Clarification on clarity

Case No. O2016_010 | Decision of 15 May 2019 | ‘Klarheitsprüfung bei Änderung der Patentansprüche’
Case No. O2016_011 | Decision of 15 May 2019 | ‘Klarheitsprüfung bei Änderung der Patentansprüche’

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HEADNOTE in O2016_010

Art. 26, 27 PatA: Clarity on amendment of patent claims.

Lack of clarity is not a ground for invalidity. However, in order for a prayer for relief for limitation of claims in a patent nullity suit to be admissible, it must also be sufficiently determined. Therefore, the limitation of claims must be clearly formulated. The waiver of a granted independent claim constitutes a limitation of the patent, but this waiver cannot raise a question of clarity if, apart from the waiver of a granted independent claim, a mere reformulation of a granted dependent claim is made as an independent claim (¶34).

Loepfe logo

Loepfe had sued Uster Technologies AG for nullity of EP 2 347 250 (see EPO Register and Swissreg) and a divisional thereof, i.e. EP 2 352 018 (see EPO Register and Swissreg). The inventions are all about the capacitive testing of yarns or fabric, wherein the dielectric property of a capacitor arrangement is determined.

The case was split into two separate proceedings (O2016_010 for EP’250 and O2016_011 for EP’018). We have reported about the main hearing in both cases on this Blog here.

O2016_010 re EP’250

Uster logo

Uster did not defend the patent as granted but rather filed a main request (MR) and six auxiliary requests (AR1 to AR6) to maintain EP’250 in limited form. In response, Loepfe argued that all requests contained subject matter that went beyond the application as originally filed, and that all claims lacked an inventive step over several combinations of prior art documents. Novelty, however, was not at issue.

Added Matter

Loepfe alleged that several features of the MR were not disclosed in the application as originally filed. The FPC disagreed to large extent, except with regard to the feature of symmetric balancing without a reference capacitor. Briefly, the decision holds that the application as filed only disclosed symmetric balancing w a reference capacitor, and does not provide any teaching related to how symmetric balancing could be done w/o a reference capacitor. Thus, the MR failed because of added matter.

AR1 and AR2 failed for the very same reason.

AR3, however, had a reference capacitor included and could thus be considered further on the merits. Here is the structured feature analysis of AR3:

  • Claim 1 of AR3

In German language only; I’m sorry. Markup over claim 1 as initially granted (additions and deletions) for the changes made already in the MR; additional markup for AR3 in italic. Mere changes of the order of the features are not marked-up. Identifiers of the features are as used in the decision.

1A
Verfahren für den Symmetrieabgleich einer Vorrichtung (1)
1B
zur kapazitiven Untersuchung eines bewegten länglichen textilen Prüfgutes (9) wie Kardenband, Vorgarn, Garn oder Gewebe
1C mittels einer Kondensatoranordnung (21),
1E’ welche Vorrichtung (1) eine Auswerteschaltung (6) zur Auswertung mindestens einer elektrischen Messgrösse eines an einer die der Kondensatoranordnung (21) beinhaltenden Messschaltung (2) abgegriffenen elektrischen Signals,
1Ea einen Referenzkondensator (22), welcher in Serie zur  Kondensatoranordnung (21) geschaltet ist,
1D’
mindestens einen Wechselsignalgenerator (3) zum Anlegen eines elektrischen Wechselsignals von zwei elektrischen Wechselspannungen mit entgegengesetzten Phasen an die Kondensatoranordnung (21) bzw. an den Referenzkondensator,
1Da’
wobei die Kondensatoranordnung (21) vom Wechselsignalgenerator (3) durch eine Filter- und/oder Verstärkerstufe (5) zur Filterung und/oder Verstärkung des vom Wechselsignalgenerator (3) erzeugten Wechselsignals derart abgekoppelt ist, dass sie Parameter des vom Wechselsignalgenerator (3) erzeugten Wechselsignals nicht beein- flusst,
1F
Abgleichmittel (4),
1G”
die in einem elektrischen Pfad zwischen dem Wechselsignalgenerator (3) und der Messschaltung (2) Filter- und/oder Verstärkerstufe (5) angeordnet sind und mittels derer mindestens ein Parameter des elektrischen Wechselsignals derart veränderbar ist,
1H
dass ein Ausgangssignal der Auswerteschaltung (6) bei definierten, konstanten Bedingungen einen bestimmten Wert, vorzugsweise Null, annimmt, und
1I
Steuermittel (7) zur Abgabe eines elektrischen Steuersignals an die Abgleichmittel (4), mittels dessen die Veränderung des mindestens einen Parameters steuerbar ist,
beinhaltet
1J
wobei die Kondensatoranordnung (21) ohne Prüfgut (9) im Wesentlichen zeitlich unverändert belassen wird,
1K’
ein elektrisches Wechselsignal von dem mindestens einen Wechselsignalgenerator (3) erzeugt und an die  Kondensatoranordnung (21) angelegt wird
1L’
ein elektrisches Ausgangssignal der Messschaltung (2) Kondensatoranordnung (21) abgegriffen wird,
1M’
mindestens eine elektrische Messgrösse des an der Messschaltung (2) Kondensatoranordnung (21) abgegriffenen elektrischen Ausgangssignals durch die Auswerteschaltung (6) ausgewertet wird,
1N”
mindestens ein Parameter des elektrischen Wechselsignals in dem elektrischen Pfad zwischen dem mindestens einen Wechselsignalgenerator (3) und der Messschaltung (2) Filter- und/oder Verstärkerstufe (5) derart durch die Abgleichmittel (4) verändert wird,
1O
dass ein Ausgangssignal der Auswertung bei definierten, konstanten Bedingungen einen bestimmten Wert, vorzugsweise Null, annimmt,
1P
die Veränderung des mindestens einen Parameters mit dem elektrischen Steuersignal durch die Steuermittel (7) gesteuert wird, und
1Q
das elektrische Steuersignal durch das Ausgangssignal beeinflusst wird.

Inventive Step of AR3

Plaintiff alleged a lack of inventive step over EP 1 124 134 (D2) in view of WO 01/31351 (D11), DE 195 35 177 (D5), US 4,843,879 (D1, referred to in EP’250, ¶[0007]), US 3,757,211 (D6), US 2007/0146019 (D4), a publication by Huang (D3) which is unfortunately not specified any further, and further in view of general knowledge.

In addition, plaintiff also alleged a lack of inventive step over D1 since the differentiating feature (arrangement of the means for balancing before the filter/amplifier) had no technical effect and could not render the claimed subject-matter inventive.

The FPC did not agree. In particular, the decision holds that the skilled person would not have considered D4, D11, D5, D6, or D3 to solve the objective technical problem which was defined as enhancing the quality of the measurement results. Note that D2 had already been cited in the patent in suit, as a result of which the objective technical problem was taken from the patent itself.

Finally, the FPC also rejected the argument that general knowledge would have led a skilled person to control the balancing means automatically. While the skilled person could arguably have done so, the decision holds that there was no teaching in D2 that would have led the skilled person to actually do it.

Consequently, the FPC concluded that AR3 was inventive over the prior art.

Clarity

An aspect of the decision that is of interest beyond the specific case is related to clarity. Plaintiff alleged that defendant’s requests for maintenance of the patent in limited form were unclear.

