5 min read

How do you make a cup of tea?  Pot or cup…or mug? Loose leaves or a teabag?  Milk first or last?  Don’t worry, this article is not about any of that.

You take a cup (or a mug), grab a teabag, and carefully place the teabag bit inside the cup, and then dangle the tag bit over the rim of the cup.  So far, so good.

The kettle boils, and you lift it to pour water into the cup.  The water hits the teabag, and the velocity of the water imparts sufficient momentum to the teabag such that the string and tag are pulled into the cup, which is now half filled with boiling hot water.  You resort to fishing around for the tag, scalding your fingers (because it is always your fingers in that mad rush), and emitting a few words that will shame your family for generations.

It’s an age old problem, but what have people done to solve it?

I conducted a very limited search* for teabag-related patents in PatBase, and culled anything not related to this topic.  I finished with a set of about 50 patent families, from which I have determined these technology groups.

ObjectTechnologyExample
Cup or potCleats for tying off




Grooves or incisions

NL1002810
AU2011101068
CN105686558


KR200404017
KR20080010469
CN208439552
TagSticky tags




Big tags


Grooves or incisions



Magnets
US4153153
US20060045935
WO2016209316


US4875574


KR101022889
CN201929560
CN210708847

CN204324057
StringSemi rigidGB304115
OtherSeparate devices for holding the teabagUS5129524
DE10308740
DE202004018654
KR20110037156
KR101352223
US9902557
CN209142847

As with many things in life, it’s complicated.  Some of these technologies overlap, and I’ve had to make a decision as to which technology group some fall into.

Starting with technologies for cleats for tying off the string, I’ll focus on the more permanent types, as the last group, ‘Other’, is directed more to temporary or removable devices.

Here are three examples.  The first is a cleat head that can be attached to a cup or pot in any position with an adhesive or by suction, the second is a cleat head specifically for a handle, while the third is part of the handle design.

The next group, where there are grooves or incisions in the cup, appears to relate to paper cups, although there would be nothing to stop it being applied to a ceramic cup.  The three examples below range from a single incision in the rim of the cup, to a more sophisticated shaped groove combined with a cleat arrangement at the base, to a slit in the side of the cup where the tag can be slipped into and secured.

Moving to what is arguably the most popular method of solving the problem, we get to technologies involving sticky tags.  The idea is simple.  The tag has an adhesive or gum on one side, sometimes with a peelable cover, that allows the user to temporarily attach the tag to the outside of the cup, and provide sufficient counterforce to the poured water imparting momentum to the teabag.

It’s pretty self-explanatory but here are a couple of examples.

There is one notable example that is just that little bit different to the rest of this group.  It also falls into the first group to some degree as part of this solution is a permanent addition to the cup or pot, and that’s because it uses Velcro, with the hooks attached to the cup or pot and the loops attached to the tag.  It does the job it is designed to do but is perhaps not the most environmental solution in this group.  Here are a couple of images from the specification.

The next group also utilises a simple solution.  Why not just make the tag so big that there is no way it could ever fall into the cup?  Here it is, although admittedly it is part of a bigger idea to do with packaging and squeezing the wet teabag.

In addition to grooves and incisions in cups, we also find them in tags.  There are two types:  those with an incision within which the string can be secured after it has been wrapped around the handle, and those that have a larger groove that is wide enough to sit on the rim of the cup as a form of anchor.

The first example shown here is the closest to my preferred method where I slip the tag under the string to form a loose knot.

The last group in tag technology is the use of a pair of magnets, with one on the tag and the other on the teabag.  The idea is that the two magnets attract each other through the wall of the cup.  Again, this is not an environmentally sound solution.

The third part of the modern teabag triumvirate is the string, and this has not been forgotten in a solution to this problem.  The example here is also the earliest I have seen in patent literature, and dates to 1928.

I’m calling it semi-rigid string but it is an aluminium wire with a rudimentary teabag at one end and a tag at the other.  The wire is rigid enough to be able to swirl the bag in the hot water, but also malleable enough to bend to form a hook to hang over the rim of the cup.

The very last technology group I have found is a bit of a catch-all class, but these devices are all removable or independent of the whole cup-teabag relationship, and some of them are a little wacky.

If you have an interest in making a bucket of tea, or in craning your teabag into the cup, then these two are for you.

Next are a few devices that hang over the rim of the cup in some way.  Most are reusable but the third image shows a folded piece of card, and so would be recyclable after its usefulness has ended.

