The present ruling relates to the issue of identical of overlapping patents and patent applications, and examines the ramifications of double patenting in Israel.
IL 2039732 is a Divisional Application of IL 176831 titled “Compressed Pharmaceutical Tablets or Direct Compression Pharmaceutical Tablets Comprising DRR-IV Inhibitor Containing Particles and Processes for their Preparation”. During prosecution it received a final rejection and the Applicant, Novartis, has appealed this final Examiner’s rejection.
The Examiner considered that the claims of the parent and the divisional application are directed to the same invention. After this issue was first raised, the Applicant amended the claims, but the Examiner considered that the amended claim set (claims 1-23) covered the same invention as claims 23-26 of the parent application. Based on 5293/93 Welcome Foundation vs. Patent Commissioner (1993), the Examiner rejected the claims of the divisional application. A telephone conversation was to no avail. The Examiner issued a final rejection noting that there were substantive issues not addressed, whilst Applicant is appealing this decision claiming that the issue is one of interpretation of the law and has thus appealed to the commissioner.
The Commissioner held a hearing and allowed the Applicant to present a short summary of the comparative law in US, Europe, Australia, Japan, China and India. In this instance, the Examiner did not claim that the divisional had identical claims to the parent application, but that there was some overlap. According to the Commissioner, the issue is one of interpretation of Sections 2, 8 and 9 of the law. These state that an inventor is entitled to a patent, that a patent can only cover one invention and that where two or more applicants file for the same invention, the first to file is awarded the patent. The purpose of divisional applications is to prosecute additional inventions claimed within the same parent application.
In the Welcome case, claims 1-10 related to uses of a pharmaceutical preparation in the treatment of various diseases and claim 15 related to a method of preparation of the active ingredient. Then Commissioner, the late Michael Ophir ruled a claim for use in preparing a medicament’ and ‘use in the treatment of’ were identical. He did not see that the application related to more than one invention. On appeal, Judge Winograd ruled that one can have one application for a material, a second one for the method of fabrication and a third one for uses, provided each application is directed to patentable subject matter and there is no overlap between the cases. There Judge Winograd went on to rule that one application cannot include more than one patentable invention, i.e. one should not award more than one patent for one invention, and this is a corollary of Section 8 that a patent should cover one invention. One can file a plurality of applications for a plurality of related patents provided that each one is directed to a patentable invention and the claims are not identical or overlapping.
In the present case, both the parent IL 176831 and the divisional application IL 203972 have the same title. In IL 203972 there is one independent claim. Claims 23 and 24 of the parent IL 176831 each depend on claim 1, and claims 25 and 26 are dependent on claims 24 and 23 respectively.
The independent claim of IL 203972 is directed to using a powder to form a pill for treating a wide range of ailments. Claims 23 – 26 of the parent IL 176831 are directed to forming tablets and a corresponding process. The divisional relates to various states that are not in the parent application, but both applications have the same specification. According to the Applicant, the parameters are identical but the parent claims the process whereas the divisional application claims use of the active ingredient to prepare a pharmaceutical.
According to the Examiner, the divisional application claims use of a formulation for treating a disease, where the formulation is given in claims 23-26 and the diseases treated are listed in claims 1-22. In both cases, the formulation is the same, the particle size is the same and the active ingredients and additives are the same as those given in claims 23-26 of the parent.
Novatis found the Wellcome decision poorly claimed and poorly reasoned and could not see why two applications could not claim identical or overlapping inventions. They argued that where applicants are the same, there is no need to relate to identical or significantly overlapping claims, holding that the Israel Patent Law does not prevent multiple patenting. Novartis argued that Section 2 is merely a declarative statement that the applicant may file a patent. It does not have legal ramifications, and certainly does not limit the number of patents that the applicant may file. Section 2 does include the word “one” and it should not be read into the claim such that one patent may be requested for one invention. Support for this interpretation is found by contrast to Section 9 which relates to different applicants with patent applications for the same invention.
The parties are in agreement that different applicants cannot be awarded separate patents for the same invention. Novartis holds that the same applicant can be awarded two or more patents for the same invention. The Examiner disagrees. Novartis accepts that there is no economical justification or logic in an applicant having more than one patent, and even sees this behavior as unacceptable. However, so long as there is some difference between the two patents, it is legitimate to award the protection of both patents.
The Commissioner upheld the Examiner’s conclusion and ruled that so long as there is nothing in claim 1 of the divisional that exceeds the scope of the claims of the parent, there is no reason to allow the divisional.
In the US, the issue of double patenting is dealt with by filing a terminal disclaimer. Although this procedure prevents extending a term of protection (sometimes called ever-greening), it still has negative ramifications. Third-parties such as an alleged infringer may have to show that he is not infringing a number of overlapping patents. Likewise, a competitor may have to show a number of similar patents are invalid or not infringed. This places an unnecessary burden on third parties.
I think that although Novartis is correct that the Law does not explicitly prohibit multiple patents for the same invention, the Commissioner is correct that not to allow it is a reasonable interpretation of the intention and spirit of the law. Because of the large sums of money involved with pharmaceutical patents, this decision may well end up being appealed to the courts. If that happens, we will see how the Israel courts consider double patenting.