Thursday, October 26, 2017

The True North Strong IP?

On October 26, 2017, Television Ontario ("TVO") broadcast a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion about intellectual property in Canada and other countries.  Here it is.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Amaizing Syngenta Settlement

I appeared on Bloomberg Radio on September 27, 2017, to discuss the ~$1,400,000,000 settlement reached between Syngenta and farmers allegedly harmed by the agrobiotechnology firm's decision to sell genetically-modified corn in the United States, which subsequently caused China to ban U.S. corn imports.  You may listen to the story here.

Monday, September 25, 2017

CRISPR Becomes Clearer

Recently, The Hastings Center invited me to write an article discussing current legal, policy, and ethical issues surrounding the gene editing revolution triggered by CRISPR-Cas9.  The result, "CRISPR Becomes Clearer", was published on September 20, 2017, in The Hastings Center Report, Volume 47, Issue 5 (September/October 2017).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


The Office of the United States Trade Representative ("USTR") published its "Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation" on July 17, 2017.  Among its musings is a section devoted to intellectual property.  Here are the intellectual property "objectives":

Intellectual Property: 
- Promote adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, including through
the following:
  • Ensure accelerated and full implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), particularly with respect to meeting enforcement obligations under TRIPS.
  • Ensure provisions governing intellectual property rights reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in U.S. law.
  • Provide strong protection and enforcement for new and emerging technologies and new methods of transmitting and distributing products embodying intellectual property,including in a manner that facilitates legitimate digital trade.
  • Prevent or eliminate discrimination with respect to matters affecting the availability, acquisition, scope, maintenance, use, and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
  • Ensure standards of protection and enforcement that keep pace with technological developments, and in particular ensure that rightholders have the legal and technological means to control the use of their works through the Internet and other global communication media, and to prevent the unauthorized use of their works.
  • Provide strong standards enforcement of intellectual property rights, including by requiring accessible, expeditious, and effective civil, administrative, and criminal enforcement mechanisms.
  • Prevent or eliminate government involvement in the violation of intellectual property rights, including cybertheft and piracy.
- Secure fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory market access opportunities for United States persons that rely upon intellectual property protection. 
- Respect the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, adopted by the World Trade Organization at the Fourth Ministerial Conference at Doha, Qatar on November 14, 2001, and to ensure that trade agreements foster innovation and promote access to medicines. 
- Prevent the undermining of market access for U.S. products through the improper use of a country’s system for protecting or recognizing geographical indications, including failing to ensure transparency and procedural fairness and protecting generic terms.

Among the issues that apparently pique the interest of the USTR are several that may be quite challenging to address.  A few are discussed below.

One is to "[e]nsure provisions governing intellectual property rights reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in U.S. law."  If U.S. intellectual property ("IP") law were fixed and static, this might be relatively straight-forward, encroachments on national sovereignty notwithstanding.  However, U.S. IP law has evolved at a brisk pace over the last decade, with the United States Supreme Court (the "Supremes") overturning long-standing lower court precedents in areas such as availability of injunctive relief, exhaustion doctrine, patentable subject matter, and nonobviousness.  This raises the question of whether Canada and Mexico should be expected continually to change their IP laws to reflect the fluid evolution of U.S. IP laws?

Another is to "Provide strong protection and enforcement for new and emerging technologies..."  Do "new and emerging technologies" include software, DNA, or methods of medical diagnosis or treatment?  If so, will the U.S. Congress statutorily reverse the Supremes' recent decisions in Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International (2104), Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (2013), and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories (2012), which rendered inventions in these fields largely unpatentable subject matter?

Questions also arise regarding how the Doha Declaration and "ensur[ing] that trade agreements foster innovation and promote access to medicine" might affect biopharmaceutical patents, and how new NAFTA provisions might attempt to "Prevent the undermining of market access for U.S. products" that, presumably, are described by their sellers using geographical indications registered by others.

An especially intriguing objective is to "Provide strong standards enforcement of intellectual property rights, including by requiring accessible, expeditious, and effective...criminal enforcement mechanisms."  Does this mean that "criminal enforcement mechanisms" must be available not only in copyright, trademark, and trade secrecy law, where they already exist, to some extent, in the U.S., but also extended to patent law, where U.S. law currently lacks such remedies?

As discussed earlier on Lexvivo, the AstraZeneca Canada v. Apotex (2017) decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada/La Cour Suprême du Canada annulled the "promise doctrine", may help to mollify U.S. demands for Canadian IP conformity.  However, the opaque wording of the USTR's "Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation" introduces considerable uncertainty as to what an acceptable agreement on IP issues would be.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Bonne Fête du Canada à la terre de nos aïeux!

