Key recent developments in the United Kingdom and Europe relating to patents and the pharmaceutical sector
This issue reports on several ground-breaking decisions from the UK courts on second medical use patents and skinny labels, infringement by equivalents and the possibility of global FRAND licences for standard essential patents (SEPs). We also look at some significant decisions from the CJEU on SPCs and reimbursements in relation to medicinal products and a few developments at the European Patent Office. Finally, we provide our usual round-up of the latest UPC developments (this time from Italy) and Brexit-related developments relevant to the pharma sector. Continue reading
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Warner-Lambert v Mylan is disappointing news for patentees who may have made significant investment in R&D to develop new uses for known medicines. The full judgment and press release can be found here.
The Supreme Court recognised the value of such second (and further) medical uses and the importance of their patent protection so as to reward and incentivise the patentee. In spite of this, the Supreme Court:
- raised the standard of sufficiency of disclosure, with the result that existing Swiss-form claims may be more vulnerable to attack and future medical use claims may be more difficult to obtain; and
- limited the protective effect of Swiss-form claims.
Whilst its decision concerns Swiss-form claims, the Supreme Court recognised that although EPC 2000 claims (which have superseded Swiss-form claims) may be drafted differently, they give rise to similar difficulties as those discussed in the decision. As a consequence, yesterday’s decision will have long-felt ramifications for patentees both in terms of litigation and prosecution strategy, as well as being influential in the courts of other jurisdictions.
The Supreme Court has adopted a higher standard for the assessment of the plausibility of Swiss-form claims than previously used. In doing so, the Supreme Court appears to increase the amount of information required to be disclosed in a patent’s description as well as the specificity required in claims where there are sub-categories of related indications. This may narrow the window that innovative companies have to file patent applications in advance of clinical trials and may necessitate the need for additional dependent claims covering the separate, related indications rather than relying on a category claim. The decision was by a majority view (Lord Sumption, Lord Reed and Lord Briggs).
Although obiter, the Supreme Court prefers an approach to the infringement of Swiss-form claims (which are purpose-limited process claims) in which:
- the ability to assert indirect infringement ends at the manufacturer’s gate; and
- an objective approach is taken to direct infringement by the sale of the product of the infringing process (under section 60(1)(c) of the Patents Act 1977). Under this objective approach, “skinny labels” carving out the patented indication will often be effective in avoiding infringement.
This approach to direct infringement appears to have taken its lead from the approach in Germany. However, as highlighted by Lord Briggs, the Supreme Court was not provided with any information about the particular features of the German system for prescribing and dispensing medicines or about the market conditions within which a fair balance has to be struck, all of which could have a significant impact on this balance. This would particularly be the case if, for instance, it was not possible to obtain reimbursement in Germany for the off-label prescription, but reimbursement was possible in the UK.
On the facts of the case before it, the Supreme Court held that the claims of Warner-Lambert’s patent relating to neuropathic pain were invalid for insufficiency in their entirety, and that there would have been no infringement by Actavis had the claims been held to be valid.
This week the Supreme Court is hearing an appeal in Warner-Lambert v Generics (UK) Ltd (Mylan) and others (UKSC 2016/0197) which will consider the following questions relating to the role of plausibility in UK patent law:
- “Whether (and what) role plausibility should play in the statutory test for sufficiency, and whether a patent should be held insufficient for lack of plausibility even though it is in fact enabled across the full scope of the claim.”
- “If a plausibility test is appropriate, provided there is basis to support the claim across part of its scope, whether later evidence can be used to fill the gap.”
“Plausibility” has been an increasingly hot topic in patent litigation in recent years, particularly in cases relating to pharmaceuticals, and its rise has not been without controversy amongst patent lawyers. It has most frequently been associated with inventive step and insufficiency, but it has also come up in relation to industrial applicability, priority and novelty and it is now a firmly established concept for any lawyer considering the validity of a patent.
What is required for something to be “made plausible” has been considered by the Supreme Court before (HGS v Lilly (2011), in which it was found to be a low, threshold test) but that was in the context of industrial applicability. This appeal to the Supreme Court asks the fundamental question of whether (and what) role plausibility should play in the statutory test for sufficiency. The Court of Appeal has accepted that plausibility plays a role in sufficiency (and inventive step), based on EPO Technical Board of Appeal case law relating to both inventive step and insufficiency, combining it with English law relating to principles of general application. It will be particularly interesting to see how the Supreme Court approaches this question, given the firmly established case law in the EPO on this issue.
Fundamentally, this is a question about what is required of a patentee at the time they file a patent application – is it enough for them to speculate in the specification on a possible use for the claimed compounds, in the hope that that speculation will later turn out in fact to be true (if it is not, the claim will be insufficient anyway), or should public policy require that the patentee at least provides some real reason for believing that the proposed use is true at the time of filing, to prevent patentees from excluding others from large areas of research in the hope that active compounds turn up one day? The answer to that question has potentially significant ramifications for patentees, both in terms of what they need to be including in future patent applications by way of reasoning and/or data (which may affect the stage of the R&D process at which they are able to file them) and in considering the validity of their existing patents. It is interesting that the UK BioIndustry Association has intervened in the case – more details on their position can be found here.
It’s worth noting that as well as the plausibility questions being considered, the Supreme Court will also hear argument on questions regarding expert evidence on claim construction and abuse of process in relation to late claim amendments, the answers to which may have effects on routine practice in the Patents Court.
The Supreme Court has redefined the UK approach to determining patent infringement. In doing so, it has made the approach more permissive, seeking to align the UK approach with that taken in other European countries. Continue reading
The UK Supreme Court today handed down its first decision on design rights, in the Trunki case (PMS International (Respondent) v Magmatic (Appellant)  UKSC 12). The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal to the effect that there was no infringement of the Community registered design for Magamatic's Trunki suitcase by PMS's "Kiddee" suitcase, which copied the idea but not the design as registered.