Supreme Court hears California patent case against Mayo

Members of the medical and legal community in California and across the country will be monitoring the U.S. Supreme Court as it takes up a patent case involving a long-standing argument. Can a scientific concept or a medical idea be patented?

The case surrounds a patent violation claim made by a San Diego company, Prometheus Laboratories, against the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Prometheus holds two patents related to a diagnostic blood test that measures patients’ responses to medication, a tool used by Mayo until the clinic came up with its own less-expensive version of the test in 2004.

The California laboratory argues that Mayo is interfering with its patent, but Mayo contends Prometheus cannot patent a medical concept without hindering patient treatment and discouraging future research.

Prometheus purchased the drug protocol rights from Canadian researchers and obtained patents for the test designed to help physicians adjust dosages. A federal appeals court backed Prometheus. Briefs from every facet of the legal and medical field have flooded the Supreme Court in anticipation of the arguments it will consider. The Supreme Court’s ruling isn’t expected until months after the December arguments.

Mayo supporters say upholding Prometheus’s patent rights could threaten best-care patient practices and stifle new research for fear of lawsuits. The American Intellectual Property Law Association takes another view, saying that Mayo is trying to profit off a diagnostic process that it does not own.

The AIPLA’s assertion has the support of the Association of University Technology Managers. One legal associate said the Prometheus case is not about whether ideas may be patented. The lawyer said the suit surrounds whether Mayo is infringing on Prometheus’s intellectual property rights for a “drug dosage calibration method.”

Complex litigation involving complex patents involving the Supreme Court requires sound legal advice. Both sides are likely consulting with attorneys experienced in patent law, and companies in similar situations may want to consider doing the same thing.

Source: Star Tribune, “Mayo takes patent case to U.S. Supreme Court,” Jim Spencer, Dec. 5, 2011