Lastly, there is this.

Not only does it hold the teabag and prevent the tag falling into the cup, but you can also wind it up and set it loose around the rim of your cup and swirl the teabag in the hot water at the same time.

There is one further teabag I found.  It doesn’t fit into the theme of this article but it demands to be mentioned.  It looks simple enough, and this image gives it no justice.

The innovation here relates to making the tag fluorescent, and the reasoning behind it is that a person might want to make a cup of tea at night, and in an effort to save energy, they don’t need to turn on the light to find a teabag.  No mention is made of the energy required to heat the water for said cup of tea, nor of a fluorescent teapot.

That ends our journey through the world of teabags.  I hope you have found a useful way of preventing wet teabag tags and scalded fingers.

* (TAC=(teabag*, ((tea, coffee) w1 bag*)) OR IC=(b65d85/808, b65d85/812)) AND TAC=(cup, mug, tumbler) AND TAC=(label, tag, string)

Authored by Frazer McLennan and Paul Harrison

3 min read

I’m exploring statuses, patent expiries and kind codes in a three part series of articles.  The first article on statuses can be found here, and the second article on patent expiries can be found here.

This third, and final, instalment takes a closer look at how to read kind codes.

Kind Codes

If you’ve ever looked at a patent specification you’ve seen a kind code.  They are the As, Bs and Cs, usually with a number, tacked on to the end of a patent number.

Kind codes have meaning.  They tell you what significant events have occurred in the lifecycle of a patent.  Those significant events range from being filed to grant to amendment, and can also tell you what type of application you are looking at.  In Part 2 of this series on patent expiries, we considered the shorter patent terms for utility model applications.  Kind codes will tell you if you have one.

In Australia, there are kind codes starting with A, B and C.  Standard applications such as convention completes or national phase entries get the kind code A1 with their first publication, and B1 when they are granted.  If they are amended post-grant, they get the kind code C1.  Corrections to bibliographic data get A8/B8/C8 kind codes when the corrected specification is published.

The utility model/innovation patent applications get A4 or B4, and even C4 if corrected during its short lifespan.

The United States has a set of similar looking kind codes but they don’t mean exactly the same things.  Published applications get A1, or A9 if corrected, but the granted patents get B1 if there was no A1 published (first published on 15 March 2001), and B2 if there is an A1 published.

Other United States kind codes include a C for a re-examined patent, and E for a re-issued patent.

Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT, applications don’t get granted so we generally just see a range of “A” kind codes.  There is A1 when the specification is published with a search report, A2 when it isn’t, and A3 when they do eventually publish the search report.

Other letters used often in kind codes are U or Y for utility model patents, and T for translations of foreign language specifications.  Sometimes, in the spirit of the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics, where an extra, more fundamental law was determined after the other three laws, provisional applications are given an A0 kind code, because they are the initial application upon which the rest of the patent family arises.

Each country has its own set of kind codes, some with just a couple to indicate filing and grant, and many more with an extensive array, especially where they have utility model applications and working in a number of languages.  There are many lists available online, some for specific countries if that’s all you need, but this list from Clarivate is a nice summary of kind codes around the world.

To tie this series together, while you’re searching, you can use kind codes on the fly to see where a patent is up to, the patent expiry date to see if it could be alive, and the status to determine if it is truly dead or alive.

Authored by Frazer McLennan and Gareth Dixon, PhD

4 min read

FemTech is surging around the world with new start-ups and technology entering the marketplace every day, but what’s going on Down Under?

Need for FemTech

As of June 2019, just over half of Australia’s population faced complicated genetic, physiological and hormonal factors making them prone to and more severely affected by certain conditions in comparison to the other half of the population.

Conditions such as heart diseases, osteoarthritis, cancers, strokes and autoimmune diseases present in women differently and pose considerable health risks. 

While FemTech is rapidly growing in Australia, increased health technology options are still needed to support Australian women. This has become even more apparent during the pandemic where existing inequalities in healthcare for women have been laid bare. 

Research is currently well placed in Australia with the Australian Government announcing they will be investing $354 million over the next four years to support the health and wellbeing of Australia’s women, including funding for cervical and breast cancer, endometriosis and reproductive health.

Current market snapshot

FemTech in Australia is still relatively new and unchartered territory. No official study has been conducted about Australian FemTech companies, however, the rise of new FemTech companies and products is undeniably on an upward trajectory.

