Liveblog of 4/2 panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law, Part IV

By Nicholson Price

Finishing up the event today is Tom Kowalski from Vedder Price, giving a US perspective on section 101 on patentable subject matter.  This post will encompass his presentation and general questions afterward.

Kowalski starts with a brief review of patentable subject matter, and states his view that after Prometheus and Myriad, “the fabric of the patent system has been torn.”  His view is that isolated DNA is a separate chemical entity, and that the Supreme Court simply got it wrong.  Read More

Liveblog of 4/2 panel in European Bio-patent Law, Part III

By Nicholson Price

Third up is Dr. Maaike van der Kooij, discussing medical use claims at the EPO.

In general, methods of medical treatment aren’t patentable under Art. 53(c) of the EPC, but the way around is to claim a relevant product either for medical use (if the substance is known but not medically used (Art. 54(4)) or for a specific medical use (Art. 54(5)).  (From my point of view, this seems like another way that the EPO is trying to address its innovation mandate by working around what appears to be pretty clear language in the EPC, a pattern which we certainly see in the US in both PTO and Federal Circuit practice). Read More

Liveblog of 4/2 panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law, Part II

By Nicholson Price

Next up is Dr. Anja Schmitt, comparing Myriad and Mayo to EPO practice, and describing gene patents and diagnostic method patents in the EPO.

Human gene patents

The basic question of human gene patents–as will be familiar to those who followed the Myriad litigation–is whether isolated DNA is a product of nature/mere discovery, or a man-made product with technical character.  In the Myriad case, claims covered isolated DNAs for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which are useful for identifying a predisposition to breast cancer.

At the EPO, on the other hand–using the same sources of law as Dr. Nichogiannopoulou mentioned before–genes are patentable as long as they disclose the industrial applicability and the function of the gene and/or its encoded protein. Read More

Liveblog of 4/2 panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law, Part I

By Nicholson Price

I’ll be liveblogging today’s panel on Hot Topics in European Bio-Patent Law (co-sponsored by the Broad Institute), with several guest speakers from the European Patent Office (EPO).

Ben Roin, Heiken Assistant Professor of Patent Law here at HLS, is moderating.  Speakers will be Dr. Aliki Nichogiannopoulou on stem cells, and Dr. Anja Schmitt on gene patents, Dr. Maiake van der Kooij, all of the EPO, followed by Tom Kowalski of VedderPrice.

Dr. Nichogiannopolou begins by talking about stem cells, and opens with a few background points about the EPO.  The agency has its own implementing legislation separate from the EU, and includes 38 member states – 10 more than the EU itself, including industry-important Switzerland.  The EPO supports innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth for the benefits of European citizens, and has the mandate to grant European patents for inventions. Read More

More on taxing egg “donation” payments

By Nicholson Price

Dov Fox had a terrific post about taxes on compensation for those who donate eggs and sperm a few weeks ago in reaction to Perez v. Commissioner.  I don’t have any particularly new thoughts on this area, but for those of you who haven’t already seen it, I wanted to share the excellent mini-symposium that recently concluded over on the Faculty Lounge on this topic.  Kim Krawiec organized, and there’s a series of great posts by several scholars, pointing out, among other things, the strangeness of the fact that there’s still quite a lot of uncertainty about these issues, even though they’ve been around for a while and are not particularly rare.  In any case, it’s very much worth reading, even for those who aren’t normally tax wonks.

FSMA Conference Part 2: FSMA and Risk Regulation Strategy

[Ed. Note: On Friday, the Petrie-Flom Center, the Food Law and Policy Clinic (a division of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation), the Food Law Lab, and the Harvard Food Law Society (with support from the Top University Strategic Alliance and the Dean’s Office at Harvard Law School) co-sponsored a conference at HLS called “New Directions for Food Safety: The Food Safety Modernization Act and Beyond.”  This week, we will be sharing a series of blog posts from the event, and video will follow shortly.]

After Peter Hutt’s teriffic keynote speech, our first panel addresses the Food Safety Modernization Act and risk regulation strategies.  The speakers are Professor Jake Gersen of Harvard Law School, Director of the Food Law Lab, and Professor Michael Roberts, Founding Executive Director of UCLA Law School’s Resnick Center on Food Law and Policy. Read More

Patent trolls/Monetizers/PAEs/NPEs and Bio/Pharma

By Nicholson Price

There’s recently been a lot of focus on patent trolls (so called by those who dislike them; they’re also known as patent assertion entities, nonpracticing entities, and monetizers, each with slightly different definitions; I describe them a bit more after the fold*): there have been Congressional hearings, a bill passed in the House, White House statements, state legislation, and quite a bit of academic attention.  Most attention, though, assumes this is mostly an issue for the high-tech and software industries; in particular, it’s usually assumed that the biotech and pharmaceutical industries are insulated from the phenomenon.  Robin Feldman (at UC Hastings) and I decided to reexamine that assumption, and argue in this piece that the conventional wisdom is wrong, and that biopharma is a relevant target for monetizers.

