Mylan Announces Generic EpiPen; Baffles Health Policy Wonks Everywhere

For weeks now, the list price of Mylan’s EpiPen ($600 for a two-pack) has been exhaustively covered by journalists, debated by academics, and skewered by policymakers as an example of the pricing excesses of even generic pharmaceutical companies.  Mylan’s latest response to the outrage?  Announce that soon, it will be launching a generic EpiPen at a list price of $300 for a two-pack.  I and others who study these issues full time cannot understand why Mylan thought this would work to quell the widespread indignation over its pricing practices.

The first red flag came when Mylan stated it would launch the product “in several weeks.”  I often find myself defending the FDA against charges that it is too slow to approve new technologies, but let’s face it: it would be shocking news if they were able to approve a new version of anything in just a few weeks.  Mylan has not had this in the works for months, so it seems that the new generic product is literally identical to the branded EpiPen – just with a different label.  So, essentially, Mylan is preparing to cut the price of its product in half.  (Even though that’s still higher than the price was just three years ago, before Mylan began its regular price hikes, and even though this should make us question their justifications for the $600 price.) Great, right?  Not so fast.

What reasons (other than public relations) might Mylan have for introducing an authorized generic of this type and how might they attempt to use the two products to maintain their current level of revenues?  By bringing the first generic EpiPen to market, Mylan has now planted its flag in the generics space.  Although epinephrine (the drug inside the EpiPen) is now generic and cheap to produce and sell, companies do seem to find it difficult to replicate the device portion of the EpiPen, with Sanofi’s product recently removed from the market due to dosing issues and Teva’s application for a generic denied by the FDA with no public explanation just a few months ago.  Mylan has now benchmarked a new price for those products if they return – they must price below $300 for a two-pack to compete effectively with Mylan. Continue reading

Introducing a new global antibiotic R&D partnership

Yesterday US HHS announced a new global partnership to fund pre-clinical antibiotic R&D, coordinated by the Boston University School of Law. The partnership is known as CARB-X, which is the abbreviation for the Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB) Biopharmaceutical Accelerator.  CARB-X is the culmination of one key part of the US National Action Plan on antibiotic resistance.  Background paper in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery.

Under the grant, BU Law will coordinate more than $350 million in new funds for R&D over the next five years, in partnership with BARDA, NIAID, the Wellcome Trust, the AMR Centre, MassBio, the California Life Sciences Institute and the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT.  Kevin Outterson is the PI and Executive Director of CARB-X.

While the bulk of the project funds pre-clinical R&D, we are also interested in the role of law, IP and other innovation incentives, using the unique dataset that CARB-X will generate.

Call for Proposals: BioIP Faculty Workshop

The American Society for Law, Medicine & Ethics (ASLME) is pleased to announce the second annual bioIP Faculty Workshop on May 5, 2017 at Loyola University of Chicago School of Law in Chicago, IL.

The Workshop offers a unique opportunity for three scholars in their first decade of teaching to present their work in progress for in-depth critique and commentary by respected senior scholars in the field.

Topics for the workshop are at the intersection of biotechnology, life sciences, food and drug law, and intellectual property (hence, bioip), broadly defined. A Review Committee comprised of faculty from the Boston University School of Law, Georgia State University College of Law, and the Loyola University Chicago School of Law will select papers for the Workshop in a blind process. Papers should present an original thesis and contribute to scholarly literature. The Workshop will not review published work.

Scholars with less than ten years of teaching experience, including VAPS and Fellows, are eligible for participation in the Workshop. Those interested in participating should submit an abstract (up to 750 words) of the proposed paper (without identifying details) along with a c.v. to Ted Hutchinson, Executive Director of the ASMLE at thutchinson@aslme.org by Oct 14, 2016.

Selected abstracts will be announced later in Fall 2016 with the full draft papers due by April 1, 2017. The organizers will cover reasonable travel and lodging expenses for selected scholars.

For questions, please email Cynthia Ho at cho@luc.edu.

