Pfizer suffered a setback last week in its Australian battle to protect ENBREL (etanercept), when its preliminary discovery application against Sandoz was dismissed by Justice Burley in the Federal Court. The reasons for the dismissal are not yet public, subject to the parties seeking suppression orders over any confidential information contained in them, but are likely to be released in coming days.

ENBREL is Pfizer’s blockbuster autoimmune disorder therapy, used to treat various chronic diseases including rheumatoid arthritis. Commercially available in Australia since 2003, ENBREL was the only etanercept product registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods until 2016 when Samsung Bioepis registered BRENZYS, followed by Sandoz’s registration of ERELZI in 2017.

Given ENBREL’s success it is not surprising that patents covering the product are also being litigated elsewhere. In the United States, where Amgen holds the patent rights, ENBREL is its top selling product. The US Federal Appeal Court recently issued its judgment upholding the validity of the ENBREL patents and restraining Sandoz from entering the market there.  Amgen has also filed proceedings against Samsung Bioepis in the US, where Samsung’s ETICOVO is not yet on the market pending the outcome of that litigation.

In Australia, Pfizer launched its preliminary discovery application against Sandoz in November 2019, after winning a similar application against Samsung Bioepis in late 2017. In the Samsung case, Pfizer sought discovery of documents submitted to the Therapeutic Goods Administration in order to ascertain whether BRENZYS infringed three patents covering methods of producing polypeptides and/or proteins in the upstream bioprocessing phase.

The relevant Australian rules provide that preliminary discovery can be sought before a substantive proceeding is commenced, for discovery of documents directly relevant to the question of whether the applicant has a right to obtain relief from the Court. It is necessary to show that the applicant reasonably believes that they may have a right to such relief and that, after making reasonable inquiries, does not have sufficient information to decide whether to start a proceeding to obtain that relief. The Court has a discretion as to whether it makes a preliminary discovery order.

The key issue in the Samsung case was whether Pfizer had the requisite belief that it may have a right to obtain substantive relief; that is, in this case, a belief that Samsung was infringing its patents. The parties filed extensive affidavit evidence, including from experts on this topic. Pfizer advanced six contentions which it argued supported its reasonable belief, including the fact that BRENZYS had been registered on the basis of its biosimilarity with ENBREL, that specific characteristics of BRENZYS were similar to ENBREL, in particular it had similar glycosylation profiles, and that since ENBREL fell within the scope of the relevant patent claims, so must BRENZYS. Considering these arguments in detail, and noting that he had not had the benefit of cross examination of the witnesses, Justice Burley ultimately found that he was not convinced that there was a “reasonable basis” for Pfizer’s belief of patent infringement, as opposed to a mere suspicion (see Pfizer Ireland Pharmaceuticals v Samsung Bioepis AU Pty Ltd [2017] FCA 285). However, an appeal by Pfizer to the Full Federal Court was upheld (see Pfizer Ireland Pharmaceuticals v Samsung Bioepis AU Pty Ltd [2017] FCFCA 193). The Full Court emphasized that the inquiry was not to determine the dispute between the experts, or who was more persuasive, but rather whether Pfizer had a reasonable basis for a belief that it may have a right to obtain relief. Noting the very substantial evidence filed on the application, Allsop CJ emphasised that “these are summary applications not mini-trials”. The High Court subsequently refused special leave for a further appeal. After the matter was remitted to the primary judge to determine the final form of orders, those orders were made in May 2019 and the proceeding still continues after orders were made earlier this year for any application for further discovery to be filed.

In light of the more generous approach to preliminary discovery applied by the Full Court in the Samsung case, it will be interesting to see the reasons for Justice Burley’s decision in the Sandoz case. It certainly seems plausible that another appeal to the Full Court is on the horizon. More generally, we expect to see more preliminary discovery applications in patent disputes in years to come, given the increasing significance in Australia (as elsewhere) of biosimilar patent litigation. In that sphere, patents covering manufacturing processes are likely to assume greater importance in light of the additional complexities at play in claiming active biological molecules per se, and the significance of specific manufacturing processes in the production of biologics. Given the likely lack of available information as to a competitor’s manufacturing processes, preliminary discovery may be an essential weapon in many such cases. It also remains to be seen whether we will see more applications to be released from the general undertaking only to use information obtained in an Australian proceeding for the purpose of that proceeding, in order to allow, for example, preliminary discovery obtained in Australia at an early stage to be used for the purpose of corresponding US proceedings.

We look forward to providing a further update when the judgment is released in this case.

Authored by Katrina Crooks

Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation v Wyeth LLC (No 3) [2020] FCA 1477

Summary

Australia’s Federal Court has delivered judgment in a dispute concerning patents covering improvements in vaccines against Streptococcus pneumoniae, a leading cause of serious infections, particularly in children.  The judgment provides the first detailed analysis by a Federal Court judge of the Raising the Bar reforms to Australian patent law concerning sufficiency and support.  The decision demonstrates the profound implications of those reforms for permissible claim breadth in Australian patents.

Key takeaways

  • Australian patent law concerning sufficiency of description and support for claims underwent significant changes in 2012 as a result of the Raising the Bar amendments to the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) (Patents Act).
  • Due to generous transitional provisions, the amended law is only now coming before Australia’s Federal Court for interpretation and application.
  • European and UK authorities provide guidance on how the amended provisions of Australia’s Patents Act are likely to be interpreted and applied. In some cases, the amendments will result in a reduction in permissible claim breadth for Australian patents.
  • As a result of the transitional arrangements, many Australian patent disputes between now and least 2033 are likely to involve both patents subject to the pre-Raising the Bar law and patents subject the post-Raising the Bar Amendments may be required to avoid the latter patents being held invalid under the new, more stringent standards of sufficiency and support.

On 14 October 2020, Justice Stephen Burley delivered the judgment of the Federal Court of Australia in Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation v Wyeth LLC (No 3) [2020] FCA 1477.  The case concerned three patents owned by Wyeth LLC (Wyeth) relating to improvements in immunisation against infection by Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium responsible for meningitis, pneumonia and other serious illnesses, especially in children.

Justice Burley’s decision provides the first detailed analysis by the Federal Court of Australia concerning amendments made in 2012 to Australian patent law on the topics of sufficiency of description and support for claims.  The decision highlights the significant implications of those amendments for patent validity and claim scope.

The technology

Streptococcus pneumoniae (also referred to as “pneumococcus”) has an outer capsule that incorporates complex sugars known as polysaccharides.  Differences in capsular polysaccharides distinguish variants of pneumococcus, called “serotypes”.  More than 90 distinct serotypes have been described.  A more limited group of virulent serotypes are responsible for most serious pneumococcal infections.

The antibody response to capsular polysaccharides is generally poor in young children.  As a result, they are particularly susceptible to pneumococcal infections, which globally account for around 1 to 2 million childhood deaths each year.

To address this problem, “polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccines” were developed with the aim of stimulating immunity against serotypes of pneumococcus known to be responsible for a high proportion of human infections.  In such vaccines, capsular polysaccharides are joined (“conjugated”) to a carrier protein, leading to a stronger antibody response than is achievable with vaccines based on capsular polysaccharides alone.

A polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccine against pneumococcus developed by Wyeth, known as Prevnar 7®, was in clinical use before the priority date of the Composition Patents.  That product is a “7-valent” vaccine.  It comprises capsular polysaccharides from 7 different pneumococcus serotypes, in each case conjugated to a single protein (known as “CRM197”).  Evidence led in the case indicated that, before the priority date, steps had been taken to develop 9-valent and 11-valent polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccines against pneumococcus, but no such products had yet been licensed or launched.

