Patent Ruling Says Viagra's Too Similar to "Horny Goat Weed"; Too Bad It's Completely Bonkers

Last Updated Feb 17, 2010 6:41 PM EST

You've probably had a good laugh this week over the Bloomberg report that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has invalidated part of Pfizer (PFE)'s patent for Viagra due to its similarity to "horny goat weed," an herb often sold as a libido-arousing diet supplement.

But have you read the decision itself? Of course not. That's what BNET is for. You can download it here, but be warned -- it's mostly very boring indeed. Except for the parts about Yin Yang Huo, otherwise known as horny goat weed (pictured), which are laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder said the decision "has no effect on Pfizer's claims relating to Viagra," and I have to believe him after reading this decision. From a layman's perspective, the decision seems to prove only how feeble your "evidence" needs to be in order to invalidate years of someone else's rigorous research.

In the case, Pfizer sued Eli Lilly (LLY) over its patents for Cialis, which it argues infringe on the Viagra patent. (The two drugs' generic names are sildenafil and tadalafil, respectively, so you can see that they stem from the same chemical family.) Bayer (BAY) is mixed up in the case, too, over its Levitra (vardenafil) patent.

The PTO nixed Pfizer's claim to a patent on an oral treatment for erectile dysfunction because it was "obvious" due to previous studies of horny goat weed that an oral therapy for ED already existed. The decision cites four studies of horny goat weed and relies on one in particular (the "Yin" study) to back its decision. Here's how the PTO describes the Yin study:
... the disclosed treatment comprises a mixture of Yin Yang Huo [horny goat weed] and Tu Si Zi, as well as yellow rice wine, genital massage, rest, bathing in a herbal mixture, and abstinence from intercourse ...
About 50 cases were treated by Yin, who describes a "typical" case thus:
... a typical case involving a 27 year old male, Mr. Qi, diagnosed with impotence caused by excessive sex who achieved an erection after 10 days and was reported cured after 17 days of treatment ...
We don't need to get into the question of whether a prescription for "genital massage" would get a 27-year-old's mojo back after 17 days without horny goat weed, if only because there are only 50 people in the study, so it's not statistically powerful enough to be significant. Needless to say, studies of new drugs -- like Viagra -- have to be a lot more robust and sensible before a company like Pfizer goes to the PTO demanding legal protection for its research.

No matter. The PTO concluded:
... we sustain the rejections of claim 24 under 35 U.S.C. § 102(b) as anticipated by any of [the horny goat weed studies by] Bensky, Hsu, Chang, and Yin. The Yin Yang Huo references disclose oral administration of a selective PDEV inhibitor, i.e., icariin, in an amount effective to treat ED.
If this is the standard for rejecting drug patents then we'll all be enjoying a vast range of cheap generic drugs very soon indeed.

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