A Europen patent cannot be revoked for lack of clarity; the lists in Art. 138 EPC and Art. 26 PatA are closed. However, the decision holds that this must not be mixed up with requests in civil proceedings which must be clearly worded in order to be allowable. The decision holds that this is not only the case with prayers for injunctive relief (BGE 131 III 70), but also with requests for limitation of the patent in nullity proceedings. The decision goes on with a somewhat complicated derivation  with reference to BGE 92 II 280 (¶3a), 120 II 357 (¶2), 4C.108/1997 (¶3a), the corresponding practice at the EPO (G 3/14) and an analogy to Art. 97 PatR. I feel this was necessary since there is no explicit rule in the Swiss PatA that requires the amended claims to fulfil all requirements of the PatA (unlike e.g. Art. 101(3) lit. a EPC — “meet the requirements of this Convention”, what includes clarity, Art. 84 EPC).

Ein Rechtsbegehren, das einen […] unabhängigen Anspruch durch die Aufnahme eines […] abhängigen Anspruchs beschränkt, stellt keine materielle Einschränkung des erteilten abhängigen Anspruchs dar. Damit wird auf den erteilten unabhängigen Anspruch  verzichtet und der entsprechende abhängige erteilte Anspruch wird im eingeschränkten Patent als unabhängiger Anspruch weitergeführt. Der Verzicht auf den erteilten unabhängigen Anspruch bildet zwar eine Einschränkung des Patents gemäss Art. 27 Abs. 1 PatG. Dieser Verzicht kann jedoch keine Klarheitsfrage aufwerfen, denn die blosse Umformulierung des erteilten abhängigen Anspruches als unabhängiger Anspruch bildet keine weitere Einschränkung des Patents im Sinne von Art. 27 Abs. 1 PatG und kann entsprechend auch nicht auf Klarheit geprüft werden.

The bottom line is that mere combination of an independent claim with one or more dependent claims in nullity proceedings cannot be challenged with respect to clarity.


In the case at hand, the court did not see any problem re clarity. The plaintiff had basically objected to the term ‘parameter’ being unclear and that the limited claims would contradict the description. The former argument was rejected by the court because the term was already included in the claims as granted, while the latter was deemed resolved by a declaration according to Art. 97(2) PatR.

Costs

In view of the mixed outcome, the costs were split between the parties. The fact that the patent was limited by incorparation of a feature taken from the specification did not change anything in this respect since revocation of the patent had been requested in entirety.

The FPC did not follow defendant’s argument that costs incurred for the assisting patent attorney are no ‘necessary expenses’ (Art. 3 lit. a and Art. 9(2) CostR-PatC), on top of the costs for legal representation according to the tariff, if the patent attorney could have done the whole case on her/his own; Art. 29(1) PatCA. Even if the patent attorney could have run the case on his own, there is no obligation to do so. Complex legal issues may come up in the further course of the proceeding, and/or a counterclaim for infringement.

Aus der Tatsache, dass einer Partei die Möglichkeit gegeben wird, sich durch einen Patentanwalt in Nichtigkeitsprozessen vertreten zu lassen (Art. 29 PatGG),  kann weder eine Pflicht abgeleitet werden, keinen Rechtsanwalt beizuziehen, noch kann sie es rechtfertigen, wenn eine Partei von einem Rechtsanwalt vertreten wird, keine notwendigen Auslagen für den Patentanwalt mehr zuzusprechen.

Now, what is interesting is the split of costs awarded for legal representation on the one hand, and assistance of the patent attorney on the other hand. Even though the actual expenses for the patent attorney were not awarded in full, they were still awarded to an extent that is on the upper end of the tariff (CHF 44’841.20 requested, CHF 30’000,– awarded). However, compensation for legal representation was only considered on the lower end of the tariff according to Art. 4 CostR-PatC, based on a value in dispute of CHF 125’000,–.

The decision has not been appealed and has thus become final meanwhile.

O2016_011 re EP’018

Defendant filed a MR and five ARs to maintain the patent in limited form. With respect to the main request, plaintiff alleged that new matter was introduced and that the independent claim was not inventive.

Main Request: Added matter?

Plaintiff alleged that the newly introduced feature of a ‘reference capacitor different from the balancing means’ did not have sufficient basis in the application as originally filed, and that it amounts to a disclaimer.

The court did not agree that new matter was introduced. Rather, the reference capacitor and the balancing means were indeed separate entities in all embodiments of the patent. Therefore, the feature in question was directly and unambiguously derivable for the skilled person from the application as originally filed, and the main request did not contain added matter and the disclaimer argument was moot.

… but is it inventive?

No, it is not. The decision holds that the subject matter of the main request was obvious to the skilled person from EP 1 124 134 (D2) in view of the skilled person general knowledge. Plaintiff’s other arguments / combinations of prior art failed to render the subject-matter of the MR obvious.

Plan B

The FPC then moved on to AR1:

  • Claim 1 of AR1

In German language only; I’m sorry. Markup over claim 1 as initially granted (additions and deletions) for the changes made already in the MR; additional markup for AR1 in italic. 

1A’ Vorrichtung (1) zur Bestimmung mindestens einer dielektrischen Eigenschaft kapazitiven Untersuchung eines bewegten länglichen textilen Prüfgutes (9) wie Kardenband, Vorgarn, Garn oder Gewebe mittels
1B’ einer Kondensatoranordnung (21) mit zwei voneinander beabstandeten Platten, zwischen denen sich Luft befindet und zwischen die das längliche textile Prüfgut (9) einführbar ist,
1C beinhaltend eine Auswerteschaltung (6) zur Auswertung mindestens einer elektrischen Messgrösse eines an der Kondensatoranordnung (21) abgegriffenen elektrischen Signals,
1D einen Referenzkondensator (22), welcher in Serie zur Kondensatoranordnung (21) geschaltet ist,
1E’ mindestens einen Wechselsignalgenerator (3) zum Anlegen von zwei elektrischen Wechselspannungen mit entgegengesetzten Phasen an die Kondensatoranordnung (21) bzw. an den Referenzkondensator (22),
1Ea’ wobei die Kondensatoranordnung (21) vom Wechselsignalgenerator (3) durch eine Filter- und/oder Verstärkerstufe (5) zur Filterung und/oder Verstärkung des vom Wechselsignalgenerator (3) erzeugten Wechselsignals derart abgekoppelt ist, dass sie Parameter des vom Wechselsignalgenerator (3) erzeugten Wechselsignals nicht beeinflusst,
1F Abgleichmittel (4),
1G”’ die in einem elektrischen Pfad zwischen dem mindestens einen Wechselsignalgenerator (3) und der Filter- und/oder Verstärkerstufe (5) Kondensatoranordnung (21) angeordnet sind und mittels derer mindestens ein Parameter des elektrischen Wechselsignals derart veränderbar ist,
1H dass ein Ausgangssignal der Auswerteschaltung (6) bei definierten, konstanten Bedingungen den Wert Null annimmt,
1I Steuermittel (7) zur Abgabe eines elektrischen Steuersignals an die Abgleichmittel (4), mittels dessen die Veränderung des mindestens einen Parameters steuerbar ist.

Contrary to plaintiff’s allegation, the court found that no new matter was introduced.