New Resource: BPCIA Legislative History Documents

The Petrie-Flom Center is pleased to announce the availability of a new resource on its website: the legislative history of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA).  The BPCIA, passed as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), created a pathway for the approval of biosimilar products and awarded innovator biologic companies twelve years of exclusivity for their products.  Modeled after the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984, which established our system of generic small-molecule drug approvals while simultaneously creating a five-year period of exclusivity for new drugs, consideration of the BPCIA’s history is often lost in the discussion over the ACA’s history as a whole.  This resource selects only those documents relating to the BPCIA and may thus prove particularly useful for scholars of FDA law.

This new resource comes at an opportune time, as the courts and Congress have both turned their focus to the provisions of the BPCIA.  In 2015, the Federal Circuit issued a divided opinion interpreting the BPCIA’s instructions to biosimilar and innovator drug sponsors, and that opinion has now been appealed to the Supreme Court.  Just last month, the Justices called for the views of the Solicitor General on this question, a step which may significantly increase the likelihood of an eventual cert grant.  At the same time, several members of Congress have introduced a bill that would decrease the BPCIA’s grant of exclusivity from twelve years to seven years, bringing it more in line with the five-year period in the Hatch-Waxman Act or seven-year period in the Orphan Drug Act.  The twelve-year period of exclusivity may have been the most contentious aspect of the BPCIA as passed, with even the FTC arguing strongly against such a lengthy period at the time.

Members of the public may also be interested in an article written by Professor Erika Lietzan and colleagues providing an excellent analysis of the BPCIA’s legislative history.

The Catch-22 of Bayh-Dole March-In Rights

Earlier today, the NIH rejected a request filed by consumer groups including Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) to exercise the government’s march-in rights on an expensive prostate cancer drug, Xtandi.  Xtandi costs upwards of $129,000 per year, and KEI had asked the government to exercise its rights under the Bayh-Dole Act, which specifies a range of conditions under which the government may require a patentholder to grant licenses on reasonable terms to others to practice the patent.  Specifically, the government may require such a license where “action is necessary to alleviate health or safety needs which are not reasonably satisfied,” 35 U.S.C. § 203(a)(2), or where the benefits of the invention are not being made “available to the public on reasonable terms,” 35 U.S.C. § 201(f).

For some time now, there has been debate over the question of whether high prices for pharmaceuticals are a sufficient trigger to invoke the use of march-in rights under these clauses of the statute.  I don’t take a position on that question here.  Instead, I want to ask whose responsibility it is to decide that question.  Congress has the legal right to do so, but it seems unwilling or unable to.  The agencies in question have recently declined to, even assuming they have the power to interpret the statute in that way.  And so we might look to the courts.  But there’s a puzzle here: it’s not clear that anyone can ask a court to decide whether high prices meet the statutory requirements unless an agency actually decides that high prices meet the statutory requirements.

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Rachel Sachs on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

twihl 5x5
This week we spoke with Rachel E. Sachs, who will join the faculty of the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in Fall 2016. Rachel earned her J.D. in 2013 magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where she was the Articles Chair of the Harvard Law Review and a student fellow with both the Petrie-Flom Center and the John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business. Rachel has also earned a Master of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health. We focused on Rachel’s work on drug pricing and innovation for global health. As part of a broader academic agenda for developing access to knowledge, Rachel’s work illuminates the many trade-offs involved in optimizing innovation law. She has also illuminated the importance of “innovation beyond IP,” and the importance of legal synergies in accelerating or impeding innovation.

Listen here! The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

Legal Dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences

Please find below my welcome speech at last-weeks mini-symposium on “Legal dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences From Intellectual Property Rights and Global Pandemics to Privacy and Ethics at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH).  The event was organized by our Global Genes –Local Concerns project, with support from the UCPH Excellence Programme for Interdisciplinary Research.

