This is the second update to our 2014 10-part series “The Thorny Problem of Patentable Eligible Subject Matter.” Since that series, the U.S Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued further guidance on December 16, 2014, updated in July 2015 and May 2016 (May 2016 Update), for evaluating subject matter eligibility under Section 101 (Guidance). The new Guidance superseded the March 4, 2014 Guidance. Part 1 – Update on Patentability of Diagnostic Claims: Australia can be found here.
On July 16, 2016, the USPTO issued a memo commenting on recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court (Supreme Court) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) in two subject matter eligibility cases directed to life sciences method claims: Sequenom v. Ariosa and Rapid Litigation Management v. CellzDirect, (Rapid Litigation Management) respectively. The memo concludes that neither decision changes the subject matter eligibility framework and that the existing Guidance and training examples are consistent with these cases; however, the memo also notes that the Rapid Litigation Management decision further clarifies the inquiry involved in determining whether a claim is directed to a judicial exception. In particular, the Federal Circuit stated that the “directed to” analysis of a process claim requires more than “merely identify[ing] a patent-ineligible concept underlying the claim” and instead requires an analysis of whether “the end result of the process, the essence of the whole, was a patent-ineligible concept.”
The May 2016 Update provided more detailed instructions for Examiners regarding the formulation of a rejection under Section 101 and evaluation of an Applicants response thereto. Specifically, Examiner’s must identify the exception to patentable subject matter (referred to as a “judicial exception”) that is being claimed, explain what is recited in the claim and why it is an exception, and identify any additional elements that define claim features/limitations/steps that are beyond the exception. The Examiner must then explain why the additional elements individually AND in combination do not result in the claim as a whole amounting to “significantly more” than the exception.
The May 2016 Update also provided additional examples for application of the Guidance to specific types of life science claims, which were not well represented in the December 2014 Guidance.
As discussed in our 2014 series, Article 10 of Brazilian Intellectual Property law (IPL) defines what is not considered to be an invention or a utility model and thus, patent ineligible subject matter. In fact, Article 10 may be considered the counterpart of 35 U.S.C. § 101 in the U.S. According to Article 10, the following are not considered be patent eligible subject matter:
- Discoveries, scientific theories, and mathematical methods;
- Purely abstract concepts;
- Schemes, plans, principles or methods of a commercial, accounting, financial, educational, publishing, lottery or fiscal nature;
- Literary, architectural, artistic, and scientific works or any aesthetic creation;
- Computer programs per se;
- Presentation of information;
- Rules of games;
- Operating or surgical techniques and therapeutic or diagnostic methods for use on the human or animal body; and
- Natural living beings, in whole or in part, and biological material, including the genome or germplasm of any natural living being, when found in nature or isolated therefrom, and natural biological processes.
Additionally, Article 18 of Brazilian Intellectual Property law further limits what may be patentable and indicates that the following are not patentable:
- Anything that is contrary to morals, good customs, and public security, order, and health;
- Substances, matter, mixtures, elements or products of any kind, as well as the modification of their physical-chemical properties and the respective processes of obtaining or modifying them, when they result from the transformation of the atomic nucleus; and
- Living beings, in whole or in part, except transgenic micro-organisms* meeting the three patentability requirements provided for in Article 8 (i.e., novelty, inventive activity, and industrial application) and which are not mere discoveries.
*For the purposes of this law, transgenic micro-organisms are organisms, except the whole or part of plants or animals, that exhibit, due to direct human intervention in their genetic composition, a characteristic that cannot normally be attained by the species under natural conditions.
Additionally, on July 15, 2016, the Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) published Part II of its guidelines for the examination of patent applications relating to patentability (Guidelines). According to Paragraph 1.38 of the Guidelines, a diagnostic method is not considered an invention when the series of steps that comprise the method are applied “in a human or animal body”. Specifically, Paragraph 1.39 states that:
A diagnostic method for application in the human or animal body in accordance with the provisions of item VIII of Article No. 10 of IPL falls within, when it meets the following criteria: (i) it has direct application in the human or animal body, such as, for example, in the base of determining the allergic conditions by diagnostic examination applied in the body, or requires the presence or participation of the patient for its interpretation; and (ii) allows the conclusion of the clinical state of the patient, or indicate various possible clinical states, just based on data processing, analysis or interpretation, information and/or clinical results associated with the patient.