The Women’s Health Summit 2021 hosted by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists highlighted issues and deficiencies in the Australian healthcare system about health equity for women; access to mental health, contraception, abortion, sexual health and reproductive services; preventative approaches to chronic diseases; and areas in the medical industry where data about women lack.

Australian companies

FemTech typically spans across medical devices, digital health applications and direct to consumer products. Even though medical related digital health applications have only entered the market within the last decade, they are fast becoming the front runner for providing women with access to crucial information about medical conditions, including their diagnosis, treatment and management. Their popularity, which has reached new heights, is primarily due to their accessibility and ease of use.

The following Australian companies have redesigned, reinvented and recycled technology to benefit the health of women:

Menstrual pain

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS) have typically been used for musculoskeletal pain, such as chronic back pain or knee joint arthritis.

Ovira, a female owned start-up had other ideas for TENS and have developed a non-invasive and instant period pain relief through their device, Noha. The Noha device sends low-level pulses of electric vibrations to the abdomen to block pain signals from being sent to the brain.

Menstruation

Since their conception, menstrual products have made their way from rags to riches. Starting off from cloth, bandages, cotton and wool in the 1800’s to disposable pads, winged pads, and tampons in the 1900’s, menstrual products have come a long way.

Modibodi, are at the forefront of menstrual technology and provide reusable and sustainable leak-proof period apparel that replaces the need for disposable products such as panty liners, tampons, pads, and incontinence products.

Juju, a socially responsible and environmentally conscious company manufactures Australia’s only made menstrual cup.

Payment solutions for the adult industry

Businesses and workers operating in the sex industry find themselves facing discrimination and often struggle to get finance or financial services.

Intimate.io, a blockchain startup, has taken this issue into their own hands. Intiamte.io is focused on solving issues inherent in the adult industry by establishing a cryptocurrency to operate as a digital payment option for adult or sexual products, services or offerings.

Fertility solutions

Despite major technological advancements in IVF, the success rates of IVF still remain very low.

Life Whisperer, an AI focused company, has been using AI to increase the chance of pregnancy through IVF by identifying morphological features that constitute a healthy embryo.

Future of FemTech Down Under

With women comprising over 50% of the population, these emerging companies have a huge opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of millions of Australians. We expect the Australian FemTech market to continue to grow with local start-ups and from the expansion of international FemTech companies.

It is encouraging to observe the recognition by the Australian Government of the need for better understanding of pressing health challenges faced by women and the injection of money into the women’s health sector to combat some of the challenges.

Companies like Ovira, Modibodi, Juju, Intimate.io and Life Whisperer continue to break boundaries and use technology to find solutions to age old women’s health issues.

Shelston IP are proud supporters of FemTech, assisting FemTech businesses to protect their innovative new products and develop and implement intellectual property strategies to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Authored by Connie Land and Allira Hudson-Gofers

2 min read

An Australian court has provided a clear signal that inventions derived from machine learning activities can be subject to valid patent applications, provided they satisfy the regular indicia of inventiveness and novelty, whilst lacking a human inventor.

In Thaler v. Commissioner of Patents [2021] FCA 879, Justice Beach adopted an expansive view of the Patents Act, to hold that the concept of inventor can include, within its ambit, the notion of a suitably programmed computational device.

It is evident from the design of advanced AI systems such as Alphafold and AlphaGo, that the frontier of machine learning systems is in a continued state of rapid evolution. Whilst his honour spent significant portions of the judgement attempting to define the evolving concept of Artificial Intelligence, he was clear in holding that the innovative product of such systems can be subject to protection, whilst simultaneously lacking a human “inventor”.

In a distinct recognition of the importance of such advances to a society, his honour noted at [56]:

Now I have just dealt with one field of scientific inquiry of interest to patent lawyers.  But the examples can be multiplied.  But what this all indicates is that no narrow view should be taken as to the concept of “inventor”.  And to do so would inhibit innovation not just in the field of computer science but all other scientific fields which may benefit from the output of an artificial intelligence system.

The contrast between this liberal interpretation of our Patents Act’s application to machine learning inventions, as compared with the courts lack of clarity in the general field of software type of inventions is quite stark. However, the decision provides clear directions to the Australian Patent Office that AI advances should be readily patentable.

Authored by Peter Treloar

3 min read

I’m exploring statuses, patent expiries and kind codes in a three part series of articles.  The first article on statuses can be found here.