The symposium, which was inspired by the wonderful recent  PFC & Berkman Center Big Data conference,  featured enlightening speeches by former PFC fellows Nicholson Price on incentives for the development of black box personalized medicine and Jeff Skopek on privacy issues. In addition we were lucky to have Peter Yu speaking on “Big Data, Intellectual Property and Global Pandemics” and Michael J. Madison on Big Data and Commons Challenges”. The presentations and recordings of the session will soon be made available on our Center’s webpage.

Thanks everybody for your dedication, inspiration, great presentations and an exciting panel discussion.

“Legal Dimensions of Big Data in the Health and Life Sciences – From Intellectual Property Rights and Global Pandemics to Privacy and Ethics”

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Divided Infringement in Patent Law and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Regular readers of this blog (hi, Mom) will recall that I often think and write about the interaction between the divided infringement doctrine in patent law and medical method patents of various kinds.  In previous posts, I’ve written about the Federal Circuit’s efforts to assign liability for divided infringement of method patents and considered the potential impact on medical method patents (here and here) and I’ve more recently examined a district court opinion applying the Federal Circuit’s analysis to a method-of-treatment claim (here).

I’ve just posted a new essay on SSRN (here, forthcoming in IP Theory) specifically considering the role of the doctor-patient relationship in the Federal Circuit’s analysis.  Would the Federal Circuit see the doctor-patient relationship as fitting within the scope of its divided infringement analysis?  Should it?  These questions are timely, as the Federal Circuit is due to take up these issues very soon.  Briefing before the court in the Eli Lilly case I considered in my last blog post has just been completed, and the case will likely be scheduled for argument later this summer.

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Separating sheep from goats- a European view on the patent eligibility of biomedical diagnostic methods

New publication on the patentability of biomedical diagnostics out:

Abstract: This brief comment complements Dan Burk’s excellent paper ( Dolly and Alice, J Law and the Biosciences (2015), 1–21, doi:10.1093/jlb/lsv042 ) by providing a very brief summary of the European approach regarding patents on medical diagnostic methods. This serves as the basis for a comparative discussion of the current US approach and its’ impact on biomedical innovation. We are concerned that unless the Supreme Court clarifies its two-part test and adopts a more holistic interpretation of the eligibility-test, global standards for medical diagnostic patents will diverge to the detriment of advanced therapies and ultimately patients worldwide. In case that the current US eligibility doctrine prevails without further Supreme Court clarification, we highlight the need for developing a more flexible, well-calibrated system for alternative and complementary forms of drug development incentives. In addition to a better-funded and well-administered prize system (an interesting option for some areas of diagnostics that we did not elaborate upon), our paper highlights the need for an improved and more flexible system for regulatory exclusivities in this sector.

Citation: Separating sheep from goats: a European view on the patent eligibility of biomedical diagnostic methods Timo Minssen; Robert M. Schwartz Journal of Law and the Biosciences 2016; doi: 10.1093/jlb/lsw019

 

 

 

 

Amicus brief in Sequenom v. Ariosa: Why the U.S. Supreme Court should grant the petition for a writ of certiorari

I am happy to announce that on April 20th the New York attorney Robert M. Schwartz and I have filed an amicus brief at the US Supreme Court with Berkeley-based Andrew J. Dhuey as Counsel of Record. The brief, which was signed by 10 prominent  European and Australian Law Professors as amici curiae, adds a European perspective to the many amicus briefs that have been submitted in support of Sequenom’s petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. Sequenom’s petition in Case No. 15-1182 was filed on March 21, 2016 and seeks review of the Federal Circuit’s controversial decision in Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc., 788 F.3d 1371, reh’g denied, 809 F.3d 1282 (Fed. Cir. 2015). The case concerns the revocation of Sequenom’s patent claims directed to inventive methods of genetic testing by detecting and amplifying paternally inherited fetal cell-free DNA (cffDNA) from maternal blood and plasma. Before the development of this highly beneficial, non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test, patients were placed at higher risk and maternal plasma was routinely discarded as waste. Distinguishing this case from previous Supreme Court decisions and highlighting the mitigating effects of other patentability requirements, we are concerned that the Federal Circuit’s overly rigid approach to claims eligibility decision might jeopardize the development of new therapies in an increasingly important area of modern medicine.

