Be specific!

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Case No. O2016_001 | Decision of 27 June 2019

We had reported about the main hearing in this matter on this Blog here.

Comadur logo

The patent in suit is CH 707 572 B1; see Swissreg for further bibliographic information. An automated translation can be found here. Harcane had sued Comadur essentially to the effect that CH’572 be declared invalid (based on Art. 261(1) lit. a PatA, not lit. d); or, alternatively, if CH’572 was held valid, that it be transfered to Harcane. On the other hand, Comadur finally defended CH’572 with the claims being limited. Further, Comadur requested that Harcane’s complaint should be held inadmissible.

Parallel proceedings elsewhere

It is a procedural requirement that the case is not the subject of pending proceedings elsewhere or is not already the subject of a legally binding decision; Art. 59(2) lit. d and e CPC.

There had been co-pending proceedings in Neuchâtel where Comadur had sued Harcane and sought for a delaratory judgment based on the Unfair Competition Act that it was the owner of certain manufacturing processes of ceramic injection molding (CIM) material. In turn, Harcane saught a declaratory judgment in proceedings in Neuchâtel that Harcane was the owner of the respective trade secrets relating to the CIM material.

Obviously, these requests differ from the requests in proceedings at the FPC. Thus, the case that has been brought before the FPC had not been the subject of pending proceedings elsewhere. Still, the FPC had stayed its proceedings on 28 May 2018 since certain preliminary questions overlapped with the cantonal proceedings. The stay was lifted on 13 February 2019, i.e. shortly after the Supreme Court had decided on both parties’ appeals against the decision of the Neuchâtel cantonal court; see 4A_584/2017, 4A_590/2017 of 9 January 2019.

The decision holds in ¶21 that the plaintiff well has a legitimate interest in bringing the present complaint since, according to the prior cantonal proceedings, Harcane is only prohibited to use some very specific embodiments of the patent in suit. However, even the limited scope of CH’572 goes far beyond that.

limitation of the patent

The defendant / patentee partially surrendered CH’572 in accordance with Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA and declared the same to the FPC; see O2012_030, ¶17.

Claim 1 as amended reads as follows:

  • Claim 1 as amended
Liant pour composition de moulage par injection comprenant :

    • de 35 à 54% vol. d’une base polymérique
    • de 40 à 55% vol. d’un mélange de cires,
    • et environ 10% vol. d’un surfactant,

dans lequel la base polymérique contient des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acide méthacrylique ou acrylique, ou des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acétate de vinyle, ou des copolymères d’éthylène comprenant un anhydride maléique ou un mélange de ces copolymères, ainsi que du polyéthylène, du polypropylène et une résine acrylique, et dans lequel lesdits copolymères sont des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acide méthacrylique ou acrylique, ou des copolymères d’éthylène comprenant un anhydride maléique ou un mélange de ces copolymères;

à l’exclusion d’un liant pour composition de moulage par injection comprenant de 35 à 50% vol d’une base polymérique, de 40 à 55 % vol d’un mélange de cires, et environ 10% vol d’un surfactant, dans lequel la base polymérique contient des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acide méthacrylique ou acrylique, ou des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acétate de vinyle, ou des copolymères d’éthylène comprenant un anhydride maléique ou un mélange de ces copolymères, ainsi que du polyéthylène, du polypropylène et une résine acrylique.

The underlined / italic part of the claim is a so-called undisclosed disclaimer to exclude the subject-matter of CH 708 097 A2, a prior right that had been filed earlier but published only after the filing date of CH’572. As much as I recall, this is the first time that such an undisclosed disclaimer has been at stake and allowed in proceedings at the FPC. Note, however, that O2012_030 in ¶20.1 already suggested that the FPC would follow the EPO’s precedent G 1/03.

Dependent claims 2-6 remain unchanged. Claims 7-10 have been deleted.

novelty and inventive step

The plaintiff alleged that CH’572 was not novel over US 5,266,264, several PhD theses (Juan M. Adames, 2007; S. Kowalski, 2005; C. Quinard, 2008) and a prior use, i.e. the sale of a certain feedstock to Comadur.

Apparently, the court did not appreciate how the novelty attacks had been presented. The decision holds that, according to common practice, a specific analysis of the features of the claim and a specific reference to the prior art has to be made, for each of the features. It is not the court’s task to establish the facts of its own motion and to seek the information in the references filed as exhibits. On the contrary, the relevant facts must be alleged by providing specific information, in particular by reference to a page or line number, while specifying which feature of the claim is there to be found (see ¶¶28-30).

