Posts Tagged ‘NRDC’

The statutory right to terminate a patent licence

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Section 145 provides the licensee of a patent with a statutory right to terminate the licence on 3 months’ written notice after the patent has expired. What happens, however, if more than one patent has been licensed?

MPEG LA is the patent pool vehicle which licenses the essential patents for the production of DVDs, DVD players and some other video codecs.[1] It granted a licence of a number of patents to Regency Media. In June 2012, after some, but not all, of the patents had expired, Regency Media sent a notice seeking to exercise its right to terminate under s 145. By the trial, some other patents had expired, but some of those licensed were still extant.

Section 145 provides:

Termination of contract after patent ceases to be in force

 (1)  A contract relating to the lease of, or a licence to exploit, a patented invention may be terminated by either party, on giving 3 months’ notice in writing to the other party, at any time after the patent, or all the patents, by which the invention was protected at the time the contract was made, have ceased to be in force.

(2)  Subsection (1) applies despite anything to the contrary in that contract or in any other contract.

The short answer: according to Flick J it appears the licensee has to wait until all the licensed patents have expired before the licensee can exercise the right under s 145.

A bit longer answer: Acknowledging the force of Regency Media’s argument that each patent could be described as being for a patented invention (a term not otherwise defined in the Act), Flick J accepted MPEG LA’s argument. According to MPEG LA, the licence granted rights over three groups of technologies:

  • the MPEG–2 Decoding Products;
  • the MPEG–2 Encoding Products; and
  • the MPEG–2 Packaged Medium,

each of which groups constituted a patented invention for the purposes of s 145 and so s 145 could not be triggered until all had expired.

At [40], Flick J appears to arrive at this conclusion because each of the three groups constituted a “manner of manufacture” in the NRDC sense irrespective of how many patents fell within the particular group. His Honour also thought s 145 was drafted before modern licensing administrators came on to the scene and so may well be inaptly worded to deal with such creatures. However, his Honour considered at [43]:

A court, should be slow to prefer a construction which would permit the termination of an agreement in respect to patents which have not ceased to be in force and which would deny to a patent holder the benefit of the payment of royalties in amounts that have been the subject of agreement. Section 145 manifestly does not permit a contract to be terminated where “all of the patents, by which the invention [is] protected” have not ceased to be in force.

MPEG LA, L.L.C. v Regency Media Pty Ltd [2014] FCA 180


  1. A modern day American antitrust miracle: the official version; Wikipedia’s version.  ?
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Apotex v Sanofi: manner of manufacture

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

As briefly noted last week, the High Court handed down its ruling in Apotex’ appeal. Although the case will be mainly remembered because Apotex lost its challenge to the patentability of Sanofi’s method of medical treatment, Apotex actually won on the patent infringement point. (As there was no appeal on that point, however, it was still liable for infringing the copyright in Sanofi’s product information.)

Claim 1 of Sanofi’s relevant patent is for:

[a] method of preventing or treating a skin disorder, wherein the skin disorder is psoriasis, which comprises administering to a recipient an effective amount of [leflunomide].

The patent for leflunomide itself has expired.

Apotex had received marketing approval from the TGA for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA).

By a majority of 4 – 1,[1] the High Court held that:

  1. a a method of medical treatment is indeed patentable subject matter – a manner of manufacture[2] – under Australian law;
  2. a second or subsequent use of a known substance could also be patentable subject matter; but
  3. Apotex did not infringe by selling or supplying its generic leflunomide according to its product information.

manner of manufacture

All 5 judges accepted the orthodoxy of the NRDC decision as defining the approach to whether a claim was to a manner of manufacture. And all 5 judges accepted it was a broad and widening concept.

Crennan and Kiefel JJ identified NRDC as essentially requiring 2 conditions to be satisfied. For example, at [235], their Honours quoted the Wellcome case:

This principle [in the NRDC Case] extends to a process which does not produce a new substance but results in ‘a new and useful effect’. If the new result is ‘an artificially created state of affairs’ providing economic utility, it may be considered a ‘manner of new manufacture’ within s 6 of the Statute of Monopolies. (Crennan and Kiefel JJ’s emphasis)

At [278] – [285], their Honours identified 7 reasons why a method of medical treatment could be patentable. Gaegler J agreed with these 7 reasons and proposed an eighth.[3] Given the broad scope of the concept, Crennan, Kiefel and Gaegler JJ considered the crucial consideration was that there was no economic or ethical basis for distinguishing between the patentability of a pharmaceutical (or other medical) product and a method.[4] French CJ’s reasoning was similar to this point; considering the historical exclusion from patentability to be an anomaly for which no clear and consistent foundation had been established.[5]

In contrast, Hayne J in dissent considered at [143] – [150] that it could well be possible to distinguish between patenting medical products and methods of treatment. Instead, his Honour considered that a process would only be patentable if the product (in the sense of the result, outcome or effect) of the process, and not just the process itself, had economic utility. Hayne J considered that a method of medical treatment did not satisfy that criterion because (at [163]):

The effect of using the process is personal to the individual. It is not an effect which the person who owns the right to use the process, or any person other than the individual who has been treated, can turn to economic account in any way, whether directly or indirectly. If the individual who has been treated can turn the effect to economic account, he or she can do so only indirectly: by taking advantage of better health to make a more valuable contribution to national production. The individual is not a subject of commerce. The product of the process in the individual (having better health than might otherwise have been the case) cannot be sold. ….