As most Bill of Health readers know, the US Supreme Court has in a recent series of cases (i.e. the combined effect of Bilski, Prometheus, Myriad and Alice) barred the patent eligibility for many genetic inventions as “products and processes of nature”. In Sequenom the CAFC interpreted these to mean – in essence- that “laws of nature” had to be entirely eliminated from the test of patent eligibility under §101 of the Patent laws. Should this interpretation be institutionalized it will contravene the tests for exclusions and exceptions under the EPC, arguably contradict longstanding US treaty policy and disrupt international patent harmonization. More importantly, we fear that the broader impact of such an restrictive interpretation may have grave consequences for a sustainable global drug delivery system, which should involve both public and private actors.

Although we believe that patents will remain the backbone of the industry, we acknowledge in our brief that  there are certain areas of biomedical innovations, such as antibiotics and orphan drugs, where the patent system does not work particularly well. We further recognize that both in Europe and in the US concerns have been raised about overly pre-emptive patents scope, but these are addressed at different levels. In contrast to Europe, the CAFC has interpreted the uncodified exception as part of a “threshold test” for patent-eligibility applied before other patentability requirements can be assessed. A strict and coherent application of these requirements, however, would invalidate overly-broad patent claims (including some of Sequenom’s arguably too broad and badly drafted claims), while also permitting, well-defined, narrower claims on diagnostic technology. In our view, the current approach conflates the patent eligibility test with issues that can be more sensibly addressed within a strict and coherent assessment of novelty, non-obviousness and sufficient disclosure criteria or at the post-grant level. We believe that, the Federal Circuit’s threshold test has not sufficiently considered the manner in which today’s statutory requirements have developed in both the U.S. and Europe to address policy rationales for patentability exceptions. To entirely transplant those issues into the patent eligibility assessment would categorically close the patentability door on many well-defined and beneficial inventions that deserve patent protection. In absence of sufficient public involvement and appropriate alternative incentives we risk that the wells driving technological progress run dry and that companies engage in business strategies, such as increased reliance on trade secrecy, that are not necessarily beneficial for our innovation system.

Accordingly, we urge the Supreme Court to clarify a patent eligibility test in line with its longstanding jurisprudence and in harmony with international and European law.

If the CAFC’s restrictive interpretation should prevail, however, I believe that it will be crucial to swiftly optimize the framework for PPPs and alternative innovation incentives, such as prizes and regulatory exclusivities. This would have to be done on an international level to allow for greater flexibilities and encompass further technological areas, such as biomedical diagnostics. Regarding regulatory exclusivities, Article 39 of the TRIPS agreement should provide sufficient leeway for such changes. The pros and cons of the different alternative approaches would of course have to be carefully considered.

The Amici curiae have no stake in the parties or in the outcome of the case. A full list of the Amici is appended at the end of the brief.

 

One Patent Law, Two Economic Sectors: Is The One-Size-Fits-All Patent Law Still Workable?

This new post by Claire Laporte appears on the Health Affairs Blog as part of a series stemming from the Fourth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Friday, January 29, 2016.

Ever since the first patent was issued in 1790, the United States has had a single patent law to protect inventions in all fields. Over the past three decades, that law has been strained to the breaking point in covering both the life sciences and other technologies.

On the life sciences side, patents protect platform technologies as well as specific products and are important at every stage of a product’s life cycle. Many scientific breakthroughs arise from federally funded research in universities and other institutions. Under the Bayh-Dole Act, these institutions license the resulting patents to companies, often start-ups, which develop the technology until it is ready to be marketed.

During the many years of the development process, companies need to attract investment, and investors often assess the merits of the patent portfolio as an indicator of the ultimate strength of the company. Once a product is released to the market, patents still matter; each day of patent protection for a blockbuster drug is worth millions. Patent litigation in the life sciences is typically between competitors and reflects an effort by one of those competitors to maintain its exclusivity. […]

Read the full post here.

Sequenom vs. Ariosa and international approaches to the patent eligibility of biomedical innovation

With a potential petition for writ of certiorari in the Sequenom v. Ariosa case approaching, it appears as if the US Supreme Court  will once again have to consider crucial patent eligibility questions with a great significance for biomedical innovation and diagnostic methods.

The claims at issue (see U.S. Patent No. 6,258,540 ) are directed to methods of genetic testing by detecting and amplifying paternally inherited fetal cell-free DNA (cffDNA) from maternal blood and plasma. Before the development of this non-invasive prenatal diagnostic test, patients were placed at much higher risk and maternal plasma was routinely discarded as waste.

In an earlier decision the district court ruled that the method claims were patent ineligible and an – apparently reluctant  – Federal Circuit agreed in Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc. 788 F.3d 1377 (Fed Cir. 2015). Judge Linn, for example, wrote that the innovation deserves patent protection, but also that the “sweeping language of the test” established in Mayo v. Prometheus requires a determination that the claims are patent ineligible. Continue reading

Stem cell patenting on the other side of the pond

We are pleased to announce a new publication in the International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law (IIC). Our paper analyzes new case law in European stem cell patenting and compares these developments with the US situation and International treaties. Further information and an abstract is available below:

Authors: Ana Nordberg & Timo Minssen, University of Copenhagen, Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR)

Title: A “Ray of Hope” for European Stem Cell Patents or “Out of the Smog into the Fog”? An Analysis of Recent European Case Law and How it Compares to the US
Journal: IIC – International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law, 47(2), 138-177
DOI: 10.1007/s40319-016-0449-x

ABSTRACT:  Continue reading

Evolving Industry Structures in Biosimilar Development

Yesterday, I had the privilege to moderate a fantastic event here at the Petrie-Flom Center on Assessing the Viability of FDA’s Biosimilars Pathway.  Bringing together expert panelists from legal practice (Donald R. Ware, Partner, Foley Hoag LLP), industry (Konstantinos Andrikopoulos, Lead IP Counsel, Manufacturing, Biogen, Inc.), and academia (W. Nicholson Price II, Assistant Professor of Law, University of New Hampshire School of Law), the event explored different aspects of the biosimilars issue, considering the guidances issued (and still to be issued) by the FDA, the role of the “patent dance” in biosimilar litigation, and whether Europe’s experience with biosimilars has helpful lessons for our own situation.  For those who weren’t able to make it, video of the event will be posted on the Petrie-Flom Center’s website soon.

But I wanted to write here about one of the very last questions we explored during the panel, because its implications are more far-reaching than we had the time to consider.  The situation is as follows:  In the decades after the Hatch-Waxman Act created a generic pathway for small-molecule drugs, companies typically specialized in developing either innovator or generic drugs, but not both.  And although generic drug companies had great capacity for innovating in manufacturing, they were not research companies in the way that we think about innovator companies.  The situation has changed somewhat over the years, as generic companies began to invest in innovative products, and as innovator companies put out authorized generics, but in general this broad division within industry has persisted.

In the biologic context, by contrast, the biosimilar applications being filed with the FDA are more typically being filed by innovator companies themselves or by subsidiaries thereof.  For instance, the only biologic approved in the United States thus far is marketed by Sandoz, which is part of the innovator company Novartis.  Instead of a situation in which innovators battle generic companies for access to the market, now innovator companies are battling themselves.  There are a host of reasons for this development, most notably including the complex manufacturing processes involved in the biologics space and the need for the development of expertise there.

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March-In Rights Alone Won’t Solve Our Drug Pricing Problems

On Monday, a group of over 50 members of Congress sent a letter urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to use a little-known statutory provision to take action against high drug prices.  Their goal is laudable, and HHS and the NIH should certainly offer guidance in this area – but the existing law offers only a partial solution to the problem as the legislators describe it.

The members of Congress wrote to remind HHS and the NIH of a provision in the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act giving the government “march-in rights” to patents resulting from government-funded research.  More specifically, the statute spells out a range of conditions under which the government may require a patentholder to grant licenses on reasonable terms to others to practice the patent.  The government may require such a license where “action is necessary to alleviate health or safety needs which are not reasonably satisfied,” 35 U.S.C. § 203(a)(2), or where the benefits of the invention are not being made “available to the public on reasonable terms,” 35 U.S.C. § 201(f).  The legislators argue that many drugs today violate these conditions, as even many insured Americans cannot access prescription drugs without incurring significant financial harm.

Although the “march-in rights” provision has existed in the statute since 1980, it has never been exercised by the federal government, even when it has been specifically asked.  And some of these cases have been paradigmatic examples where “health or safety needs” are not being satisfied.  A December 2015 study notes that in Bayh-Dole’s history, there have only been five petitions requesting that the NIH exercise its march-in rights.  Three of those requests were based on high prices for drugs for HIV/AIDS and glaucoma, and one was based on a persistent drug shortage which may have caused the deaths of people with Fabry disease, a rare condition.  (The fifth petition involved a medical device under patent litigation at the time.)  The NIH denied each request.  Some scholars argued that if the NIH denied the Fabry disease petition, where Genzyme’s drug shortages lasted for multiple years and caused great suffering, possibly including death, there may be no circumstances under which the NIH would grant such a petition.

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FDA Releases Report Detailing Problematic Laboratory-Developed Tests

Last week, the FDA issued a report presenting 20 case studies of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) that have or may have harmed patients, in support of its ongoing efforts to impose greater regulatory oversight on LDTs.  The report came just before yet another House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on the issue, and the timing of its release may have been motivated in part by questions FDA officials faced at the last Congressional hearing, about the existing evidence of harm to patients.  The report categorizes the 20 case studies into seven groups, organized by the primary problem posed by the LDT: those with a high degree of false positives (the test yields a positive result when the disease is not present), those with a high degree of false negatives (the test yields a negative result when the disease is present), those which yield both false positives and false negatives, those which test for a factor seemingly unrelated to the disease in question, those linked to treatments based on disproven scientific concepts, those which affirmatively undermined the drug approval process, and of course, “other.”

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Monday, 9/21, HLS Health Law Workshop with Jessica Roberts

HLS Health Law Workshop: Jessica Roberts

September 21, 2015 5:00 PM
Hauser Hall, Room 102
Harvard Law School, 1575 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge MA

Download the paper: “Theories of Genetic Ownership”

Jessica L. Roberts is the Director of the Health Law and Policy Institute and an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center. She specializes in health law, disability law, and genetics and the law. Prior to UH, Professor Roberts was an Associate-in-Law at Columbia Law School and an Adjunct Professor of Disability Studies at the City University of New York. Immediately after law school, she clerked for the Honorable Dale Wainwright of the Texas Supreme Court and the Honorable Roger L. Gregory of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Professor Roberts’ research operates at the intersection of health law and antidiscrimination law. Her scholarship has appeared, or is forthcoming, in the Indiana Law Journal, the William and Mary Law Review, the Iowa Law Review, the Minnesota Law Review, the University of Illinois Law Review, the Notre Dame Law Review, the Vanderbilt Law Review, the University of Colorado Law Review, the American Journal of Law and Medicine and the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, among others. Professor Roberts teaches, or has taught, Contracts, Disabilities and the Law, Genetics and the Law, and Health Law Survey. In 2015, she received the university-wide Teaching Excellence Award and the Provost’s Certificate of Excellence. Professor Roberts was named a 2018 Greenwall Faculty Scholar in Bioethics.

Wednesday Webcast: “Gene Patenting, Innovation Incentives, and the Future of Intellectual Property” by Derek Bambauer

This week, my colleague Derek Bambauer will speak as part of the Regulatory Science series at the University of Arizona.  Free CLE attendance form and readings are available.

