Association for Medical Pathology & ACLU v. USPTO & Myriad, 09-cv-4515 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)
Earlier this year, a group of organizations and individuals filed suit against the USPTO, Myriad, and individual directors of the University of Utah Research Foundation (ex parte Young action) demanding that the breast cancer gene patents (BRCA1 & BRCA2) be found invalid or unenforceable and that the PTO’s policies and practices with respect to genetic patents be declared unconstitutional. The federal lawsuit argues (1) that the genes are not patentable because they are “products of nature” and (2) that the patentee’s use of patent rights to limit scientific research on the genes violates constitutional First Amendment protections. The defendants moved to dismiss based on various standing and jurisdictional issues. In an 85 page opinion, Southern District of New York Judge Robert Sweet has denied all of the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
Judge Sweet recognized this case as important:
This action is unique in the identity of the parties, the scope and significance of the issues presented, and the consequence of the remedy sought. . . . The challenges to the patents-in-suit raise questions of difficult legal dimensions concerning constitutional protections over the information that serves as our genetic identities and the need to adopt policies that promote scientific innovation in biomedical research.
Jurisdiction & Standing to Sue the USPTO: The court found that the overarching statutory scheme of the Patent Act did not preempt the court’s jurisdiction over the PTO in this case since the Patent Act does not “provide a remedy for persons who complain about the constitutionality of patents issued by the USPTO and/or the policies and practices of the USPTO. . . . The novel circumstances presented by this action against the USPTO, the absence of any remedy provided in the Patent Act, and the important constitutional rights the Plaintiffs seek to vindicate establish subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claim against the USPTO.”
The court also found that the plaintiffs have standing to sue the USPTO for their Constitutional grievances; declaratory judgment jurisdiction over Myriad and the Directors, and personal jurisdiction over the Directors as representatives of the State of Utah.
In the final few pages, Judge Sweet outlined plaintiffs’ case against the USPTO:
In this case, the Plaintiffs have pled sufficient factual allegations to satisfy the standard set forth in Iqbal. The Complaint alleges the existence of a specific, written policy for the patenting of genes and the parameters of the policy. . . . The Complaint further alleges that the information encoded in the BRCA1/2 genetic sequences, rather than being the result of an inventive process, exists in nature. . . . Based on these factual allegations, the Plaintiffs assert that the patents-in-suit grant Myriad ownership rights over products of nature, laws of nature, natural phenomena, abstract ideas, and basic human knowledge and thought in violation of the First Amendment’s protections over freedom of thought. In addition, the Plaintiffs assert that Myriad’s ownership of correlations between certain BRCAl/2 mutations and an increased risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer has inhibited further research on BRCA1/2 as well as genes that interact with BRCA1/2. As a result, the patents-in-suit are alleged to violate Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the Constitution which directs Congress to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts . . . .”
The facts alleged in the Complaint are plausible, specific, and form a sufficient basis for Plaintiff’s legal arguments. Consequently, the pleading requirements as set forth in Iqbal are satisfied.
The next decision in the case is expected in January based on the Plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment.