First things first, I profusely thank a well-wisher of the blog who has been kind enough to share with me the link to the Novartis decision of the Supreme Court. This person has been truly a pillar of strength for his unstinting support to the blog.
For the benefit of our readers, here is the link to 112-page decision of the Supreme Court in the Special Leave Petition filed by Novartis challenging (1) the rejection of its patent application by the IPAB and (2) the decision of the Madras High Court in the Novartis’s writ petition challenging the vires of Section 3(d) of the Patents Act, 1970.
Before we put up a detailed analysis of the decision, here are the relevant excerpts from the judgment, including observations on Section 3(d):
99. In regard to section 3(d) both Mr. Andhyarujina and Mr. Subramanium, learned counsel appearing for the appellant, strenuously argued that section 3(d) is not meant to be an exception to clauses (j) and (ja) of section 2(1) of the Act. Both the learned counsel insisted that section 3(d) has no application to the case of the subject product. The subject product, having satisfied the tests of invention as provided in clauses (j) and (ja) of section 2(1), cannot be denied patent for allegedly failing to satisfy the tests under section 3(d). Mr. Andhyarujina submitted that section 3(d) is a provision put in ex abundanti cautela non nocet to remove all doubts.
100. Mr. Subramanium submitted that section 3(d) is ex majore cautela. The learned counsel submitted that the primary purpose of section 3(d), as is evidenced from the legislative history, is to prevent “evergreening” and yet to encourage incremental inventions. “Evergreening” is a term used to label practices that have developed in certain jurisdictions wherein a trifling change is made to an existing product, and claimed as a new invention. The coverage/protection afforded by the alleged new invention is then used to extend the patentee’s exclusive rights over the product, preventing competition. Mr.Subramanium submitted that, by definition, a trifling change, or in the words of the section “a mere discovery of a new form of a known substance”, can never ordinarily meet the threshold of novelty and inventive step under clauses (j) and (ja) of section 2(1). An invention cannot be characterized by the word “mere”. The word “invention” is distinct from the word “discovery”. He, therefore, submitted that section 3(d) operates only as ex majore cautela, ensuring that mere discoveries can never, by an effort at interpretation of clauses (j) and (ja) of section 2(1), be considered inventions.
101. In regard to the concerns about public health issues and the flexibility of the TRIPS Agreement coupled with the Doha Declaration, allowing the scope to address the issues of public health, Mr. Subramanium submitted that those concerns are addressed in the Act, in provisions relating to compulsory licensing, revocation of patents, and the multiple stages for opposition to the grant of patent.
102. The submission may appear plausible if the scrutiny of the law is confined only to the Act as it stands today after undergoing the amendments in 2005. But examined in the larger perspective of the development of the law of patent over the past 100 years and especially keeping in mind the debates in the Parliament preceding the 2005 amendment, it would appear completely unacceptable. We find no force in this submission that section 3(d) is a provision ex majore cautela. To our mind, the submission completely misses the vital distinction between the concepts of invention and patentability – a distinction that was at the heart of the Patents Act as it was framed in 1970, and which is reinforced by the 2005 amendment in section 3(d).
103. We are clearly of the view that the importance of the amendment made in section 3(d), that is, the addition of the opening words in the substantive provision and the insertion of explanation to the substantive provision, cannot be under-estimated. It is seen above that, in course of the Parliamentary debates, the amendment in section 3(d) was the only provision cited by the Government to allay the fears of the Opposition members concerning the abuses to which a product patent in medicines may be vulnerable. We have, therefore, no doubt that the amendment/addition made in section 3(d) is meant especially to deal with chemical substances, and more particularly pharmaceutical products. The amended portion of section 3(d) clearly sets up a second tier of qualifying standards for chemical substances/pharmaceutical products in order to leave the door open for true and genuine inventions but, at the same time, to check any attempt at repetitive patenting or extension of the patent term on spurious grounds.
104. We have so far seen section 3(d) as representing “patentability”, a concept distinct and separate from “invention”. But if clause (d) is isolated from the rest of section 3, and the legislative history behind the incorporation of Chapter II in the Patents act, 1970, is disregarded, then it is possible to see section 3(d) as an extension of the definition of “invention” and to link section 3(d) with clauses (j) and (ja) of section 2(1). In that case, on reading clauses (j) and (ja) of section 2(1) with section 3(d) it would appear that the Act sets different standards for qualifying as “inventions” things belonging to different classes, and for medicines and drugs and other chemical substances, the Act sets the invention threshold further higher, by virtue of the amendments made in section 3(d) in the year 2005.