Tune in at 12:00pm (Pacific) / 3:00pm (Eastern) on Wed Sept 16.

https://streaming.biocom.arizona.edu/event/?id=26071

The talk will also be archived at the same link.

Induced Infringement in Patent Law and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I often think and write about the interaction between the induced infringement doctrine in patent law and medical method patents of various kinds (previous blog posts are here and here).  Until the recent en banc decision in Akamai v. Limelight, courts had been extremely reluctant to attribute the actions of multiple parties to a single actor for purposes of assigning infringement liability.  These cases have largely involved business method or software patents, but I had hypothesized in prior work that this analysis would extend to medical method patents, making them difficult to enforce.

Last week, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana provided evidence for the opposite proposition.  Eli Lilly had sued a set of generic drug companies for patent infringement, arguing that they had induced physicians to infringe a set of method-of-treatment claims involving a chemotherapy drug.  The problem for Lilly was that its claims require action by both physicians and patients, who must take certain other medications, including folic acid, before the physician administers the chemotherapy drug.  Judge Pratt was tasked with determining whether the actions of the patient in preparing for their chemotherapy could be attributed to the physician.  She ruled that because the physician “directs or controls the patient’s administration of folic acid,” “the performance of all the claimed steps … can be attributed to a single person, i.e. the physician.”  As a result, the generic companies could be held liable for infringement.

One problem with Judge Pratt’s ruling is that it fails to confront the single Federal Circuit opinion to have considered and rejected this argument.  McKesson Technologies, Inc. v. Epic Systems Corporation dealt with a patent on electronic communication between physicians and their patients.  In that case, the Federal Circuit had occasion to consider how the doctor-patient relationship fits into the induced infringement paradigm.  Judge Linn’s opinion concluded that “[a] doctor-patient relationship does not by itself give rise to an agency relationship or impose on patients a contractual obligation such that the voluntary actions of patients can be said to represent the vicarious actions of their doctors,” declining to attribute the patients’ actions to their physicians for purposes of assigning liability.

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Akamai v. Limelight: Implications for Medical Method Patents (Redux)

Yesterday, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a unanimous en banc ruling in Akamai v. Limelight, altering the reach of patent liability for induced infringement of a method claim under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b).  This is the second time the en banc court has considered Akamai.  Three years ago, in a splintered decision, a majority of the court had ruled that liability for induced infringement was possible where no single entity had performed all the steps of a claim, but where those steps were divided between two or more parties, one of whom had induced the other(s) to infringe.  In 2014, the Supreme Court reversed, essentially reinstating this single entity rule, and after a panel opinion largely adopting the Supreme Court’s reasoning, a unanimous en banc court has now broadened – at least somewhat – the scope of divided infringement liability, relative to the Supreme Court’s decision.

More specifically, the Federal Circuit concluded that an entity may be held liable for others’ performance of steps of a method claim “in two sets of circumstances: (1) where that entity directs or controls others’ performance, and (2) where the actors form a joint enterprise.”  Noting the court’s prior holdings that these circumstances are met where there is an agency relationship between the relevant actors or there are explicit contractual duties to perform the steps of the method claims, the en banc court added another such circumstance in which liability may be found: “when an alleged infringer conditions participation in an activity or receipt of a benefit upon performance of a step or steps of a patented method and establishes the manner or timing of that performance.”  Because this third condition was present in the case under consideration, the Federal Circuit deemed Limelight liable for infringement.

Exactly thirteen months ago, after the Supreme Court’s decision but before the Federal Circuit had considered the case on remand, I had blogged here about the case’s potential implications for diagnostic method patents.  (For those interested in this field, I then wrote a longer article about diagnostic technologies more broadly, which features a more detailed explanation of this issue.) Essentially, my argument was that the increasing restrictions the courts have placed on patentable subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101 would interact with these new divided infringement rules.

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