Sunday, July 24, 2011

Myriad Genetics Files Amicus Briefs in Joint Infringement Cases Akamai and McKesson

Personalized medicine company Myriad Genetics has filed amicus briefs in Akamai and McKesson, two cases currently pending before the en banc Federal Circuit that address the doctrine of joint infringement (aka divided infringement). These cases have been the subject of much discussion elsewhere, see for example the Patently-O and Patent Docs blogs. In a nutshell, the Federal Circuit seeks to delineate the circumstances under which a party will be held liable for patent infringement when multiple parties perform all steps of the patented method in concert, but no single party performs all of the steps.

In its amicus briefs, which are largely redundant, Myriad points out that while the recent joint infringement cases coming out of the Federal Circuit have tended to involve claims directed towards business methods and software, the decisions have created case law with substantial negative implications for patents on diagnostics and personalized medicine. Molecular diagnostics generally involve the discovery of a correlation between a molecular marker (e.g., a genetic variation, or the level of a metabolite) and a clinically relevant indication (e.g., whether an individual has a predisposition to a disease such as cancer, or would be likely to benefit from a particular drug or course of therapeutic treatment). Patent protection for these discoveries is generally achieved by means of a method claim reciting two steps-(1) detecting the molecular marker in a patient, and (2) recognizing the correlation. As noted in the Myriad briefs, product claims on the molecular markers themselves (e.g., isolated DNA molecules or proteins), and methods of testing for them, are generally precluded in the post-Human Genome Project era by prior art (not to mention efforts by the ACLU and others to render such products unpatentable).

The problem from the perspective of a molecular diagnostic innovator company such as Myriad is that the Federal Circuit's recent joint infringement decisions would seem to dictate that such a method claim would not be infringed under circumstances where one party (e.g., a diagnostic testing laboratory) performs the first step and an independent second party (e.g., a doctor) performs the second. Under recent Federal Circuit case law, assuming that the parties are not in an agency relationship, it seems likely that in most instances no party would be found infringing, and the patent owner would be left without a remedy, even in the face of substantial infringement in competition with its business.

In its briefs, Myriad notes that the Federal Circuit has repeatedly admonished patent owners that problems of divided infringement could have been avoided if the claims have been better drafted, i.e., in a manner such that a single party performs all of the steps of a method claim. However, Myriad argues (correctly I think) that the patent eligibility doctrine effectively forecloses this course of action. The Federal Circuit's recent decision in Prometheus (discussed previously on this blogs), in particular, interprets Bilski as rendering patent ineligible a claim reciting nothing more than the mere recognition of a correlation per se (which the court equates with patenting a mental step). In order to be patent eligible, Prometheus seems to require a diagnostic method claim to explicitly recite a transformative step, such as detecting the marker, or treating a patient. This creates a Catch-22 for the diagnostic inventor. The discovery of the correlation is the core of the invention, providing substantial therapeutic benefits to patients, but under Prometheus and Bilksi a claim to the correlation must also include an additional step which will often render the claim highly susceptible to circumvention by two parties separately performing the steps.

To avoid this problem, Myriad proposes the following as an appropriate test for infringement of method claims by multiple parties:

When a first party performing one or more steps of a method claim actively causes another party to perform the other steps of the same method claim, or when two parties act in a concerted manner to perform all steps of a method claim, then the first party and the parties acting in concert should each be deemed a direct infringer.

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