Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Patent for nimesulide preparation refused on Panacea's pre-grant objection

This article was published in Pharmabiz on Wednesday, July 19, 2006.

Stoplik Services India Pvt Ltd filed an application for Patent No. 183458 (454/BOM/1998 dated 14.07.1998) for "A process for the preparation of a therapeutic anti-inflammatory and analgesic composition containing nimesulide for use transdermally". The said application was opposed by Panacea Biotec Ltd which filed a notice of opposition on Feb 1, 2000 against the grant of patent.

The case involves opposition proceeding under the Patents Act, 1970 before the recent amendments which introduced a two-stage opposition, i.e., pre-grant opposition and post-grant opposition. The reference to section 25 in the proceeding is to the provisions of the section as it was before the Patents (Amendment) Act, 2002.

The invention is defined in the claim of the specification as follows:

1. A process for the preparation of a therapeutic anti-inflammatory and analgesic composition for tropical use which comprises the following steps:
(a) forming a mixture of 0.5% w/w to 30% w/w of a percutaneous enhancer and 2.5% w/w to 30% w/w of one or more vehicle/base as herein described;
(b) adding to the said mixture of step (a) 0.1% w/w to 10%w/w of nimesulide following by stirring the mixture until completely dissolved;
(c) forming homogenous mixture of 0.5% w/w to 12% of a surfactant, 0.2% w/w to 50% w/w of a Gelling agent/thickening agent of the kind herein described and 2.5% w/w to 30% w/w of one or more the said vehicle/base in a homogeniser to obtain a homogenized mixture;
(d) adding the said mixture obtained in step (b) to the said homogenized mixture obtained in step (c) under stirring to obtain the desired composition for analgesic use and wherein up to 2.0% w/w of a neutralising agent/pH adjusting agent as herein described is added to the composition to neutralize or adjust the pH of the mixture.

The application was opposed on the following grounds

Wrongfully obtained: Section 25(1)(a)

The opponent produced proof to show that the business of the applicant dealt with compression packing, yarn packing and zero compression packing and that the applicant was not a pharmaceutical company. The opponent alleged that the patent was wrongfully obtained from different specifications and documents. The present patent was also identical with Patent Application No. 1389/Del/1995 filed on July 25, 1995. The opponent pointed out that all the figures, the way of presentation and even the grammatical mistakes were common to both the applications. The applicant denied that above allegations. The Controller observed that the Application No. 1389/Del/1995 was not published or accepted before the date of filing of the Application No. 454/BOM/1998. Hence the earlier application was not in the public domain at the time of filing of the alleged invention. The Controller held that no clear case of wrongful obtainment was made as there was no sufficient evidence to prove this ground.

Reference cited by the opponent that the applicant was involved in a different trade (not in pharmaceutical business) will not in itself be a ground to conclude that the invention was wrongfully obtained. The order of the Controller did not throw any light on this issue.

Prior Publication: Section 25(1)(b)

The opponent had also pleaded that the invention as described in the specification and claims of the Patent Application No. 183458 has been defined and described in several patents granted and published - a detailed list of which was given by the opponent. It was alleged that these patents anticipate the subject matter of the present application.

Despite citing many patents, the stress of the opponent case was based on the Patent Application filed in Sri Lanka having Patent No. 11012, granted on September 20, 1996. The opponent compared the said document with the present application. In defence, the applicants stated that all the cited applications were not open to public on the date on April 4, 1997, the filing date of the parent application to which the present application is antedated. The applicant prayed for the dismissal of this ground as being baseless and vague. Moreover, they pointed out that the opponents have not furnished English translated copy of many patent of foreign countries on which they had relied upon and hence the same could not be taken on record as evidence. The applicant also distinguished the US Patent No.5688829 as being one for product where as the present application was for a process.

With regard to anticipation, the Controller relied on Canadian General Electric Company v Fada Radio AIR 1950 PC 1 to show that to amount to anticipation, the latter invention must be described in the earlier publication that is held to anticipate it. It is not sufficient to show that the earlier invention described in an early specification could have been used to produce a particular result. It must be shown that the specifications contain clear and unmistakable directions on how to use it. It must be shown that the public have been so presented with the invention that it is out of the power of any subsequent person to claim the invention as his own.

The test of anticipation is that the antecedent statement must be such that a person of ordinary knowledge of the subject would at once perceive and understand and be able to practically apply the discovery without the necessity of making further experiments. Only such disclosure can invalidate a subsequent patent. To establish anticipation, the publication relied upon should satisfy the following conditions.

1. it must have been effected before the priority date of the claim which is the subject of attack by the opponent, and
2. such publication may include any specification filed in pursuance of an application for a patent made in Indian on or after Jan 1, 1912 or any other document published anywhere, and
3. the claim attacked must be contained in any of the said publication.

The Controller held that non-production of translated copies of the document containing prior disclosure would be detrimental to the case of the opponent. However, the Sri Lankan and Nigerian Patent application relied upon by the opponent were granted on 20/09/1996 and 03/03/1997 respectively. The Controller after making a comparative table on the impugned patent and the Sri Lankan and Nigerian patents concluded that two questions should be answered in determining whether an invention is novel.
1. Does a particular document or action disclose the invention in such a way as to make it part of the state of the art?
2. Does the document or action make available the necessary information to destroy the novelty of the invention?

While compared to the Sri Lankan and Nigerian patents, the Controller held that the impugned application did not pass the test of novelty. A comparison of claim 1 of the impugned application and claims 20, 21 and 22 of the Sri Lankan or Nigerian Patents show that the principal claim lacks novelty. Claims 2 and 3 of the impugned application also lacks novelty in view of the claims 5 and 7 of the above said foreign patents.

Prior public knowledge or prior public use in India: Section 25(1)(d)

In the light of the several patents relied upon by the opponent, it was canvassed that the invention was publicly known and used in India. It was brought to the notice of the Controller that the product relating to Nimesulide gel/tropical and transdermal composition was present in the Indian market in July 1996. The Controller held that the opponent would succeed on this ground too for the reasons given for the earlier ground of prior publication.

Obviousness and lack of inventive step: Section 25(1)(e)

The opponent had alleged that the impugned application was substantially identical as the invention disclosed and claimed in prior published and granted in Sri Lanka and Nigeria. For the reasons stated by the Controller under the ground of prior publication, it was held that it is very obvious that a man in the art could have done the same thing as claimed by the applicants. The above ground was also granted in favour of the opponents.

Novelty: Section 25(1)(f)

The Controller held that the opponents would succeed even on this ground for the reasons given above.

The Controller ordered that the grant of the Patent on the application for Patent No. 183458 shall be refused and ordered cost of Rs 17,100 to be paid by the applicants.

The above case amply illustrates the effectiveness of opposition procedure. Unlike the examination conducted by the Patent Office which could be plagued with information-scarcity, the opponents have a distinct advantage with regard to knowledge of the invention. Being active participants in the pharmaceutical trade, the competitors can provide for vital information with regard to prior publication and prior user.

Order on costs

Under section 77(1)(e), the Controller has the power to award costs in an opposition proceeding. The matters in respect of which cost can be awarded and the limit of such costs are detailed in the Fourth Schedule. As per section 77(2), the order for costs awarded by the Controller shall be executable as a decree of a civil court.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Exclusive Marketing Rights — The importance of opposition proceedings

This article was published in The Hindu Business Line on Friday, Jun 30, 2006.

No Patent Office, howsoever well-equipped, can keep pace with the rapid strides at which science grows and technology proliferates. The knowledge should essentially come from the competitors who have expertise in that particular field of technology. The grant of EMR, the proceedings for infringement and rejection of patent application have raised uncomfortable issues.

A string of infringement actions and two contradicting High Court decisions later, the Controller of Patents has rejected the application for the grant of patent to Gleevac, a life-saving anti-cancer drug manufactured by Novartis.