The following is an example provided in the Guidelines of a diagnostic method not considered to be an invention (and hence not patentable):
- Automated diagnostic method of a patient, characterized in that it comprises the steps of:
- examining the patient to provide at least a first symptom element having a first relative degree of importance to the symptom;
- examining the patient to provide at least a second symptom element having a second relative degree of importance to the symptom;
- apply the relative degrees of importance for the symptoms, in order to obtain a diagnostics core for the conclusion of a medical condition.
Paragraph 1.41 of the Guidelines makes it clear that methods consisting of in vitro tests that are carried out on blood samples or other tissue removed from the body are considered to be an invention because such tests are not applied to a human or animal body and thus do not “conclude regarding the clinical state of the patient”. However, this same paragraph also notes that diagnostic methods may include a combination of in vivo and in vitro steps. In these instances, “…if the claimed method includes technical steps carried out in vivo, which are inseparable from the in vitro step, the method as a whole will be regarded as being applied on the body and, therefore, it will not be considered invention. In addition, the treatment of tissues, cells or body fluids after they have been removed from the human or animal body, or methods applied onto them, such as methods in vitro, are considered entitled to protection. The methods of measurement of enzymes and blood glucose, complete blood count, serology tests, among others, are included in this case.”
Paragraph 1.42 of the Guidelines further specifies that methods of obtaining information from a human or animal body where the data collected is just an “intermediate result that, by itself, is not enough for defining a diagnosis, are not considered diagnosing methods.” Therefore, such methods are considered to be inventions and thus entitled to protection.
We at the BRIC Wall thought it would be insightful to update our analysis of subject matter eligibility under Brazilian patent law for diagnostic method claims based on the May 2016 updated Guidance and Life Science examples.
Analysis of Life Sciences Examples from May 2016 Update to USPTO Guidance
Example 29 – Diagnosing and Treating Julitis
Background: Example 29 of the May 2016 Update relates to a hypothetical situation relating to an autoimmune disease called “Julitis.” An Applicant for a patent discovered that Julitis could be diagnosed by detecting the presence of the hypothetical “JUL-1” protein in patients’ plasma, skin, hair and nails. Applicant has disclosed detecting JUL-1 using anti-JUL-1 antibodies that may be naturally occurring (e.g., a human anti-JUL-1 antibody isolated from a patient known to have julitis), or non-naturally occurring (e.g., a porcine anti-JUL-1 antibody created by injecting pigs with JUL-1, or a specific monoclonal antibody named “mAb-D33”).
Two representative claims from this Example are analyzed below.
Claim 1. A method of detecting JUL-1 in a patient, said method comprising:
- obtaining a plasma sample from a human patient; and
- detecting whether JUL-1 is present in the plasma sample by contacting the plasma sample with an anti-JUL-1 antibody and detecting binding between JUL-1 and the antibody.
Claim 2. A method of diagnosing julitis in a patient, said method comprising:
- obtaining a plasma sample from a human patient;
- detecting whether JUL-1 is present in the plasma sample by contacting the plasma sample with an anti-JUL-1 antibody and detecting binding between JUL-1 and the antibody; and
- diagnosing the patient with julitis when the presence of JUL-1 in the plasma sample is detected.
Analysis of claims 1 and 2: Both claims 1 and 2 would constitute patent eligible subject matter in Brazil. In the U.S., claim 1 constitutes patent eligible subject matter, while claim 2 constitutes patent ineligible subject matter, as the May 2016 Update indicates that the claim is directed to a judicial exception (i.e., the correlation between the presence of JUL-1 and the presence of julitis in the patient) and as a whole does not amount to significantly more than the exception itself.
Example 31 – Screening for Gene Alterations
Background: Applicant discovered the “wild-type” sequence of the human BRCA1 gene (i.e., the typical sequence of the gene in humans), and has also discovered naturally occurring alterations from the wild-type sequence that are correlated with an increased likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Applicant’s disclosure provides methods of screening patients for alterations in the BRCA1 gene by comparing a patient’s BRCA1 sequence with the wild-type BRCA1 sequence. The compared sequences can be germline (genomic) DNA sequences, RNA sequences, or cDNA sequences.