The patents

Three patents were at issue in this proceeding.  Two of them, referred to by Burley J as the “Composition Patents”, were related members of the same patent family.  The more senior family member (referred to here as the “Parent Composition Patent”) was subject to the provisions of Australia’s Patents Act as they stood prior to the Raising the Bar amendments.  The more junior family member (referred to here as the “Child Composition Patent”) was subject to the post-Raising the Bar Patents Act.  The body of the specification was substantially the same in the parent and child patents.  It described multivalent immunogenic compositions (that is, vaccines) comprising 13 distinct polysaccharide-protein conjugates, thereby providing increased coverage of pneumococcal serotypes compared to the existing Prevnar 7® vaccine.

A third patent asserted by Wyeth in the proceeding, referred to by Burley J as the “Container Patent”, disclosed siliconized container means for the stabilization of polysaccharide conjugates.  The issues raised in the proceeding in relation to the Container Patent are not discussed here.

The proceedings

Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) sought revocation of Wyeth’s Composition Patents on a variety of grounds, including lack of novelty, lack of inventive step (i.e., obviousness), false suggestion, lack of clarity, lack of fair basis (in relation to the pre-Raising the Bar Parent patent) and lack of support (in relation to the post-Raising the Bar Child patent).

By a cross-claim, Wyeth alleged that a 15-valent pneumococcal vaccine which MSD proposed to launch and market in Australia would infringe selected claims of all three of the asserted patents.

Wyeth’s allegation that the Composition Patents would be infringed by marketing of MSD’s 15-valent vaccine in Australia gave rise to a critical issue of claim construction in the proceeding, namely, whether the claims of those patents were limited to 13-valent vaccines (as MSD contended) or extended to vaccines covering 13 or more serotypes (as Wyeth submitted).

The construction issue

Claim 1 of the Parent Composition Patent was in the following terms:

A multivalent immunogenic composition, comprising: 13 distinct polysaccharide-protein conjugates, together with a physiologically acceptable vehicle, wherein each of the conjugates comprises a capsular polysaccharide from a different serotype of Streptococcus pneumoniae conjugated to a carrier protein, and the capsular polysaccharides are prepared from serotypes 1, 3, 4, 5, 6A, 6B, 7F, 9V, 14, 18C, 19A, 19F and 23F and wherein said carrier protein is CRM197.

Insofar as is presently relevant, claim 1 of the Child Composition Patent was in similar (although not identical) terms.

The specification of each of the Composition Patents included text (standard in Australian patents) indicating that “comprising” is used in an inclusive sense (“including”) rather than an exhaustive sense (“consisting of”).  That text provided the basis for Wyeth’s submission that, because MSD’s 15-valent vaccine included the 13 serotypes identified in the claims of the Composition Patents, it fell within those claims.  On Wyeth’s construction, the presence of two additional serotypes in MSD’s 15-valent vaccine was irrelevant to infringement.

Arguing to the contrary, MSD submitted that its construction (limiting the claims to 13-valent vaccines) was the only construction consistent with the description of Wyeth’s invention in the specification taken as a whole.  A corresponding submission, based on similar (but not identical) claim language, had been accepted in related UK proceedings between MSD and Wyeth (see Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited v Wyeth LLC [2020] EWHC 2636 (Pat) at [251]-[270]).

However, on this key issue, Burley J preferred Wyeth’s construction.  In his Honour’s analysis, the inclusive definition of “comprising” was decisive.  Provided that a vaccine included each integer of Wyeth’s claims (including, relevantly, the 13 specified serotypes), it would infringe – a conclusion not altered by the presence in the infringing product of additional serotypes.

What is notable for present purposes is the very substantial breadth given to Wyeth’s claims on the construction adopted by Burley J.  On that construction, the range of valences covered by Wyeth’s claim would appear to have no upper bound.

Unsurprisingly, in view of this broad construction, a question arose as to whether the claims were fairly based on, or supported by, the disclosure contained in the body of the Composition Patent specification.  On that legal issue, the Raising the Bar amendments have brought about a profound shift in Australian law, as Burley J’s judgment demonstrates.

Raising the Bar reforms

The Raising the Bar reforms were introduced to address concerns that Australia’s patent standards were lower than those of its major trading partners, causing Australia’s innovation landscape to become cluttered with unduly broad patents.  The amendments were expressly directed at aligning key aspects of Australian patent law, including on sufficiency of disclosure and support for claims, with the standards applied by UK courts and the European Patent Office (EPO) Boards of Appeal.

Although the Raising the Bar amendments were enacted in April 2012, lengthy transitional provisions mean that many of the key reforms, including those concerning sufficiency and support, are only now coming before the courts for interpretation and application.

The law pre-Raising the Bar

Prior to the Raising the Bar reforms, the relationship between the disclosure in the body of a patent specification and the breadth of the claims was governed by the legal requirement for “fair basis”.  The leading authority on that requirement (Lockwood Security Products Pty Ltd v Doric Products Pty Ltd (2004) 217 CLR 274) established that fair basis does not turn on any inquiry into the patentee’s “technical contribution to the art”, but rather on whether each claim corresponds textually with what the patentee has described as their invention in the body of the patent specification.

The practical effect of Lockwood’s permissive interpretation of the fair basis requirement was amplified by the equally permissive interpretation of the sufficiency requirement given in the leading authority pre-Raising the Bar (Kimberly-Clark Australia Pty Ltd v Arico Trading International Pty Ltd (2001) 207 CLR 1).  That case stands as authority for the proposition that a patent specification will have adequately described the invention if it would enable a person skilled in the relevant art to produce “something” falling within each claim (referred to colloquially as the “one way rule”).

That body of law is of continuing relevance for Australian standard and innovation patents for which examination was requested before 15 April 2013.  In the present case, that “old” body of law applied to the Parent Composition Patent.

Applying those authorities, Burley J found little difficulty in concluding that, notwithstanding his Honour’s broad interpretation of the claims of the Parent Composition Patent, those claims were fairly based.  Reflecting the essentially textual nature of the pre-Raising the Bar test for fair basis, that conclusion followed from the fact that the description of the invention in the body of the Parent Composition Patent employed the same inclusive language (“comprising”) as appeared in the claims.

The law post-Raising the Bar

Following the Raising the Bar amendments, the provisions of Australia’s Patents Act dealing with sufficiency and support are in substantially the same terms as the corresponding provisions of the European Patent Convention and the United Kingdom’s Patents Act 1977.  Parliamentary records make clear that those provisions were intended to have substantially the same effect as their European and UK counterparts, and that Australia courts are expected to have regard to decisions of the EPO Boards of Appeal and of UK courts in interpreting those provisions.

Burley J reviewed a number of EPO and UK authorities, including the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court in Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc v Kymab Ltd [2020] UKSC 27, to interpret the post-Raising the Bar requirement that the claims be “supported by matter disclosed in the specification”.

Referring to the landmark decision of the House of Lords in Biogen Inc v Medeva Plc [1997] RPC 1, Burley J observed that the claim support obligation has come to be understood as falling “under the umbrella of the requirement that the patent specification contain an enabling disclosure”.  His Honour noted that, although the requirement for sufficient description is directed to the specification as a whole, while the requirement for support is directed specifically to the claims, both requirements serve to ensure that a person skilled in the relevant art, armed with the patentee’s specification, is enabled to perform the invention over the whole area claimed without undue burden.

Referring to the decision of the EPO Board of Appeal in Exxon/Fuel Oils (T 409/91) [1994] EPOR 149, Burley J noted that the requirement for enablement across the full claim scope has been recognised as reflecting the general legal principle that the scope of a patent monopoly, as defined by the claims, should correspond to the patentee’s technical contribution to the art, as disclosed in their specification.

