Association for Molecular Pathology v. USPTO and Myriad Genetics (Fed. Cir. 2010)
In a landmark 2010 declaratory judgment decision, a Southern District of New York court invalidated claims from seven Myriad patents associated with the BRCA1/2 breast and ovarian cancer genes. The patents include both composition claims covering isolated DNA molecules and method claims covering the processes of detecting and screening for BRCA mutations. The lower court held that these claims all fail the patentable subject matter eligibility test of 35 U.S.C. §101. A typical invalidated claim includes Claim 1 of Patent No. 5,747,282 which reads “1. An isolated DNA coding for a BRCA1 polypeptide, said polypeptide having the amino acid sequence set forth in SEQ ID NO:2.” (The amino acid sequence No. 2 was provided as a part of the patent filing).
Myriad has now filed its Federal Circuit appeal brief on the merits and argues two main points: (1) that the declaratory judgment plaintiffs had no standing to sue because there was no actual case or controversy between them and Myriad and (2) that Myriad's patents cover inventions that fit well within the broad scope of Section 101 subject matter eligibility. As I wrote earlier, I believe that the Federal Circuit will reverse.
Standing: A general rule of appellate advocacy is to lead with your best argument. One caveat involves standing — when standing is argued, it is invariably argued first. Although the weaker of its two primary arguments, Myriad led with its case for no standing.
It is important to remember how this case arose — with twenty plaintiffs joining together to sue Myriad and to ask the Federal Court to declare Myriad's patents invalid.
Declaratory Judgment Jurisdiction is governed by Article III of the US Constitution, the Declaratory Judgment Act of 1934, and most recently, the 2007 Supreme Court case of MedImmune v. Genentech which eliminated the reasonable-apprehension-of-suit test that had been previously followed by the Federal Circuit.
The basic question for this case is whether sufficient controversy and adversity exists between the parties or, as Myriad argues, did the lower court improperly provide an advisory opinion. The Supreme Court restated its standing test in MedImmune — asking “whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.” Myriad argues that there is no controversy between the parties because Myriad has not taken any (recent) action toward the plaintiffs and that any controversy between the parties lacks “sufficient immediacy.”
Here, neither plaintiffs’ complaint nor the district court’s opinion identifies any “affirmative act” by Myriad within the past ten years putting plaintiffs at risk of an infringement suit. There is no allegation, much less evidence, that Myriad ever identified the patents-in-suit (or any claim thereof) to any plaintiff, or identified any plaintiff’s product or conduct as infringing. In fact, there is no allegation that Myriad was even aware of any plaintiff’s “ability and desire” to infringe (A1034-64), let alone that Myriad evaluated any product or conduct to determine infringement. Accordingly, plaintiffs have no basis for declaratory judgment jurisdiction because “the totality of the circumstances analysis in the instant case is that which has not occurred.”
The district court disagreed with these arguments — holding that a controversy existed based on Myriad's activity against researchers along with an understanding “within the research community . . . [that] Myriad has taken the position that any BRCA1/2 related activity infringes its patents and that Myriad will assert its patent rights against parties engaged in such activity.”
Discovering the Importance of a Mutation: The important scientific discovery in this case is the knowledge that BRCA mutations predict breast and ovarian cancer. Of course, that informational discovery by-itself cannot be patented because it represents an abstract idea rather than a useful implementation. The mutation itself occurs in nature and therefore is not sufficiently new to be patentable. The patents therefore were drafted to cover “isolated” forms of the mutated gene and methods of isolating the gene. As with many software algorithm patents that are “tied” to a computer, the core of the Myriad invention rests in the unpatentable information/algorithm but the claims are drafted to include technical features that ground the invention in a specific, practical use of the information discovered. Here, once the information regarding BRCA mutations was known, the actual isolation of the genes arguably did not take any further inventing because the generic isolation process was already well known.
With this setup, the Federal Circuit will be asked to determine whether tying the informational discovery to the isolated compound or method of isolation is sufficient to move the patent outside of the scope of abstract ideas and natural phenomena. The question may be whether the Court should follow Diehr or instead follow Flook and Benson. The Bilski decision does not help in analyzing the claim here other than by revitalizing the precedential value of Flook and Benson.
Amicus briefs supporting Myriad will be filed shortly.