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.
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.)
On Monday at 10 a.m., the lawyers for both sides will argue the Myriad case (Association for Molecular Pathology v. USPTO) before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington. Here are a few things about oral argument in general, and this case in particular, that interested observers may want to keep in mind.
Who’s on the Panel? Federal cases on appeal are almost always heard initially by a panel of three randomly selected judges. (In rare cases all the judges of a circuit will rehear the case together, or en banc—no way to predict if that will eventually happen here.) The Federal Circuit will announce the panel for this case on Monday morning on its website. As of now, all we know is that Myriad—and only Myriad—will be heard by “Panel B+.” The + means that the makeup of that panel will be different from that of Panel B, which will hear the three other cases also scheduled for this 10 a.m. session (a panel customarily hears four arguments in a session). The + designation sometimes means that one member of the regular panel (here, B) has recused (disqualified) him or herself from the case because of some conflict, necessitating a replacement.
Beginning this week, we are unveiling a new format for the Genomics Law Report’s regular Twitter Roundup. In addition to cataloging Dan’s @genomicslawyer tweets, we will also be offering short summaries of several key developments pulled from those tweets which, for one reason or another, did not find their way into a full-length post. Think of this as a combination between the always informative Friday Links posts at Genomes Unzipped and The Cross-Border Biotech Blog’s semi-regular feature “This Week in the Twitterverse,” which was the original inspiration for the GLR’s Twitter Roundup.
This past March Judge Robert Sweet handed down an unexpected summary judgment ruling in the Myriad gene patent litigation (see: Pigs Fly: Federal Court Invalidates Myriad’s Patent Claims). Myriad quickly appealed Sweet’s district court decision to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC).
After several months of courtroom quiet, the briefs began rolling in to the CAFC last week. Most, including Myriad’s own appellant brief (pdf), presented the argument we would expect. Myriad and its supporters frame Judge Sweet’s ruling as an erroneous application of settled patent law and policy that, if upheld, “would have far-reaching negative consequences” (pdf) for the continued development of biotechnology.
And then there is the United States government. In an amicus brief filed on Friday (pdf) the Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the United States, dropped a minor bombshell. Contradicting the longstanding policy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), the government’s brief argues that isolated human genes, without further modification, are a product of nature and do not constitute patent-eligible subject matter under § 101 of the Patent Act.
There is a two-part question that we are frequently asked these days: “When is Bilski going to be decided and what’s the decision going to be?”
The first part of that question is easy to answer. Bilski will be decided soon. Need something more specific? Bilski will be decided sometime between today and the end of June or beginning of July, when the Supreme Court’s current term ends.
The second part of the question involves predicting the future. We’re happy to take a shot at that, but only after a few caveats. First, these predictions are for entertainment purposes only. Betting on Supreme Court decisions is illegal in most states and several foreign countries, so don’t. Second, pay no attention to alleged inside information about what the Court is going to do or when it’s going to do it. There are no credible Supreme Court leaks—the Court is tighter than Putin’s old KGB (or his new FSB). Third, remember that it takes the votes of four justices for the Court to take a case. So we can presume that at least four justices wanted to say something about Bilski. But we don’t yet know what that might be. With those disclaimers, let’s proceed to the prognostication.
Two months ago, the Myriad gene patent litigation generated a slew of national and international coverage. We said, “Pigs Fly: Federal Court Invalidates Myriad’s Patent Claims.” “Is the DNA patent dead?” asked CNN. Wired (apparently answering CNN) declared the “End of Gene Patents Will Help Patients, Force Companies to Change.” Everyone, it seemed, either had an opinion on what the Myriad decision meant for the future of biotechnology or was looking for somebody who did.
It’s not surprising that the Myriad litigation has dominated the headlines. The ACLU’s challenge to Myriad Genetics was a first-of-its-kind frontal attack on gene patents. But with Myriad now on appeal to the Federal Circuit, and a final resolution to that particular piece of litigation likely several years away, a variety of other legal developments are slowly but surely reshaping the biotechnology patent landscape. In the next few years, while frontal attacks such as Myriad are likely to occupy the press and policymakers, those interested in forecasting the future of biotechnology patents will be paying equally close attention to the various collateral attacks on gene, protein, association, diagnostic, and other biotechnology patents and claims.
Recent advances in genetic science are remarkable. In 2003 the first full human genome was sequenced after 13 years of work at a cost of over $3 billion. Today, the cost to sequence any individual’s entire genome is approaching $1,000. Genetic tests for specific genes linked to cancer and other diseases exist today and many more are being developed. We hear of a new era of “personalized medicine” in which drugs and therapies will be prescribed based on the individual patient’s specific genes.
All of this may seem to have little direct relevance to companies outside of biotechnology. However, the development of genetic knowledge and technology already has spawned new laws, regulations and patent uncertainties that impact almost all businesses in some way.
Privacy and Nondiscrimination. The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) represents the most comprehensive effort to date to regulate the use of genetic information. GINA initially only prohibited health insurers and group health plans from using genetic information to deny coverage or set payment rates. Another section, which just became effective in November 2009, affects all private and public employers with more than 15 employees.
The Genomics Law Report is pleased to host the 260th Blawg Review. For regular GLR readers who are unfamiliar with the Blawg Review concept, it’s the longest-running weekly recap of legal blog posts in cyberspace. Each week, a different legal-related blog (also referred to as a blawg or, in the GLR’s case, an Internet journal) hosts Blawg Review, highlighting the most interesting posts from the previous week. Think of it as an enhanced version of our regular Weekly Twitter Roundup.
The occasion for this week’s Blawg Review is DNA Day 2010. For regular Blawg Review readers who may not be familiar with DNA Day, the event was established by Congressional resolution in 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the description of the double-helix structure of DNA and to celebrate the publication of the final consensus human genome sequence produced by the Human Genome Project.
This year’s DNA Day (April 23rd) is generating more publicity than usual as it coincides with the 10th anniversary of the draft human genome sequence. (Perhaps it makes sense to peg anniversary celebrations to the draft publication, as the final human genome sequence is still being completed seven years after its publication.) Many of the genomic pioneers from this past decade, as well as decades prior, will be gathering in Cambridge, MA next week at the GET Conference to take stock of how far the science and commerce of genomics has come, and project where it is heading in the decades to come.
So, pick your favorite anniversary – 57 years since the double helix, 10 years since the draft genome, 7 years since the final genome or 5 years since the first Blawg Review – and join us as we looks back at the week that was in blawging.