This second instalment looks at patent expiries around the world.

Looping back to the article on statuses for a minute, patent term expiry dates are both theoretical and precise.  Precise in that a definitive end date for the maximum patent term can be calculated, but theoretical in that other events occur to prevent the patent reaching that date.  These events include non-payment of renewal fees (Ceased, Ended), and revocation of the grant of the patent (Revoked).

Patent Expiries

Let’s get United States patent expiries out of the way.  There are a couple of rules to follow, and I have covered those in an earlier article

There’s a transition date of 8 June 1995 where rules moved from the latter of 20 years from filing/17 years from issue to just 20 years from filing.  That date is over 25 years ago now, and almost all of those filed before it have now expired.  I say almost all because I can find a small number with an earliest effective filing date before June 1995 and an issue date after 2004 (because that’s 17 years ago), not to mention any submarine patents we will never know about until they are granted. 

These days most United States patents will expire 20 years after the earliest effective filing date, which is in line with the rest of the world.  That’s not taking into account any patent term adjustments which add days to the expiry date as a result of patent office delay, or any terminal disclaimer that limits the term of a patent to that of another patent.  The number of days of adjustment, and details of terminal disclaimers can be found in PAIR.

Article 33 of the WTO’s TRIPs Agreement states

“The term of protection available [for patents] shall not end before the expiration of a period of twenty years counted from the filing date.”

As such, patents around the world, including the United States, have 20 year patent terms, calculated from the filing date for convention applications, and the international filing date for PCT applications.

The calculation is easy.  A patent filed on 10 April 2017 expires on 10 April 2037.

There are a few exceptions.  Every rule has at least one.

Divisional applications or continuation applications, although physically filed on a later date, take the filing date of the original, or parent application.  Shown below is an example from Australia, for the application 2019210667.  It’s just one in a chain of divisionals stemming from the original application filed in 2007.  Although this application was filed in August 2019, the effective filing date is in September 2007, making the expiry date of this application 7 September 2027 and not 2 August 2039.

The other exception to patent expiries being less than 20 years is through applications such as Australia’s innovation patents or Chinese utility patents, where the application is subject to less scrutiny in exchange for a shorter patent term.  For innovation patents this is eight years, and for utility patents it is ten years.  WIPO helpfully provide a list of countries that have this model of patent filing, and more detail can be found here.

Those two examples cover shorter patent terms but what about patent terms that are longer than 20 years?

Some biologically active ingredients, such as for use in human and veterinary medicines, can take a long time to obtain regulatory approval and get to market, so it is possible to obtain an extension of the patent term for up to five years as compensation for the time lost.  These are generally known as supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) or patent term extensions (PTEs).  Not all countries allow for such extensions of the patent term, but those who do include countries through Europe, North America and Asia, as well as Australia.

So, in summary, patent expiries can easily be calculated, especially for anything filed so far this century, but take care with older United States patents, and check whether an patent is a utility model filing or is subject to a patent term extension, in order to determine the expiry date, and don’t forget to use this in combination with status information to determine if a patent is dead or alive.

In part 3 I’ll look at how to read and understand kind codes.

Authored by Frazer McLennan and Paul Harrison

5 min read

Double patenting has been seen as a significant issue in New Zealand patent law ever since the introduction of the Patents Act 2013 – and with it, the removal of any discretion on the part of an examiner.  A recent decision of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) confirms what we had expected all along: double patenting is to be interpreted strictly, but as a matter considered during examination/pendency, it should generally be curable.

The divisional, the parent, the decision

New Zealand patent application 739526, in the name of Oracle International Corporation, was the subject of recent IPONZ decision [2021] NZIPOPAT 5 (9 June 2021). The ‘521 application is a divisional of granted New Zealand patent 705138.  The pending claims of NZ’526 stood rejected under Reg.82(b) of the Patents Regulations 2014 for claiming “substantially the same matter as accepted in the parent application”.  The rejection was made for the first time in the 4th examination report, and following receipt of the 5th examination report in which the examiner’s position was maintained, the Applicant requested to be heard.  Outside of regular examination, this decision is IPONZ’ first look at the application of Reg.82.

