Friday, January 19, 2018

Development in European patents in CRISPR area

In September 2016, IPBiz discussed an issue between Marraffini/Rockefeller and Zhang/Broad related to US filings in the
CRISPR area. See CRISPR patent confusion over lawyer representation .

Kelly Servick at Science has a post on some fallout in the European patent area related to the Marraffini matter.
See Broad Institute takes a hit in European CRISPR patent struggle .

The initial dispute never quite made sense. If Feng Zhang were an inventor on the Marraffnni application, a signed oath by Feng pursuant to 37 CFR 1.63 would have been required.

Servick wrote in her 2018 post:

Unfortunately, those earliest U.S. filings include an inventor, microbiologist Luciano Marraffini of The Rockefeller University in New York City, who was not listed on the European filing. Disagreement between Rockefeller and the Broad over Marraffini’s role in key CRISPR inventions led to a bizarre dispute, creating conflicting, identical patents with different authors, The Scientist reported in 2016.

The two institutions settled the disagreement earlier this week. But because of strict rules in Europe about the listing of inventors on patents, Marraffini’s exclusion from the European filing meant the Broad couldn’t claim the “priority date” of the earliest U.S. patents, and therefore couldn’t lay first claim in Europe to the technologies described.

The invalidated patent is one of several facing formal “oppositions” filed with EPO. One opponent of the now-revoked patent was CRISPR Therapeutics, co-founded by microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, now at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, who collaborated with Doudna on early CRISPR technology and is listed on key patents. And the same issue could threaten more of the Broad’s intellectual property in Europe, says Jacob Sherkow, a patent specialist at New York Law School in New York City. “If the Broad can’t get the priority date that they want in their patents, things are just going to be really bad for them,” he says. “It looks like UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier are going to have the dominant patent position in Europe going forward.”

GenomeWeb wrote of the matter:

Meanwhile in Europe, the Broad said that the European Patent Office has decided after an initial review to deny the institute's reliance on a US priority provisional application for a CRISPR-related patent in Europe based on a technicality.

According to the Broad, the issue relates to "the current interpretation of rules that dictate what happens when the names of inventors differ across international applications. This interpretation affects many other European patents that rely on US provisional patent applications, and is inconsistent with treaties designed to harmonize the international patent process, including that of the United States and Europe."

The Broad said that it intends to appeal the decision to the EPO Board of Appeal and that it is confident that the agency will "harmonize" its procedures to be consistent with international treaties.

However, ERS Genomics — which provides access to competing CRISPR/Cas8 intellectual property held by Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin — responded to Broad's statement, noting that the EPO "rejected the Broad Institute's position that its patent was entitled to a priority date pre-dating the prior art," and that the EPO decided that "in originally obtaining the patent, the Broad Institute ... failed to follow rules and established caselaw for properly establishing an earlier priority date."

ERS further noted that Broad's expectation that the EPO will harmonize procedures to be consistent with international treaties "would require a change in the law itself."

See Rockefeller, Broad Settle CRISPR IP Dispute; EPO Denies Broad European Patent

UPDATE. IPKat has some additional information:

A note on priority: requirements in Europe vs US

Article 87 EPC provides the conditions under which an applicant for an EP patent can claim priority from an earlier application, and mirrors Article 4(1) of the Paris Convention. According to Art. 87(1) EPC, any person who has filed a patent in a state a party to the Paris Convention, or his successor in title, shall enjoy such a priority right to the same invention for a subsequent application. Claiming priority to the earlier application provides the subsequent application with the same effective filing date as the earlier application. This means that disclosures between the filing dates of the earlier and subsequent application cannot be cited against the novelty or inventiveness of the subsequent application.

It is a long-established principle of EP case law that, for a valid priority claim under Art. 87 EPC, the applicant of the subsequent application claiming priority, who is not the person who filed the earlier application, must be that persons successor in title when the subsequent application is filed. In practice, this means that an assignment from the applicant of an earlier application to his successor after the filing date of the subsequent application, is not sufficient for a valid priority claim under the EPC (T 577/11.3).

So what if an earlier application has more than one applicant? According to current EP case law, in the situation where an earlier application has joint applicants, the right to claim priority from the application is considered to belong simultaneously and jointly to the two applicants (who thus constitute a single legal entity). In practice, this means that the earlier application can only serve as a basis for claiming priority for the filing of a subsequent application that designates all applicants of the earlier application (T 788/05).

It is also possible to assign the right to claim priority from an application separately to the assignment of the application itself. Such an assignment must also take place before the filing of the subsequent application and the requirements for demonstrating such an assignment are stringent, as recently confirmed by the EPO technical Board of Appeal (T 1201/14, IPKat post).

The US has less stringent priority requirements. In the US, in order to result in a valid priority claim, an earlier and subsequent applicant claiming priority must have at least one joint inventor in common (MPEP § 213.02). Consequently, when a US provisional application is filed in the name of the inventors, with assignment from the inventor to the owner after the filing date, there is no requirement in the US for the assignment to occur before the filing of a subsequent PCT application claiming priority from the provisional.

An invalid priority claim for the CRISPR patent?

The Broad Institute and its co-proprietors have fallen foul of the trap opened up by the difference in the US and Europen requirements for a valid priority claim. In their grounds of opposition, the opponents all argued that the EP 2771468 priority claims to the US provisionals US and 2012/61736527 and US 2013/61748427 (P1 and P2 in the opposition proceedings) were invalid, on the grounds that one or more of the applicants of P1 and P2, or their successors in title, were not listed as applicants for the PCT application from which EP 2771468 was derived.

As matter of objective fact, it appears that the opponents observation is correct. The priority documents listed Luciano Marraffini of Rockefeller University as an applicant. Marraffini does not appear as an applicant on the PCT application forming the basis of EP 2771468, and no evidence was submitted to proceedings that Marraffini had assigned his rights to The Broad Institute before the filing date of the PCT application.

In response, the proprietors argued that the EPO case law is not in line with the principles of the right to claim priority under Article 87 EPC and the Paris Convention

As to the position of Broad:

A key aspect of the proprietors' arguments in response to the objection was that the right to claim priority under Article 87 EPC should be interpreted according to national law. In their written reply to the notice of opposition, The Broad argued that each of P1 and P2 disclosed more than 1 invention (as is common in US provisional applications). Under US law, they observed that it is a requirement for all the inventors that contributed to the subject matter of the invention(s) disclosed anywhere in a provisional application (whether the description, drawings or claims) are named as applicants. They further observed that to be named as an inventor on a patent application, one has to be the inventor or have derived the right from the inventor, and that under US law an inventor can only assign rights to inventions, and the right to claim priority from such inventions, to which she/he has contributed.

Therefore, it was argued, only the inventor-applicants with the right to claim priority from the subject matter of P1 and P2 to which the subsequent PCT application was directed, were listed on the PCT application. Marraffini, the Broad argued, did not have the right to the invention to which the PCT application was directed and therefore was not listed as an applicant for the PCT application.

To complicate matters further, whilst opposition proceedings were progressing before the EPO, The Broad Institute and the Rockefeller University were locked in a patent dispute over whether Luciano Marraffini should be included as an inventor on the patent. This issue was settled following arbitration on January 15th 2018 (i.e. two days before proceedings) and it was agreed that Luciano Marraffini of the Rockefeller would not be named on the patent. A press release to this fact was submitted during oral proceedings itself (although this was rejected by the Opposition Division for having been filed late).

See the 22 Jan 2018 post at IPKat / IPKitten EPO revokes CRISPR patent – a clear cut case of invalid priority?


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