Applying those authorities, Burley J concluded that the claims of the Child Composition Patent were not supported by the matter disclosed in the specification.  On the construction advanced by Wyeth and accepted by His Honour, those claims encompassed any polysaccharide-protein conjugate pneumococcal vaccine comprising 13 or more serotypes (provided the other claim integers were satisfied).  While there was no dispute that the specification of the Composition Patents would enable a skilled person to make and use a 13-valent vaccine, uncontested evidence established that the disclosure of the specification could not be extrapolated to vaccines containing other, additional serotypes.  Manufacture of polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccines comprising more than 13 serotypes was not enabled.

In the result, the asserted claims of the Parent Composition Patent were held to be valid and infringed, while the asserted claims of the Child Composition Patent were held invalid for lack of support.

Significance of the judgment

The disparate conclusions reached in this case concerning the Parent and Child Composition Patents serve to illustrate the profound changes to Australian law brought about by the Raising the Bar reforms.

Observers in other jurisdictions may find it curious that such starkly different findings could be made on the basis of very closely similar patent specifications.  The principle upon which the Child Composition Patent was held invalid (i.e., the requirement that claim breadth correspond to the patentee’s technical contribution to the art) is said to reflect the “essential patent bargain” whereby the patent holder is granted a time-limited monopoly in return for disclosing their invention in terms sufficiently clear and complete for it to be performed by those skilled in the art.  The fact that this requirement did not apply to the Parent Composition Patent serves to illustrate the extent to which, in the pre-Raising the Bar era, Australian patent law had diverged from the law applied by its major trading partners.

Such disparate outcomes are likely to remain a feature of Australian patent disputes for some years to come.  Australian patents subject to the pre-Raising the Bar law are expected to remain in force until at least 2033.

This decision also demonstrates that the post-Raising the Bar incarnations of Australia’s written disclosure requirements in s 40 of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) can be a much more powerful weapon in the arsenal of a party seeking to revoke an Australian patent.  Historically, the low thresholds for fair basis and sufficiency have provided relatively wide scope for Australian patentees in advancing positions on claim construction to capture alleged infringements.  This main constraint for patentees in advancing claim construction under the pre-Raising the Bar body of law has been (and will remain) potential novelty and inventive step consequences arising from constructions being so broad as to capture prior art or common general knowledge.  The onerous post-Raising the Bar support and sufficiency requirements will add an extra dimension to these construction “squeezes” and another powerful validity ground which must be fended off.

Furthermore, notwithstanding parliament’s intention that the post-Raising the Bar provisions concerning sufficiency of description and claim support be interpreted so as to have substantially the same effect as the corresponding provisions of European and UK law, lingering disparities between the law of those jurisdictions and the terms of Australia’s Patents Act mean that some independent development of Australian law on sufficiency and support appears inevitable.  Two examples may be noted.

First, under the UK’s Patents Act 1977, although both sufficiency and support are requirements for a valid patent application, only lack of sufficiency is available as a ground of revocation for granted patents.  UK courts have remedied that “logical gap” by recognising both requirements as aspects of a single unifying requirement for an enabling disclosure.  No such logical gap exists in Australia’s Patents Act, where both lack of sufficiency and lack of support are available as grounds for revocation.  Whether this difference will lead Australian courts to seek to disentangle the threads of sufficiency and support in the UK authorities remains to be seen.

Secondly, by contrast to the requirements of European and UK law, Australia’s post-Raising the Bar Patents Act continues to impose a requirement to disclose the “best method”.  European and UK authorities provide no guidance on how that requirement is to be accommodated with the law regarding sufficiency and support.  For such guidance, it may be necessary for Australian courts to look to United States authorities.  Whether they will choose to do so remains to be seen.

Given the significant commercial interests at stake, and the complexity of the legal and factual issues raised by the Prevnar® case, the likelihood of an appeal appears reasonably high.  Whether any appeal judgment casts further light on Australian patent law post-Raising the Bar is likely to depend upon whether the appeal court upholds the broad construction of Wyeth’s Composition Patent claims that was accepted by Burley J.

Authored by Andrew Rankine, Charles Tansey, PhD, Duncan Longstaff

Gliknik, Inc. v CSL Behring Lengnau AG [2020] APO 46 (“Gliknik”) concerned a patent application for engineered proteins intended for use as replacements for intravenous immunoglobulin.  The application included claims directed to methods of treating autoimmune or inflammatory diseases as well as a Swiss-style claim directed to the same diseases.  Gliknik, Inc. opposed the application on several grounds including that the specification did not sufficiently disclose the invention as claimed.

The standard for “sufficient” disclosure was raised in Australia following the commencement of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendments (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 and its assessment has been approached by the Australian Patent Office with the following two-step enquiry:

  1. Is it plausible that the invention can be worked across the full scope of the claim?
  2. Can the invention be performed across the full scope of the claim without undue burden?

In Gliknik, the Patent Office considered for the first time the plausibility of a Swiss-style claim. Following the principles recently set out by the Full Federal Court in Mylan Health Pty Ltd v Sun Pharma ANZ Pty Ltd [2020] FCAFC 116, the Delegate observed that Swiss-style claims confer a monopoly in respect of a method of making a medicament.  They are not product claims, nor are they method of treatment claims – the monopoly extends to the point where the medicament is made.

Nevertheless, Swiss-style claims are purpose-limited in the sense that the medicament resulting from the method is characterised by the therapeutic purpose for which it is manufactured, as specified in the claim.  Unlike method of treatment claims, however, a Swiss-style claim does not require that the therapeutic effect be achieved. Our analysis of Mylan Health Pty Ltd v Sun Pharma ANZ Pty Ltd [2020] FCAFC 116, including the court’s construction of Swiss-style claims, is available here.

Having construed the claims, the Delegate in Gliknik then considered whether the plausibility standard of therapeutic effectiveness (for method of treatment claims) differed from that of therapeutic purpose (for Swiss-style claims).  In the absence of Australian jurisprudence, the Delegate turned to UK authorities, and in particular, the principles set out by Sumption LJ in Warner-Lambert Company LLC v Generics (UK) Ltd [2018] UKSC 56.  Although that case concerned the plausibility of efficacy rather than purpose, the Delegate reasoned that, if the efficacy of a product is not plausible, then it would follow that an intention to treat would not be plausible.  The Delegate concluded that substituting the word “efficacy” for “purpose” in Sumption LJ’s comments would not provide any substantial difference to the plausibility analysis.

Turning then to the disclosure of the specification, and the evidence of the common general knowledge in the field, the Delegate found it plausible that the engineered proteins of the invention could effectively treat some, but not all, conditions specified in the claims.  For certain conditions, the specification provided no more than a speculative assertion and so the claims were found to be insufficiently enabled.

This decision shows that the Australian Patent Office will apply a similar standard of plausibility to method of treatment claims as it will to Swiss-style claims. For each type of claim, the disclosure of the specification, supplemented by the common general knowledge, must make the efficacy of the treatment plausible.

Authored by Michael Christie, PhD

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc. v Intervet International B.V. [2020] FCA 1333

Key takeaways:

  • For novelty purposes, expert evidence does not make up for a lack of sufficiently clear and unambiguous directions in the prior art or for a lack of teaching that would inevitably result in the invention
  • Invention was a “substantial departure” from known formulations, particularly in the face of a long-standing need for combination anthelmintic treatments and was thus not obvious
  • Lack of utility was not established in the circumstances

Background

Merial Inc (now Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc (Boehringer)) appealed from an opposition decision in respect of Australian patent application AU 2011268899 (the application).