In terms of obviousness, AR1 was based on the MR, but more narrow in scope. Thus, any combination of prior art that did not render the MR obvious could consequently not render AR1 obvious. As such, the court only discussed obviousness over D2 in view of the skilled person’s general knowledge. Here, the court did rule that an inventive step was given.

EP ‘018 was thus maintained in limited form according to AR1.

Clarity and costs

No surprises here; the reasoning is essentially the same as in O2016_010, see above.

Like O2016_010, this decision has also not been appealed and has thus become final meanwhile.

Reported by Philippe KNÜSEL and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_010 | Decision of 15 May 2019 | ‘Klarheitsprüfung bei Änderung der Patentansprüche’
Case No. O2016_011 | Decision of 15 May 2019 | ‘Klarheitsprüfung bei Änderung der Patentansprüche’

Gebr. Loepfe AG
./.
Uster Technologies AG

Panel of Judges:

  • Frank SCHNYDER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Christoph MÜLLER

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

  • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
  • Dr. Kilian SCHÄRLI (MLL)
  • Dr. Kurt SUTTER (Blum), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant:

  • Dr. Andri HESS (Homburger)
  • Dr. Pavel PLISKA (inhouse @ Uster Technologies)

CASE NO. O2016_010
EP’250 maintained as amended
Decision of: 15 May  2019
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EP 2 347 250 B1:

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CASE NO. O2016_011
EP’018 maintained as amended
Decision of: 15 May 2019
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EP 2 352 018 B1

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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.

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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Register ban ordered, but only after hearing the defendants

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Case No. S2019_003 | Decision of 6 February 2019
Case No. S2019_003 | Decision of 11 July 2019

These two decisions in summary proceedings are heavily redacted — which is an exception to the rule. Obviously, the overall conflict between the parties also involves some criminal allegations against a natural person (Art. 146 CC; fraud).

In view of the criminal allegations I am not going to engage in any de-anonymisation exercise here; and this post is not open for comments, either.
Canton of Fribourg

A register ban for six Swiss patent applications had been issued by the public prosecutor of the Canton of Fribourg on 22 May 2017, in view of the criminal charge. The public prosecutor informed the plainfiff on 21 November 2018 of the deadline for finally lodging civil proceedings, i.e. 31 January 2019, and indicated that sequestration of the six patent applications would be lifted at that date (however, this apparently had not happened).

The plaintiff indeed initiated civil proceedings, but only on the very last day of the time limit,  and only in summary proceedings. In particular, issuance of a register ban had been requested without hearing the defendant beforehand.

While the President acting as single judge appreciated the risk that the six patent applications might be transferred to defendant (3) in view of some prior conduct of the defendant(s), and even though particular urgency was acknowledged, he did not order a register ban ex parte. The President held that the urgency is exclusively due to the late submission of the request by the plaintiff who should have taken action swiftly after the public prosecutor’s notification of 21 November 2108. If the plaintiff had filed the request in a timely manner, i.e. in early December 2018, the defendants would have had sufficient time to take a position on the request. The President held that the defendants cannot be deprived of their constitutional right to be heard because of the plaintiff’s belated action. The decision refers in passing to S2018_002, ¶7, for that a delay of two months results in the rejection of the request in any event.

The request for issuance of interim measures without hearing the defendant beforehand was thus denied with decision of 6 February 2019.

However, the register ban had still been issued with decision of 11 July 2019. In balancing the potential disadvantages suffered by the plaintiff and the defendants, the President (again acting as single judge) concluded that there was a much greater potential damage that the plaintiff would suffer if the register ban would not be issued, compared with the defendants potential damage if the register ban was granted. Nevertheless, the decision clearly notes that it is highly doubtful that the six patent applications had been contractually assigned to the plaintiff. Still, the fact that defendants (1) and (2) had previously attempted to assign the patent application to defendant (3), which is a mailbox company in Luxembourg, played out to the plaintiffs advantage, for the time being.

UPDATE 22 August 2019:

The decision of 11 July 2019 has not been appealed / is now final.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2019_003 | Decision of 6 February 2019
Case No. S2019_003 | Decision of 11 July 2019

A. Sàrl
./.
(1) B.
(2) C.
(3) D. S.A.

Single judge:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of A.:

  • Stefano FABBRO (FLD)

Representative(s) of B.:

FIRST DECISION OF THE FPC
→ register ban denied without hearing the defendant
Case no.: S2019_003
Decision of: 6 February 2019
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SECOND DECISION OF THE FPC
→ register ban granted after hearing the defendant
Case no.: S2019_003
Decision of: 11 July 2019
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A Swiss approach to the EPO’s gold standard

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Case No. O2016_016 | Decision of 6 June 2019

The patent at stake is MundiPharma‘s EP 2 425 825 B9; see EPO Register and Swissreg. EP’825 pertains to a combination of oxycodone hydrochloride (in an amount of 10 to 150g) and naloxone hydrochloride (in an amount of 1 to 50g), in a weight ratio of 2:1.

This combination is an analgesic drug that is available as modified-release tablets under the trade name Targin® by MundiPharma.

Develco’s logo

Develco sought annulment of EP(CH)’825 for various reasons, i.e. undue extension of subject-matter, non-enablement and invalidity of the priority claim. Please see this Blog here for a brief summary of the main hearing in this matter, and some relevant prior art Develco has asserted against patentability of the claimed subject-matter.

MundiPharma’s logo

Defendant / patentee MundiPharma countersued for infringement. MundiPharma not only countersued the plaintiff, but rather also attempted to involve the German branch of Develco as well as Konapharma. This attempt failed.

It was evident from the pleadings at the main hearing that the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur had held that the patent was invalid for undue extension of subject-matter. Thus, it does not come as a big surprise in the decision that EP(CH)’825 is held invalid for undue extension of subject-matter. Consequently, the decision does not address the other grounds of invalidity asserted by Develco; and the counterclaim for infringement is moot, too.

In my perception, the detailed assessment of undue extension of subject-matter is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s all about the EPO’s ‘gold standard’ (G 2/10 in ¶4.3, with reference to G 3/89 and G 11/91), i.e.

[…] any amendment […] can […] only be made within the limits of what a skilled person would derive directly and unambiguously, using common general knowledge, and seen objectively and relative to the date of filing, from the whole of [the application as filed].

What is interesting, though, is how the decision addresses the so-called essentiallity-test (‘Wesentlichkeits-Test’), in particular how this test fits with the ‘gold standard’. In brief, in T 331/87 the Board held that the replacement or removal of a feature from a claim may (referred to in the Case Law of the Boards of Appeal as a ‘might’) not be in breach of Art. 123(2) EPC if the skilled person would directly and unambiguously recognise that

  1. the feature was not explained as essential in the disclosure;
  2. it was not, as such, indispensable for the function of the invention in the light of the technical problem it served to solve; and
  3. the replacement or removal required no real modification of other features to compensate for the change.

It is important to note that even this Board apparently (in view of the conditional language used; see mark-up above) did not consider compliance with the above three criteria as a sufficient condition for compliance with Art.123(2) EPC in any given case. Accordingly, the present decision holds that the only thing that really matters is the ‘gold standard’ discussed above, which cannot be deviated from. With reference to the Swiss Supreme Court decision 4A_109/2011, 4A_111/2011 (¶4.3.1), however, the decision further holds that in a case where not even the criteria of the essentiallity test are fulfilled, it must be assumed that an undue extension of subject-matter occured.

