On April 15, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. This was another significant step—probably the penultimate one—in the long-running Myriad drama. It began with a group of plaintiffs (including researchers, doctors, and breast cancer patients) joining an American Civil Liberties Union-organized lawsuit to invalidate Myriad’s patents on two breast cancer susceptibility genes (BRCA1 and 2) as well as patents on methods of interpreting genetic test results and testing anti-cancer drug efficacy. In a shocking decision, the federal district court in New York threw out all of Myriad’s patents. The Federal Circuit then reversed the district court’s rulings on the gene patents, with the three-judge panel holding unanimously that cDNA is patentable subject matter and holding 2-1 that isolated genomic DNA is patentable as well. The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that Myriad’s methods of interpreting mutations are not patentable, but reversed it in reinstating Myriad’s claims to methods of testing drug efficacy.
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The Supreme Court today granted a writ of certiorari (meaning they agreed to hear the appeal) in Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., et al., the famous case centered on patents covering two human genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2.
Of note is that the Court limited its grant of the appeal to the first of the three questions posed by the petitioners/plaintiffs: “Are human genes patentable?”
Earlier this month, my colleagues John Conley, Robert Cook-Deegan, James Evans and I published a policy article in the European Journal of Human Genetics (EJHG) entitled “The next controversy in genetic testing: clinical data as trade secrets.”
The EJHG article is open access so you can read the entire article at the EJHG website, but here is the abstract:
Applying Mayo to Myriad: Latest Decision Brings No New News (Plus: Why the Final Myriad Decision Might Not Matter for Personalized Medicine)
The latest chapter in the Myriad gene patent litigation was written yesterday, with the Federal Circuit issuing its much anticipated opinion (pdf) after rehearing the case following the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision earlier this year in Prometheus v. Mayo.
Or perhaps we should say that the latest chapter was “rewritten” as, in a move that surprised approximately nobody, and as we predicted earlier this spring, the Federal Circuit reached precisely the same result in its opinion today as it did last July when it issued its first substantive ruling in the Myriad litigation. Below, we examine how the Federal Circuit applied Mayo to Myriad, what the next step in the Myriad litigation is likely to be (spoiler alert: it’s another appeal) and why we think the final opinion in this case, whenever it arrives and whatever it says, might not matter all that much.
Applying Mayo to Myriad. As mentioned, the only major change since the last time the Federal Circuit ruled in Myriad, and the reason for the re-hearing, was the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this spring in Mayo.
However, Mayo was about method patents and the boundary between a patent-eligible method and a law of nature. It was not about product patents or the product of nature doctrine. Since the Federal Circuit had already invalidated all but one of Myriad’s method patents even before the Supreme Court tightened the criteria for method patents in Mayo, it was hard to see much of substance changing the second time around.
Earlier this week 23andMe, the Silicon Valley-based personal genomics company, was awarded its first patent: US Patent Number 8,187,811, entitled “Polymorphisms associated with Parkinson’s disease”.
23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki announced the issuance of the patent via a post on the company’s blog late Monday evening, attempting to strike a tenuous balance between her company’s oft-championed philosophical devotion to providing individuals with “unfettered access to their genomes” and its desire to commercialize the genomic information so many of those very same individuals have shared, free of charge, with 23andMe. With its new patent, 23andMe also injected itself into the middle of what Wojcicki herself described as the “hot debate” surrounding the patentability of “inventions related to genetics.” Wojcicki’s announcement appeared to catch more than a few of the company’s customers by surprise, sparking concern about the company’s intentions on 23andMe’s blog, Twitter and elsewhere, along with rapid and pointed commentaries from Stuart Hogarth and Madeleine Ball, among others.
Of the various questions asked of and about 23andMe and its new patent, these may be the three most common: Where did this patent come from, and why didn’t I hear about it before? What does 23andMe’s patent cover? How is 23andMe going to use its patent? Let’s take each question in turn.
The America Invents Act (pdf) (AIA), which was signed into law by President Obama on Friday, September 16, 2011, represents the first major legislative adjustment to the U.S. patent system in decades (see previous coverage). Many changes are included in the 37 sections of this bill, and they will not all take effect at the same time. The most controversial details, found primarily in § 3 of the AIA, continue to be analyzed and debated extensively elsewhere, but there are several elements that may be of particular interest to GLR readers.