The invention described in the application relates to injectable formulations comprising a macrocyclic lactone and levamisole for controlling parasites in animals, and the use of such formulations in the preparation of a medicament for controlling parasites.

The problem addressed by the application was that some parasites develop a resistance to anti-parasitic drugs. Combinations of known drugs had been used in the art to overcome this resistance, but it was desirable to develop an injectable formulation for a combination of a macrocyclic lactone and levamisole, two of the most widely used and effective antiparasitic (anthelmintic) drugs.

However, such combinations have been difficult to formulate, for three main reasons:

First, levamisole and macrocyclic lactones are chemically incompatible and tend to react with each other when combined.  Secondly, levamisole and macrocyclic lactones are stable under different pH conditions (levamisole requires a pH of about 3.0-4.0 to be stable, while macrocyclic lactones require a pH of around 6.0-7.0).  Finally, levamisole salts are soluble in water, whereas macrocyclic lactones are not water soluble but are soluble in organic solvents, and are commonly formulated in oils and organic solvents.

The invention in the application addressed these issues by adopting a non-aqueous solvent system comprising oil and an organic solvent, in which the macrocyclic lactone is in solution, and the levamisole is a salt in particulate form (that is, in suspension).  This type of formulation achieves a separation of the macrocyclic lactone and the levamisole, thus addressing the issue of chemical incompatibility.

Claim 1 of the application is as follows:

  1. An injectable formulation of a macrocyclic lactone and levamisole in a non-aqueous solvent system comprising oil and an organic solvent, wherein the macrocyclic lactone is in solution and the levamisole is a salt in a particulate form, and wherein the levamisole salt is present in the range of between 10-35% w/v.

The Appeal

Boehringer was unsuccessful in its opposition in the Patent Office and appealed on various grounds:

(a)          Lack of novelty.  Boehringer contended that various claims were not novel in light of Chinese patent application CN 1375291A (CN 291).

(b)          Lack of inventive step.  Boehringer contended that the claims did not involve an inventive step because they were obvious in the light of the common general knowledge considered alone, or the common general knowledge combined with CN 291.

(c)           Lack of utility.  Boehringer contended that the invention claimed in each of the claims was not useful, in that the claims of the application include embodiments that do not achieve the promise of a physically and chemically stable suspension formulation of a macrocyclic lactone and levamisole.

Novelty

CN 291 was a patent application published on 23 October 2002 for an invention titled “Veterinary Compound Injection Containing Levamisole or Salts thereof”.

Example 3 of CN291 set out an oil injection containing a combination of ivermectin (a macrocyclic lactone) and levamisole hydrochloride.  However, it was clear that the concentration of levamisole HCl in Example 3 at 5% w/v did not fall within the scope of claim 1 of the application, which specified 10-35% w/v.  Further, Example 3 did not set out any manufacturing steps, or any description of what was intended to be made.  Moreover, it did not describe the levamisole HCl as being in particulate form (or in a suspension).

Boehringer submitted that Example 3 of CN 291 was to be read in conjunction with claim 3 of CN 291, which discloses levamisole HCl in the amount of 10-20% w/v, and with page 3 of the specification, which discloses that preferably the levamisole HCl is present in the amount of 10-20% w/v.  Further, Boehringer submitted that a skilled person reading CN 291 as a whole would understand that CN 291 contained a direction, recommendation or suggestion to make the Example 3 formulation using 10-20% w/v levamisole HCl, because they would consider the 5% w/v concentration of levamisole HCl stated in Example 3 to be far too low for cattle, particularly in light of the other teaching in CN 291.

Based upon expert evidence, Boehringer further argued that the skilled person would expect the levamisole HCl in Example 3 to be suspended in the solvent system and to be present in particulate form, because the skilled person would expect that levamisole HCl will not dissolve in the solvent system of Example 3.  To support this view, Boehringer provided details of two formulations prepared by its expert witnesses following the guidance of CN 291 that fell within the scope of claim 1 of the application.

However, Moshinsky J was not convinced, finding that there was no sufficiently clear and unambiguous direction to modify Example 3 by applying the higher concentration level described elsewhere.  Further, the Court emphasised that Example 3 did not describe the intended formulation as one in which the levamisole HCl is in particulate form.

In addition, the appellant’s expert formulator conceded under cross-examination that the formulation in Example 3 could be a suspension or a solution.

The Court was not swayed by the experiments conducted by the appellant as they involved a number of departures from the teaching of Example 3, and did not establish that any steps used to manufacture a formulation having the composition of Example 3 would inevitably contain levamisole HCl in particulate form.

Inventive Step

Boehringer contended that that it would have been obvious to the notional skilled person or team, based on the common general knowledge alone, or in light of the common general knowledge together with CN 291, to make a suspension formulation using an oil or organic carrier as a base and a co-solvent such as benzyl alcohol (an organic solvent), in which the macrocyclic lactone was in solution and the levamisole salt was in suspension.  It submitted that the skilled person would appreciate that, in such a composition, the levamisole salt would be in particulate form, and that they would know to use a concentration of levamisole salt sufficient to achieve the desired dose in a product for cattle having a dose volume rate of 1 mL/25 kg, which results in a formulation in accordance with claim 1 of the application.

However, the Court found that an oily formulation with levamisole present as a particulate was a substantial departure from known formulations, particularly (and most significantly) in respect of levamisole.  The expert evidence had also shown that, in order to be effective, levamisole needed to reach a high peak concentration in the animal’s gut rapidly, and preferably underwent similarly rapid clearance from the animal to meet regulatory requirements.  As there were no existing formulations of levamisole as a particulate in oil, a carrier often used to slow down absorption of a drug, it was not clear in the common general knowledge whether an effective peak concentration of levamisole could be reached in the animal using such a formulation.  Further, the evidence showed that there is a risk that an active ingredient formulated as a suspension will not be dispersed evenly throughout the formulation, or may result in agglomeration of the particles.

Based upon the evidence, it was held that a solution appeared to be preferable to a suspension for an injectable formulation, and that the above uncertainties as to efficacy, as well as others, would point away from the adoption of such an approach.

Secondary evidence such as the long-standing need for combination treatments of levamisole and a macrocyclic lactone and the desirability of having such a combination in injectable form were also held to support the existence of an inventive step.

Moreover, it was held that CN 291 would not provide any direct assistance to the notional skilled team in addressing the known chemical incompatibility of levamisole and macrocyclic lactones, a finding that was conceded by experts for Boehringer during cross-examination.

Lack of Utility

Boehringer submitted that the stability data in Intervet’s patent application WO 2017/108954 A1 (WO 954) (which Intervet accepted disclosed formulations falling within the scope of claim 1 of the application in suit) demonstrates that not all formulations falling within the scope of the claims of the application achieve the promise of being physically and chemically stable.  In particular, Boehringer relied on data in Table 4 of WO 954 for 2 months, at which point a loss of stability was shown.

However, the figures in Table 4 for 3 months – this being the relevant period for the purposes of the promise – did not show such a loss of stability.  Accordingly, it was held that the data in Table 4 did not establish that the invention failed to meet the promise of stability (that is, stability for 3 months under accelerated conditions).  Moreover, it was found that the data in Table 4 was inherently unreliable, and, even if it had shown a loss of stability as at 3 months, the Court would not have been satisfied that the invention failed the promise of stability.

Costs of amendment applications

In a subsequent judgment (Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc. v Intervet International B.V. (No 2) [2020] FCA 1433, The Court dealt with the costs of two interlocutory amendment applications.

