules would discourage future biotechnological innovation.
On Friday, October 29, 2010, practically on the eve of a national election that will in all certainty be an enormous rebuke of the Obama Administration and the Democrats’ agenda in general, the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief at the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that would destroy the U.S. biotechnology sector. In an astonishing and irresponsible policy shift that directly contradicts the long-standing policy of the United States federal government and a variety of agencies, the Department of Justice is promoting the dialing back of what is considered patentable subject matter and is urging the Federal Circuit to rule that “isolated but otherwise unaltered genomic DNA is not patent-eligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101.”
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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