Archive for March, 2012

PPCA v Commonwealth

Friday, March 30th, 2012

The High Court has rejected the constitutional challenge to the validity of the “1%” cap on licence fees payable by broadcasters to the record companies on very narrow and specific grounds.

Section 109 of the Copyright Act 1968 provides a compulsory licence for the broadcasting to the public of sound recordings. Section 152, however, caps the royalty payable to record companies by broadcasters at 1% of the gross earnings of the broadcaster.

No such limitation had applied to the “corresponding” copyright in sound recordings under the 1911 Act.

The 1911 Act was repealed when the 1968 Act came into force on 1 July 1969. Section 220 of the 1968 Act provided that sound recordings in which copyright subsisted immediately before 1 July 1969 qualified for copyright under the 1969 Act effectively as provided for under the 1968 Act.

The record companies argued that the imposition of the 1% cap was an acquisition of their property in sound recordings made before July 1969 otherwise than on just terms in contravention of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution.

The High Court has unanimously rejected that claim.

French CJ, Gummow, Hayne and Bell J said the record companies’ argument was predicated on a wrong assumption. They no longer owned copyright under the 1911 Act which had been qualified. Rather that copyright had been terminated and replaced with a new and different copyright under the 1968 Act. So at [10] and [11]:

[10] The assumption by the plaintiffs is that the copyright presently enjoyed in respect of the pre?1969 recordings, and which will expire in accordance with the extended term fixed by the operation of the Free Trade Act upon the 1968 Act, is that which arose under the 1911 Act and was carried forward by the 1968 Act, but with the impermissible imposition upon those copyrights of the “cap” in the compulsory licensing system introduced by the 1968 Act. The Commonwealth denies that assumption. The Commonwealth submission, which should be accepted, is that upon the proper construction of the 1968 Act: (a) copyrights subsisting in Australia on 1 May 1969 under the Imperial system were terminated; (b) thereafter, no copyright subsisted otherwise than by virtue of the 1968 Act; and (c) to that copyright in respect of sound recordings there attached immediately the compulsory licensing system including the “cap” upon the royalties payable thereunder.

[11] It should be emphasised that the plaintiffs do not assert that the 1968 Act is invalid by reason of its bringing to an end the operation in Australia of the Imperial system without the provision of just terms. To do so successfully would be to leave them with such rights in respect of the pre?1969 recordings as they had under the 1911 Act and the 1912 Act, and without any copyrights subsisting under the 1968 Act. Rather, the plaintiffs seek to attack the validity of the attachment to their rights under the 1968 Act of one aspect of the compulsory licensing system for sound recordings. For the reasons which follow, that attack must fail.

Heydon J to similar effect at [63]:

In short, the 1968 Act did not preserve the second to sixth plaintiffs’ rights under the 1911 Act and the 1912 Act. It abolished those rights. It substituted for them distinct and fresh rights – some more advantageous to those plaintiffs, some less. Thus ss 109 and 152 did not cause any property to be acquired. Property may have been extinguished by other provisions, but the plaintiffs’ case was not concerned with them.

After considering the application of s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution to statutory intellectual property rights generally, Crennan and Kiefel JJ reached the same conclusion at [129], pointing out at [130] that the record companies could not accept s 220 of the Copyright Act as valid and at the same time contend that ss 109 and 152 were invalid.

[129] When ss 8, 31, 85, 89(1), 207 and 220(1) of the 1968 Act are read together, it is clear that the copyright of the relevant plaintiffs under the 1911 Act, which included the exclusive right to perform the record in public, is not continued under the 1968 Act; rather it is replaced. Whilst it is true that, as the plaintiffs submit, certain records in which copyright subsisted under the 1911 Act are brought within the scheme of the 1968 Act, that is achieved by the re enactment, in substance, of qualifying provisions in the 1911 Act in, and for the purposes of, the 1968 Act. The effect is that the plaintiffs’ entitlement to sue for infringements under s 101 of the 1968 Act in respect of sound recordings in which copyright subsists pursuant to s 89(1) is an entitlement to sue in respect of infringements of the copyright in sound recordings contained in s 85, which replaces the copyright in records under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act. Inasmuch as ss 109 and 152 operate to qualify a record manufacturer’s exclusive rights by providing an exception to infringement, it is the exclusive rights under s 85 which are affected, not the exclusive rights under the 1911 Act (which have been replaced).

[130] Whilst the plaintiffs mount no attack on the validity of provisions of the 1968 Act which effect the replacement of the relevant plaintiffs’ copyright under the 1911 Act with a copyright under the 1968 Act, their attack on the validity of ss 109 and 152, which depends on the continuing subsistence of copyright under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act, is untenable. If the plaintiffs were to attack the validity of the provisions of the 1968 Act which effect the replacement of copyright under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act with a differently constituted copyright under s 85 of the 1968 Act, they would risk being left not only with the awkwardly expressed copyright under s 19(1) of the 1911 Act in respect of records, but also with a copyright, the term of which was limited to 50, rather than 70, years.

Now the High Court have reminded themselves of all these matters, they will be primed for the tobacco companies challenge to the validity of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, the hearings for which start in April.