First-to-file (§ 3): The most significant change is from a “first-to-invent” system to a “first-to-file” system. Until now, it has been possible for
inventor A to challenge the application of inventor B, who filed an earlier application for the same invention, based on evidence that inventor A had actually invented first.
As we suspected they might, the plaintiffs in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics have filed a petition (pdf) seeking a rehearing of the recent federal Circuit decision. More surprisingly, Myriad has also, though its petition (pdf) is very narrowly focused.
The Plaintiffs’ Petition. Two things are interesting about the plaintiffs’ petition from a procedural standpoint. First, the ACLU lawyers requested rehearing by the three-judge panel that decided the case earlier this summer, not en banc rehearing by all members of the court. (But a majority of the judges of the full court could still decide to rehear the case en banc; they could do so if they found that the case “involves a question of exceptional importance.”) Second, the plaintiffs have asked for rehearing on only two of the issues they lost: that isolated genes are proper subject matter for product patents, and that only one of the named plaintiffs—Dr. Harry Ostrer, formerly of NYU—has standing to bring the case. The plaintiffs did not challenge that portion of the panel’s decision that upheld—unanimously—Myriad’s patents on a method of screening potential cancer therapeutics.
The Federal Circuit’s long-awaited decision (pdf) in Association for Molecular Pathology v. USPTO (the Myriad gene patent litigation) was issued this past Friday. As we were writing, with the economy having slowed to a barely perceptible crawl and a government default looming more likely by the hour, there were plenty of reasons to believe that the sky was falling. But the Myriad decision was not, and is not, one of them.
For the most part, the Federal Circuit’s 2-1 decision returned the law to the state it was in before District Judge Sweet’s opinion turned things upside-down last March. Although full of interesting rhetoric, the court’s three lengthy opinions (a total of 105 pages) are less remarkable for what they decide than for what they invite higher authorities—the Supreme Court and the Congress—to decide down the road.
First, the scorecard. The court’s judgment—that is, the holding, or outcome—was joined by Judges Lourie and Moore. A third member of the panel, Judge Bryson, dissented in part, meaning that he joined only a portion of the judgment (more on that below) and disagreed with another part.
With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there is often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. In this post we recap several recent key developments and, at bottom, round up all of the recent tweets from @genomicslawyer.
Patent Reform Legislation Passes House. Several months after the U.S. Senate passed patent reform legislation that would make sweeping changes to America’ patent system, including a switch from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system for awarding patents, the U.S. House of Representatives finally followed suit yesterday, passing a similar piece of legislation by a vote of 304-117. The version passed by the House, while similar to that passed by the Senate, contained a number of last-minute amendments (pdf).
One change of particular relevance to the personalized medicine community was the removal of a proposed safe harbor for second opinion genetic diagnostic testing, which was replaced by a requirement that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) investigate the relationship between genetic diagnostic tests, gene patents and exclusive licenses. The USPTO would be given nine months to complete its investigation and to return to Congress recommendations for ensuring the availability of second opinion genetic diagnostic testing. (The USPTO study on genetic diagnostic testing was not included in the bill passed by the Senate in March.)
We reported yesterday on a proposed Patent Act amendment that, if successful, would create a safe harbor for second opinion genetic diagnostic testing. While conceptually simple, the proposed amendment would have left genetic testing developers and providers, patent holders and courts with considerable uncertainty about the safe harbor’s appropriate interpretation and application.
Initially offered by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) in April, the amendment surfaced again this past week in the Manager’s Amendment to H.R. 1249 (pdf), the House’s attempt at patent reform legislation.
As news of the proposed amendment spread, it generated a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the group largely responsible for coordinating the plaintiffs in the Myriad gene patent litigation, spearheaded the charge. An ACLU-led coalition wrote in opposition to the proposed amendment (pdf), arguing that the proposed second opinion safe harbor “would fail to block all patent holder objections to [second opinion] testing, fails to address the many other limitations on scientific research arising out of the issuance of [gene patents], and risks allowing gene patent holders to argue that Congress implicitly endorses the validity of such patents.” The group was joined in its efforts by the American Medical Association, the Association for Molecular Pathology (the first named plaintiff in Myriad) and others, who collectively lobbied Rep. Wasserman Schultz and her colleagues to avoid creating “unintended harms to patients, medical professionals and genetic researchers.”