What suprises me, though, is that the decision holds (¶31):

Otherwise this would again amount to a materiality test, which was expressly rejected in G 2/98.

Frankly, I don’t see that in G 2/98, at least not expressly (‘ausdrücklich’). One may well conclude from the gist of G 2/98, in particular ¶8.3, that it does not endorse a distinction of technical features which are related to the function and effect of the invention and technical features which are not. But there is no discussion of the essentiallity test at all in G 2/98. Else, if there was, the essentiallity test would surely not be referred to anymore in the most recent edition of the Case Law of the Boards of Appeal and the Guidelines.

But still, my personal take-away message from this decision is that the essentiallity test is of no avail in proceedings at the FPC (until someone comes along and proves me wrong).

The decision is not yet final / may still be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_016 | Decision of 6 June 2019

Develco Pharma Schweiz AG
./.
MundiPharma Medical Company

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Daniel M. ALDER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Hannes SPILLMANN

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Develco:

  • Andrea MONDINI (TIMES)
  • Dr. Cornelia HOFFMANN (SBMP), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Mundipharma:

  • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
  • Dr. Dirk BÜHLER (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters
  • Dr. Andreas LEDL (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters

DECISION

Don’t be misled by the patent no. on the bottom of the title page. EP 2 245 825 is a typo; this should read EP 2 425 825.
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Fumarate and phosphate: Same same, but different?

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Case No. O2017_023 | Decision of 3 May 2019

DISCLOSURE NOTICE

Hepp Wenger Ryffel is involved in this case on behalf of the defendant.

This case is about an alleged infringement of Gilead’s SPC C00915894; the basic patent is EP 0 915 894 B1 (see EPO Register and Swissreg). Gilead’s products are Truvada® and Atripla® which are pharmaceuticals for the treatment of HIV-1 infection.

The present main proceedings are following-up on summary proceedings S2017_006 when the FPC granted interim injunctive relief; see this Blog here. Validity of the SPC was not an issue anymore, this had already been affirmed by the Supreme Court; see this Blog here.

The dispute is all about whether or not the scope of an SPC that specifically refers to a unique salt form does extend to other salts; we had reported about the main hearing in this matter on this Blog here. The SPC concerns tenofovir disoproxil fumarat + emtricitabin (emphasis added) . Mepha’s attacked generics (Swissmedic MAs No. 66181 and 66217)  instead comprise tenofovir disoproxil phosphate.

Now, is that still the ‘product’ in the sense of Art. 140d PatA?

The decision holds in ¶26-27 that in order to not frustrate the objective of an SPC the understanding of the term ‘product’ in the context of an SPC must be aligned with the understanding of the same term in the context of the Therapeutic Products Act (TPA). Thus, the scope of protection is not strictly limited to what is named in the MA or in the SPC, but rather extends to derivatives, salt forms, etc. which do not differ significantly in their properties with regard to safety and/or efficacy. In other words, the decision holds that the scope of protection extends to everything for which a simplified approval according to the TPA can be obtained (see Swissmedic Guidelines, ¶1.1.1).

Thus, the decision holds that the ‘product’ in the sense of Art. 140d PatA is (¶28):

Emtricitabine plus tenofovirdisoproxil fumarate and all derivatives (i.e. in particular all salt forms) thereof, provided that they have the same pharmacological effects.

Since the attacked embodiments had been approved by Swissmedic by way of a simplified approval, the decision holds that they are presumed to have the same pharmacological effects and are thus the same ‘product’ in the sense of Art. 140d PatA.

For the sake of completeness, the decision also analyses the alleged infringement under the DoE (¶33 et seqq.). As proposed by some scholars, the scope of protection of an SPC is determined by the content of the claims of the basic patent, whereby the description and the drawings are to be used for interpretation, and the Protocol on the Interpretation of Art. 69 EPC is also to be observed. Since the SPC is only product-related and purpose-related, the patent claim of the basic patent is to be defined artificially as if only the active substance designated in the certificate were mentioned, for the approved use of the active substance as a pharmaceutical. The description and drawings of the basic patent shall be used for the interpretation of the claim so formulated.

In brief, the decision holds that the three questions of the Swiss test for infringement under the DoE are to be answered in the affirmative, i.e. that the ‘same effect’ (Gleichwirkung), ‘obviousness’ (Auffindbarkeit) and ‘same value’ (Gleichwertigkeit) are given. Noteworthy, the decision holds that one cannot assume that the SPC holder made a purposive selection in favor of one salt over other salts mentioned in the specification. If one were to see this differently, equivalence for SPCs in different salt forms would in fact be excluded if only one specific salt had been used for the MA and the wording of the SPC. On the contrary, on the basis of an objective reading of the patent specification and in the knowledge that such an artificial claim is to be interpreted for the scope of protection of an SPC, the skilled person will readily assume that other salts,  because they are mentioned in the description, are not excluded from the scope of protection (¶43):

Im Gegenteil wird der fachkundige Dritte bei objektiver Lektüre der Patentschrift und im Wissen darum, dass ein solcher fiktiver Anspruch für den Schutzbereich eines ESZ auszulegen ist, in einer solchen Situation gerade davon ausgehen, dass natürlich diese anderen Salzformen, weil sie in der Beschreibung genannt werden, nicht vom Schutzumfang ausgeschlossen sind.

In any event, the decision holds that there was no specific, individualized disclosure of tenofovir disoproxil phosphate in the specification of the basic patent.

LDCs

Injunctive relief was thus granted. However, Mepha shall be permitted to export products that it had on stock when interim injunctive relief had been granted to any of the least developed countries, LDCs, according to the list of the the United Nations.

The decision is still open to appeal.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_023 | Decision of 3 May 2019

Gilead Sciences Inc.
./.
Mepha Pharma AG

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Christoph GASSER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Marco ZARDI

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

  • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
  • Dr. Kilian SCHÄRLI (MLL)
  • Dr. Michael RITSCHER (MLL)
  • Dr. Andreas SCHÖLLHORN (LSP), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant:

DECISION IN FULL

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The expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur is not the end of the line

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Case No. S2018_007 | Decision of 2 May 2019

Fein’s logo

The patent at stake is EP 3 027 362 B1 which is jointly owned by C&E Fein GmbH and Robert Bosch GmbH; see the EPO Register and Swissreg for further information.

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

The patent in suit

Bosch’s logo

The invention is about a tool which is intended to be used with a machine tool, in particular a hand guided machine tool. The machine tool has a rotational drive, e.g. an oscillating drive.

In simple terms, it’s all about a somewhat special attachment device that transfers a torque from the driving device to the machine tool. It’s a 3D fitting; see e.g. Fein’s various Starlock® tools:

Fein’s Starlock tools

Bosch has the same attachment system in place in the Professional Multitool series:

Bosch’s GOP 12 V-28 Professional Multitool

Plaintiffs referred to it as ‘Gugelhupf’ or ‘Napfkuchen’. The claim language is a bit more complicated and less culinary, though.

