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12 October 2020GeneticsSarah Morgan

Australian court rejects cattle genome patent appeal

The Federal Court of Australia has refused to block a cattle genome patent from the US, dismissing an appeal from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

On Thursday, October 8, the Australian court affirmed a lower court’s decision to allow Branhaven and SelecTraits Genomics to amend their Australian patent covering the use of genomic markers in the selection and breeding of cattle.

The patent at the centre of the dispute, filed in June 2010, covers the use of genetics in genetic improvement programmes and molecular breeding programmes for cattle.

Public authority MLA—which works closely with the Australian government to regulate standards for meat and livestock management—opposed the patent application, alleging that the patent claims were so broad they would inhibit genomic selection for all cattle production traits in Australia.

However, in May 2016, the Australian Patent Office granted the patent. Soon after, MLA appealed against the Patent Office’s decision to the Federal Court of Australia.

In two judgments, issued in 2018 and 2019, the court held that certain patent claims lacked clarity, but allowed the patent applicant to amend the claims. The 2019 judgment allowed the proposed amendments.

MLA subsequently filed for leave to appeal against the rulings on two grounds: whether the primary judge had power to consider the amendment application and the allowability of the amendment. Both arguments were dismissed last week.

“We reject the applicant’s submission that the primary judge lacked power to direct the making of any amendment to the complete specification on the ground that he had already decided the appeal or that the appeal was no longer on foot,” said the court.

MLA said that while it acknowledged the ruling, the overall case decision means that Branhaven and SelecTraits Genomics have been “forced to wind back the broad scope of their original Australian patent application”.

In its original form, the patent posed a “significant threat to genetic improvements that enhance the prosperity of the red meat and livestock industry”, said MLA.

Now, while the public authority said it remains concerned by the “vague nature” of the amended patent application, it is undertaking research to map the reduced patent scope across the Australian bovine genome.

MLA is considering the full impacts of the judgment and assessing available options.

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