AMP v. Myriad (Fed. Cir. 2010)
In March, 2010, District Court Judge Robert Sweet held Myriad's gene patent claims invalid for failing to satisfy the subject matter eligibility requirements of 35 U.S.C. 101. The ruling was directed toward claims that cover particular isolated DNA molecules (genes) and processes of detecting and screening for those genes, but was written broadly enough to essentially invalidate all patents covering genes that were isolated from an organism.
Last month, I heard a rumor that Obama administration science and legal advisors outside of the USPTO supported Judge Sweet's ruling. At the time I disregarded that suggestion as unlikely. I was wrong. [Andy Pollack at the NYTimes has the scoop]
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has now filed an amicus brief supporting the lower court decision — arguing that isolated genes are unpatentable because they improperly claim a product of naturer [Link to Brief]:
The district court correctly held . . . that genomic DNA that has merely been isolated from the human body, without further alteration or manipulation, is not patent-eligible. Unlike the genetically engineered microorganism in Chakrabarty, the unique chain of chemical base pairs that induces a human cell to express a BRCA protein is not a “human-made invention.” Nor is the fact that particular natural mutations in that unique chain increase a woman’s chance of contracting breast or ovarian cancer. Indeed, the relationship between a naturally occurring nucleotide sequence and the molecule it expresses in a human cell — that is, the relationship between genotype and phenotype — is simply a law of nature. The chemical structure of native human genes is a product of nature, and it is no less a product of nature when that structure is “isolated” from its natural environment than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth.
. . . .
Thus, the patent laws embrace gene replacement therapies, engineered biologic drugs, methods of modifying the properties of plants or generating biofuels, and similar advanced applications of biotechnology. Crossing the threshold of section 101, however, requires something more than identifying and isolating what has always existed in nature, no matter how difficult or useful that discovery may be.
. . . .
A product of nature is unpatentable because it is not the inventive work of humankind. That essential rule cannot be circumvented by drafting claims for the same natural product removed from its natural environment and proclaiming the result “pure.”
Several other amici have filed briefs:
- USA. Myriad.CAFC.Amicus.USA.pdf (191 KB)
- Intellectual Property Owners Association. Myriad.CAFC.Amicus.IPO.pdf (423 KB). The IPO brief was written by Paul Berghoff, Kevin Noonan, and their team at the MBHB law firm.
- Alnylam Phamaceuticals. Myriad.CAFC.Amicus.Alnylam.pdf (273 KB). The Alnylam brief was drafted by Hal Wegner and his Foley partners.
- AIPLA. Myriad.CAFC.Amicus.AIPLA.pdf (2136 KB). The AIPLA brief was filed by Erika Arner and her team at Finnegan.