  • Claim 1 of EP'362

1.1 A tool device (1, 1b) which is suitable for use with a machine tool (22), and in particular suitable for use with a hand guided machine tool, which has a driving device moving around a driving axis, and in particular oscillating around the driving axis,
1.2 and which has an attachment device (12) by means of which it can be fastened to a machine tool (22) in such a manner that the driving axis and a tool axis of rotation (5) are substantially coincident,
1.3 wherein, for receiving a driving force, the attachment device (12) comprises at least two driving area regions (2, 2a, 2b) each having a plurality of surface points (3) and which are spaced from this tool axis of rotation (5),
1.4 characterized in that tangent planes (4) at these surface points (3) are inclined relative to an axial plane (7), which includes the tool axis of rotation (5),
1.5 wherein the tangent planes (4) are inclined relative to a radial plane (6), which extends perpendicular to the tool axis of rotation (5),
1.6 wherein the attachment device (12) comprises a side wall,
1.7 wherein the side wall extends spaced radially from the tool axis of rotation (5),
1.8 wherein the side wall extends between a first, upper boundary plane (8a) and a second, lower boundary plane (8b), and
1.9 wherein the side wall comprises the driving area regions (2, 2a, 2b),
1.10 wherein a substantially hollow conical section is formed in the region of the attachment device by means of the side wall, which section has a cross section with a variable spacing of the side wall to the tool axis of rotation in a plane orthogonal to the tool axis of rotation.

The alleged infringement

Coram’s logo

The plaintiffs asserted that EP’362 (more precisely, the independent claim 1 and dependent claims 2-9, 11, 13 and 14) is infringed by Coram’s saw blades ‘B-Cut’ with ‘Quick Fixture’, and requested interim injunctive relief.

And indeed, the attachment device of Coram’s saw blades appears somewhat ‘gugelhupfig’:

But infringement was not the major issue here. Apparently, it had not even been explicitly disputed.

The bone of contention was the validity of EP’362.

The expert opinion was not yet it

What …?!

It was clear from the pleadings at the main hearing that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion had held that EP’362 was valid.

Some still say that the expert-opinion of the judge-rapporteur is effectively the end of the line. And, indeed, the handwriting on the wall bodes poorly when the judge-rapporteur does not follow your arguments. But there are exceptions to the rule, and the present case apparently is a prime example.

Novelty / claim construction

The decision holds that EP’362 is invalid.

Even though novelty over DE 2 120 669 has been acknowledged (because the ‘Gugelhupf’ structure in Fig. 5 of DE'669 is not the attachment device of the tool towards the driving means, but rather only an inner part of the tool itself) , the decision holds that claim 1 is not novel over EP 0 596 831 A1:

Fig. 2 of EP’831 (annotations by the FPC to show the sidewalls, i.e. the cone-shaped surfaces 8c and 8d). Note that the figure is erroneously referred to as Fig. 4 in the decision.

The critical issue here was claim construction. The decision again expands on a key aspect of claim construction, as follows (r. 14):

Claims are to be construed functionally, i.e. a feature is to be construed in such a way that it can fulfil the intended purpose. The claim should be read in such a way that the embodiments disclosed in the patent are literally covered; on the other hand, the wording of the claim should not be restricted to the embodiments if it covers further embodiments. When case-law refers to ‘broadest interpretation’ of claim features, the feature must still be capable of fulfilling its purpose in the context of the invention. This means that the claim must not be interpreted under its wording, but also not in such a way that embodiments are covered which do not achieve the inventive effect.

It is the second time that this paragraph is verbatim included in a decision in a short time; r. 14 of the present decision corresponds literally to r. 25 of O2016_009 (see this Blog here). For the time being, it is pretty clear what to expect at the FPC when it comes to claim construction.

By the way, you would not notice from the decision itself that the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur has been reversed. It is just noted that the judge-rapporteur had provided his opinion on 25 March 2019, but the decision is silent about its content. Some earlier decision of the FPC gave at least some indication in this respect (e.g. O2015_011, r. 4: “On the question of validity [the judge-rapporteur] gave his expert opinion. The panel agrees with this opinion, with certain additions, as will be explained below. ), but the more recent decisions don’t give this insight anymore. What a bummer.

With the independent claim 1 being held likely invalid, the whole patent was held to be likely invalid. Thus, the request for interim injunctive relief was dismissed.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2018_007 | Decision of 2 May 2019

(1) C&E Fein GmbH
(2) Robert Bosch GmbH
./.
Coram Tools GmbH

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
  • Dr. Markus A. MÜLLER
  • Dr. Stefan KOHLER

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Markus A. MÜLLER

Court Clerk:

  • Agnieszka TABERSKA

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

  • Dr. Andri HESS (Homburger)
  • Hans Rudolf GACHNANG (Gachnang), assisting in patent matters

FULL TEXT DECISION 
Case no.: S2018_007
Decision of: 2 May 2019
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Premature database entry infringes SPC

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Case No. S2019_006 | Decision of 1 May 2019
Case No. S2019_006 | Decision of 21 March 2019

Lilly / ICOS

The SPC in suit is ICOS’ C00740668/01, the basic patent of which is EP 740 668 B1; see EPO Register and Swissreg for further information.

The SPC protects tadalafil (which is also referred to in claim 10 of the basic patent), a phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor. Lilly‘s products are Cialis® (for the treatment of erectile dysfunction) and Adcirca® (for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension).

Lilly’s Cialis and its active ingredient tadalafil

The basic EP’668 had lapsed already back in 2015; and the SPC has also lapsed meanwhile, on 4 May 2019. But the present decisions relate to an apparent mishap shortly before the SPC finally lapsed.

Sandoz’s logo

Sandoz had Swissmedic’s market authorization for its generic ‘Tadalafil Sandoz’ since 7 November 2017, but did not yet put it on the market. Still, the plaintiffs came across database entries for ‘Tadalafil Sandoz’ in HCI SolutionsmedINDEX (for physicists) and pharmINDEX (for pharmacists). These databases are used by practitioners to order pharmaceuticals. Even though ‘Tadalafil Sandoz’ could not be ordered at that time, the President held that the effect of the database entries was essentially comparable to an inquiry of future needs (see S2014_001). Potential customers are made aware that the launch of a generic is imminent. This may tempt them to postpone orders for the original product and to order the cheaper generic once it becomes available. The generic manufacturer benefits from this advertising effect to the detriment of the supplier of the original product. During the term of the SPC, such advertising constitutes a violation of the exclusive rights of the owner of the SPC.

At the face of it, the situation was apparently so clear that the President granted interim injunctive relief without hearing Sandoz beforehand, and obliged Sandoz to immediately request the database provider to delete the entries.

After hearing the defendant, it turned out that Sandoz’ had not made the entries in the databases. The entries had been made the database provider, an independent third party, without Sandoz’s knowledge and intervention. The database entries had meanwhile been deleted on Sandoz’s request, and thus there was no basis anymore for interim injunctive relief. The request was thus denied.

Now, what about the costs?

As a rule, the costs are clapped on the unsuccessful party; Art. 106(1) CPC. But the court may diverge from the general principles and allocate the costs at its own discretion when a party was caused to litigate in good faith; Art. 107(1) lit. b.

