Archive for February, 2013

Licensing recorded music

Monday, February 18th, 2013

While the European Commission is trying to reduce the number of licensors you have to deal with (and so reduce transaction costs), the Australian legislation as interpreted by the courts is causing them to proliferate:

IPKat on Max Planck comments on draft directive on collective rights management

Phonographic Performance Company of Australia Limited v Commercial Radio Australia Limited [2013] FCAFC 11

Yes, I know the EU is grappling with territorial issues and not, or not just, subject matter issues and, if someone were trying to set up an umbrella licence in Australia, it would be important to know who had what rights to include, but …

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Myriad wins Down Under

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Nicholas J has ruled that Myriad’s patent for isolated gene sequences relating to BRCA1 are patentable subject matter for the purposes of Australia’s Patents Act 1990.

Claim 1 of the Patent (No. 686004 entitled “In vivo mutations and polymorphisms in the 17q-linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene”) is for:

An isolated nucleic acid coding for a mutant or polymorphic BRCA1 polypeptide, said nucleic acid containing in comparison to the BRCA1 polypeptide encoding sequence set forth in SEQ.ID No:l one or more mutations or polymorphisms selected from the mutations set forth in Tables 12, 12A and 14 and the polymorphisms set forth in Tables 18 and 19.

At [70], Nicholas J explained the scope of this claim:

Claim 1 extends to isolated DNA, RNA and cDNA that has a BRCA1 polypeptide encoding sequence as shown in SEQ ID No.1 with one or more of the mutations or polymorphisms specified in the relevant tables.

To qualify as patentable subject matter in Australia s 18(1)(a) prescribes that the claimed invention must be a “manner of manufacture”.

This term, much to the chagrin of modernising law reformers, derives from s 6 of the Statute of Monopolies 1623. In the “watershed” NRDC ruling in 1959, Dixon CJ, Kitto and Windeyer JJ declared that the meaning of “manner of manufacture” is not to be derived as a matter of mere etymology. Rather it poses a question:

“Is this a proper subject of letters patent according to the principles which have been developed for the application of s. 6 of the Statute of Monopolies?”

and in answering that question, it must be recognised that the concept has a “broad sweep” intended to encourage developments that are by their nature unpredictable. Hence, their Honours indicated the processes at issue in that case were patentable subject matter because they led to, or resulted in, an artificially created state of affairs, that had some discernible effect, which had economic significance.  A very teleological approach from the supposed patron saints of strict legalism!

Nicholas J found that the isolated gene sequences claimed in Myriad’s patent were an artificially created state of affairs having economic significance.

His Honour at [105] rejected Myriad’s first line of defence claiming that there was a change in chemical structure simply by the process of isolating the gene sequence. Rather, more generally, the nucleic acid or gene sequence in its isolated form was sufficient to qualify as an artificially created state of affairs:

First, the concept of patentable subject matter is expressed in very expansive language.

Secondly, at [108] the nucleic acid did not exist in isolated form in the cell:

in the absence of human intervention, naturally occurring nucleic acid does not exist outside the cell, and “isolated” nucleic acid does not exist inside the cell. Isolated nucleic acid is the product of human intervention involving the extraction and purification of the nucleic acid found in the cell. Extraction of nucleic acid requires human intervention that necessarily results in the rupture of the cell membrane and the physical destruction of the cell itself. And purification of the extracted nucleic acid requires human intervention that results in the removal of other materials which were also originally present in the cell. It is only after both these steps are performed that the extracted and purified product may be properly described as “isolated” in the sense that word is used in the disputed claims.

Thirdly, at [109] isolating the substance could require “immense research and intellectual effort”.

