Saturday, July 30, 2011

Myriad case, Federal Circuit decision - reason for hope

No one can be terribly surprised that the Federal Circuit ruled essentially to continue the practice of gene patents yesterday. But there are some surprising tidbits in the various, lengthy, and somewhat contrary decisions of the three panel judges. One disappointment for gene patent proponents was the ruling on standing, which held that indeed there was standing for the plaintiffs to bring a declaratory judgment action as they did. Some hoped that the Federal Circuit would drop-kick the case on standing and never have to reach the substantive issues. Those hopes were dashed when the court concluded that there was at least one plaintiff with standing to sue based on an ongoing harm.

More surprising is the holding regarding the method claims relating to comparing or analyzing sequences, which the court struck down unanimously as unpatentable under Bilski. This is a minor win, and increases the likelihood of continued appeals as no-doubt Myriad will want to have either the en banc circuit review this, or the Supreme Court (perhaps both will happen eventually).

Unsurprising is that the court ultimately upheld their reasoning that X sometimes does not equal X. Violating the logical law of identity has been the underlying reasoning behind such ridiculous decisions as Parke-Davis (cited by the court) which established the "isolated and purified" notion by which a number of patent attorneys now are forced to argue that sometimes two morphologically identical molecules are nonetheless not identical. In continuing to strain logic, the majority decision holds that the sequence claims cover patent-eligible compositions of matter. But the silver lining is that there is division on the court, and the reasoning of the Majority, and concurrence of judge Moore, illustrate just how strained the logic has become. Moore argues that there is some significant chemical distinction between an isolated gene and a gene found in nature because at the ends of the isolated gene are nothing, whereas at the ends of the gene found in nature are more nucleotides. This does not support any claim of morphological difference between the claimed gene or gene parts and the sequence identified as occurring in nature. As I argue in my book, drawing a border does not create, automatically, a new, unique thing, especially where, as here, the information encoded in the string (which directs the functionality of a gene) is nature's own definition of a border.

Finally, Judge Bryson sees clearly the illogic of extending patent eligibility to isolated DNA, and writes a dissent to that part of the majority holding, using arguments I and others have made often.

What this means is surely that this fight is far from over, that it will be appealed, likely, to the en banc Federal Circuit and ultimately to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, by the time a Supreme Court decision is final, Myriad will have run out the clock, having reaped its billions in profit from their unethical practice before the patent expires.