On 4 December 2013, the Australian High Court ruled in a landmark decision that methods of medical treatment can be patented. In the case of Apotex Pty Ltd v Sanofi-Aventis Australia Pty Ltd, most of the High Court judges agreed that such methods meet the criteria for patentability under the Patent Act 1990, challenging previous beliefs about the economic and ethical implications of patenting medical procedures.
The Court's decision pivots on the idea that there is no fundamental difference, either economically or ethically, between patenting a new medical product and a new method of using an existing product for therapeutic purposes. This interpretation expands the scope of what can be considered a patentable invention in the medical field, potentially stimulating innovation and investment in medical treatments.
However, the ruling wasn't unanimous. In a dissenting judgment, Justice Hayne argued that the product of a process must have commercial significance for it to meet the 'manner of manufacture' test. According to his view, while a medical treatment method might have these characteristics, the treated individual – the product of such a method – does not.
Despite this split in opinion, the Court upheld the validity of the patent in question. Interestingly, the patentee faced a setback as the Court allowed an appeal against a finding of infringement. This ruling marks a significant moment in Australian patent law, potentially opening doors for more patents in medical treatment methods, a move that could have far-reaching implications for the healthcare industry and beyond.