In that case, it was only as a result of an intensive research effort that the isolated micro-organism in question could be made available for use in the manufacture of the new antibiotic. It was fortuitous for the patentee that it was its employees who were first to isolate the new micro-organism and first to deploy it in the manufacture of the new drug. That will not always be so. It would lead to very odd results if a person whose skill and effort culminated in the isolation of a micro-organism (a fortiori, an isolated DNA sequence) could not be independently rewarded by the grant of a patent because the isolated micro-organism, no matter how practically useful or economically significant, was held to be inherently non-patentable. In my view it would be a mistake, and inconsistent with the purposes of the Act, not to give full effect in such situations to the broad language used by the High Court in NRDC.

His Honour had earlier noted at [75] that, while the isolated substances contained genetic information, the patent did not claim information per se, rather, it was for a substance. Furthermore, at [76] because the claim was limited to the gene sequences in isolated form, it did not cover or extend to the naturally occurring DNA or RNA.

Nicholas J also noted that it was longstanding practice for the Commissioner to grant patents over gene sequences. Both ACIP (pdf) and the ALRC had recommended that this not be changed. The Government had announced (pdf) it accepted those recommendations and Parliament had implemented a different range of measures through the Raising the Bar Act, especially by introducing an explicit experimental use exception in s 119 C and the extension of the usefulness requirement by the introduction of new s 7A which was likely to affect the patentability of ESTs or expressed sequence tags.

 

Cancer Voices Australia v Myriad Genetics Inc [2013] FCA 65

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Business method patents: Federal Court retreating?

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Emmett J has dismissed Research Associates’ appeal from the Commissioner’s rejection of an attempt to patent a method for calculating an Index for using in financial investing.

Claim 1 was for:

A computer-implemented method for generating an index, the method including steps of:

(a) accessing data relating to a plurality of assets;

(b) processing the data thereby to identify a selection of the assets for inclusion in the index based on an objective measure of scale other than share price, market capitalization and any combination thereof;

(c) accessing a weighting function configured to weight the selected assets;

(d) applying the weighting function, thereby to assign to each of the selected assets a respective weighting, wherein the weighting:

(i) is based on an objective measure of scale other than share price, market capitalization and any combination thereof; and

(ii) is not based on market capitalization weighting, equal weighting, share price weighting and any combination thereof, thereby to generate the index.

Emmett J held that this was not a manner of manufacture as required by s 18(1)(a) of the Patents Act 1990.

His Honour appears to have rejected this on a number of bases. First, his Honour appears to have characterised the claim as akin to a mere scheme, abstract idea or mere information and not resulting in a physical effect or physical effect of the right kind:

65. A mere scheme, abstract idea, or mere information, is not, of itself, patentable. Some physical effect is required. Thus, where the representation of a curve, or the representation of Chinese language characters, or the writing of information to a smart card, is produced by a computer, there is a component physically affected or a change in state in a part of a machine, which makes the invention patentable.

66. Research Affiliates accepts that the only physical result generated by the method of the claimed invention is a computer file containing the index. That is because the method is implemented by means of a computer. Research Affiliates places significance on the fact that the result of the claimed method is the generation of the index by a computer.

67. However, the index generated is nothing more than a set of data. The index is simply information: it is a set of numbers. It is no more a manner of manufacture than a bank balance, whether represented as data in a bank’s computer, written on a piece of paper or kept in a person’s memory. While it is true that the index may be stored in the computer’s RAM, or on a memory device, or can be transmitted, that can be said of any data generated by a computer. If that were sufficient to satisfy the requirement of an artificially created state of affairs, any computer-implemented scheme would be patentable, merely by reason of the fact that it happens to be implemented by a computer. (emphasis supplied)

Secondly, in what might be a foreshadowing of the Raising the Bar amendments about to come into force, Emmett J was highly critical of the level of disclosure of how to implement the alleged invention:

68. While the Specification appears to be intended to create the impression of detailed computer implementation, the Specification says almost nothing about how that is to be done. The reliance placed on the Colonial Index embodiment is a good example of what is not in the Specification. The discussion in the Specification provides no substantive detail regarding the implementation of the claimed method. The upshot of the discussion is merely that the method is implemented by a computer, but there is no disclosure of how that is to be done.

