Patenting Nature — A Comparative Perspective
Journal of Law and the Biosciences, October 2018
Posted: 29 Jan 2019
Date Written: October 1, 2018
The landscape for patenting products and processes tied to the natural world has changed dramatically in recent times as a result of a series of decisions of the US Supreme Court, particularly Mayo Collaborative Services v Prometheus Laboratories 566 U.S. 66 (2012) and Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics, Inc. 569 U.S. 576 (2013) (Myriad). This article critically analyses these decisions and the multitude of lower court decisions that have followed them. This analysis provides support for the growing concern in the United States that it will be increasingly difficult to use the patent system to encourage the development of therapies and research intermediates useful in developing new therapeutic interventions. One option being posited in the industry to deal with this problem is to lobby Congress to reform the threshold patent eligibility standard in US patent law. It is argued in this paper that a more nuanced approach is preferable. Using the experience in Australia as a case study, this paper argues that such an approach is feasible. Australia has been chosen for analysis because the threshold patent eligibility standard is similar in both countries, much more so that with the European Union, and because the highest court in Australia has ruled on essentially the same patent as in Myriad, in D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics, Inc  HCA 35. In addition to the nuanced approach to eligibility currently exercised by the Australian courts and patent office, Australia also has a number of post-grant options for addressing the dynamics of patent monopolies. These include experimental use, compulsory licensing, and government use. It is concluded that, while it would be impractical to attempt to replicate the Australian environment in the United States, there is no reason why some lessons can’t be learned from the Australian experience with patenting nature.
Keywords: Patents, Genes, Diagnostics, Myriad, Mayo
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