In respect of each interlocutory application to amend, the Court found that “Intervet sought something in the nature of an indulgence.”  Referring to Les Laboratoires Servier v Apotex Pty Ltd (2010) 273 ALR 630 at [59]; cf Eli Lilly and Co v Pfizer Research and Development Co NV/SA (2003) 59 IPR 234, the Court held that in such cases, the patentee may be ordered to pay the costs of the amendment application, regardless of the outcome.

Accordingly, Boehringer’s request that each party bear its own costs was appropriate, particularly in circumstances where there was no adjudication on the merits of either application because Boehringer had ultimately consented to the amendments.

Authored by Ean Blackwell and Katrina Crooks

Ono Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. et al [2020] APO 43 (16 September 2020)

Background

Australia’s Patents Act provides a patent term extension (PTE) to account for the delays that can occur when obtaining regulatory approval for a pharmaceutical substance.   The extension can last for up to five years and is available when the following requirements are met:

  • the patent, in substance, discloses and claims a pharmaceutical substance per se, or a pharmaceutical substance when produced by recombinant DNA technology;
  • goods containing or consisting of the pharmaceutical substance are included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG); and
  • the first regulatory approval for the pharmaceutical substance occurred more than five years after the filing date of the patent.

The length of a patent term extension is equal to the period between the filing date of the patent and the date of the earliest first regulatory approval, reduced by five years.

The decision

Ono Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. et al [2020] APO 43 concerned a request to extend the term of a patent covering anti-PD-1 antibodies.  The patent included claims for two blockbuster drugs; Merck Sharp & Dohme’s KEYTRUDA and the patentee’s OPDIVO, both of which received regulatory approval in Australia, but on different dates.  The question at issue, then, was which regulatory approval date was relevant for deciding the patentee’s PTE request.

The patentee hedged its bet, filing two PTE requests; one based on KEYTRUDA, which received regulatory approval on 16 April 2015, and another based on OPDIVO, which received regulatory approval on 11 January 2016.  From the patentee’s perspective, the request based on OPDIVO was preferred as it would result in a longer extended term (an additional 8 months, 26 days).  However, the Patent Office refused that request, finding that KEYTRUDA was included on the ARTG first and therefore should form the basis of the request.  The patentee disagreed and requested to be heard.

In the hearing, the patentee submitted that the “first regulatory approval date” should be the approval date of their own product, OPDIVO.  This, they argued, was consistent the purpose of the extension of term provisions, that being to restore the time lost by patentees in gaining marketing approval, and to compensate the patentee for the additional time, expense and difficulty in developing and commercialising a new drug.

The patentee argued that the reference to “first” regulatory approval in the Act was only important when multiple regulatory approval dates existed for the same substance, such as for different delivery forms (e.g. capsules, gel capsules, tablets, slow-release, different amounts, etc) that manifested in different ARTG registrations.  According to the patentee, it was only logical, given that the regime is intended to be beneficial and remedial, that it can only be about rewarding patentees for their work and, by implication, not the work of others.  If not, the patentee would not receive the full extension of term for their product.

The Delegate accepted that the PTE regime was designed to encourage the development of new drugs, but rejected the patentee’s broader purposive construction of the Act.  Such a construction, the Delegate noted, would encourage companies to develop a substance that is not new and seek regulatory approval as late as possible, secure in the knowledge that a PTE will be granted for the (not new) substance.  According to the Delegate, this type of scheme would not incentivise new drugs. Rather, it would incentivise new extension applications.

The Delegate acknowledged that there is some ambiguity in the words of the Act insofar as they do not say one way or the other whether the relevant pharmaceutical substance is only that belonging to the patentee, or whether it includes other, equivalent substances owned by third parties.  But the Delegate also noted that this ambiguity had been dealt with previously by the Patent Office in G.D. Searle LLC [2008] APO 31.  In that case, the Patent Office held that an application for PTE must be based on the earliest inclusion on the ARTG of a pharmaceutical substance falling within the scope of the claims, irrespective of the sponsor of the goods.  Moreover, in Pfizer Corp v Commissioner of Patents (No 2) [2006] FCA 1176, the Federal Court of Appeals held that “the term of the extension is based on the earliest inclusion, regardless of the identity of the sponsor. It is not open to the Commissioner to calculate the term of the extension only on the basis of goods sponsored by the Patentee.”

The Delegate therefore found that the substance with the earliest regulatory approval date for the purpose of the PTE request was KEYTRUDA, not OPDIVO.  As such, the patentee’s request for a PTE based on OPDIVO was refused.

Conclusion

In circumstances where a patent claims more than one registered pharmaceutical substance, this decision confirms that the earliest registered substance will be used to determine eligibility for a PTE and to calculate the length of the extension, irrespective of whether the registered substance is owned by the patentee or by a third party.  Patentees should therefore be aware of all pharmaceutical substances covered by their claims, not just those they are seeking to commercialise. If a patent application covers more than one pharmaceutical substance, an applicant may be well-advised to file one or more divisional applications to ensure that each registered substance is quarantined within its own patent, thus enabling maximum extensions to be sought for each patent separately.

Authored by Ean Blackwell and Katrina Crooks

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Authored by Michael Christie, PhD and Ean Blackwell

Australia’s Full Federal Court recently delivered judgment in an appeal in a significant patent case: Mylan Health Pty Ltd v Sun Pharma ANZ Pty Ltd [2020] FCAFC 116.  The case concerned three patents relevant to Mylan’s oral lipid-lowering agent, Lipidil® (fenofibrate).

An enlarged Full Court bench comprising 5 judges (Middleton, Jagot, Yates, Beach and Moshinsky JJ) was appointed to hear and decide Mylan’s appeal.  This was because Mylan sought to clarify the Full Court’s previous statement in Merck & Co Inc v Arrow Pharmaceuticals Ltd [2006] FCAFC 91; 154 FCR 31 that the characterisation of an alleged anticipation as a “suggestion” in relation to the invention, is “not necessarily fatal to a novelty argument”.  Mylan submitted this statement by the Full Court did not countenance “mere speculation” or “the presentation of no more than a reasoned hypothesis” as an anticipatory disclosure.  On this basis, Mylan submitted to the Full Court (unsuccessfully, as explained below) that the trial judge (Nicholas J) had erred in finding that a hypothesis stated in a prior art document relating to a clinical study deprived methods of treatment claims of novelty.

The Full Court’s decision also provided important guidance in relation to the approach taken by Australian courts in considering obviousness, the construction and infringement of ‘Swiss-style’ claims under Australian patent law and the extent to which consistory clauses alone can provide fair basis for a claim.

Method of treatment and Swiss-Style claims lack novelty in light of clinical trial protocol

The Full Court considered whether method of treatment and Swiss-style claims could be anticipated by prior art comprising a protocol for a clinical trial of the claimed method.

Mylan argued that such a protocol could not be novelty-defeating, because at most it identified a hypothesis that required testing, and could not be understood as teaching or recommending that the claimed method be put to clinical use.  The Full Court rejected that analysis and upheld the trial judge’s finding that Mylan’s method of treatment and Swiss-style claims lacked novelty.

The Full Court held that, in assessing novelty, the key question is whether the information disclosed in the prior art is sufficiently specific and complete to be equal to the invention that is later claimed.  If so, then even a protocol for a trial to test the claimed method could be novelty-defeating.  The Full Court acknowledged that, in this respect, Australia’s law on novelty differs from the law applied by UK courts in cases such as Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc v Genentech Inc [2012] EWHC 657 (Pat) and Hospira UK Limited v Genentech Inc [2015] EWHC 1796 (Pat), which hold that the prior art must disclose actual achievement of the relevant therapeutic effect to be novelty-defeating.