….

70. The method of the claimed invention does not involve a specific effect being generated by the computer. The mere use of a computer necessarily carries with it the writing of information into the computer’s memory. There is a stark contrast between a computer-generated curve, or a representation of Chinese characters, or the writing of particular information on a smart card, on the one hand, and the quite unspecific index, on the other. There is no practical application in the method of the claimed invention for the improved use of computers. The effect of the implementation of the method is not to improve the operation of or effect of the use of the computer. There is nothing in the Specification or claim 1 that discloses how to produce the index. Thus, there is nothing in the Specification or claim 1 to indicate:

  • how data is accessed in step 1;
  • the nature of the processing undertaken in step 2 to identify the selection of assets;
  • how the weighting function is accessed in step 3;
  • how the relevant measure of scale is chosen in step 4; or
  • how the weighting function is applied in step 4 to assign a weighting to each asset.

71. The case propounded by Research Affiliates depends upon the proposition that information of economic significance, once entered into or produced by means of a computer, becomes an economically valuable artificially created state of affairs, and thus patentable. That proposition must be rejected.

Thirdly, Emmett J found that the alleged invention lacked the necessary quality of “newness” or “inventiveness” on the face of the Specification:

72. The implementation of the method of the claimed invention by means of a computer, at the level articulated in claim 1, is no more than the modern equivalent of writing down the index on pieces of paper. On the face of the Specification, there is no patentable invention in the fact that the claimed method is implemented by means of a computer. The Specification asserts a patentable invention, not in the use of the computer, but in the particular series of steps that give rise to the generation of the index. Those steps could readily have been carried out manually. The aspect of computer implementation is nothing more than the use of a computer for a purpose for which it is suitable. That does not confer patentability.

This suggests a considerable broadening of what constitutes the “face of the Specification” as comprehended in, for example, Bristol-Myers Squibb v Faulding‘s attempted reconciliation of Ramset and Mirabella. Emmett J concluded with what might, with respect, be thought to be an unobjectionable proposition:

73. The enquiry into what constitutes a patentable invention is still evolving. It is not to be tied to particular notions of what was understood to be a manufacture at any particular point in time. However, while new developments in technology might be seen to widen the notion of what is patentable, the modern availability of computers as a standard means of implementing arithmetic or computational processes, which could have been implemented manually in the past, does not carry with it any broadening of the concept of a patentable invention.

On this approach, perhaps, the Court, or the Commissioner, could have concluded readily that the alleged invention, as characterised by Emmett J would fail the inventive step requirement in s 18(1)(b)(ii) without resort to the manner of manufacture “threshold”.

Research Affiliates LLC v Commissioner of Patents [2013] FCA 71

Dr Summerfield, over at Patentology, explores matters in detail.

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Property in the proceeds of infringement

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

In a decision which no doubt has some further distance to run, Newey J (sitting in the Chancery Division of the High Court in England) has ruled that the owner of copyright does not have a proprietary interest in the proceeds (read profits) made by an infringer of the copyright.

Harris et al. are alleged to be the person (or persons) behind the Newzbin file sharing sites which, amongst other things, have been found to infringe the movie studios’ copyrights in a range of films (here and here, where Arnold J ordered the ISPs to block access).

In December last year, the Newzbin sites appear to have closed down, claiming they had run out of money.

Having obtained freezing orders (formerly called Mareva injunctions) against the assets of the defendants (such as the house in which Mr Harris lives and the Maclaren car he parks in its driveway), the movie studios sought “proprietary injunctions” over the assets as well. This seems to involve a court determination that the assets in question were the property of the movie studios rather than the defendants. For example, Newey J explained the difference between the (already in place) freezing order and the injunctions now sought by reference to Millett LJ’s description:

“The courts have always recognised a clear distinction between the ordinary Mareva jurisdiction and proprietary claims. The ordinary Mareva injunction restricts a defendant from dealing with his own assets. An injunction of the present kind, at least in part, restrains the defendants from dealing with assets to which the plaintiff asserts title. It is not designed merely to preserve the defendant’s assets so as to be available to meet a judgment; it is designed to protect the plaintiff from having its property expended for the defendant’s purposes”.