The basic argument of our piece is as follows: conventional wisdom holds that pharma need not worry about monetizers: even though patents are very important for drug companies, each drug is usually covered by just one or a few patents, and the company either owns them or has licensed them; otherwise it wouldn’t make the drug.  So there just aren’t patents out there that can be asserted; ergo, no monetizer problem.  And indeed, there hasn’t been much action so far.  We point to three challenges to this wisdom: (1) regulatory oversight increases the costs of inventing-around an asserted patent; (2) monetizers are spreading past low-hanging fruit; and (3) the business of selling drugs involves much more than just coming up with an active chemical compound, so that “much more” is still vulnerable to monetizers.  But the main thrust of the paper is against the assumption that there aren’t assertable patents out there.

We thought the patent holdings of universities would likely include lots of patents that might be used by monetizers against pharma, and we were right.  In a deliberately light skim across patent holdings of 5 major research university systems, we easily found many such patents.  The paper describes multiple different categories of patents that could be used, and provides examples of each.  We didn’t aim to be exhaustive, just to point out that the issue is a relevant one to biopharma (whatever you think of trolls), and that that industry should be taken into account–and should participate–in the policy debates about what happens next.  Read More

TOMORROW: Patents without Patents: Regulatory Incentives for Innovation in the Drug Industry

February 19, 2014 12:00 PM Wasserstein Hall 1015
1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge

In the pharmaceutical industry, patents are the preeminent incentive for innovation in developing new drugs.  But patents aren’t the whole story; regulatory agencies also offer different forms of exclusivity—enforced by the agencies themselves—to encourage different forms of innovation in the industry.  This panel will discuss actual and potential roles for those rewards in the context of developing new drugs, new uses for old drugs, and new ways to make drugs, in both the United States and the European Union. Panelists include:

  • Benjamin N. Roin, Hieken Assistant Professor in Patent Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Co-Director, the Petrie-Flom Center
  • W. Nicholson Price II, Academic Fellow, the Petrie-Flom Center
  • Timo Minssen, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen Faculty of Law; Visiting Scholar, the Petrie-Flom Center
  • Moderator, Aaron Kesselheim, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Director of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL), Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

This event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be served. For questions, contact or  617-495-2316.


More on drug quality: India

By Nicholson Price

The New York Times had a troubling piece this weekend about major problems in drug quality in India, where FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is visiting to discuss safety issues. India makes 40% of the U.S.’s generic prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Quality issues seem to be unfortunately common (though of course there are many top-quality manufacturers and plants as well).  Half of all the FDA’s drug-related warning letters last year were issued to Indian plants, and recently popular drugs (including Neurontin and Cipro) have been banned from the United States if they’re manufactured in India.  Part of the explanation is differing standards for different markets; manufacturing standards are higher for the U.S. than for India, but the same companies are doing the manufacturing, sometimes at the same plants. Problems aren’t just about quality control in the plants – there are also major concerns with fraud.  In a particularly harrowing situation, “One widely used antibiotic was found to contain no active ingredient after being randomly tested in a government lab. The test was kept secret for nearly a year while 100,000 useless pills continued to be dispensed.”

(If you’re interested in pharmaceutical counterfeiting and are in New England, there’s what promises to be a terrific conference on pharmaceutical counterfeiting at UNH School of Law in Concord, NH on February 19 and 20; details are here.) Read More

Drug shortages continue: new report

By Nicholson Price

The GAO released a report yesterday on the continuing problem of drug shortages, which unfortunately seem like they’re becoming a permanent part of the U.S. healthcare system.  Hundreds of drugs have at least temporary shortages–456 in 2012. The majority of drugs facing shortages are sterile injectable drugs, including some cancer drugs which have become part of the standard of care and other staples like nitroglycerin and basic IV fluids.

Although the FDA has increased powers to deal with drug shortages under the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 (FDASIA), those powers are still quite limited.  Manufacturers are now generally required to report shortages in advance to the FDA (previously only some types of manufacturers were so required), and the FDA can try to help.  But the FDA cannot require manufacturers to make drugs if they choose not to, and can offer little in the way of incentives to encourage them to continue making drugs or to increase production.

The causes of drug shortages are complex, and include regulatory, technological, and economic aspects.  A 2013 paper by FDA officials identified manufacturing quality problems as the single biggest proximate cause of drug shortages, and I’ve argued elsewhere that these quality problems stem from a lack of innovation in drug manufacturing.  Though FDA will do what it can to try to decrease shortages, it seems to me that without addressing the root causes (poor quality and relatively uncontrolled drug manufacturing, in addition to challenging–and linked–economic dynamics), we’re likely to see drug shortages continuing for a long time.