(CN) - Wyeth and Elan Pharma won extensions on their patent applications for Alzheimer's treatments in the Federal Circuit, which held that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office "undisputedly caused delays" in issuing the patents.
In 1994, patent law changed the terms of a patent from 17 years from the date the patent was issued, to a 20-year term from the application's filing.
Under the new system, any delays in examining and issuing a patent "consumed the effective term of the patent," the ruling states.
To remedy that problem, Congress passed the American Inventors Protection Act of 1999, which extended the terms of patents delayed by the PTO. The extensions apply if the PTO misses certain examination deadlines or fails to issue a patent within three years of the initial filing.
Wyeth and Elan sought a court order forcing the PTO to grant extensions, claiming the office delayed their applications by hundreds of days.
The district court sided with the drug makers, and the federal appeals court affirmed.
It rejected the PTO's claim that the three-year issuing delay can occur anytime after the application is filed.
"To the contrary, the language of [the amendment] does not even permit the delay to start running until three years after the application is filed," Judge Randall Rader wrote for the three-judge panel (original emphasis).
The language of the law "is clear, unambiguous and intolerant of the PTO's suggested interpretation," Rader concluded.
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