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.

Federal Circuit Review of Patent Term Extensions

By Jason Rantanen

During the summer, the Federal Circuit is a relatively quiet place.  The judges often take their non-sitting months during this time, and the pace of opinions tends to drop.  Thus, for the next few weeks, I'll mostly be posting summaries of cases that issued this past spring and early summer.  The two cases discussed below deal with a relatively minor — but still important issue in the pharmaceutical and medical device context: patent term extensions based on extensive regulatory review periods. 

Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Inc. v. Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Fed. Cir.  May 10, 2010)
Photocure ASA v. Kappos
(Fed. Cir. May 10, 2010)

35 U.S.C. §156 allows a patentee to obtains a term extension if the patent covers a product that has been subject to a regulatory review period before it can be marketed or used.  Pharmaceuticals and medical devices are subject to such a review period, and new drug products in particular often involve a lengthy application and testing process.  The initial determination as to whether a patent term extension should be granted is made by the USPTO, in consultation with the FDA.  That decision is subject to review or challenge in district court proceedings.

One of the key issues in determining whether a patent term extension is warranted for a drug is whether it is the first time regulatory approval has been granted for this particular drug product, a determination that turns on whether or not the "active ingredient" had previously been approved by the FDA.  Ortho-McNeil and Photocure, both authored by Judge Newman and issued on the same day, provide an interesting contrast on this issue. 

Ortho-McNeil v. Lupin
In Ortho-McNeil, the extension issue arose in the context of an injunction entered against Lupin Pharmaceuticals prohibiting it from making, using, selling, etc. a drug product covered by U.S. Patent No. 5,053,407 (the '407 patent) during the extension period.  In that case, the district court affirmed the PTO's determination that an enantiomer was a different drug product then its racemate. In doing so, the district court noted that the PTO's determination should be afforded great deference.

Note: Enantiomers are molecules that are mirror images of one another.  Due to their different orientation, they have different properties.  A racemate is a composition consisting of equal parts of the two enantiomers.  The '407 patent covered a substantially purified form of one of the two enantiomers (levofloxacin) in the racemate ofloxacin.  There was no dispute that levofloxacin was separately patentable from ofloxacin.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit agreed with the district court, concluding that there was no basis for challenging the established FDA and PTO practices of treating enantiomers as different drug products and rejecting Lupin's legislative intent argument.

Photocure v. Kapos
Photocure involved a contrary determination by the PTO: that the drug product at issue was not a different "active ingredient," and thus the patentee was not entitled to an extension.  In Photocure, the product at issue ("MAL") was a methyl ester of a compound ("ALA") that had previously been approved for the same therapeutic use.  While the FDA treated MAL as a new drug, requiring a full approval process, the PTO rejected the extension based on its conclusion that § 156(f)(2) does not mean the product approved by the FDA, but rather the "active moiety," which it concluded was the same in both MAL and ALA.

Both the district court and Federal Circuit disagreed.  In rejecting the PTO's interpretation of 156(f)(2), the Federal Circuit reasoned that § 156 focuses on the product that is subject to approval by the FDA, not the underlying pharmacological mechanism. Furthermore, Skidmore and Chevron deference standards did not apply because the statute was not unambiguous and the PTO's interpretation was neither persuasive nor consistent. 

Note: although not the primary focus of the opinon, the panel also concluded that the PTO was wrong even under its  "active moiety" interpretation as the biological properties of ALA and MAL are indisputably different.

* * * *

In addition to the issues discussed above, the scope of the injunction in Ortho-McNeil is worth noting.  Although the extension authorized by 35 U.S.C. § 156 covers the "selling" or "using" of the product covered by the patent, the district court enjoined Lupin from engaging in any of the traditional forms of direct infringement, including "making" or "importing."  Despite the literal language of §156, the Federal Circuit affirmed the scope of this injunction because there are no non-pharmaceutical "uses" of the drug product, a point that Lupin apparently conceded.  Although as a practical matter this distinction may be of little value, as pharmaceutical companies often have production facilities located outside the United States, it is something to consider when seeking or opposing litigation under § 156.