Harvard’s US OncoMouse Patents are All Expired (For the Time Being)

By Dennis Crouch

Harvard College v. Kappos, 12-cv-1034 (E.D.Va. 2012)

Harvard’s patented OncoMouse has been a bestseller for cancer research here in the US. Two Harvard researchers took an available laboratory mouse and inserted a heritable cancer-causing gene into the creature’s DNA. In the US, Harvard owns three patents covering aspects of the mouse and its creation that are exclusively licensed to Du Pont. U.S. Patent Nos. 4,736,866, 5,087,571, and 5,925,803. The patents were filed pre-1995 and thus have a term that lasts for 17 years from the patent issuance. The first two 17-year terms have expired, but the third could last until 2016 – except for the terminal disclaimer discussed below.

In 2010, an anonymous third party requestor (TPR) filed a reexamination request for the ‘803 patent. Last June, the USPTO confirmed the patentability of the challenged claims. However, the USPTO agreed with the TPR that a broadly worded terminal disclaimer filed in the parent ‘571 application meant that the’803 patent also expired in 2005. Thus, it doesn’t matter whether the claims are valid over the prior art because they are expired. Because the patent had expired, the USPTO refused to allow Harvard to add additional claims to the patent during reexamination.

In the terminal disclaimer filed in the parent case, the patentee agreed to disclaim the term of the parent patent as well as any patent claiming benefit of the patent under 35 U.S.C. §120. Since the ‘803 patent claims priority to the parent under §120, that disclaimer seems to be effective to limit the ‘803’s term as well. However, the disclaimer was never particularly filed in the ‘803 case (only its parent). Further, nothing in the record indicates that the examiner acknowledged receipt of the disclaimer in the parent case and there is no evidence that the terminal disclaimer fee was actually paid. The examiner did, however, remove the double patenting rejection had been blocking the issuance of the parent case and the filed terminal disclaimer authorized payment of the fee.

In the reexamination, the USPTO gave full support the examiner’s decision that the terminal disclaimer limited the ‘803 patent term – finding that Harvard could have corrected the problems with the filing back when the patents were pending but that it is too late now.

It is only now that the non-standard disclaimer language of the terminal disclaimer filed in 1989 has an effect … [that] the patent owner [is] attempting to argue that ther terminal disclaimer had no legal effect. . . . [B]ecaues patent owner did not timely seek withdrawal of the terminal disclaimer from the parent patent as per the procedures in MPEP [at the time], patent owner cannot seek now to nullify the effect of the terminal disclaimer after the issued patent has reached its expiry date.

In response, Harvard has now filed a civil action in the Eastern District of Virginia asking the court to overturn the USPTO decision. For now, however, it appears that the mice are finally free although their title (OncoMouse) is still a registered trademark owned by DuPont.

Alleged Copyright Infringement by Patent Prosecutors

By Dennis Crouch

American Institute of Physics and John Wiley & Sons v. Schwegman Ludberg (D.Minn)

Publishers John Wiley & Sons and American Institute of Physics have asked the Minnesota District Court for leave to amend and narrow their complaint against the Schwegman law firm. The amendment would drop any allegation that submitting copies of copyright works to the USPTO constitute copyright infringement. The plaintiffs write that the amended complaint

does not allege that this unauthorized copying includes (i) making such copies of a copyrighted work for submission to the PTO as may be required by the rules and regulations of the PTO, (ii) transmitting such copies to the PTO, or (iii) making an archival copy of that work transmitted to the PTO for Defendants’ internal file to document what has been transmitted.

To be clear, however, the plaintiffs have not dropped their case, but continue to allege that other copies and transmission do constitute copyright infringement. Further, because Wiley does not have any proof of those other activities, it argues that the now unchallenged submission to the PTO serves as “evidence of broader use and circulation” sufficient to permit the complaint to move forward.

The newly amended complaint thus recites no factual basis other than the fact that Schwegman is a law firm that prosecutes patents and that, because Schwegman submitted copies of certain articles to the USPTO that it must have also made unauthorized copies. The complaint:

14. Upon information and belief, Defendants have engaged in Unauthorized Copying with respect to the copyrighted articles from Plaintiffs’ journals, including but limited to the articles identified on Schedule A.

15. Plaintiffs cannot know the full extent of Defendants’ Unauthorized Copying without discovery.

The amended complaint also adds a further list of obscure scientific articles that were submitted to the PTO by Schwegman and were allegedly copied internally in an unauthorized manner. The plaintiffs have not yet filed any proposed amendments in the MBHB case.

The USPTO intervened in these cases supporting the law firms. It appears that this amendment is meant to appease the USPTO so that it will fall out of the case – making the defendants look much less sympathetic.


  • Despite its high-sounding name, the American Institute of Physics (AIP) is basically a publishing house struggling to survive.
  • Open Access: Depending upon pricing structure, access to a journal such as the Journal of Applied Physics costs as much as $15k per year.  Academic authors generally receive no compensation for publication and there is a growing movement amongst academia toward open access journals.  Almost all law reviews make their works freely available online.  This enforcement project may push the sciences in that direction as well.
  • See also:
  • Entire Market Value vs. Entire Market Base

    By Dennis Crouch

    A few days ago, I posted an essay entitled Does the Entire Market Value Rule Make Sense when Applied to Apportionment Analyses? In the essay, I discussed contemporary changes in the entire market value rule that apply the rule even in the context of damage apportionment analysis. In relation to that, I'm enjoying Michael Greene's recent student note where he suggests a new naming convention that focuses the entire market value rule to its traditional role in limiting the equitable relief of lost profits. In the apportionment context, Greene would use a different name – the entire market base rule – for the doctrine limiting the use of the entire market as the base for calculating a reasonable royalty. In the second context, any limit on the evidence would be governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 403. See Michael A. Greene, All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Towards an Appropriate Usage and Definition of the 'Entire Market Value' Rule in Reasonable Royalties Calculations, 53 Boston College Law Review 233 (2012). Mark Lemley's 2009 article also provides an excellent introduction to the issue. Mark A. Lemley, Distinguishing Lost Profits from Reasonable Royalties, 51 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 655 (2009). Funny tidbit – the Lemley article criticizes the Federal Circuit Lucent decision and, at the same time, the Lucent decision criticizes the Lemley article. Michael Greene tells the story:

    Amusingly, [the] Federal Circuit in Lucent cites to and gently criticizes the very Lemley article which itself criticizes the Lucent opinion as confused. Despite lacking access to a time machine, Chief Judge Paul Michel had in fact obtained access to a draft of Professor Lemley's forthcoming article that then turned around [in the final version] and criticized Judge Michel's opinion criticizing it.

    Sounds a bit like some blog comments I've seen.