The legislation says “must not”

Reg.82(b) provides that “in the case of a divisional application, if the Commissioner has accepted the complete specification relating to a parent application, that the divisional application must not include a claim or claims for substantially the same matter as accepted in the parent application”.  In contrast to the equivalent provision (Reg.23(2)) of the abolished Patents Regulations 1954, Reg.82(b) does not allow for the exercise of any discretion on the part of an examiner, meaning that “substantially the same subject matter” must be considered objectively and “must not” need be applied.

The claims suggest “probably not”

Granted parent NZ’138 comprises two independent claims 1 (to “an optical tape drive system”) and 11 (to “a method for writing data to an optical tape with an optical tape drive system having n total optical pickup units each having a same fixed unit data rate”).  Pending divisional NZ’526 comprises independent claims 1 and 16, having the same respective preambles.  Beyond that, as drawn out in the decision and discussed below, the parent and divisional claims were similar enough on their face to warrant close scrutiny.    

The Delegate says “definitely not”

In his analysis, the Delegate considered whether a system infringing claim 1 of NZ’138 would also infringe claim 1 of NZ’526 (if granted) – and concluded “yes”.  He then did the same in reverse and reached the same conclusion.  He performed the same analysis on the respective method claims 11 and 16 – again concluding “yes” and “yes”. 

The decision helpfully breaks down each claim into its respective integers and transposes them side-by-side in order to highlight the differences (or rather, similarities), presumably inviting the reader to reach their own conclusions.  That said, as a couple of chemists, we’re more than happy to abide with the Delegate’s analysis: Claims 1 and 16 of NZ’526 fall foul of Reg.82(b) insofar as they claim “substantially the same subject matter” as the respective claims 1 and 11 of NZ’138.

At paragraphs 39-41 of the decision, the Delegate provided some general comments.  Firstly, as suggested in the “must not” wording of Reg.82(b), there is no discretion on the part of the Commissioner.  Secondly – and logically – a claim substantially identical in phrasing and terminology to an accepted claim falls foul of the regulation.  And thirdly, where the phrasing, terminology or order of claims is different, they must still be rejected under Reg.82(b) if a skilled person would construe them to be of substantially the same scope.

Unsurprisingly, the decision upheld the examiner’s finding.  The Applicant was afforded a short extension of time within which to address the rejection.  Following rather extensive amendments to claims 1 and 16, the case was subsequently allowed and was published on 25 June 2021 – less than three weeks after the rejection decision.  All’s well that ends well.

We say “there’s nothing to see here”

Double patenting and New Zealand actually have a quite awkward recent history.  When the Patents Regulations 2014 were first published, Reg.52(3) was drafted in a way that suggested (in an extreme and somewhat paranoid interpretation) that a divisional filed with “a claim or claims for substantially the same subject matter as claimed in the parent application” would be dead on arrival as it was not received by IPONZ in the “proper form” (Reg.19).  This was corrected fairly swiftly, to IPONZ’ significant credit – and double patenting was confirmed as an acceptance issue.

Fast forward to the current decision and despite a little bit of a buzz around the traps, we don’t see the problem with it.  There was an obvious policy decision made in enacting Reg.82, which removed an examiner’s discretion – and so what’s an examiner supposed to do when confronted with not one, but two claims that were essentially doppelgangers (at least to these untrained eyes)?  The bottom line is that the Applicant was afforded an opportunity to amend around the rejection, did so, and obtained an allowance.  Surely that’s a win-win.

As one final point – and this is a question I’m asked fairly regularly by foreign (particularly US) clients, double patenting is not a ground for opposition or revocation under New Zealand patent law.  If the examiner misses it, makes a mistake and allows a divisional claiming substantially the same subject matter, then the Applicant chalks up a small “win” – both patents stand (subject to third party challenges on actual grounds of opposition or revocation).  However, because a missed (and clear) double patenting situation ultimately amounts to a black eye on the part of IPONZ, one suspects they’ll remain fairly liberal in their Reg.82(b) rejections.

Double patenting in AU and NZ – mind the gap

Another question often posed is whether there’s any difference to double patenting across the two jurisdictions we service – Australia and New Zealand.  The answer is they’re very similar – but with one significant distinction. 

In Australia, in addition to amendment, a double patenting rejection can be overcome by withdrawing the parent application or surrendering (allowing to lapse) the granted patent.  Strategically, this allows an Applicant to pursue broader (but still overlapping) subject matter in a divisional.  Once the parent is no longer alive, the rejection disappears.