Perhaps reflecting Hayne J’s approach to some extent, Crennan and Kiefel JJ at [287] did consider that there was a distinction to be drawn between uses of therapeutic substances and the activities and procedures of doctors when treating patients on the basis that the latter are “non-economic”:

There is, however, a distinction which can be acknowledged between a method of medical treatment which involves a hitherto unknown therapeutic use of a pharmaceutical (having prior therapeutic uses) and the activities or procedures of doctors (and other medical staff) when physically treating patients. Although it is unnecessary to decide the point, or to seek to characterise such activities or procedures exhaustively, speaking generally they are, in the language of the NRDC Case, “essentially non?economic” and, in the language of the EPC and the Patents Act 1977 (UK), they are not “susceptible” or “capable” of industrial application. To the extent that such activities or procedures involve “a method or a process”, they are unlikely to be able to satisfy the NRDC Case test for the patentability of processes because they are not capable of being practically applied in commerce or industry, a necessary prerequisite of a “manner of manufacture”.[6]

French CJ, however, at [1] and [44] expressly included surgical procedures in his Honour’s finding in favour of patentability.

second use of a known substance

As Crrennan and Kiefel JJ pointed out, NRDC itself involved a second or subsequent use of a known substance, the hitherto unsuspected properties of which squarely satisfied the requirements for inventiveness. Apotex’ reliance on this basis, therefore, failed at [291] in succinct terms.

the infringement question

… will have to wait for another day.

Apotex Pty Ltd v Sanofi-Aventis Australia Pty Ltd [2013] HCA 50


  1. French CJ, Crennan, Kiefel and Gaegler JJ; Hayne J dissenting.  ?
  2. Patents Act 1990 s 18(1)(a). The claim would, of course, also have to satisfy the other requirements including novelty, inventive step, utility etc.  ?
  3. Gaegler J appears to be alone in attributing weight to the potential disruption to business investments if the endorsement by Bristol-Myers v Squibb of the patentability of methods of medical treatment was overturned after 13 years.  ?
  4. See [282] for Crennan and Kiefel JJ; [314] for Gaegler J.  ?
  5. At [50]. See also [44] – [49].  ?
  6. Earlier, at [266] – [271], their Honours had noticed that Congress amended the US Patents Act to include §287(c)  ?

    “the effect of which is to permit the patenting of surgical methods to continue but to bar actions for patent infringement against medical practitioners (and ”related health care entit[ies]“) for ”the performance of a medical or surgical procedure on a body“.”

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Patenting computer programs or business methods in Australia

Friday, October 4th, 2013

At the end of August, Middleton J overturned the Commissioner’s refusal to grant an innovation patent for RPL’s computerised method entitled ‘Method and System for Automated Collection of Evidence of Skills and Knowledge’. Instead, his Honour held that the method was a manner of manufacture and, novelty and inventive step having been satisfied, patentable.

What the claimed invention was

In essence, the claimed invention allowed a user to access a single point of entry (for example, over the internet using his or her browser), retrieve information about particular qualifications, which was presented in the form of questions to the user, then provide answers and supporting documentation (still for example over the internet), which was then processed by a relevant certifying institution and, if the relevant criteria were satisfied, the relevant qualification would be awarded or, if not, the user could be presented with information about what further steps needed to be undertaken to satisfy the necessary criteria.[1]

This bald summary hardly does justice to what was involved. For example, there are a large number of registered training organisations or TAFEs (RTOs). Collectively, they offer some 3,500 different qualifications and some 34,000 Units of Competency. Any individual RTO therefore offered only a very small set of qualifications or units. RPL’s method, first, circumvented the need for an individual user to identify which RTO was appropriate as RPL’s method retrieved all the necessary information from online databases. Then, RPL’s method converted the criteria into a form of questions which the user could answer. So, to take an example from the judgment, the element of competency required for a particular unit relating to aged care:

demonstrate an understanding of the structure and profile of the aged care sector

became:

Generally speaking and based upon your prior experience and education, how do you feel you can demonstrate an understanding of the structure and profile of the aged care sector?

and a particular performance criterion associated with that:

all work reflects an understanding of the key issues facing older people and their carers

was converted in RPL’s method to:

How can you show evidence that all work reflects an understanding of the key issues facing older people and their carers?[2]

for enabling individuals to get their competency or qualifications recognised under the nationally accredited Unit of Competency scheme.