This aspect of the Full Court’s decision arguably fails to give due consideration to the proper meaning and importance of words such as “treat” and “prevent” in method of treatment and Swiss-style claims.  As Mylan contended, at the stage of disclosing the protocol for a clinical trial, it is not known whether the product or method under consideration does in fact “treat” or “prevent” the particular condition or illness of interest, and there is a significant prospect that it will later prove ineffective or unsafe.  The approach of the Full Court and the primary judge makes clear that the nature and extent of the prior-published clinical trial protocol or other document will be critical in each case.  Those case-specific factual issues will be especially important in future cases, as it would seem a harsh outcome for patentees for statements of unproven hypotheses, theories, ideas or suggestions to anticipate and invalidate (for lack of novelty, putting aside considerations of obviousness which depend on the common general knowledge and availability of prior art) claims to a method that the patentee has subsequently proven effective and safe in “treating” or “preventing” the particular condition or illness.

Obviousness of formulation and method of treatment claims

Australian Courts generally assess obviousness by asking whether, before the priority date, a skilled person presented with the same problem as the patent owner would have been “directly led to try the claimed subject matter with a reasonable expectation of success” (referred to as the “modified Cripps question”).  Historically, that test has been applied in a strict manner by Australian courts, leading a number of patents to be upheld in Australia that have been invalidated on obviousness grounds in other jurisdictions.

Recently, however, Australian courts have adopted a more flexible interpretation of the Cripps test.  This Mylan case continues that trend.  The trial judge held two of Mylan’s patents (one relating to nanoparticulate formulations of fenofibrate, the other relating to methods of preventing or treating retinal damage associated with diabetes by administering fenofibrate) invalid on obviousness grounds, and the Full Court upheld those findings.

The following aspects of the Court’s obviousness analysis are notable:

  • Mylan’s patent for a nanoparticle formulation of fenofibrate included claims which required the use of specified surface stablizers.  The trial judge did not find that the skilled person would have been directly led to select those specific stabilizers with an expectation that they would be effective. Rather, he found that the claimed stabilizers were logical to try and that routine, trial-and-error testing would have demonstrated their suitability.  The Full Court agreed this was sufficient to support an obviousness finding.
  • In relation to Mylan’s method of treatment patent, an expert gave evidence that, before the priority date, his expectation of success with the claimed method would have been less than 50%.  The trial judge held that evidence was not inconsistent with a finding of obviousness, because the Cripps test does not require a numerical assessment.  Again, the Full Court agreed with that analysis.

The test for obviousness applied by Australian courts remains more demanding upon the party seeking revocation than the approach taken by (for example) the European Patent Office or the UK courts.  However, the Mylan decision continues a trend in Australian patent cases towards a more flexible application of the obviousness test that is somewhat closer to the approach taken by the European Patent Office and UK courts.  This serves to emphasise the importance of careful preparation of the obviousness defence in close collaboration with inventors and key expert witnesses.

Defining the scope of Swiss-style claims

The claims asserted by Mylan included Swiss-style claims.  Swiss-style claims are typically drafted in the form “Use of [active ingredient] in the manufacture of a medicament for the treatment of [disease or disorder]”.  They came about from the need to satisfy particular requirements for patentability which formerly applied under the European Patent Convention.  Although these requirements do not exist in Australia, Swiss-style claims are routinely included in Australian patents as their scope is different from that of method of treatment claims, which are also permitted under Australian law.

The Full Court in this Mylan case examined the interpretation of Mylan’s Swiss-style claims, having regard to the decision of the UK Supreme Court in Generics (UK) v Warner-Lambert [2018] RPC 2, and provided guidance on determining the scope of such claims under Australian law.

One of the Swiss-style claims asserted by Mylan recites:

 “Use of fenofibrate or a derivative thereof for the manufacture of a medicament for the prevention and/or treatment of retinopathy, in particular diabetic retinopathy”.

The Full Court confirmed that the claim, if valid, conferred a monopoly in respect of the method or process of making the medicament, and that the method or process is complete upon manufacture.  The monopoly did not extend to a method of treatment – that being the province of method of treatment claims.  The Full Court also confirmed that Swiss-style claims are purpose-limited in the sense that the medicament resulting from the method or process is characterised by the therapeutic purpose for which it is manufactured, as specified in the claim.  The Full Court rejected the “outward presentation” test that was favoured by Lords Sumption and Reed in the UK Warner-Lambert case.

In the first instance decision, the primary judge said that the the crucial question concerning the infringement of a Swiss-style claim was whether the manufacturer had made or will make the medicament with the intention that it be used in the treatment of the designated condition.  On this basis, to prove infringement of a Swiss-style claim, it would not be enough to show that it was “reasonably foreseeable” that a generic product would be put to the use referred to in those claims (although foreseeability could be relevant in the overall analysis).  The trial judge held that, to prove infringement of Swiss-type claims, it would be necessary to show that the generic intended that its product be put to the use referred to in the Swiss-style claims.

The Full Court disagreed with this approach, instead finding that infringement of a Swiss-style claim is concerned with what the allegedly infringing manufacturer has done, not what it intended to do.  That is, not what a generic manufacturer intended, but what the generic product is for.  According to the Full Court, a single factual question arises when considering infringement:  as the product of the claimed method or process, is the medicament for the specified therapeutic purpose?  The question, the Full Court said, is answered having regard to “all the circumstances of the case”.

The Full Court pointed to several such “circumstances” that will be relevant in determining the therapeutic purpose of the medicament as defined by a Swiss-style claim.  First, the court noted that the physical characteristics of the medicament as it emerges as a product of the manufacturing process, including its formulation and dosage, packaging and labelling, and its patient information, will be an important consideration.  So too will evidence of the manufacturer’s actual intention in making the medicament, where such evidence is available.  Both factors are relevant considerations, but neither is determinative.

On the facts of this case (which included “skinny labelling” confining the approved indications of the generic product to indications outside the conditions within Mylan’s method of treatment claims), the Full Court held that Mylan had not proved that Sun’s fenofibrate products were “for” the second medical use covered by Mylan’s Swiss-type claims.

The Full Court also gave consideration to the reasonably foreseeable use or uses to which the medicament would be put after manufacture.  But while a reasonably foreseeable use may be relevant in deciding the therapeutic purpose of a medicament, it is also not determinative:  it might be reasonably foreseeable that a product might be put to a particular use, but it does not necessarily follow that the product, as manufactured, is for that use.

The Full Court agreed with the primary judge that mere suitability of a medicament for a claimed purpose cannot be determinative of the question of infringement of a Swiss-style claim.  The fact that the patent has been granted on the basis of a second medical use means that there are multiple uses to which the medicament could be put.  Evidence of suitability for use was therefore considered ambiguous and could not alone answer the question whether the medicament, as manufactured, is one for the specified therapeutic purpose.

Ultimately, the Full Court found that the Swiss-style claims, if valid, would not have been infringed by the manufacture of Sun’s competing product.  Of particular relevance to the Full Court’s decision was the fact that the competing product could be used in a large number of diseases other than retinopathy.

The decision validates the importance of including both Swiss-style claims and method of treatment claims when protecting a therapeutic use in Australia.  Both types of claim are permitted in Australia, and although their scope is limited to the specified therapeutic use, each will directly capture a different infringer.  In particular, Swiss-style claims provide a more direct avenue than method of treatment claims for pursuing manufacturers of competitive pharmaceutical products, rather than the medical practitioners who perform the treatment.