However, in New Zealand, withdrawal or surrender of a parent application or granted patent – at least, as a means of addressing a double patenting rejection, is not possible.  The wording of Reg.82 does not reference the status of the parent, thereby blocking this strategic pathway and making double patenting in New Zealand a slightly more difficult proposition than it is in Australia. 

Authored by Jon Wright, PhD and Gareth Dixon, PhD

6 min read

Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc v Sequenom, Inc [2021] FCAFC 101

The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia has confirmed that Sequenom’s diagnostic method of detecting fetal DNA in maternal blood is eligible for patent protection in Australia.  The decision highlights the different approaches taken by Australian, European and US authorities when it comes to assessing the patentability of diagnostic methods.

However, the Full Court also found that Sequenom’s patent was not infringed by the importation of results from tests conducted overseas on the basis that the results were information and not a product that could be exploited.

The technology

Sequenom’s patent stemmed from the discovery of cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) in maternal blood serum and blood plasma by two researchers from Oxford University. The discovery enabled the development of a non-invasive prenatal test using maternal blood samples. 

The test could be used to determine the gender of an unborn baby, and its susceptibility to certain genetic conditions. Prior to the inventors’ discovery, obtaining a prenatal sample for testing typically involved inserting a needle through the mother’s abdomen or cervix. 

The patent

Claim 1 of Sequenom’s patent defines:

A detection method performed on a maternal serum or plasma sample from a pregnant female, which method comprises detecting the presence of a nucleic acid of foetal origin in the sample.

In the first instance decision, the Federal Court of Australia found that the use of the “Harmony” prenatal diagnostic test by Ariosa Diagnostics Inc, and by its licensees, Sonic Healthcare Limited and Clinical Laboratories Pty Ltd, infringed certain claims of Sequenom’s patent. On appeal, Ariosa challenged the validity of the claims and the finding of infringement.

Validity

Ariosa argued that the primary judge erred in finding that the claimed method is a “manner of manufacture” as required under the Patents Act because what is claimed is a mere discovery of a naturally occurring phenomenon. In a related submission, Ariosa contended that, properly understood, the end result of each claim is mere information.  The human-mediated “detection”, Ariosa argued, is no different from the discovery that cffDNA is detectable. Ariosa submitted that in substance there is no application of the discovery by simply claiming the detection of what has been discovered to exist. 

In support of their arguments, Ariosa cited D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc [2015] HCA 35, in which the High Court found that claims defining isolated nucleic acids encoding mutant or polymorphic BRCA1 polypeptides were in substance directed to naturally occurring genetic information, which is not patentable subject matter.

The Full Court rejected Ariosa’s approach, finding that it disaggregated the discovery of cffDNA in maternal plasma or serum from the method used to harness that discovery. Although fetal nucleic acid occurs in nature, the Full Court found that the substance of the invention is not cffDNA itself, but the identification of that particular nucleic acid as a part of a method:

Unlike the position in Myriad, claim 1 is not, as a matter of substance, directed to genetic information, but to a method involving the practical application of a means for identifying and discriminating between maternal and foetal nucleic acid. Although foetal nucleic acid occurs in nature, the substance of the invention is not cffDNA itself, but the identification of that particular nucleic acid as a part of a method. It is impermissible to disaggregate the integers of the method to point only to the cffDNA as the “invention”. Identification of the substance of the invention does not involve disregarding material aspects of the claim language. The invention as claimed is not merely output, but the detection process which yields an output. This is the very type of subject matter considered to fall on the correct side of the line between discovery of a scientific fact or law of nature and invention (at [155]).

Their Honours observed that an invention may reside in an abstract idea that is put to a useful end, even though the way of putting it to that end can be carried out in many useful ways, all of which are otherwise known. While the mere discovery of a natural phenomenon is not eligible for a patent, the practical application of that discovery may very well be patentable subject matter.

The Full Court concluded that the invention defined by claim 1 of Sequenom’s patent ”falls firmly within the concept of a manner of manufacture as that term is to be understood having regard to the authorities, being an artificially created state of affairs of economic utility” (at [166]).

Ariosa’s other grounds of attack, namely, that the claims were invalid for lack of sufficiency and lack of fair basis, were also unsuccessful.

Infringement

Before conducting the Harmony Test in Australia, Ariosa’s Australian licensees, Sonic Healthcare and Clinical Laboratories, collected blood samples from pregnant women in Australia and sent those samples to Ariosa in the US. Ariosa then conducted the Harmony Test in the US and provided the results, in the form of a report made available by a file sharing platform, to Sonic Healthcare and Clinical Laboratories in Australia. 