The specification identified the advantages flowing from this method with its single point of contact:[3]

Individuals are provided with a service which simplifies the identification of relevant Units of Competency, and the gathering of associated assessment information to enable [recognition of prior learning] to be performed. Training organisations are relieved of much of the administrative cost associated with performing [recognition of prior learning]. By the time the training organisation is contacted, the relevant Unit of Competency has already been identified, and required information associated with each of the assessable criteria has already been gathered and packaged in a form enabling an efficient assessment in relation to the [recognition of prior learning] process.

Why this constituted a (patentable) manner of manufacture

Middleton J noted at [127] that the test for “manner of manufacture” laid down in NRDC, CCOM and Grant required that the claimed invention result in an artificially created state of affairs in which a new and useful effect may be observed. This had to be of utility in practical affairs or be of an industrial, commercial or trading character and belong to the useful arts, not the fine arts, so that its value lay in a field of economic endeavour.

These criteria were satisfied. The results of the method were useful because at [129] it overcame difficulties involved in seeking out education providers and enabled recognition of prior learning. This was relevant to a field of economic endeavour: the education sector of the economy and thus had the necessary industrial, commercial or trading character.

While the information about RTOs and particular Units of Competency could be accessed individually in undifferentiated form over the internet, the method provided a single point of entry. In addition to the single point of entry:

[141] The computer programmed in accordance with the Patent further operates to process the retrieved information and to automatically generate data comprising an alternate means of presentation. This alternate means comprises a series of questions which can be presented to an individual user along with user interface elements which implement an online form suitable for the receipt of responses to those questions. An assessment server is programmed, again according to the teaching of the Patent, to present the form to the computer of an individual user, who preferably requires only conventional web browser software to access the assessment server via the internet. In particular, the form provides not only for user-entered responses, but also for upload of one or more files stored on the user’s computer which may comprise, for example, evidence of the user’s competency with regard to the recognised qualification standard. This access to an online form occurs as a result of the retrieval, processing and presentation steps being conducted according to the teaching of the Patent.

The various stages in this process each gave rise to the physical effect required under Grant in the various changes of state in the computer’s memory.[4] Grant itself of course involved no such transformation since it did not involve any use of any computer – just a scheme for the use of a trust.

The Commissioner had recognised that such a transformation did take place, but it was not sufficient. In a line of decisions beginning with Invention Pathways, the Commissioner had ruled that: [5]

the “concrete effect or phenomenon or manifestation or transformation” referred to must be one that is significant both in that it is concrete but also that it is central to the purpose or operation of the claimed process or otherwise arises from the combination of steps of the method in a substantial way. Consequently while the step of building a house involves a concrete physical effect it is peripheral to the method of acquiring a house and indeed could hardly be said to characterise the subject matter of the method such that it is considered an artificially created state of affairs. I consider the same to apply to a business scheme implemented in some part by computer and do not believe the patentability of such a method can arise solely from the fact that, in a general sense, it is implemented in or with the assistance of a computer or utilises some part a computer or other physical device in a incidental way.”

The Commissioner argued that the use of the computer here was not central to the method, being merely a “common mechanism to carry out the method in a convenient way.”

At [147], Middleton J rejected the Commissioner’s view that NRDC, CCOM and Grant required the requirement of substantiality or centrality of a physical effect in the sense the Commissioner contended for.

In addition, Middleton J rejected the Commissioner’s argument that the claimed invention could not be a manner of manufacture as it could be performed without the use of a computer. His Honour rejected this as a matter of principle at [157]: it was not an appropriate way to approach the assessment required under NRDC, CCOM and Grant. In any event, as a matter of fact, the magnitude of the task meant it wasn’t practicable without the use of a computer:

[158] … as a matter of fact I accept that the magnitude of the task performed by the invention (as previously described) and the express terms of the claims themselves mean that the computer is an essential part of the invention claimed, as it enables the method to be performed.

While his Honour accepted that US cases could be persuasive, he noted he was required to apply the tests developed under Australian law and did not find any assistance in the present context.[6]

At [171] – [172], Middleton J distinguished the recent rejection by Emmett J of Research Affiliates claims for a method of generating an index of securities and assets. In Middleton J’s view the central difference was that the specification in Research Affiliates “contained virtually no substantive detail about how the claimed method was to be implemented by a computer”.[7] In contrast, there was detailed information about these matters in RPL’s specification and the computer was central to the method’s working.