The President held that even though the plaintiff’s course of action may be understandable under the given circumstances, this still does not justify that the defendant bears the costs incurred in view of the unlawful conduct of an unrelated third party:

The plaintiffs have refrained from issuing a warning to the defendant before submitting the request for action. The applicants’ action may be understandable in the circumstances, but it does not justify the defendant having to bear the costs of the proceedings. As the defendant credibly demonstrates, it had nothing to do with the unlawful conduct of a third party; it is to be regarded neither as an instigator nor as an accomplice nor as a collaborator. Nor does it exercise any control over the third party. Since the defendant is not responsible for the unlawful conduct and has not created the appearance of being responsible for it, it cannot be ordered to pay the costs.

The court fee and a compensation for legal representation of the defendant are thus to be borne by the plaintiffs.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2019_006 | Decision of 1 May 2019
Case No. S2019_006 | Decision of 21 March 2019

(1) ICOS Corporation
(2) Eli Lilly (Suisse) SA
./.
Sandoz Pharmaceuticals AG

Single judge:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of ICOS / Eli Lilly:

  • Dr. Christian HILTI (Rentsch)
  • Dr. Demian STAUBER (Rentsch)
  • Dr. Andrea CARREIRA (Rentsch), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Sandoz:

  • Dr. Markus WANG (Bär & Karrer)

FIRST DECISION OF THE FPC
→ injunctive relief granted without hearing the defendant
Case no.: S2019_006
Decision of: 21 March 2019
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SECOND DECISION OF THE FPC
→ injunctive relief denied after hearing the defendant
Case no.: S2019_006
Decision of: 1 May 2019
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Fulvestrant, revisited: Is it still urgent? Views are divergent …

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Case No. S2019_004 | Decision of 9 April 2019
Case No. S2019_004 | Decision of 20 February 2019

Sandoz’s logo

With request of 12 February 2019, AstraZeneca asserted EP(CH) 2 266 573 B1 (see EPO Register and Swissreg for further information) against Sandoz’s generic version of AZ’s Faslodex®, i.e. Fulvestrant Sandoz 250 mg/5ml (Swissmedic approval no. 56778). Note that Sandoz’s generic has been on the market in Switzerland since 26 July 2016.

AZ’s request for interim injunctive relief w/o hearing the defendant beforehand was dismissed with decision of 20 February 2019. Hearing the defendant didn’t change the outcome; the request was also dismissed with decision of 9 April 2019. Both requests failed for lack of urgency, given the fact that Sandoz’s generic has been on the market since 2.5 years.

At the face of it, this appears to be pretty straight forward, in particular in view of the most recent decisions S2018_006 (¶13) and S2019_001 (¶6) emphasizing the 14 months time bar in no uncertain terms.

But the devil is in the detail. Maybe.

AZ’s logo

This is not the first time that the FPC had to deal with EP’573. The patent had been revoked for lack of inventive step over Howell in view of McLeskey; see this Blog here. But AZ appealed and essentially argued that the FPC erroneously assumed a (concrete) pharmaceutical formulation in Howell, thus incorrectly defined the distinguishing features and the (objective) technical problem, and then wrongly concluded for lack of inventive step.

Fulvestrant (aka ICI 182,780), the active ingredient of AZ's Faslodex®
Fulvestrant (aka ICI 182,780), the active ingredient of AZ’s Faslodex® and Sandoz’s generic

And, indeed, the Supreme Court agreed and remitted the case for re-assessment of inventive step; see this Blog here. From the reasons of the present decisions, we can now catch a glimpse of what is currently going on in the remitted proceedings (formerly O2015_011, now O2018_009): The judge-rapporteur held on 23 November 2018 that the patent was valid. But it is not only that the wind has changed at the FPC. The Gerechtshof Den Haag also held that the patent was valid, in second instance proceedings. Likewise, a Board of Appeal at the EPO overruled the first instance revocation of an opposition division and finally ruled on 24 January 2019 that the patent was valid.

On the other hand, this is also not the first time that AZ sought injunctive relief for Sandoz’s generic. AZ had asserted a different patent against the same generic already in summary proceedings S2016_007, i.e. EP'138. It becomes clear from the present decisions that these earlier proceedings had been terminated because AZ had withdrawn the requests.

Now, here is a timeline events which is colored to reflect my very personal view on the prima facie validity of EP’573 over time:

17 Jun 2015 Grant of EP’573
29 Oct 2015 1st opposition filed (Hexal)
16 Feb 2016 2nd opposition filed (Actavis)
8 Mar 2016 3rd opposition filed (Fresenius Kabi)
16 Mar 2016 4th opposition filed (Intas)
17 Mar 2016 5th opposition filed (Teva)
17 Mar 2016 End of EPO opposition period
21 Mar 2016 Acceleration request by FPC in opposition proceedings
26 Jul 2016 Sandoz’s market entry
3 Aug 2016 AZ seeks interim injunctive relief based on another patent, i.e. EP'138; S2016_007, see this Blog here
30 Nov 2016 Summons (EPO) issued with ED’s preliminary opinion that patent is invalid
… Mar 2017 Request for interim injunctive relief in case S2016_007 withdrawn
8 May 2017 EPO first instance decision to revoke EP’573
29 Aug 2017 FPC’s first instance decision to revoke EP(CH)’573; O2015_011, see this Blog here
8 May 2018 On appeal re O2015_011, Supreme Court remits the case for re-assessment of obviousness; 4A_541/2017, see this Blog here
15 Oct 2018 Preparatory notes of EPO BoA indicating that obviousness is tbd in the hearing
23 Nov 2018 Judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion in O2018_009 (which is the remitted case O2015_011) that EP(CH)’573 is valid
27 Nov 2018 Gerechtsbank Den Haag holds that EP(NL)'573 is valid and infringed
24 Jan 2019 EPO BoA pronounces the decision to reject the oppositions / maintain EP’573 at the end of the hearing
12 Feb 2019 AZ files requests for interim injunctive relief in the present proceedings
15 Mar 2019 EPO BoA issues reasoned decision

One may conclude from the above timeline that there had been some red(-ish) flags concerning the validity of EP’573 for quite a long time.

The decisions note in passing that main infringement proceedings with case no. O2017_004 concerning Sandoz’s generic are pending in parallel, but based on a different patent (EP'195); from the case no. it is clear that this suit has been brought in 2017, but no further information is available to date.

Further, the decision indicates that in some proceedings with case no. O2018_010 the very same EP’573 is at stake as in the present matter, but the defendant is not revealed.

AZ essentially argued that it had been prevented from bringing the request for interim injunctive relief earlier because of the previously negative assessment of validity EP’573 by the EPO, the FPC (O2015_011) and the district court of The Hague (NL), and that the wind has changed only very recently; see timeline above.

The single judge did not buy into that and emphasized that AZ had undoubtedly been aware of Sandoz’s generic since 26 July 2016; AZ could have lodged main proceedings at any time since then. The decision further holds (¶22; inofficial translation):

[T]he decision of the Board of Appeal of the EPO of 24 January 2019 […] may substantiate the claim to which the plaintiff is entitled with regard to the validity of the patent in suit, but in no way justifies urgency. […]

Ultimately, however, all parallel proceedings have no influence on the purely procedural question of urgency in the present summary proceedings. […]

The tactical awaiting of a foreign parallel decision on the patent in suit before an action is lodged does not belong to the subjective but rather to the subjective circumstances.