The exclusive rights of a patentee to exploit an invention will ordinarily be infringed by importing the product of a patented process, even when that process is carried out overseas. This is because Australia’s Patents Act defines the term “exploit” as including:

where the invention is a method or process – use the method or process or do [acts including importing] in respect of a product resulting from such use.

The primary judge found that the method was infringed when it was performed in Australia, which was not in dispute in the present case. However, the primary judge also found that Sonic Healthcare’s and Clinical Laboratories’ “send out” model amounted to an infringement of Sequenom’s claims because it used a method that would have infringed the claims if conducted in Australia.

The Full Court disagreed, noting that the Patents Act does not provide a definition of the term “product”. Their Honours preferred a construction of the word “product” in the context of the definition of “exploit” which recognises that not all patented methods or processes will lead to a product. The Full Court observed that the broad definition applied by the primary judge could have consequences that are not sensible – a person who has heard the outcome of the Harmony Test, which may be as simple as “it’s a girl!”, and who then flies to Australia with that information may infringe the patent by importing that outcome.

The Full Court also noted the incongruity that would result from extending the patentee’s monopoly to encompass test results that are not them themselves patentable:

A claim to mere information is not patentable …. The fact that such information is derived from a patentable process or method cannot render the information itself patentable. In those circumstances, we do not consider that the word “product” in para (b) of the definition of “exploit” should be interpreted as extending the patentee’s monopoly to information which could not itself constitute patentable subject matter since it would have the unintended and odd consequence of permitting the patentee to obtain patent protection in respect of subject matter that has long been held to be unpatentable (at [269]).

Accordingly, because the imported test results are themselves information, and not a “product” as such, Sonic Healthcare’s and Clinical Laboratories’ send out model did not infringe Sequenom’s patent.  

Final comments

The Full Court’s decision highlights the different approaches taken by Australian, European and US authorities when it comes to assessing the patentability of diagnostic methods.  The corresponding patent application was found to be valid in the UK (Illumina, Inc v Premaitha Health Plc [2017] EWHC 2930), albeit under a different eligibility test, but was deemed invalid by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v Sequenom, Inc. 788 F.3d 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2015)).

In Australia, courts will construe a claim in its entirety, rather than considering each feature individually. While the mere discovery of a natural phenomenon may not be eligible for a patent in Australia, the practical application of that discovery may very well be, even where the application uses known methods.

The decision also confirms that not all patented methods will give rise to a “product” that can be exploited in an infringing act.

Ariosa and Sequenom have the option of applying for special leave to appeal the decision to the High Court. 

Authored by Karen Heilbronn Lee, PhD and Michael Christie, PhD

1 min read

IAM Patent 1000: The World’s Leading Patent Professionals 2021 has again Highly Recommended Shelston IP for Patent Prosecution.

Shelston IP has not only been Highly Recommended by IAM Patent 1000 for Patent Prosecution, we have also been Recommended for both our Litigation and Transaction work.

Our attorneys also continue to be ranked with Michael Christie, PhD, Paul Harrison and Greg Whitehead listed as Highly Recommended for Patent Prosecution together with Chris Bevitt for his Transaction work.

Congratulations to all our ranked attorneys.

Authored by Chris Bevitt, Michael Christie, PhD, Paul Harrison and Greg Whitehead

4 min read

Crowdsourcing can currently be defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers” (Merriam Webster Dictionary).  However, the idea of crowdsourcing itself is not new and existed well before the age of the internet.  Here, we consider crowdsourcing and its merits and risks in the context of intellectual property. 

Why use crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing has the potential to open up new ideas and possibilities by harnessing ideas which would not otherwise have been realised.  In principle, crowdsourcing can facilitate results via outside-of-the box thinking and by increasing the number of minds applying themselves to a particular problem or challenge. 

What are some examples of crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing strategies are used in a variety of technical and non-technical fields. 

One example of crowdsourcing that pre-dates the internet era is the design of the Sydney Opera House.  The winning design for this iconic landmark, by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, was chosen from an international competition in the mid-1950s.  

An example of an internet-based crowdsourcing site is the Lego Ideas Platform, which is used as a community for fans to share their own Lego creations.  The most popular ideas are assessed for potential production into new Lego sets to be sold to the public. 