On the relevance of the Zimmerman patent, following were the observations of the Court:
“126. From the above discussion it would be clear that the drug Gleevec directly emanates from the Zimmermann patent and comes to the market for commercial sale. Since the grant of the Zimmermann patent, the appellant has maintained that Gleevec (that is, Imatinib Mesylate) is part of the Zimmermann patent. It obtained drug approval for Gleevec on that basis. It claimed extension of the term of the Zimmermann patent for the period of regulatory review for Gleevec, and it successfully stopped NATCO Pharma Ltd. from marketing its drug in the UK on the basis of the Zimmermann patent. Not only the appellant but the US Board of Patent Appeals, in its judgment granting patent for beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate, proceeded on the basis that though the beta crystal form might not have been covered by the Zimmermann patent, the Zimmermann patent had the teaching for the making of Imatinib Mesylate from Imatinib, and for its use in a pharmacological compositions for treating tumours or in a method of treating warmblooded animals suffering from a tumoral disease. This finding was recorded by the US Board of Patent Appeals, in the case of the appellant itself, on the very same issue that is now under consideration. The appellant is, therefore, fully bound by the finding and cannot be heard to take any contrary plea.
132. That Imatinib Mesylate is fully part of the Zimmermann patent is also borne out from another circumstance. It may be noted that after the Zimmermann patent, the appellant applied for, and in several cases obtained, patent in the US not only for the betaand alpha crystalline forms of Imatinib Mesylate, but also for Imatinib in a number of different forms. The appellant, however, never asked for any patent for Imatinib Mesylate in non-crystalline form, for the simple reason that it had always maintained that Imatinib Mesylate is fully a part of the Zimmermann patent and does not call for any separate patent.
133. We thus find no force in the submission that the development of Imatinib Mesylate from Imatinib is outside the Zimmermann patent and constitutes an invention as understood in the law of patent in India.”
157. In light of the discussions made above, we firmly reject the appellant’s case that Imatinib Mesylate is a new product and the outcome of an invention beyond the Zimmermann patent. We hold and find that Imatinib Mesylate is a known substance from the Zimmermann patent itself. Not only is Imatinib Mesylate known as a substance in the Zimmermann patent, but its pharmacological properties are also known in the Zimmermann patent and in the article published in the Cancer Research journal referred toabove. The consequential finding, therefore, is that Imatinib Mesylate does not qualify the test of “invention” as laid down in section 2(1)(j) and section 2(1)(ja) of the Patents Act,1970.
158. This leaves us with the beta crystal form of Imatinib Mesylate, which, for the sake of argument, may be accepted to be new, in the sense that it is not known from the Zimmermann patent. (Whether or not it involves an “inventive step” is another matter, and there is no need to go into that aspect of the matter now). Now, the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate being a pharmaceutical substance and moreover a polymorph of Imatinib Mesylate, it directly runs into section 3(d) of the Act with the explanation appended to the provision. Mr. Subramanium, however, contended that section 3(d) has no application in this case. The main ground on which he denied the applicability of section 3(d) to decide the question of grant of patent to the beta crystalline form of the Imatinib Mesylate is earlier held to be untenable. He, however, questioned the applicability of section 3(d) on another ground. Mr. Subramanium submitted that in order to attract section 3(d), the subject product must be a new form of a known substance having known efficacy. The learned counsel laid some stress on the expression “known” that equally qualifies the substance of which the subject product may be another form, and the efficacy of that substance. The learned counsel submitted that a “conceivable” substance is not a “known substance” within the meaning of the provision. He contended that the word “known” here connotes proven and well-established; “known efficacy” implies efficacy established empirically and proven beyond doubt. He further contended that neither Imatinib nor Imatinib Mesylate had any known efficacy and that, therefore, there was no question of showing that the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate had any enhanced efficacy over Imatinib or Imatinib Mesylate.
160. On facts also we are unable to accept that Imatinib Mesylate or even Imatinib was not a known substance with known efficacy. It is seen above that Imatinib Mesylate was a known substance from the Zimmermann patent. In the NDA submitted by the appellant before the US FDA, it was clearly stated that the drug had undergone extensive preclinical, technical and clinical research. The clinical studies included one multiple dose tolerability/dose-finding study (Phase I) and three large open, uncontrolled efficacy and safety studies (Phase II); and a total of 1,234 patients with CML and other Ph+ leukemias were enrolled in the studies. The efficacy of Imatinib was equally known, as is evident from the Zimmermann patent itself, besides the two articles referred to above.
161. The subject product, that is, beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate, is thus clearly a new form of a known substance, i.e., Imatinib Mesylate, of which the efficacy was well known. It, therefore, fully attracts section 3(d) and must be shown to satisfy the substantive provision and the explanation appended to it.
