Friday, June 5, 2020

Restrained Approach to Patentability of Methods of Medical Treatment

Biogen Canada Inc v Taro Pharmaceuticals Inc 2020 FC 621 Manson J

            2,562,277 / fampidrine sustained release / FAMPYRA / NOC action

The claims at issue in the 277 patent were to the use of sustained release fampidrine for improving walking in a person with multiple sclerosis (MS) for a time period of at least two weeks at a unit dose of 10 mg twice daily” (Claim 17 is exemplary: [22]). These were attacked as being to an unpatentable method of medical treatment. The topic of the patentability of methods of medical treatment is incoherent, with authorities taking a variety of inconsistent positions, as I discuss here. The area is in need of thorough review, as the FCA has noted in Hospira 2020 FCA 30 [51-53], and Cobalt v Bayer 2015 FCA 116 [101]. In this case Manson J declined to follow some authorities that aggressively applied a rule against patenting of methods of medical treatment. This strongly suggests that Manson J favours a more moderate position.

In this case, the defendants drew analogies to Mylan 2010 FC 1123 and Novartis 2013 FC 985 aff’d 2014 FCA 17 in which similar claims had been held invalid. Manson J rejected these analogies, but without exactly distinguishing the cases. Dealing with Mylan, he effectively accepted the analogy — “I agree with the Defendants that the 277 Patent claims the use of a known compound for an established purpose using a known treatment methodology” [206] — but he noted that the claims at issue in Mylan would have been obvious, and he indicated that that was the more appropriate basis for the decision: “these general facts formed the basis of the obviousness finding, above. I do not agree that they also ground a separate finding of invalidity on the basis of unpatentable subject matter” [206]. Since Mylan itself was expressly decided on the basis that the claims at issue were directly to unpatentable methods of medical treatment, this seems to be a polite way of saying that he would not follow the holding in Mylan (which is of course not binding).

Dealing with Novartis, Manson J noted that “The Federal Court of Appeal summarily dismissed the appeal [in a four paragraph decision], finding that in order to allow the appeal, it would be necessary to conclude in the face of Tennessee Eastman that a method of medical treatment is patentable subject matter, or conclude that the Federal Court had misconstrued the patent” [208]. That is an entirely accurate description of the holding in Novartis FCA, but it is not clear how it distinguishes the case. Perhaps the suggestion is that the FCA did not fully consider the issue?

Manson J concluded that “I . . . do not accept the Defendants’ argument that Mylan and Novartis stand for a general proposition that any patent claim to ‘how and when’ a drug is administered covers unpatentable subject matter” [211]. That’s fair enough, but he didn’t explain what they do stand for.

I’m not faulting Manson J in this respect. The jurisprudence in this area is incoherent, and there are other authorities to the opposite effect that Manson J might have cited if he been inclined to delve more deeply into the issue. Because of the conflicting case law, there are a range of positions that might be justified, depending on which line of authority a judge chooses to follow. Overall, Manson J’s treatment of these cases strongly suggests that he favours a moderate position and is not inclined to be aggressive in invalidating patents on this basis.

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