RPL Central Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Patents [2013] FCA 871


  1. The terms of claim 1 are set out here.  ?
  2. Taken from [21] and [24] of the Reasons.  ?
  3. At [42] of the Reasons.  ?
  4. At [143] – [144].  ?
  5. Myall at [53].  ?
  6. While his Honour did not put it this way, that is perhaps unsurprising given the rather uncertain state of the US case law, e.g.  here and here.  ?
  7. An application for leave to appeal from Emmett J’s decision has been filed: NSD328/2013.  ?
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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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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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Patentable subject matter in Australia

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

The Minister has released ACIP’s report into what should be patentable subject matter under Australian law.

At the moment, s 18 defines a ‘patentable invention’ and the Dictionary in Sch. 1 defines and “invention” as:

“invention” means any manner of new manufacture the subject of letters patent and grant of privilege within section 6 of the Statute of Monopolies, and includes an alleged invention.

and, from NRDC (for example) :

Section 6 of the Statute of Monopolies provides that the declarations of invalidity contained in the preceding provisions of the Act “shall not extend to any letters patents and graunts of privilege . . . hereafter to be made of the sole working or makinge of any manner of new manufactures within this realme, to the true and first inventor and inventors of such manufactures, which others at the tyme of makinge such letters patents and graunts shall not use, soe as alsoe they be not contrary to the lawe or mischievous to the state by raisinge prices of comodities at home, or hurt of trade, or generallie inconvenient”

From the Key Points and recommendations:

We recommend changing the Patents Act 1990 to codify the principles of inherent patentability (as developed by the High Court in the NRDC case and in subsequent Australian court decisions). …

Consequently:

These reforms envisage amending the legislation by:
  • replacing the words ‘is a patentable invention’ in subsections 18(1) and18(1A) with the words ‘is patentable’;
  • replacing the words ‘if the invention, so far as claimed in any claim’ in subsections 18(1) and 18(1A) with the words ‘if it’;
  • replacing the current words of paragraphs 18(1)(a) and 18(1A)(a) with the words ‘an artificially created state of affairs in the field of economic endeavour’;
  • changing the definition of ‘invention’ in Schedule 1 to be ‘the subject matter of any claim’; and
  • deleting the definition of ‘patentable invention’ in Schedule 1.

So far, so good. These proposals would keep the teleological approach adopted in NRDC that was (and is) so forward looking and which has served us so well. It looks like they would also do away with all the problems of the “threshold” requirement introduced by Phillips v Mirabella (the nature of the problem is laid out at paragraphs 19 to 27 of Bristol-Myers Squibb v Faulding).

Then, things start to get a bit hairy:

Because the principles of inherent patentability address only the economic goals of the patent system, we also recommend specific and general exclusions to address certain ethical concerns that may arise. The current specific exclusion preventing the patenting of human beings and biological processes for their generation should be retained. Instead of the general inconvenience proviso, a general exclusion would preclude the patenting of inventions the commercial exploitation of which would be wholly offensive to the ordinary reasonable and fully informed member of the Australian public. (my emphasis)

Now, I would be happy with the recommendation insofar as it gets rid of the “general inconvenient proviso” as no-one knows what it means, or is intended to mean. But to replace it with an exclusion of “something wholly offensive to the ordinary reasonable and fully informed member of the Australian public”? That will be “fun”.

In Bristol-Myers Squibb, Finkelstein J pointed out (especially at 140 to 142) that courts are not particularly happy hunting grounds for that type of inquiry; still less so, one might have thought, the Commissioner (whomever he or she might be). For example, in a different field, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was famously offensive, although apparently no more. Today, we have controversy over whether or not to fly some people at taxpayer’s expense to funerals (here vs here and here). Which side of that debate represents the ordinary reasonable and fully informed member …?

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is waiting (until 25 February 2011) for your submissions on the Patent Amendment (Human Genes and Biological Materials) Bill 2010, the private Senators’ bill (introduced by Senators Coonan, Heffernan, Siewert and Xenophon) to amend the Patents Act 1990 to prevent the patenting of human genes and biological materials existing in nature.

ACIP’s report.

ACIP’s press release.

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Patentable Subject Matter: ACIP options paper

Monday, September 21st, 2009

ACIP has published an Options Paper in connection with its review of “patentable subject matter”.

Press release here.

Options Paper here.

The options under consideration are too far reaching for a “sound bite”.

For example (from the Press Release)

“The test for patentable subject matter in Australia is linked to legislation introduced
in England in 1623 so it really does need addressing within the context of modern
research and business,”

“The test for patentable subject matter in Australia is linked to legislation introduced in England in 1623 so it really does need addressing within the context of modern research and business”.

Of course, the fact that this disparaged Jacobean test is perhaps the most  modern, flexible, telelogical concept on our statute book since the NRDC case (in 1959) could be overlooked.

Also (from the Press Release):

ACIP have also proposed possible safeguards to ensure public concerns are reflected in decisions to grant patents.

Submissions by Friday 13th (!) November 2009.

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