Consistory clauses may not provide fair basis if too broad 

Mylan’s third patent, relating to an immediate-release micronized formulation of fenofibrate, was found by both the primary judge and the Full Court to be invalid for lack of fair basis.  The Full Court endorsed the primary judge’s reasoning that the disclosure elsewhere in Mylan’s patent specification made clear that the invention was to the immediate release fenofibrate composition and a method for preparing it, whereas Mylan had advanced a construction of a consistory clause and corresponding claims to the effect that the invention extended to any composition of fenofibrate which satisfies the specified dissolution profile.  The Full Court affirmed that, as Sun Pharma had submitted, this is “a paradigm example of claims which travel beyond the matter disclosed in the specification”, amounting to invalidity for lack of fair basis.

The fair basis test considered in this case still applies to Australian patents for which examination was requested prior to 15 April 2013, when the “Raising the Bar” amendments came into effect.  The ‘fair basis’ requirement is generally considered to be a lower standard for patentees than the ‘support’ requirement that replaced it from 15 April 2013, which Australian Parliament expressly intended to align more closely with requirements under European law.  Therefore, if a consistory clause alone will not necessarily provide fair basis, that risk is likely to be even more significant for more recent patents and pending future patent applications required to meet the higher standard of support (such as an “enabling disclosure”).

Authored by Duncan Longstaff and Michael Christie, PhD

The Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012 was introduced in Australia with the intention of aligning Australia’s written description requirements with those in the UK and Europe. Under the new Act, a specification must disclose the invention in a manner which is clear enough and complete enough for the invention to be performed by a person skilled in the relevant art (section 40(2)(a)) and the claims must be supported by the matter disclosed in the specification (section 40(3)).

In some cases, patent applicants can submit data not included in the specification as filed (so called post-filing data) in an effort to overcome section 40 objections. But there are currently no guidelines in Australia’s Patent Manual of Practice and Procedure concerning the use of post-filing data.  A recent decision in BASF Corporation [2019] APO 34 confirms that post-filing data can assist in overcoming section 40 objections provided the data is confirmatory in nature.

Background

The decision in BASF relates to two patent applications – Application No. 2017204400 (the 400 application) and Application No. 2017204506 (the 506 application) – filed by BASF Corporation (the Applicant).  The 400 application relates to synergistic mixtures of Bacillus subtilis MBI600 and a second compound selected from a range of fungicidal or insecticidal compounds and plant growth regulators. The 506 application relates to synergistic mixtures of Bacillus pumilus INR7 and a second compound selected from a wide range of fungicidal or insecticidal compounds and plant growth regulators, or Bacillus subtilis MBI600. The applications describe several strategies by which synergy may be assessed and disclose data demonstrating synergistic mixtures, none of which were claimed.

The issues and findings  

In maintaining support and sufficiency objections against both applications, the Examiner adopted the two-step enquiry set out in Evolva SA [2017] APO 57:

Does the specification provide an enabling disclosure of all the things that fall within the scope of the claims, and in particular:

(a) Is it plausible that the invention can be worked across the full scope of the claim?

(b) Can the invention be performed across the full scope of the claim without undue burden?

The Examiner was satisfied that there would be no undue burden for the skilled person to perform the claimed invention as the claims were substantially narrowed during prosecution. However, the Examiner alleged that the applications failed the plausibility test (step (a)). In response, the Applicant submitted post-filing experimental data showing synergistic activity of some of the claimed mixtures. This was rejected by the Examiner who alleged that the specifications were speculative, and in the absence of a principal of general application supporting broad applicability of synergy at the filing date, the post-filing evidence of synergy cannot be used to demonstrate sufficiency (and support) of the specifications. The Examiner referred to the UK Supreme Court judgement in Warner-Lambert v Generics & Anr [2018] UKSC 56 (Warner-Lambert; previously reported here) which states (emphasis added):

“Sufficiency of disclosure must be satisfied at the effective date of the patent, ie on the basis of the information in the patent application together with the common general knowledge then available to the skilled person. Acknowledging sufficiency of disclosure on the basis of relevant technical information produced only after this date would lead to granting a patent for a technical teaching which was achieved, and, thus, for an invention which was made, at a date later than the effective date of the patent…”

The Applicant requested the matter be heard by the Patent Office. With regard to the role of post-filing data, the Delegate noted the absence of authority on this issue and observed “This is a matter which has not received attention following the implementation of the Raising the Bar Act, and so, in accordance with the guidance in the Explanatory Memorandum, I will have regard to UK and European case law as to the role of such evidence in relation to questions of support and sufficiency.”

Turning then to UK authorities, the Delegate cited Lord Sumption in Warner-Lambert at [72]:

“This does not mean that subsequent data is never admissible in a dispute about sufficiency, but the purpose for which it is admitted is strictly limited.  Where the asserted therapeutic effect is plausible in the light of the disclosure in the patent, subsequent data may sometimes be admissible either to confirm that or else to refute a challenger’s contention that it does not actually work … it cannot be a substitute for sufficient disclosure in the specification.”

The Applicant argued that the post-filing evidence submitted in this case: 1) supplemented the evidence contained in the specifications; and 2) refuted the contentions of the Examiner regarding the unpredictability of synergy. The Applicant submitted declaratory evidence from an inventor attesting that the disclosure in the specifications of synergy between a particular Bacillus and a chemical pesticide having a given mechanism of action makes it more or less likely that synergy will be observed with a different chemical pesticide with a different mechanism of action. Accepting the Applicant’s evidence, the Delegate found that the post-filing data confirmed the expectation of the skilled person having regard to the specification as filed and the common general knowledge as at the filing date.  Accordingly, the claims were found to be fully supported and sufficiently enabled by the specification as filed.

Implications

This decision confirms that post-filing experimental data can help establish sufficiency and support provided the data confirms the information disclosed in the specification as understood by a skilled person in the art.  In our experience, post-filing data can be, and has been, persuasive in overcoming written description objections.

Authored by Michael Christie, PhD

Biological molecules, including polypeptides and, in some cases, nucleic acids, can be patented under Australian law.  The level of disclosure that is required to support and enable a claim to a polypeptide will depend on several factors, including:

i.    the identity of the person skilled in the art;

ii.   the information disclosed in the specification;

iii.  the function of the polypeptide; and

iv.  the specific sequence being claimed.

This article briefly describes how each of these factors contributes to the determination of a claim’s scope under Australian practice.

The person skilled in the art

In considering whether a claim is sufficiently enabled, the Australian Patent Office will ask:

i.   whether it is plausible that the invention could be worked across the full scope of the claim; and

ii.  whether the invention can be performed across the full scope of the claim without undue burden.

The answer to both questions will depend on the identity of the hypothetical person skilled in the art.  The skilled person may carry out ordinary methods of trial and error and may use their common general knowledge to supplement the information contained in the patent specification.[1]  Where the subject matter of the invention is inherently complex – protein engineering may be one example – a substantial amount of work may be required, and indeed expected, for a person skilled in the art to perform the claimed invention.  When seeking to claim a large number of polypeptides, a patent applicant will therefore be well served if they can frame the invention as one which lies within a complex technical field, where the “ordinary” skilled person is highly qualified and capable of complex experimental techniques.

The skilled person played a prominent role in Evolva SA [2017] APO 57 (“Evolva”), a case which concerned the use of uridine-5′-diphospho-dependent glycosyltransferases (UGTs) to glycosylate mogrol.  The specification described only five UGTs, but the claims encompassed the use of polypeptides having at least 90% sequence identity to any one of them.  The examiner rejected the claims, alleging that an undue burden would be placed on the skilled person who would have to produce every polypeptide encompassed by the claims and then perform an assay on each to identify those which exhibited the desired activity.  In arriving at the decision, the examiner characterised the skilled person as being “a single synthetic chemist, perhaps a PhD candidate”.