Various online crowdsourcing platforms exist for logos, brand names, images, product redesign, software solutions, as well as problem-solving challenges.  Global companies are using crowdsourcing platforms seeking new innovations in technical fields including pharmaceuticals, clean tech and engineering to mention but a few.

How is intellectual property relevant?

Intellectual property rights present an opportunity to protect valuable innovations and creations and in turn realise value through exclusive rights with a defined scope and period of time.  In the hands of third parties, intellectual property rights pose a barrier and risk to new market entrants.  Therefore, it is important to consider:

  • Patent law – when solutions to technical problems are sought via crowdsourcing
  • Trade mark law – when crowdsourcing is used to come up with new product names, logos or brands
  • Design law – with respect to the visual appearance of new and distinctive products
  • Copyright law – with respect to artistic works such as drawings and literary works (any original text)

Managing intellectual property when crowdsourcing ideas

Crowdsourcing might raise issues regarding ownership of the resultant intellectual property.  Ownership of rights to crowdsourced intellectual property will generally not be governed by the usual laws which relate to contracts of employment – except, perhaps, if a company runs an internal crowdsourcing exercise in which only its own employees participate.  

Express and clear contractual terms (such as in terms and conditions which contributors are required to actively acknowledge) dealing with intellectual property ownership and licensing/use are therefore critical, just as they would be when engaging any third party contractor/consultant.  Payment for a winning response can be arranged as consideration for an assignment by agreement of all of the associated intellectual property rights.  An alternative mechanism for the formal legal transfer of the relevant intellectual property rights is by way of a deed, which does not require any consideration but does have other requirements. 

Novelty and inventive step are requirements for securing patent protection in Australia and virtually all other jurisdictions.  So, until a patent application is filed, it is prudent to avoid publishing too many (or, ideally, any) details of an invention (e.g. on a website).  If too much information is disclosed, this could later cause an invention to be ineligible for patent protection.  This is incredibly important, especially because some key jurisdictions have no grace period (Australia does have provisions protecting against self-disclosure within a specified period before a patent application’s filing date).  In this regard, we would recommend getting professional advice before making any disclosure.  

Also, it is important to be mindful of possible secret use issues associated with making commercial gain from an invention before the patent application is filed.  If the invention has been exploited commercially before the first patent application is filed, this could render the subsequently-filed patent invalid.  

In addition, it is worthwhile remembering that any information disclosed in a crowdsourcing context is available to competitors. 

A crowdsourced solution still needs the usual due diligence checks.  For instance, a granted patent confers an exclusive right to exploit the claimed invention (including but not limited to importing, using, making, selling or offering to sell a patented product or using a patented method), and to prevent others from doing so (via court proceedings).  However, the patent does not give the owner the right to exploit the invention without infringing other parties’ intellectual property rights or without obtaining any necessary regulatory approvals, so it is recommended to carry out relevant investigations to find out if exploiting the invention would infringe a patent belonging to somebody else (“Freedom to Operate”).  

Similarly, trade marks, registered designs and copyright also confer exclusive rights, so due diligence checks are needed to establish whether the proposed name or brand, design or appearance, or associated literature or artistic work might infringe the existing intellectual property rights of others.

Conclusion

Crowdsourcing has the ability to unlock ideas not previously considered, but it is not guaranteed to provide solutions. 

We recommend evaluating the potential benefits of crowdsourcing against the associated risks before proceeding.  Intellectual property can be the cornerstone of a business so it is critically important to take into account when developing a business strategy.  For advice, please contact Shelston IP. 

Authored by Serena White, DPhil and Duncan Longstaff

1 min read

Shelston IP is very pleased to announce their promotions from 1 July 2021.

Ean Blackwell is our newly appointed Principal.

Ean works within our Biotechnology and Chemistry team. Ean is an AU/NZ Patent Attorney, a Chartered UK and a European Qualified Patent Attorney with industry experience as a research scientist. Ean’s IP career has spanned three continents, having practiced in Asia, Europe and Australia. He has particular experience in the plant molecular biology, biotechnology and Big Pharma industry sectors.

Kathy Mytton has also been elevated to Senior Associate.

Kathy is a solicitor and registered trade mark attorney with over 20 years’ experience across a broad range of industries for protection of trade mark rights in Australia, New Zealand and other foreign jurisdictions. She has extensive proven experience in providing strategic and commercially focused advice to clients.

Congratulations on this important milestone in your career.

Authored by Ean Blackwell and Kathy Mytton