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