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Dan Ravicher, Public Patent Foundation: He hates bad patents

Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation has a stack of children’s letters on his desk. He believes it shows he’s on the right course with opposing patents that aren’t in the public interest

Ravicher was inspired by taking classes with Randall Rader

Bound for Washington for the last oral argument of Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics before the Federal Circuit, Dan Ravicher rifled through a stack of papers. What he originally thought were briefs were actually handwritten letters from elementary school students chiming in about the case. "All these thoughts from young kids got the point," Ravicher tells Managing IP. "Before all else, do no harm." The case – a dispute over patents on the breast cancer genes held by Myriad and the University of Utah – has been politicised and watched closely by the public. It's a fight that has implications for public policy and people's access to critical technology for testing. "That was something that made me smile," Ravicher adds. "It really confirmed that kids, better than anyone else, have intuition."

"Kids, better than anyone else, have intuition"

A lawyer who often finds himself fighting giant biotech companies like Myriad and Monsanto (Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association v Monsanto) and drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson (Public Patent Foundation v McNeil-PPC), Ravicher just might be the most misunderstood member of the patent bar. At the Public Patent Foundation, where he's executive director, his mission is to limit the perceived abuse of the US patent system. The hardest part of his job, he says, is getting people to have an open mind about what he does. "People like to say: Oh, that guy. He hates all patents," Ravicher says. "It couldn't be further from the truth. That's like saying the guy from The Innocence Project hates criminal law." What he does hate are undeserved patents being granted or asserted.

Born in Colorado, Ravicher is a military brat who lived in Virginia for high school, Florida for college and back to Virginia for law school. It was at the University of Virginia that he took a patent law class from Randall Rader, now the chief judge of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. "He made it so exciting and interesting," Ravicher says. "I just knew after I took his class that it was what I wanted to do." As a young lawyer in private practice, he largely did defence and transactional work, and counselled people on how to advance their own technology without trampling on others' rights. Then, something changed. "I felt nobody was representing the public interest," he says. "There was nobody standing up saying that sometimes the Patent Office goes too far or patent holders go too far."

AMP is on remand at the Federal Circuit and, as of press time, is slated for oral argument in late July. The court has been asked to reevaluate the case following the Supreme Court's decision in Mayo v Prometheus, which shot down the diagnostic method patents in question. Ravicher says he knows who will determine its outcome. Judge William Bryson, who joined the majority opinion but dissented on the patentability of isolated DNA sequences, and Judge Alan Lourie are not going to change their minds, Ravicher says. "It comes down to Judge [Kimberly] Moore and how she feels about it," he continues. "She's a brilliant person. She will listen very intently. She asked difficult, probing questions, which I love. I think those will lead to the truth."

Further reading:

Myriad gene patent case sparks concern among non-medical biotech companies
Ravicher attacks Myriad over BRCA patents
False marking ban challenged

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