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Thursday, 9 November 2017

A new CJEU referral on claims with functional features

Last week, the 14th Senate of the German Federal Patent Court referred new questions to the CJEU on the criteria for Article 3(a) of Regulation (EC) No. 469/2009 (decision 14 W (pat) 12/17) in an attempt to clarify when a functional definition in a claim refers implicitly, but necessarily and specifically to the product in question, as stipulated by the CJEU in Eli Lilly (C-493/12).

Dirk B├╝hler (Maiwald), who acted for the patentee Royalty Pharma, has kindly provided a copy of the decision (here), an English translation of the decision (here) and a summary of the case (see below the questions).  For those who just want to read the questions, they are reproduced directly below:
1. Is a product protected by a basic patent in force according to Article 3 (a) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 only if it belongs to the protected subject-matter as defined by the claims and is thus provided to the person skilled in the art as a specific embodiment? 
2. Is it therefore not sufficient for the requirements of Article 3 (a) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 that the product in question meets the general functional definition of an active substance class as mentioned in the claims, but apart from that is not individualized as a specific embodiment of the teaching protected by the basic patent?
3. Is a product not protected according by Article 3 (a) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 by a basic patent in force if it is covered by the functional definition contained in the claims, but was developed only after the filing date of the basic patent based on independent inventive activity?
Summary 
Background 
It seems fair to say that Medeva (C-322/10) and its progenies have rather complicated than clarified as to when a product is protected by a basic patent in accordance with Article 3 (a) of the Regulation (see e.g. latest referral of Judge Arnold ([2017] EWHC 13 (pat)).
Even though it is clear in view of the numerous decisions by the CJEU since Medeva that Article 3(a) precludes SPCs for products which would infringe the patent despite not being referred to in the claims at all, e.g. for the presence of the term “comprising, there has been a debate as to how specifically the product must be disclosed in individualized form in the claims. 
For claims with functional definitions this debate has focused on whether the requirement set by Eli Lilly that such claims must refer implicitly, but necessarily and specifically to the product allows for SPCs in situations where the product is not disclosed as an individualized embodiment. Whilst this position has been endorsed by the UK courts for generic antibody claims ([2014] EWHC 2404 (Pat)) and claims with Markush formulas ([2017] EWHC 987 (Pat)), patent offices in other jurisdictions have taken a more restrictive standpoint and interpret Eli Lilly to require an individualized disclosure of the specific compound at least in the specification or to refer to antibodies only.
The referred case
The claims of the basic patent EP 1 084 705 B1 are concerned with the treatment of Diabetes mellitus by administration of DPIV-inhibitors and are based on the inventors’ recognition that inhibition of the enzyme DPIV generally allows for lowering of blood glucose levels by preserving the endogenous incretin hormones. The patent discloses individual DPIV inhibitors and points out that other DPIV inhibitors may be used as well. The general nature of the invention has been recognized by the German Federal Court of Justice in its decision on the German patent DE 196 16 486  based on the priority filing which belongs to the leading case on enablement in Germany (BGH X ZB 8/12 – Dipeptidyl-Peptidase-Inhibitoren).
DPIV-inhibitors marketed for treatment of Diabetes mellitus include sitagliptin which is not disclosed individually in the basic patent and has been developed by a licensee of the patent. Sitagliptin is also protected by a later filed composition of matter patent. The situation is thus comparable with Eli Lilly where the claims were directed to the genus of Neutrokine-alpha antibodies, but the product in question, tabalumab which is a Neutrokine-alpha antibody, was not individually disclosed in the claims or the specification and had been developed after the filing date of the basic patents.
An SPC application for sitagliptin was rejected by the German Patent and Trademark Office because sitagliptin would not be disclosed individually in the patent. The rejection was appealed.
In its referring decision the Senate acknowledges that sitagliptin is a DPIV-inhibitor as demonstrated by the assessment report of the EMA and would thus be within the extent of protection conferred by Article 69 EPC. However, according to the Senate’s interpretation of Medeva and Eli Lilly it would not be sufficient for the purpose of Article 3 (a) that the product in question, namely sitagliptin, falls within the extent of protection (Schutzbereich )conferred by the claims. It would rather be required that the product is disclosed specifically enough to form the subject matter (Schutzgegenstand) of the claims which in the absence of an individualized disclosure of sitagliptin in the basic patent would not be the case. 
The Senate however acknowledges that a different position has been taken by e.g. UK courts on highly comparable case scenarios (see [2017] EWHC 987 (Pat) in view of Medeva and Eli Lilly. This divergent interpretation of the CJEU’s case law by the national courts and patent offices would not be acceptable to applicants and run counter to the overall objective of the Regulation, namely to provide a uniform solution for the common market. 
The Senate has therefore decided to stay the appeal proceedings and to refer the following questions:
1. Is a product protected by a basic patent in force according to Article 3 (a) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 only if it belongs to the protected subject-matter as defined by the claims and is thus provided to the person skilled in the art as a specific embodiment?
2. Is it therefore not sufficient for the requirements of Article 3 (a) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 that the product in question meets the general functional definition of an active substance class as mentioned in the claims, but apart from that is not individualized as a specific embodiment of the teaching protected by the basic patent?
3. Is a product not protected according by Article 3 (a) of Regulation (EC) No 469/2009 by a basic patent in force if it is covered by the functional definition contained in the claims, but was developed only after the filing date of the basic patent based on independent inventive activity?
Thanks Dirk!

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