Le Tribunal n’est pas chargé d’établir les faits d’office et il ne lui incombe pas de rechercher lui-même les informations dans les documents de l’art antérieur déposés en tant que pièce jointe. En particulier, une référence globale à un document dans le sens de «l’objet de la revendication 1 est divulgué dans le document X» ne suffit pas pour satisfaire au fardeau de l’allégation. Il faut au contraire alléguer les faits pertinents en fournissant des indications spécifiques, notamment par renvoi à un numéro de page, de ligne, tout en précisant quelle caractéristique de la revendication se retrouve dans le document de l’état de la technique invoqué.

In the absence of any specific allegations, the FPC did not consider the novelty attacks to the extent they were based on prior art documents. What remained was the sale of a certain feedstock to Comadur. However, the decision holds that these sales were governed by an NDA and thus cannot be considered at all. Further sales to third parties had been alleged but remained essentially unsubstantiated.

Accordingly, novelty was acknowledged.

The FPC did not appreciate the way the obviousness attacks had been presented, either. The decision holds that the FPC cannot complete an incomplete factual allegations of the parties. This is in contrast to proceedings at the EPO which shall examine the facts of its own motion and which shall not be restricted in this examination to the facts, evidence and arguments provided by the parties and the relief sought; Art. 114(1) EPC. Determining whether an invention is based on an inventive step is a question of law. However, the general technical knowledge of the skilled person, the closest prior art, the differentiating features, etc. are facts, and it is up to the parties to allege these facts (see ¶37).

In my perception, the considerations with respect to the burden / degree of substantiation are what this decision will likely be cited for in the future.

To the extent the FPC admitted the plaintiff’s arguments and evidence into the proceedings at all, the decision holds that the claimed subject-matter was not obvious over US 5,266,264.

Costs

Even though the plaintiff did not succeed with any request, the defendant was still charged with half of the court fee since the patent was maintained only to a limited extent, i.e. the defendant partially acknowledged the plaintiff’s complaint and both parties win and therefore lose equally.

No compensation for legal represenatation was awarded.

Interestingly, the plaintiff only involved a patent attorney when the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur had been established. The respective expenses were not considered necessary anymore since the closure of the file had already occured at that time. On the other hand, defendant’s expenses for the assisting patent attorney of ICB, a company within the Swatch group of companies, had not been considered, either: No intra-group expenses are reimbursed; see O2014_009, ¶6.2.

UPDATE 9 September 2019:

The decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_001 | Decision of 27 June 2019

Harcane Sàrl
./.
Comadur SA

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Michael STÖRZBBACH
  • Dr. Regula RÜEDI
  • Dr. Thomas LEGLER

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Agnieszka TABERSKA

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

  • Jean-Claude SCHWEIZER (SLB)

Representative(s) of Defendant:

  • Dr. Nathalie TISSOT (Tissot)
  • Marie TISSOT (Tissot)
  • Thierry RAVENEL (ICB), assisting in patent matters

DECISION OF THE FPC
→ patent maintained / partially surrendered; plaintiff’s claims dismissed
Case no.: O2016_001
Decision of: 27 June 2019
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DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
→ referred to in ¶13 of the FPC decision
Case nos.: 4A_584/2017
4A_590/2017
Decision of: 9 January 2019
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PATENT IN SUIT

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2 Replies to “Be specific!”

  1. Do not be mistaken! Art 114(1) EPC is not there to compensate for unsubstantiated statements of the parties.

    If an opposition to a patent is filed and comprises statements of the kind: claim 1 lacks novelty in view of D1, and inventive step in view of D2 + D3, such an opposition is not admissible.

    Facts and evidence supplied should be such that the opponent’s case can be understandable by the proprietor and the division
    without any further investigations. See for instance T 222/85, T 2/89, T 550/88.

    In front of the Boards of Appeal, their Rules of Procedure and case law are such that any unsubstantiated statement or request is only deemed filed at the date the purpose of the requests are filed. See for instance T 32/10.

    The position of the FPC is thus perfectly in line with the procedure before the EPO

  2. Yes and no.

    The following is a citation from the decision of the FPC, para. 37:
    “Le Tribunal ne peut pas se substituer aux parties et ne peut dès lors pas compléter un état de fait lacunaire faute d’allégations des parties. La présente procédure n’est ainsi pas comparable aux procédures devant l’OEB, où la maxime d’office s’applique, l’OEB n’étant pas limité aux faits et allégations présentés par les parties. Dans une procédure civile relevant du code de procédure civile suisse, c’est la maxime des débats qui s’applique, sous réserve d’exception non déterminante pour le cas d’espèce. Les parties doivent alléguer les faits sur lesquels elles fondent leurs prétentions et produisent les preuves qui s’y rapportent (art. 55 al. 1 CPC).”

    Art. 114(1) EPC applies to all procedural steps under the EPC, from establishing the search report to inter partes appeal proceedings. I agree with you that, in practice, proceedings before the BoA are somewhat similar to civil proceedings governed by the Civil Procedure Code, but this is only because the Boards more strictly apply Art. 114(2) – even more so under the forthcoming RoP as of 2020.

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