It was pointed out in these columns (`Exclusive Marketing Rights — a monopoly without a right', Business Line, March 20, 2004) that the EMR (Exclusive Marketing Rights) holder, pending the processing of its patent application, would get a free hand to exclusively market the product without any competition .

On January 25, 2006, the Controller of Patents refused to proceed with the patent application for the above drug pursuant to opposition proceedings initiated by the competitors.

As apprehended, with the rejection of patent application, the foundation on which the EMR was granted stands demolished, leaving questions on what happens when the law provides for a monopoly in the present, anticipating a right that may or may not be granted in the future.

The grant of EMR, the interim proceedings for infringement before the High Courts and the eventual rejection of patent application have raised uncomfortable issues with disconcerting regularity.

Even before the cries against granting a patent-like right without following a patent-like procedure could die down, the incongruity of differing interim reliefs, one by the Madras High Court and the other by the Bombay High Court, on the same set of facts, fuelled a further furore.

The rejection of the patent application was no less tumultuous. Consider the following three issues to understand how the first-ever contested case on pharmaceutical patents in the post-WTO era has been handled.

Why did not the preliminary examination before the grant of EMR reveal what the Controller had determined later with regard to patentability of the invention?

One of the grounds for rejecting the patent application was that the drug was not an invention under Section 3(d) of the Patents Act, 1970. Section 24A of the Act (now omitted) empowered the Controller to refer the patent application to an examiner for making a report on whether the said invention came under the excluded category of inventions detailed in Sections 3 and 4 of the Act.

Ideally, the examination under Section 24A should have revealed that the drug was not a patentable invention under Section 3(d) and it was only a new form of a known substance as held later by the Controller. This lapse could be directly attributed to the lack of opposition procedure before the grant of EMR.

Why did not the courts look into the arguments with regard to validity of the invention, raised by the defendants in the infringement suits? True, the courts are not obliged to look into the validity of a grant at the interim stage. But where the grant was based on a summary procedure devoid of any opposition mechanism and where the courts have been urged with details of invalidity, the courts could have considered the issue of validity as a preliminary issue (the Bombay High Court did consider the issue of validity is some detail).

Ironically, the patent application has now been rejected by the Controller on the same ground on which a revocation was prayed for before the High Courts.

Why did not the Patent Office determine, in the first instance, that the conditions for the grant of EMR were not satisfied?

No EMR would have been granted if the basic conditions for the grant were not satisfied. In the opposition proceedings before the Controller it was alleged that the application filed in India on July 17, 1998, as a convention application, claimed Swiss priority, when Switzerland was not a convention country on that date.

The Controller agreed with the merit in the above contention. This raises critical questions about the information supplied at the time of application. More so, the allegation that the EMR holder had misled the Patent Office was specifically raised before the Bombay High Court.

Every patent discloses information about the area in which the invention is claimed. The patent system — a term that signifies the conglomeration of all the patents granted, pending applications and information disclosed through patents or otherwise amounting to prior art — can itself be considered as an information bureau providing scientific and technological information to the world at large. Opponents to a patent play the crucial role of supplying information that is not available to the Patent Office.

The summary nature of the grant of EMR appears to be the root cause for the above anomalies. To begin with, the nature of grant of the EMR was summary, discreet, discretionary and without any redress mechanism for opposition of such a grant. The summary nature ensured that the entire process was accomplished quickly without the fanfare of publication and the opposition that usually followed it.

Patent Offices are often criticised for incompetence and blamed for granting patents for things that ought not to be granted. No Patent Office, howsoever well-equipped, can keep pace with the rapid strides at which science grows and technology proliferates. The knowledge about an earlier invention or a disclosure should essentially come from the competitors who have expertise in that particular field of technology.

The procedure of opposition by peers is a process devised to overcome the information-scarcity that may affect the Patent Office.

As the EMR episode illustrates, taking away the process of opposition and advocating summary procedure for rights that confer a monopoly (like patents and EMRs) can create an imbalance in patent information and affect competition.