The movie studios based their argument on observations in the Spycatcher cases that Peter Wright may have held the rights in Spycatcher on constructive trust for the Crown in view of his breaches of duties of confidence and fidelity.

Newey J seems to have rejected this claim partly on the basis that there were cases binding on him (albeit apparently disapproved by the Privy Council) ruling that there was no such proprietary interest and partly on the basis that s 18 of the Copyright Act 1956 had expressly deemed the copyright owner to be the owner of infringing copies and provided remedies in conversion and detention. That remedy, however, had been repealed by the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 as unjust and unfair.

There are some interesting issues for Australians.

First, the conversion/detention remedy on the basis of deemed ownership has not been repealed (but is now discretionary) – see s 116 (but the Full Court may not be too keen on the remedy – see [94] of French and Kiefel JJ (as their Honours then were).

Secondly, in Lenah Game Meats, Gummow and Hayne JJ did say at [102]:

A cinematograph film may have been made, as in Lincoln Hunt, in circumstances involving the invasion of the legal or equitable rights of the plaintiff or a breach of the obligations of the maker to the plaintiff. It may then be inequitable and against good conscience for the maker to assert ownership of the copyright against the plaintiff and to broadcast the film. The maker may be regarded as a constructive trustee of an item of personal (albeit intangible) property, namely the copyright conferred by s 98 of the Copyright Act[96]. In such circumstances, the plaintiff may obtain a declaration as to the subsistence of the trust and a mandatory order requiring an assignment by the defendant of the legal (ie statutory) title to the intellectual property rights in question[97]. Section 196(3) of the Copyright Act provides that an assignment of copyright does not have effect unless it is in writing signed by or on behalf of the assignor.

Gaudron and Callinan JJ also agreed.

Newey J considered, however, that:

i) The point under consideration (viz. whether copyright in a film made unlawfully was subject to a trust) was rather different to that with which I am concerned (viz. whether a copyright owner has a proprietary claim to the fruits of infringement); and

ii) The Australian approach to constructive trusts is by no means the same as that in this jurisdiction. In particular, as the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia noted in Grimaldi v Chameleon Mining NL (No. 2) [2012] FCAFC 6 (in paragraph 574)

His Lordship’s second point may be thought to be a second factor why an Australian court might take a different approach to his Lordship’s conclusion.

As to the first point, one might well think, if such a constructive trust arose, that the trustee would have to account for the fruits of the use of the trust property and possibly even handover such fruits as were still in his possession.

Finally, the Privy Council’s rejection of the authority binding on Newey J (and the determination of the movie studios) may well indicate that Newey J’s decision is just the first step in the war.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation v Harris [2013] EWHC 159

Lid dip: Fiona Phillips

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Google not liable for sponsored links

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

The High Court has unanimously allowed Google’s appeal from the Full Federal Court’s ruling that Google was liable for misleading or deceptive statements in sponsored links.

According to the Court’s summary (pdf):

The High Court unanimously allowed the appeal. Google did not create the sponsored links that it published or displayed. Ordinary and reasonable users of the Google search engine would have understood that the representations conveyed by the sponsored links were those of the advertisers, and would not have concluded that Google adopted or endorsed the representations. Accordingly, Google did not engage in conduct that was misleading or deceptive.

French CJ, Crennan and Kiefel JJ delivered the principal judgment, Hayne J and Heydon J each delivered separate concurring opinions.

Google Inc v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [2013] HCA 1

Not a bad way to start off the legal year!

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