162. We now proceed to examine how far the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate stands up to the test of section 3(d) of the Act. It is noted, in the earlier part of judgment, that the patent application submitted by the appellant contains a clear and unambiguous averment that all the therapeutic qualities of beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate are also possessed by Imatinib in free base. The relevant extract from the patent application is once again reproduced here:
“It goes without saying that all the indicated inhibitory and pharmacological effects are also found with the free base, 4-(4-methylpiperazin-1-ylmethyl)-N-[4-methyl-3-(4-pyridin-3-yl) pyrimidin-2-ylamino)phenyl] benzamide, or other cells thereof. The present invention relates especially to the β−crystal form of the methanesulfonic acid addition salt of a compound of formula I in the treatment of one of the said diseases or in the preparation of a pharmacological agent for the treatment thereto.” (emphasis added)
163. Now, when all the pharmacological properties of beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate are equally possessed by Imatinib in free base form or its salt, where is the question of the subject product having any enhanced efficacy over the known substance of which it is a new form?
164. It may also be stated here that while going through the Zimmermann patent one cannot but feel that it relates to some very serious, important and valuable researches. The subject patent application, on the other hand, appears to be a loosely assembled, cut-andpaste job, drawing heavily upon the Zimmermann patent. As a matter of fact, Mr. Kuhad,learned Additional Solicitor General, submitted before us a tabular chart showing over a dozen statements and averments made in the subject application that are either lifted from the Zimmermann patent or are very similar to corresponding statements in the Zimmermann patent. The aforesaid chart is appended at the end of the judgment as Appendix II.
170. It is to be noted that the higher solubility of the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate is being compared not to Imatinib Mesylate but, once again, to Imatinib in free base form. The whole case of the appellant, as made out in the subject application and the affidavits, is that the subject product, the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate, is derived from Imatinib, and that the substance immediately preceding the beta crystalline form is not Imatinib Mesylate but Imatinib in free base form. This position is sought to be canvassed in the subject application and the affidavits on the premise that the Zimmermann patent ended at Imatinib in free base and did not go beyond to Imatinib Mesylate. Not only is this premise unfounded as shown earlier, but the appellant itself appears to take a somewhat different stand, as before this Court it was contended that the subject product, in terms of invention, is two stages removed from Imatinib in free base, and the substance immediately preceding the subject product is Imatinib Mesylate (non-crystalline).
171. That being the position, the appellant was obliged to show the enhanced efficacy of the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate over Imatinib Mesylate (non-crystalline). There is, however, no material in the subject application or in the supporting affidavits to make any comparison of efficacy, or even solubility, between the beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate and Imatinib Mesylate (non-crystalline).
179. It may be seen that the word “efficacy” is used both in the text added to the substantive provision as also in the explanation added to the provision.
180. What is “efficacy”? Efficacy means “the ability to produce a desired or intended result”. Hence, the test of efficacy in the context of section 3(d) would be different, depending upon the result the product under consideration is desired or intended to produce. In other words, the test of efficacy would depend upon the function, utility or the purpose of the product under consideration. Therefore, in the case of a medicine that claims to cure a disease, the test of efficacy can only be “therapeutic efficacy”. The question then arises, what would be the parameter of therapeutic efficacy and what are the advantages and benefits that may be taken into account for determining the enhancement of therapeutic efficacy? With regard to the genesis of section 3(d), and more particularly the circumstances in which section 3(d) was amended to make it even more constrictive than before, we have no doubt that the “therapeutic efficacy” of a medicine must be judged strictly and narrowly. Our inference that the test of enhanced efficacy in case of chemical substances, especially medicine, should receive a narrow and strict interpretation is based not only on external factors but there are sufficient internal evidence that leads to the same view. It may be noted that the text added to section 3(d) by the 2005 amendment lays down the condition of “enhancement of the known efficacy”. Further, the explanation requires the derivative to “differ significantly in properties with regard to efficacy”. What is evident, therefore, is that not all advantageous or beneficial properties are relevant, but only such properties that directly relate to efficacy, which in case of medicine, as seen above, is its therapeutic efficacy
181. While dealing with the explanation it must also be kept in mind that each of the different forms mentioned in the explanation have some properties inherent to that form, e.g., solubility to a salt and hygroscopicity to a polymorph. These forms, unless they differ significantly in property with regard to efficacy, are expressly excluded from the definition of “invention”. Hence, the mere change of form with properties inherent to that form would not qualify as “enhancement of efficacy” of a known substance. In other words, the explanation is meant to indicate what is not to be considered as therapeutic efficacy.
187. In whatever way therapeutic efficacy may be interpreted, this much is absolutely clear: that the physico-chemical properties of beta crystalline form of Imatinib Mesylate, namely (i) more beneficial flow properties, (ii) better thermodynamic stability, and (iii)lower hygroscopicity, may be otherwise beneficial but these properties cannot even be taken into account for the purpose of the test of section 3(d) of the Act, since these properties have nothing to do with therapeutic efficacy.