Happy Canada Day to our home and native land!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Empty Promise

The Supreme Court of Canada/La Cour Suprême du Canada ("La Cour Suprême") rarely decides patent cases.  However, when it does, it really decides them.  On June 30, 2017, La Cour Suprême handed down a decision in AstraZeneca Canada v. Apotex.  At issue was the "promise of the patent" doctrine, which the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal, and the Federal Court of Canada below, have long upheld and elaborated.  To satisfy the utility requirement, the disclosure of a patent must, for each claim, either demonstrate or soundly predict utility.  But the utility analysis does not end there;  in addition, the disclosure must also fulfill any specific promise of utility by demonstrating or soundly predicting it.

In the Hinterland Who's Who of patent doctrines, the promise of the patent is something of a Canadian endemic.  In fact, its existence in Canadian patent law has been an irritant in trade relations with the United States, and might have been addressed during any renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA").  La Cour Suprême has now declared it extinct.  In his Federal Court decision, Judge Rennie declared the promise of the patent "the yardstick against which utility is measured".  By constrast, La Cour Suprême held that Section 2 of the Patent Act/Loi sur les brevets did not contain any such requirement. In relevant part, Section 2 defines "invention" as
any new and useful art, process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement in any art, process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter...
This doctrine, however, is unsound. It is an interpretation of the utility requirement that is incongruent with both the words and the scheme of the Patent Act. 
[37] The Promise Doctrine is excessively onerous in two ways: (1) it determines the standard of utility that is required of a patent by reference to the promises expressed in the patent; and (2) where there are multiple expressed promises of utility, it requires that all be fulfilled for a patent to be valid.
ultimately, every invention pertains to a single subject-matter, and any single use of that subject-matter that is demonstrated or soundly predicted by the filing date is sufficient to make an invention useful for the purposes of [Section 2].

This judicial decision has implications well beyond the immediate parties in the case.  By relaxing the criteria for meeting the utility requirement, more inventions should be patentable.  Applicants for biopharmaceutical patents, in which demonstrating details of efficacy tends to be more challenging than in other arts, may particularly benefit from the demise of promise doctrine.

The effects of the AstraZeneca Canada v. Apotex may be especially inflammatory to the parties involved in the Eli Lilly and Company v. Canada trade dispute, which largely focused on whether or not promise of the patent doctrine was good Canadian law.  Now that the doctrine has gone up in smoke, it make spark a new fire under Eli Lilly and other patent applicants previously burned by what they view as broken promises. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Trademark's New Wave

In Matal v. Tam, an instant landmark decision in trademark jurisprudence, the United States Supreme Court ("the Supremes") held, on June 19, 2017, that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") from denying registration of a mark simply because it may be racially-derogatory.  The Lanham Act includes specific authorization for such a denial in 15 U.S.C. §1052(a), which ostensibly empowers the USPTO to prohibit registration of any otherwise-registerable mark that

Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or...which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute...
As the Supremes explain in their decision,
This case concerns a dance-rock band’s application for federal trademark registration of the band’s name, “The Slants.” “Slants” is a derogatory term for persons of Asiandescent, and members of the band are Asian-Americans. But the band members believe that by taking that slur as the name of their group, they will help to “reclaim” the term and drain its denigrating force. 
The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied the application based on a provision of federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U. S. C. §1052(a).
As Simon Tam, the member of The Slants who filed the trademark application, explained to Time magazine, his band's name is meant to convey a triple entendre:
It actually sounds like a fun, 80s, New Wave-kind of band. And it’s a play on words. We can share our personal experiences about what it’s like being people of color—our own slant on life, if you will. It’s also a musical reference. There are slant guitar chords that we use in our music.
The government cannot refuse to register disparaging marks because it disapproves of the expressive messages conveyed by the marks. It cannot refuse to register marks because it concludes that such marks will be disparaging to others.
Applying strict scrutiny, the CAFC failed to find a compelling governmental interest for abridging the band's speech by denying it a trademark registration.  The Supremes broadly agreed with the CAFC, though several groups of justices filed concurrences to clarify the extent of, and particular reasons for, their decisions.

Nevertheless, the Supremes did all agree to the following droll indictment of government speech:
It is...far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.
One of the underappreciated advantages afforded by the Separation of Powers in U.S. government is the delicious opportunity for each branch of government to lampoon the others.  To borrow the title of one of The Slants' songs, whenever one of the three branches of government gets uppity, either of the other branches can say, "I Wanna Break You Down."  A governance feature as cool as that should be trademarked.