Phonographic Performance Company of Australia Limited v Commonwealth of Australia [2012] HCA 8

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Mayo v Prometheus

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Last week, the US Supreme Court unanimously rejected the patentability of Prometheus’ “diagnostic”, characterising it as an impermissible attempt to patent a law of nature.

Claim 1 of the Patent was:

A method of optimizing therapeutic efficacy for treatment of an immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder, comprising:

“(a) administering a drug providing 6-thioguanine to a subject having said immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder; and

“(b) determining the level of 6-thioguanine in said subject having said immune-mediated gastrointestinal disorder,

“wherein the level of 6-thioguanine less than about 230 pmol per 8×108 red blood cells indicates a need to increase the amount of said drug subsequently admin istered to said subject and

“wherein the level of 6-thioguanine greater than about 400 pmol per 8×108 red blood cells indicates a need to decrease the amount of said drug subsequently ad ministered to said subject.”

The Supreme Court characterised that part of the claims dealing with the relationship between concentrations of certain metabolites in the blood with the effectiveness of particular dosages as a law of nature, which was unpatentable. The additional features did not overcome that exclusion as they were in effect already well-known and practised. In his Honour’s overview, Breyer J explained the rationale:

[The cases] warn us against up holding patents that claim processes that too broadly preempt the use of a natural law. Morse, supra, at 112– 120; Benson, supra, at 71–72. And they insist that a process that focuses upon the use of a natural law also contain other elements or a combination of elements, sometimes referred to as an “inventive concept,” sufficient to ensure that the patent in practice amounts to signifi cantly more than a patent upon the natural law itself. ….

We find that the process claims at issue here do not satisfy these conditions. In particular, the steps in the claimed processes (apart from the natural laws them selves) involve well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by researchers in the field. At the same time, upholding the patents would risk dis proportionately tying up the use of the underlying nat- ural laws, inhibiting their use in the making of further discoveries.

Patently-O has a more substantive consideration: Natural Process + Known Elements = Normally No Patent. The Commissioner of Patents has issued new guidelines indicating his understanding here; and criticisms have been propounded here and here.

The Supreme Court subsequently remitted the Myriad “gene patent” case to the Federal Circuit and Patently-O thinks their patent is going down too.

Our law is in many respects rather different. Section 18(2) of the Patents Act contains an exclusion from patentability only for human beings and the processes for their generation. Under s 18(1) and (1A), however, a patentable invention must be a “manner of manufacture within the meaning of s 6 of the Statute of Monopolies”.

In the ‘watershed’ NRDC case, the High Court confirmed that a ‘mere’ discovery was not a manner of manufacture, but an application of a discovery in a field of economic endeavour would be. A ‘mere’ discovery being “some piece of abstract information without any suggestion of a practical application of it to a useful end” at [8].

On this approach, Prometheus’ patent appears to have moved beyond the ‘mere discovery’ stage. The question might be, therefore, whether the additional integers were obvious or, may be, we have moved into Microcell territory: nothing but “nothing but a claim for a new use of an old substance” (see NRDC at [7].

A role for that approach was preserved (reinstated?) under the 1990 Act by the High Court in Phillips v Mirabella. Now, given the overlap between the Mirabella court’s analysis and the statutory requirements for novelty and inventive step (or an innovative step), that raises a whole set of issues. First, there is a question whether Mirabella would be decided the same way given the High Court seemed to have cut the legs out from under it in Advanced Building Systems - although, as the Full Federal Court pointed out in BMS v Faulding, Advanced Buidling Systems was decided under the 1952 Act and distinguished Mirabella on the grounds that the 2 Acts were different.

In trying to make sense of that, the Full Court went on to find that the “lack of newness” must be apparent on the face of the specification. As that appears to depend on the text of the specification, the approach taken by the US Supreme Court might not be open: the Faulding court found the dosage type regime a manner of manufacture although, in the end, it failed the novelty test.

In Arrow v Merck, Gyles J struck down a dosage regime on the grounds that it lacked subject matter. On appeal, the Full Court upheld invalidity, but only on grounds of lack of novelty and inventive step. Subsequently, Gyles J also accepted that the lack of subject mater ground could not be made out if it was necessary to resort to extrinsic evidence.

I guess we’ll see where the Myriad litigation in Australia takes us in due course.

Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Labs., Inc. (Supreme Court 2012) (pdf)

 

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Another plant breeder’s rights case

Monday, March 5th, 2012

This one is on a fairly narrow point: what is the term of rights where the application was made under the old (PVR) act, but registration was not completed until after the new (PBR) act.

Such matters are governed by s 83 of the Plant Breeder’s Rights Act.

Rights granted before the PBR Act commenced have a term of 20 years from acceptance (PBR Act s 82(2) and PVR Act s 32); in contrast, rights granted pursuant to applications filed after the PBR Act commenced have a term of 20 years from grant (except for trees which may have up to 25 years).

Patentology has a report.

Elders Rural Services Australia Limited v Registrar of Plant Breeder’s Rights [2012] FCAFC 14 allowing an appeal from

Elders Rural Services Australia Limited v Registrar of Plant Breeder’s Rights [2011] FCA 384

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