It surely is a tough exercise to fit the gist of a decision in a single tweet; but the FPC’s tweet on the decision is straight to the point:

A decision of a Board of Appeal of the EPO does not give rise to urgency where the contested product has been on the market for 30 months.


The approach taken in the present decisions in my understanding focuses much more on the total time than on the apparent change of prima facie validity of the patent in suit over time. While the 14 months time bar is comparably generous (German courts typically deny urgency after 1-2 months, in my experience), it seems to be a pretty rigid time bar nowadays.

In an earlier case at the FPC, urgency had still been acknowledged for a request that had been filed five months after a BoA of the EPO had maintained the patent in suit which had been revoked in first instance by an opposition division (S2013_004, decision of 12 May 2014, ¶4.8).

It will be interesting to see how the FPC’s approach in the assessment of urgency will develop.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2019_004 | Decision of 9 April 2019
Case No. S2019_004 | Decision of 20 February 2019

AstraZeneca AB
./.
Sandoz Pharmaceuticals AG

Single judge:

  • Dr. Rudolf RENTSCH

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of AstraZeneca:

  • Dr. Michael RITSCHER (MLL)
  • Dr. Kilian SCHÄRLI (MLL)
  • Dr. Thorsten BAUSCH (Hoffmann Eitle), assisting in patent matters
  • Dr. Ulrike CIESLA (MLL), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Sandoz:

FIRST DECISION OF THE FPC
→ no injunctive relief without hearing the defendant
Case no.: S2019_004
Decision of: 20 February 2019
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SECOND DECISION OF THE FPC
→ no injunctive relief at all, after hearing the defendant
Case no.: S2019_004
Decision of: 9 April 2019
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PATENT IN SUIT

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T 1680/17 – Decision of EPO BoA 3.3.01

Chairman: A. Lindner
Member: M. Pregetter
M. Blasi

Decision of 24 January 2019:

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The Swiss approach to urgency is relatively generous, but …

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Case No. S2019_001 | Decision of 25 March 2019

Plaintiff’s logo

The parties Lutz Medical Engineering and the EPFL are in dispute about the legitimate ownership of WO 2017/005661 A1 and the further national / regional parts of the patent family in Germany, the U.S., China and the EPO.

When it comes to the merits, the prototypical ownership dispute is legalistic mud wrestling, and it will be interesting to see how this case finally unfolds — if and when it does. For the time being, the plaintiff’s request to impose a general restraining order has been denied, for procedural reasons.  It was undisputed that the plaintiff had positive knowledge of WO 2017/005661 A1 since at least September 2017. However, the request for interim measures has only been filed in January 2019.

Defendant’s logo

The President acting as single judge held that no ‘relative urgency’ is given anymore, and dismissed the request for interim measures right away. It is common ground in Switzerland that the right to interim measure is forfeited if, after the plaintiff had been able to file a complaint, he waits so long for the request to impose interim measures to be filed that main proceedings would have been concluded at about the same time or sooner than the summary proceedings if he had initiated them at the earliest possible date (so-called ‘relative urgency’). With an average duration of main proceedings before the FPC of approximately two years, and an average duration of summary proceedings of approximately eight to ten months, it follows that the right to interim measures is procedurally forfeited. The plaintiff had waited for more than 14 months from the time at which main proceedings could have been initiated, and no special circumstances exist which would justify a longer waiting period. If the request for interim measures had been submitted in due time, main proceedings could have been conducted which would have been concluded at about the time when the present summary proceedings would have been concluded.

Timeline of main / summary proceedings at the FPC

Now it is more clear than ever before: One must not wait about 14 months, for the right to interim measures not being forfeited.

The plaintiff argued that the matter was nevertheless urgent because the defendant was now informed, upon notification of the complaint, that the plaintiff is willing to assert its claims in court. This would increase the risk that the defendant would take measures to make enforcement more difficult and/or impossible.

This argument was not found convincing. Actually, the President held that it is almost tautological. If the plaintiff’s view was correct, the filing of a complaint would always justify urgency, because only then would the defendant know that the plaintiff was serious about the issue. This would deprive the requirement of relative urgency of its meaning. However, the requirement of urgency is justified by the fact that neither the court nor the opposing party can be expected to bother with summary proceedings with shortened time-limits, or to participate in it, if the plaintiff had been able to achieve the same objective within the same time in main proceedings.

In sum, this decision is a perfect reminder of the fact that the Swiss approach to urgency is relatively generous (compared to e.g. Germany) — but it still is a hurdle that needs to be cleared.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2019_001 | Decision of 25 March 2019

Lutz Medical Engineering AG
./.
École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL)

Single Judge:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

DECISION IN FULL

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WO 2017/005661 A1

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Writing instrument: The Supreme Court’s final stroke

Case Nos. 4A_435/2018, 4A_441/2018 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 29 January 2019 on appeal against O2015_018 (FPC) | Decision of 15 June 2018 | ‘Instrument d’écriture’

Please see this Blog here for a detailed review of the underlying decision of the FPC in this matter.

Both parties had lodged an appeal — but the Supreme Court dismissed both appeals. While the FPC’s judgement was quite a booklet of 50+ pages, it took the Supreme Court only 7 pages to deal with both appeals. Most of the judgment indeed is pretty straight forward. Still, the judgment has quite some interesting aspects, in my perception:

  1. Assignment of a patent does not imply assignment of the universal right to the invention per se 
Montres Valgine logo

Guenat had requested that Swiss Finest‘s Swiss patent be annulled based on Art. 26(1) lit. d PatA, i.e. for lack of entitlement. However, such request can only be brought by the entitled person; Art. 28 PatA. Guenat alleged that Frédéric Garinaud transferred ‘full and complete ownership’ of the European patent application to Guenat. But that did not help. Frédéric Garinaud specifically assigned the European patent application to Guenat, but not the universal rights in the ‘invention’ itself. Guenat’s request for declaration of nullity based on Art. 26(1) lit. d PatA was thus held inadmissible for lack of standing.

On appeal, Guenat criticises the FPC’s ‘artificial dichotomy’ between the invention and the related patent application, and claims complete control over the invention in dispute. The Supreme Court didn’t buy into that. The decision holds in ¶3.2 that Guenat’s argument is based on an assumption about the parties’ intention in respect of the transfer agreement of April 2013. This is not a question of law, but of fact. But the FPC had not found that the real and common intention the parties had been to assign all intellectual property rights to the invention and the right to be granted all related patents. On the contrary, according to the FPC, the agreement in question ‘clearly refers only to the European patent application and the resulting European patent, and not to the invention as such’ — which finding is binding on the Supreme Court since it is not ‘arbitrary.’

Thus, the Supreme Court apparently had no doubt that the assignment of a specific patent does not necessarily imply the assignment of the universal rights in the invention itself.

  1. Assessment of inventive step is a question of law, but …

Guenat argued on appeal that the FPC had violated the principle of party disposition because it took facts into account that had not been alleged by the defendant.

Now, what had happened?

The FPC had held that a specific feature (C3-1) was not disclosed in the closest prior art document. Guenat had a different understanding of the specific feature, and had argued that based on a ‘correct’ understanding of the feature it had well been disclosed in the closest prior art.

