Patent Reform Bill good for Biotech

Patent Reform Passes the Senate and Moves to the House

 

Posted by Roy Zwahlen, manager of intellectual property and technology transfer policy at BIO.

On March 8th, the Senate approved the America Invents Act (S. 23) by an overwhelming vote of 95-5.  BIO supports this bipartisan, consensus-oriented bill, formerly known as the Patent Reform Act of 2011.  Once enacted into law, it will strengthen and improve our nation’s patent system, spurring innovation and job creation.

Patents are often the main assets of small biotech companies, and they rely on this intellectual property to attract investors to fund the lengthy and expensive research and development process necessary to bring breakthrough new therapies and other biotech products to patients and consumers.  The improvements made by the America Invents Act would benefit the biotechnology industry, and indeed all sectors of the U.S. economy, by enhancing patent quality and the efficiency, objectivity, predictability, and transparency of the patent system.

Increased Resources for the PTO

The America Invents Act contains two provisions that would provide greater resources and operational flexibility for the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).  First, it would end the diversion of fees collected by the PTO in excess of its budget, and would permit the PTO to retain such fees for use in either the current or future budget years.  It would also give the PTO the authority to set and adjust fees for patent applications, while requiring discounts in fees for small businesses.  These measures will help the PTO improve its long-range budgeting and planning for capital and human resources, hire more examiners to process the more than 350,000 patent applications it receives annually, and reduce the current backlog of more than 700,000 pending applications.

Improvements to PTO Re-Examinations

The America Invents Act would create new and improved proceedings for interested members of the public and the patent owner to seek review of issued patents by the PTO.  The new procedures would result in a more transparent and efficient system of patent quality review. Importantly, patent owners would have a new procedure under which they could go back to the PTO whenever they find new information that might affect the validity or scope of their patent claims without fear of later being accused of concealment or misrepresentation in court by an alleged infringer under the much-maligned inequitable conduct doctrine.  These new procedures would create more business certainty, less risk in investment in biotechnology products, greater assurances in licensing rights, and greater enforceability of patents.

False Patent Marking Litigation

False patent marking litigation occurs when a manufacturer labels a product with an incorrect or expired patent number.  Current law allows any member of the public to sue and sets the fine at $500 per falsely marked article, which has spawned a cottage industry of law firms using this law to shake down industry for settlements in return for promises to drop the lawsuits.  Historically, this was not of great concern until 2009 when the number of these lawsuits greatly increased.  The America Invests Act would require that, in order to sue, someone must have suffered a competitive injury.  This utilizes a common legal principle to ensure that those actually injured are receiving compensation, while excluding those trying to take advantage of a statutory loophole for personal gain.

First Inventor to File

One of the most hotly debated provisions of the America Invents Act would change America’s first to invent system to a first inventor to file system.  This system is embedded in international patent practice, with the United States as the only exception.  While some argue that America’s first to invent system is superior, it is inherently fraught with uncertainties, and problems arise when biotechnology companies try to protect their inventions here and abroad. This bill would remove these uncertainties, while providing adequate protections against misappropriation of an invention by someone other than the true inventor.

Additional Benefits

The America Invents Act would provide several additional benefits for the biotechnology industry, including making it easier for the actual owners of the invention to file patent applications and eliminating the “best mode” requirement as a defense in infringement litigation.  Generally, the removal of subjective elements of patent law helps to create a more equal playing field for all interested parties of an invention.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA), and the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are to be commended for their tireless efforts to build bipartisan consensus on this legislation, which resulted in wide support of its passage in the Senate.

 

We look forward to working with the House Committee on the Judiciary as it continues its consideration of patent reform, and hope to see meaningful patent reform signed into law later this year.

 

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BIO’s Comments on proposed PTO Humanitarian Technologies and Licensing Through the Intellectual Property System

Here are the highlights from BIO’s recent submission on the proposed PTO “Request for Comments on Incentivizing Humanitarian Technologies and Licensing Through the Intellectual Property System.”  

Background:

1.  “BIO’s members also understand that problems with access to medicines and other biotechnology products in the developing world have very little to do with the patent system, and are generally caused by other factors outside the control of individual stakeholders, such as lack of adequate local manufacturing, delivery, public health and sanitation infrastructure, trade and tariff barriers, regulatory obstacles, lack of market incentives, inequitable local distribution and corruption, diversion of products to more lucrative markets, and a chronic underinvestment in public health, education and environmental conservation. In fact, access issues persist even in countries where there are no patents covering humanitarian products and technologies.”

 2.  “While the patent system cannot be a primary policy lever to address these complex questions above, BIO nonetheless believes that innovative businesses from all sectors of the U.S. economy, including the biotechnology industry, can help improve the lives of underprivileged populations in the developing world. Indeed, BIO member companies have long participated in specific access and licensing initiatives that have informed the policy choices of members of the industry.”  (See http://www.globalhealthprogress.org/, http://www.ifpma.org/healthpartnerships, http://www.bvgh.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=867bPGw-kYo%3d&tabid=105, http://www.aatf-africa.org/, and http://www.cimmyt.org/.)

 “Most recently, in May of this year, BIO announced a policy statement containing its Options for Increasing Access to Medicines in the Developing World that it believes should be considered during the development and commercialization of biotechnology products.  Accordingly, BIO commends the USPTO for likewise exploring creative and market-oriented ways to incentivize the development and distribution of humanitarian technologies, a goal that BIO and its members have long shared and are working hard to achieve. In addition, BIO would support efforts to bring together all potential stakeholders to explore various approaches and initiatives.”

Key Points:

1.  Any program should be technology-neutral – “In BIO’s view, such a program should be applicable to innovators from all sectors who engage in the creation and dissemination of technology that has the potential to address the needs of impoverished populations in the developing world.”

 2.  Any proposal should ensure USPTO’s core mission is maintained and adequately resourced.

 3.  Value of any proposed vouchers should be maximized, but will remain limited – “BIO believes that the commercial value of the proposed voucher could be substantial under some situations, but difficult to express in monetary terms at this time.” 

4.  Clarity of standing for voucher use needed – “BIO members are seriously concerned that vouchers could potentially be used by third party requesters, or even unrelated third parties, to accelerate the ex parte reexamination of other party’s patents without the patentee’s consent.”

5.  Policy options for voucher award process require further discussion – “BIO members also raised the question whether the proposed vouchers should be awarded as an entitlement for meeting certain objective criteria, or as a more subjective prize for extraordinary humanitarian licensing efforts.”

Conclusion:

“BIO understands this Federal Register notice to be a first conceptual step in what will be a deliberative process with additional opportunities for public review and comment as more specific details and approaches are proposed. With this understanding, we look forward to engaging further on this effort in partnership with the USPTO and other industries and stakeholders.”

BIO’s Full Comment