The matter was heard before a Delegate of the Commissioner of Patents who ultimately allowed the application including claims that defined polypeptides having at least 90% sequence identity to any one of the five UGTs described in the specification.  Crucial to the Delegate’s decision was the characterisation of the person skilled in the art.  Contrary to the examiner’s characterisation, the Delegate considered that a team, comprising biotechnologists and synthetic chemists, would be the “person” to whom the specification is addressed.[2]  Needless to say, the team of people described by the Delegate was considered to have a much wider breadth of skills and knowledge at their disposal when it comes to assessing the plausibility of, and to performing, the invention as claimed.

 The information disclosed in the specification

Australian law does not prescribe a level of experimental data that must be disclosed by a patent specification to enable a polypeptide claim of a certain scope.  Of course, an abundance of experimental data will, in many cases, help to enable a claim that encompasses a broad range of polypeptides, particularly when it comes to demonstrating the plausibility of the claimed invention.  However, plausibility can also be demonstrated by a priori reasoning.[3]  In the absence of extensive experimental data, a broadly drafted claim may be enabled where the specification discloses a technical rationale that makes the claimed invention plausible to a person skilled in the art and provides guidance for the skilled person to perform the invention across the full scope of the claim.

To take a simple example, a claim which defines an antibody solely by reference to its target-binding specificity will typically be enabled provided the target is new and the specification sufficiently describes the epitope and has shown the antibodies can be raised against it.  In such cases, the specification need only disclose one such antibody since raising antibodies against the epitope is considered to be a principle that can be generally applied to produce antibodies across the entire scope of the claim.[4]  In each case, the question to ask is whether, based on the disclosure of the specification, including any a priori reasoning provided therein, a person skilled in the art would find the claimed invention plausible and could work the invention across the full scope of the claim.

The function of the polypeptide

A novel polypeptide may be defined in a claim either structurally, such as by its amino acid sequence, or functionally, for example, by its target-binding specificity or its enzymatic activity.  But somewhat paradoxically, a narrower claim which includes both structural and functional limitations can, in some cases, be found insufficiently enabled.

Take, for instance, our antibody example above.  While an antibody defined solely by its target-binding specificity may be fully enabled, further defining the antibody by reference to one or more of its complementarity determining regions (CDRs) will often render the claim insufficiently enabled.  The Patent Office takes the position that the disclosure of the epitope is not a principle of general application that can be applied to generate the antibodies in the claimed subset, to the exclusion of other antibodies not encompassed by the claim.[5]  In performing the claimed invention, a person skilled in the art would have to raise antibodies against the epitope and then perform an additional sequencing step to identify those that fall within the claimed subset.  This, in the Patent Office’s view, would place an undue burden on the person skilled in the art.

There is no general rule, however, prohibiting the inclusion of functional and structural limitations in a claim.  In Evolva, the claims in question defined a method of producing a mogroside compound using a UGT having at least 90% sequence identity to any one of five UGTs described in the specification.  Given what was known about the structure and function of UGTs, including the information disclosed by the specification, the Delegate found that the skilled person would consider it plausible that functional variants to a level of identity of at least 90% could be identified and would be useful in the claimed methods.[6]  On the issue of “undue burden”, the Delegate observed that the specification provided sufficient information about the manner in which UGT variants may be generated and tested.  Although such tests may involve time-consuming experimentation, they did not, it was found, present difficulties that would require the skilled person to undertake any prolonged research or experimentation that would be considered an undue burden in the relevant field of technology.[7]

The decision in Evolva contrasts with the more recent decision in Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, where the Patent Office rejected claims directed to deimmunized therapeutic proteins having an extended serum half-life. The therapeutic proteins comprised an albumin-binding domain (ABD) that could bind to serum albumin and thereby extend the half-life of the entire protein.

Claim 1 of the application defined a polypeptide comprising a variant ABD, the variant ABD having an amino acid sequence that differs from wild-type ABD by comprising one of two combinations of amino acid substitutions.  Importantly, the claim also included two functional limitations, namely that the ABD is deimmunized and that it is albumin-binding.

The use of the inclusive term “comprising” in claim 1 allowed for the variant ABD to have any number of mutations, provided it included those specifically recited in the claim. While acknowledging that the level of skill possessed by the relevant person skilled in the art would be high, it was not apparent to the Delegate that the skilled person would appreciate what mutations could be combined with those specified in the claim whilst achieving the functional limitations of the claims.[8]  To the contrary, evidence suggested that combinations of mutations would have an unpredictable effect on albumin-binding and could even introduce immunogenic regions.[9]  The Delegate found that the work required to identify variants having the desired properties, particularly the ability to bind albumin, while systematic and iterative, is unpredictable, with limited guidance provided by the specification.  The effort required to perform the invention across the full scope of the claims was described as being “in the nature of a research project” and therefore constituted an undue burden.[10]

The specific sequence being claimed

Certain polypeptides, and indeed certain regions within a polypeptide, may be more likely than others to tolerate amino acid variation without compromising the functionality of the polypeptide.  Large structural proteins, for instance, may tolerate a greater level of variation compared to smaller antigen-binding proteins or enzymes.

When it comes to antibodies, for example, one might expect that an amino acid change within a CDR would be more likely to affect binding specificity compared with an amino acid change within a framework region. (Of course, amino acid changes within the framework region can still impair the folding within, or the pairing between, the variable domains.)  Given the significant role played by the CDRs in dictating binding specificity, the Patent Office may allow a greater degree of sequence variability within the variable domain than it would within the CDRs themselves.  For claims which define an antibody solely by its heavy and light chain variable regions, the Patent Office has allowed 90% sequence identity.[11]

In some cases, mutations within a polypeptide may have unpredictable effects on the polypeptide’s function.  In Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, evidence was adduced showing that mutations would have an unpredictable effect on certain properties of the claimed polypeptide; properties that were included in the claims as functional limitations.[12]  Given the unpredictability in the art, and the lack of guidance provided by the specification, the Delegate found that the work required to perform the invention across the full scope of the claims would constitute an undue burden, and so the claims were found to be insufficiently enabled.[13]

Conclusions

When patenting polypeptides, there is no general rule that dictates the level of sequence variation that may be encompassed by any particular claim.  Certain proteins may be more resilient than others to amino acid changes, or the changes may have predictable consequences on the protein’s function, in which case, a broad range of protein variants may be validly claimed.  A large number of variants may also be claimed in circumstances where the person skilled in the relevant art is highly qualified and capable of complex experimental techniques that could be employed to perform the invention across the full scope of the claims.  Examples in the specification which demonstrate the functionality of protein variants can also help, but so too can a technical rationale which makes the claimed invention plausible and workable across the full scope of the claims.


[1] Eli Lilly & Co v. Human Genome Sciences, Inc [2008] RPC 29, [239]. Evolva SA [2017] APO 57, [24].

[2] Evolva, [54].

[3] Warner-Lambert v. Generics (t/a Mylan) & Actavis [2018] UKSC 56.

[4] The Australian Patent Office Manual of Practice and Procedure, s 2.11A Annex A.

[5] The Australian Patent Office Manual of Practice and Procedure, s 2.11A Annex A.

[6] Evolva, [62].

[7] Evolva, [68].

[8] Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, [95].

[9] Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, [97]-[99].

[10] Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, [107].

[11] See, for example, Australian Patent No. 2015242981.

[12] Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, [97]-[99].

[13] Gary B Cox v MacroGenetics, Inc. [2019] APO 13, [107].

Authored by Michael Christie, PhD