Public opposition hearings begin January 19 on two genetic engineering patents ("breast cancer gene") at the European Patent Office

January 18, 2005

Munich, 17 Jan 2005

On 19 January 2005 an opposition division of the European Patent Office (EPO) will begin public oral proceedings on the oppositions filed against a European patent granted in November 2001; the proprietors of the patent are the University of Utah Research Foundation and the United States of America. A second such hearing concerning a similar patent granted in May 2001 is scheduled for 24 January, the proprietors in this case being the same research foundation, a Canadian research centre and a Japanese cancer institute.

The patents both relate to the human BRCA1 gene isolated from the genome, mutant forms of that gene and its use in the diagnosis of predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. Among other things, they describe diagnostic methods designed to identify mutant forms of the gene and to facilitate early detection of enhanced susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.

A number of parties have filed notice of opposition to the two patents with the EPO. These opponents maintain among other things that the patents granted by the EPO do not comply with the requirements of the European Patent Convention (EPC) and should therefore be revoked.

Pursuant to the EPC, the opposition division - an independent panel consisting of three technical members and one legal member - will now consider the arguments for and against the contested patents. The parties to the proceedings may challenge the outcome in second-instance proceedings before one of the EPO's technical boards of appeal.

The EPO has not been vested with the task of taking into account the economic effects of the grant of patents in specific areas. Its opposition divisions examine oppositions with reference to the EPC, which constitutes the legal basis for European patents.

Notes for journalists:

1. The hearings begin on 19 January and on 24 January, in both cases at 09.00 hrs, at EPO headquarters in Munich (Erhardtstrasse ). Anyone who is interested may attend, but the available space is limited, and admission will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Some seating is reserved for journalists. Please contact the EPO's press department if you wish to attend.

2. The first hearing concerns European patent EP 705902, "17Q-Linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene", granted on 28 November 2001. Oppositions to this patent have been filed by nine parties: the Social Democratic Party of Switzerland, Berne; Greenpeace Germany, Hamburg; the Institut Curie, Paris; Assistance publique - Hôpitaux de Paris, Paris; the Institut Gustave Roussy, Villejuif (F); the Belgian Society of Human Genetics et al., Brussels; Dr Wilhelms, Göhrde (D); the Netherlands, represented by the Ministry of Health, The Hague; and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Security, Vienna.

3. The second hearing concerns European patent EP 705903, "Mutations in the 17q-linked breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene", granted on 23 May 2001. Oppositions to this patent have been filed by six parties: the Institut Curie; Assistance publique - Hôpitaux de Paris; the Institut Gustave Roussy; the Vereniging van Stichtingen Klinische Genetica, Leiden (NL); the Netherlands, represented by the Ministry of Health; and Greenpeace Germany.

4. Hearings (oral proceedings) form an integral part of opposition procedure under the European Patent Convention, a legal remedy that allows anybody to contest European patents. Around 6% of the European patents granted every year are opposed. The period for filing an opposition ends nine months after the patent has been granted. In a special quasi-judicial procedure involving the interested parties, the EPO opposition division decides whether the contested patent is to be maintained, amended or revoked.

5. Your contact for further information is:

Rainer Osterwalder
EPO Press Officer
Erhardtstrasse
80331 Munich

Phone: +4989/2399-5012
Fax: +4989/2399-2850
e-mail: press@epo.org

European Patent Office

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