Laboratory Corp. of America (LabCorp) v. Metabolite Laboratories (Supreme Court 2005).
The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear LabCorp’s appeal that will again question the scope of patentability in the U.S. Specifically, the High Court will review the question of whether a patent can claim rights to a basic scientific relationship used in medical treatment if the claim is limited to “correlating” test results.
The question on review is as follows:
Whether a method patent setting forth an indefinite, undescribed, and non-enabling step directing a party simply to “correlat[e]” test results can validly claim a monopoly over a basic scientific relationship used in medical treatment such that any doctor necessarily infringes the patent merely by thinking about the relationship after looking at a test result.
Patent in suit: This case revolves around claim 13 of Metabolite’s U.S. Patent No. 4,940,658
13. A method for detecting a deficiency of cobalamin or folate in warm-blooded animals comprising the steps of:
assaying a body fluid for an elevated level of total homocysteine; and
correlating an elevated level of total homocysteine in said body fluid with a deficiency of cobalamin or folate.
Thus, the method comprises two steps, (i) assaying a body fluid and (ii) correlating the measure with a mineral deficiency.
LabCorp’s argument: LabCorp argues that claim 13 is invalid for a number of reasons. Most pointedly, although the claim requires a step of “correlating,” there is no description of how the correlation would take place. According to the petitioner, “[s]uch a vague claim cannot be valid; for if it could be, parties could claim patent monopolies over basic scientific facts rather than any novel inventions.” In addition, the claim arguably fails the written description requirement because “the specification does not describe what a practitioner must do to perform the active ‘correlating’ step.”
Comment: The Supreme Court appears bent on making this case a question of subject matter patentability. If it takes that course, it will likely answer many of the questions left open by Lundgren and Fisher. Of course, as a general rule the decisions from the Court raise more questions than they answer.