The Federal Circuit’s Myriad Genetics decision, Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 99 U.S.P.Q. 2d 1938 (Fed. Cir. 2011), which invalidated most of the method claims in the patents at issue, brings to mind a concern about the value of method claims, particularly to the pharmaceutical industry.

The Myriad Genetics patents at issue included two types of method claims relating to human genetics: one involved determining whether a female patient had abnormal BRCA1/2 genes by comparison of BRCA1/2 gene and BRCA 1/2 RNA from the patient’s tumor sample to those from a non-tumor sample; the second was an activity screening method for anticancer drugs that compared the growth of a host cell transformed with a cancer-causing BRCA gene in the presence and absence, respectively, of the test compound.

The practice of these method claims abroad would not necessarily raise an infringement issue in the U.S. because neither type entails the importation into the U.S. of a product that would potentially infringe the Myriad Genetics composition claims or method claims. Rather, only data from the results of the method claims need be imported. The methods could be practiced in the absence of a claim to the BRCA genes themselves since the technology for isolating the genes, their sequences and the means of transforming host cells therewith are within the skill of the art.

Hence, were there no other legal constraints on the exportation of the necessary patient samples from the U.S. and importation into another country, the method claims could be freely practiced abroad. The potential value of such method claim protection should be carefully weighed before embarking on an extensive foreign patent program.

R. Hain Swope is Counsel to the Gibbons Intellectual Property Department.