At the time the invention was made and the application was filed, scientists routinely compared DNA sequences using two-data generating techniques: (1) hybridizing two different DNA molecules (e.g., a probe and DNA isolated from a patient sample), and detecting whether the molecules bind to each other and form a hybridization product and (2) amplifying (making copies of) at least part of a DNA molecule such as DNA isolated from a patient sample, by using a set of primers to produce amplified nucleic acids, and then sequencing the amplified nucleic acids. The probes and primers used in these techniques are short single-stranded DNA molecules that typically have a naturally occurring nucleotide sequence.
In one embodiment, Applicant discloses using a computer-implemented micromechanical method known as Scanning Near-field Optical Microscopy (SNOM) to detect hybridization of a single probe to its target. At the time the invention was made and the application was filed, the use of SNOM to study DNA hybridization had been discussed in several articles in widely-read scientific journals. However, scientists were not commonly or routinely using SNOM to study DNA hybridization at the time the invention was made and the application was filed. Instead, scientists at the time typically used autoradiography to detect hybridization products.
In another embodiment, Applicant discloses using Cool-Melt polymerase chain reaction (Cool-Melt PCR) to amplify BRCA1 DNA from the patient sample. Cool-Melt PCR uses lower melting and annealing temperatures than conventional PCR, which results in Cool-Melt PCR having a 20-fold higher sensitivity of mutation detection than conventional PCR. At the time the invention was made and the application was filed, Cool-Melt PCR was known and used by a few scientists in the field. Several years after filing the application, Cool-Melt PCR became a standard laboratory technique that appeared in virtually every laboratory manual and was conventionally used by most scientists in the field to amplify mutant nucleic acids.
Three representative claims from this Example are analyzed below.
Claim 1. A method for screening germline of a human subject for an alteration of a BRCA1 gene which comprises comparing germline sequence of a BRCA1 gene or BRCA1 RNA from a tissue sample from said subject or a sequence of BRCA1 cDNA made from mRNA from said sample with germline sequences of wild-type BRCA1 gene, wild-type BRCA1 RNA or wild-type BRCA1 cDNA, wherein a difference in the sequence of the BRCA1 gene, BRCA1 RNA or BRCA1 cDNA of the subject from wild-type indicates an alteration in the BRCA1 gene in said subject.
Claim 70. The method of claim 1, wherein said comparing BRCA1 sequences further comprises:
- hybridizing a wild-type probe to a BRCA1 gene isolated from said sample; and
- detecting the presence of a hybridization product by measuring conformational changes in the probe that are indicative of hybridization to the BRCA1 gene with scanning near-field optical microscopy.
- Claim 80. The method of claim 1, wherein said comparing BRCA1 sequences further comprises:
- amplifying by Cool-Melt PCR all or part of a BRCA1 gene from said sample using a set of primers to produce amplified nucleic acids; and
- sequencing the amplified nucleic acids.
Analysis of claims 1, 70, and 80: Claims 1, 70, and 80 would constitute patent eligible subject matter in Brazil. In the U.S., claim 1 constitutes patent ineligible subject matter, as the May 2016 Update indicates that the “comparing” amounts to an abstract idea, which is a judicial exception, and the claim as a whole does not amount to significantly more than the exception itself. In contrast, claims 70 and 80 are patent eligible in the U.S., as each claim recites additional elements that distinguishes the claim from well-understood, routine, or conventional techniques in the field (i.e., SNOM and Cool-Melt PCR, respectively), and, therefore, each of claims 70 and 80 as a whole amounts to significantly more than the exception itself.
In view of the above, Brazilian patent law is less restrictive concerning the eligibility of diagnostic method claims as compared to U.S. patent law, at least for the foreseeable future.
This post was written by Lisa L. Mueller and Melissa E. Kolom of Michael Best, and Roberto Rodrigues and Anna Carolina Correa of Licks Attorneys.