“The majority’s broad pronouncement of ineligibility of medical treatment that relates to human physiology not only contravenes precedent, but contravenes the national interest in achieving new methods of medical treatment with the assistance of the patent incentive.” – Judge Pauline Newman, dissenting
In the most recent exploration of Section 101 by the Federal Circuit, Chief Judge Sharon Prost authored a non-precedential opinion holding the claims of a patent for a method of administering inhaled nitric oxide (iNO) ineligible for patent protection under the Alice/Mayo framework. The ruling paves the way for industrial gas company Praxair Distribution to move forward with marketing its generic nitric oxide delivery system. Judge Pauline Newman dissented in part, stating that the “method that is described and claimed does not exist in nature” and “was designed by and is administered by humans,” so should be patent eligible.
- U.S. Patent No. 8282966, titled Method of Reducing the Risk of Occurrence of Pulmonary Edema in Children in Need of Treatment with Inhaled Nitric Oxide. It claims a method of reducing risks for pulmonary edema associated with a treatment by performing echocardiography to identify a child in need of an inhaled nitric oxide treatment, determining that the child has such a risk due to ventricular dysfunction, and then excluding the child from nitric oxide treatment if that treatment would cause pulmonary edema.
- U.S. Patent No. 8795741, titled Methods for Treating Patients Who are Candidates for Inhaled Nitric Oxide Treatment. It claims a method for treating patients for hypoxic respiratory failure that reduces the risk of increasing pulmonary capillary wedge pressure leading to pulmonary edema in neonatal patients.
- U.S. Patent No. 8846112, entitled Methods of Distributing a Pharmaceutical Product Comprising Nitric Oxide Gas for Inhalation. It discloses a method of providing pharmaceutically acceptable nitric oxide gas in a cylinder of compressed gas which is also designed to reduce adverse effects or serious adverse effects in patients undergoing nitric oxide treatments.
The Federal Circuit agreed, holding that representative claim 1 of the ‘741 patent:
does no more than add an instruction to withhold iNO treatment from the identified patients; it does not recite giving any affirmative treatment for the iNO-excluded group, and so it covers a method in which, for the iNO-excluded patients, the body’s natural processes are simply allowed to take place.
The Court added that the claim’s language instructing physicians not to administer iNO gas to patients with a condition called left ventricular dysfunction (LVD) is not evidence that the claims are not directed to a natural phenomenon, but instead is “simply an instruction not to act. In effect, the claim is directed to detecting the presence of LVD in a patient and then doing nothing but leaving the natural processes taking place in the body alone for the group of LVD patients.”
Mallinckrodt had relied in part on Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals International Ltd. to prove the claims eligible, but the Court called the comparison “misplaced.” While in Vanda, “the claims leveraged the natural phenomenon to improve treatment for schizophrenia,” here, the Court said “the invention does not improve treatment of the underlying conditions in question—pulmonary edema and hypoxic respiratory failure—by taking advantage of the body’s natural processes…. the claim language stops well short of an improved treatment method.”
As to the device claims, the court found them not infringed because the plain language of the claims taught that the devices should be used with iNO gas. Mallinckrodt had argued that the “claims were practiced when any iNO cylinder was combined with a circuit storing gas data—even if the data is unrelated to the particular gas in the cylinder.” But the Federal Circuit said that “the ‘gas’ throughout the claim consistently refers to the specific contents of the ‘gas source’ administered to the patient. Thus, ‘gas data’ relates to the actual gas inside the cylinder.” The district court had also found that Praxair’s delivery system (NOxBOXi) did not “verify” the gas and therefore did not infringe claim 15 of the ’794 patent, which is representative of the DSIR patents’ method claims, and the Federal Circuit agreed.
Mallinckrodt was successful, however, in its argument that the district court had erred in ruling on claims that were not asserted before it. In its decision, the district court had found the patents invalid and not infringed in their entirety, instead of specifying the claims at issue. The Court thus remanded to the district court to correct this “clerical error.”
Newman Laments Unpredictability
In her dissent, Judge Newman repeatedly warned about the dangers of finding such patents ineligible. It is worth repeating several excerpts from her opinion in their entirety:
Mallinckrodt’s method of treatment may or may not pass the tests of sections 102 or 103, but this court’s precedent and that of the Supreme Court do not exclude methods of treatment from access to the patent system under section 101. Today’s change of law adds to the inconsistency and unpredictability of this area of patent-supported innovation…..
The majority’s broad pronouncement of ineligibility of medical treatment that relates to human physiology not only contravenes precedent, but contravenes the national interest in achieving new methods of medical treatment with the assistance of the patent incentive….
Patents provide the economic incentive for medical scientists and industries to devise new treatments to serve the afflicted public. My colleagues’ holding that such inventions are broadly ineligible for patenting, will simply add disincentive to medical advance. From my colleagues’ holding that this improved method of treatment of neonates having left ventricular dysfunction is ineligible under section 101, I respectfully dissent.
In a statement issued August 27, Mallinckrodt said it is disappointed by the decision, but “confident its well-established presence and INOmax Total Care, its comprehensive product and service offering, are highly valued by customers. The company believes that the prospects for a newcomer succeeding in this market are by no means a foregone conclusion.”
According to Bloomberg, Mallinckrodt fell 13% to $3.66 at 12:03 p.m on August 27.
In an email sent to IPWatchdog, attorneys for Praxair called the decision a “victory.”
Seth Waxman of WilmerHale argued for Mallinckrodt at the Federal Circuit, while Morgan Lewis partners Mike Abernathy, William Peterson, Sanjay Murthy, and Jason White led the appellate team representing Praxair, with assistance from associate Julie Goldemberg.