Thursday, August 23, 2018

Arbitrary Selection

Teva Canada Ltd v Janssen Inc 2018 FC 754 Locke J
            2,203,936 / 2,435,146 / 2,738,706 / bortezomib / VELCADE

Yesterday’s post focused on claim construction. Another point of considerable importance arose, almost in passing, in the obviousness discussion concerning the 936 patent. The 936 patent claims the compound bortezomib [41], and the key piece of prior art was an application disclosing a genus of compounds encompassing bortezomib. One of the points distinguishing bortezomib from that prior art was the selection of the amino acid phenylalanine (Phe) at P2 position of the peptide. It was agreed that several amino acids would work at P2, and the evidence was that a hydrophobic amino acid, such as Phe, would be preferred. The question was whether it was inventive to select Phe from the fewer than 10 hydrophobic amino acids. Crucially, there was no evidence that Phe was any better than any of the other options. Locke J held that the selection was obvious. In so holding he cited (at [198]) with apparent approval the decision of Jacob LJ in Actavis UK Ltd v Novartis AG, [2010] EWCA Civ 82 [36]-[37], discussing the “5¼ inch plate paradox.” As Jacob LJ explained:

[The paradox] runs like this. Suppose the patent claim is for a plate of diameter 5¼ inches. And suppose no-one can find a plate of that particular diameter in the prior art. Then (a) it is novel and (b) it is non-obvious for there is no particular reason to choose that diameter. The conclusion, that the plate is patentable, is so absurd that it cannot be so.

What then is the answer to the paradox? It is this: the 5¼ inch limitation is purely arbitrary and non-technical. It solves no problem and advances the art not at all. It is not inventive. And although "inventive step" is defined as being one which is not obvious, one must always remember the purpose of that definition – to define what is inventive. That which is not inventive by any criteria is not made so by the definition. Trivial limitations, such as specifying the plate diameter, or painting a known machine blue for no technical reason are treated as obvious because they are not inventive.

The principle, then, is that an arbitrary selection is not inventive. In my view, this principle is both sound and important, as it provides a principled basis for explaining why some selections which are not obvious, in the sense that a posita would not necessarily have routinely arrived at that particular selection, are nonetheless not inventive. I have previously discussed this reasoning (in the context of prior bortezomib litigation, as it happens), but I believe this is the first time it has been explicitly acknowledged in Canadian law.

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