New Australian patents claiming chemical compounds may be vulnerable to revocation

It seems that the abolition of Australia’s second-tier patent system, the innovation patent, (as detrimental as this will be for Australian business) could be considered as a high-profile distraction to divert attention away from new laws that will potentially render patents claiming chemical compounds, with reference to a structural formula, vulnerable to invalidation.

 

This issue relates to new laws that apply to Section 40(3A) of the Patents Act 1990, which was originally introduced in 2013 to remove the use of claims that refer to examples in a specification, i.e. omnibus claims. At that time, Section 40(3A) recited that “the claim or claims must not rely on references to descriptions or drawings unless absolutely necessary to define the invention”. More recently, the Intellectual Property Bill (Productivity Commission Response part 1 and other Measures) Bill 2018, expanded the scope of Section 40(3A) to cover claims referring to “drawings, graphics or photographs”.

Relevantly, Section 40(3A) does not refers to “parts” of the specification – it simply refers generally to “descriptions, drawings, graphics and photographs”. Thus, current Section 40(3A) appears to go beyond its initial purpose of removing the use of omnibus claims and potentially renders claims that include drawings, graphics and photographs unacceptable. This arguably includes frequently used chemical claims that refer to a structural formula as a graphic representation of the molecular structure of a chemical compound, or an X-ray diffraction pattern, i.e. drawings or graphics.

Currently, Section 40(3A) can only be considered during examination and, in our experience, the Patent Office is only enforcing it against claims that refer to parts of the specification. However, when the Intellectual Property Bill (Productivity Commission Response part 2 and other Measures) Bill 2019 comes into force, most likely at the end of November 2019, Section 40(3A) will become a ground for re-examination, opposition and revocation.

At the very least the new laws, as they relate to Section 40(3A), introduce considerable uncertainty as it is not clear how they will be interpreted judicially. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill is not helpful because it only considers Section 40(3A) as covering omnibus claims. Moreover, as there is a reasonable argument that reference to a structural formula in a claim is not absolutely necessary to define the invention because compounds can be defined by chemical names, future patentees of chemical compounds have a right to feel nervous. For this reason, it may be prudent for applicants of chemical compound applications to cover their most commercially relevant embodiments in independent claims that define a chemical compound by its IUPAC name, in addition to relying on claims that define a structural formula. Notwithstanding, that a claim that refers to a chemical structure is more succinct than one that refers to a long and potentially unclear chemical name.

Shelston IP will, of course, continue to monitor the introduction of the new laws and provide necessary updates.