Swiss Finest logo

On appeal, Guenat argued that Swiss Finest had not even alleged that feature C3-1 was not disclosed in that document. Unfortunately, it is not readily clear from the decision to which version of feature C3-1 that allegation pertained: The feature as construed by the Guenat, or the feature as construed by the FPC?

The Supreme Court held that it had not been disputed that all the factual elements necessary for the analysis of obviousness had been brought on file by the parties. Further, the Supreme Court held that Guenat had not asserted that the FPC had to supplement the facts on its own, and that such conduct was also not apparent from the file. In the Supreme Court’s view, the FPC was thus in a position to assess obviousness, which is a question of law. It is irrelevant in this respect that the presence or absence of specific features in the prior art and/or the patent have been alleged by the defendant or the plaintiff. On the basis of the facts gathered by the parties in order to consider a question of law, the court did not violate the principle of party disposition.

Without any in-depth knowledge of what had or had not been argued by the parties, I just cannot say whether I would agree with the assessment on the merits of the case. But the Supreme Court’s general considerations on questions of law vs. questions of fact trigger some further thoughts.

Clearly, assessment of obviousness is a question of law — but the underlying factual elements still need to be asserted by the parties. But what are the ‘factual elements’? They must be something more specific than just ‘the patent in suit’, ‘D1’ or the like. Else, a court could just combine whatever is on file in its assessment of obviousness, fully detached from the pleadings. This cannot be it. Now, let’s assume that both parties come up with a somewhat strange claim construction, and base all their obviousness attacks / defenses on a wrongly construed claim. In my understanding, claim construction clearly is a question of law, too (see e.g. X ZR 255/01 – ‘Bodenseitige Vereinzelungseinrichtung’ of the German Federal Supreme Court in ¶5, with further reference). But what if no party ever pointed to the relevant underlying ‘factual elements’ (i.e. specific sections of the patent in suit) that support the ‘correct’ claim construction? May the court then even come up with a different / the ‘correct’ claim construction at all?

UPDATE 21 March 2019:

Note that the FPC had held in the recent decision S2018_006 that claim construction is a question of law. In that case, both parties had not construed the feature in question at all, and the FPC came up with a construction on its own:

Wie der Begriff korrekt auszulegen ist, tragen die Beklagten hingegen ebenso wenig wie die Klägerin vor. Da die Auslegung des Patentanspruchs eine Rechtsfrage ist,15 geht die Annahme der Beklagten fehl, das Gericht dürfe den Anspruch mangels entsprechenden Vortrags der Klägerin nicht so auslegen, dass er auch etwas anderes als einen Schneidprozess erfasst.
15 Federal Supreme Court: 4A_142/2011, ¶1.3
But, again, what if both parties came up with a claim construction mutually agreed upon — but which, in the courts view, is just wrong? Or, what if both parties come up with different constructions which are both wrong in the court’s view? Can the court then correct such (a) construction(s) if it would have to rely on ‘factual elements’ that have never been pointed at by the parties, just because it is a question of law? And if that was the case, then where is the limit in the assessment of obviousness — which is a question of law, too?

The theory of separating questions of law from questions of fact is simple. But life is complicated …

On a sidenote: Wouldn’t it be good to establish common ground on what the claim actually is all about before diving any deeper? This is what a Markman hearing in the U.S. is all about. Even though I am not overly enthusiastic about quite some aspects of patent litigation in the U.S., this one certainly is useful.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. 4A_435/2018 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 29 January 2019 on appeal against O2015_018 (FPC) | Decision of 15 June 2018 | ‘Instrument d’écriture’

Guenat SA Montres Valgine (appellant)
./.
Swiss Finest SA (respondent)

and

Case No. 4A_441/2018 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 29 January 2019 on appeal against O2015_018 (FPC) | Decision of 15 June 2018 | ‘Instrument d’écriture’

Swiss Finest SA (appellant)
./.
Guenat SA Montres Valgine (respondent)
Both proceedings were jointly dealt with by the Supreme Court.

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Christina KISS
    • Dr. Kathrin KLETT
    • Dr. Fabienne HOHL

Court Clerk:

  •  Nicolas CURCHOD

Representative(s) of Guenat SA Montres Valgine:

Representative(s) of Swiss Finest SA:

  • Christoph KÜNZI (CBK)

SUPREME COURT
on appeal against O2015_018 (FPC) | Decision of 15 June 2018
Case nos.: 4A_435/2018
4A_441/2018
Decision of: 29 January 2019
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PATENT COURT
Case no.: O2015_018
Decision of: 15 June 2018

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CH 704 790 B1

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CH 704 790 C1

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EP 2 497 648 B1

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Life on Pemetrexed: Hit by the DoE pendulum swinging back

Reading time: 13 minutes

Case No. S2018_006 | Decision of 8 February 2019

CSEM logo

The plaintiff in this infringement case is CSEM, the patentee of EP 1 422 436 B1; see Swissreg and the EPO register for further bibliographic information about the patent in suit.

CSEM sued Cendres+Métaux Microtech AG and Cendres+Métaux SA for infringement of EP’436. The attacked embodiment is the CMK1 movement that features a hairspring made of silicon:

CMMT‘s CMK1 movement

Interestingly, the decision also notes that EP’436 had already been challenged in a nullity case at the FPC, i.e. O2012_015. That case had been settled after the second ordinary judge Tobias Bremi had provided expert opinions in his capacity as judge-rapporteur; these opinions had held that the patent was valid.

Ulysse Nardin logo

O2012_015 apparently is the case L’ AGEFI had reported about already back in 2013: This was an earlier dispute with Sigatec (a joint-venture of Mimotec and Ulysse Nardin). A hearing in O2012_015 had been announced on the FPC’s website twice (for 21 October 2013 and 29 November 2013), but the announcement disappeared in both instances well before the hearing. That fits nicely with L’AGEFI’s report on Friday, 29 November 2013 that the settlement had been reached a few days in advance of the hearing scheduled for exactly that Friday (‘ce vendredi’). Note that Ulysse Nardin had apparently been the first brand to introduce a silicon component in a wristwatch, with a silicon escapement in ‘The Freak’ of 2001:

Ulysse Nardin’s ‘The Freak’ (2001)

Infringement of the patent

CSEM asserted the patent only to the extent of independent claim 1 (features 1.1 to 1.7) in combination with dependent claim 2 (feature 2); i.e., the following features are at stake, in English (translation) and French (language of the proceedings of the patent):

  English translation French (orig.)
1.1 A hairspring intended to equip the balance wheel of a mechanical timepiece and Ressort spiral destiné à équiper le balancier d’une pièce d’horlogerie mécanique et
1.2 in the form of a spiraled rod (10) cut from an {001} single-crystal silicon plate formé d’un barreau (10) en spirale issu du découpage d’une plaque {001} de silicium monocristallin
1.3 having a first thermal coefficient (C1) and a second thermal coefficient (C2) of its spring constant C présentant des premier (C1) et deuxième (C2) coefficients thermiques de sa constante de rappel C,
1.4 the turns of said hairspring having a width w and a thickness t les spires dudit ressort spiral ayant une largeur w et une épaisseur t,
1.5 said rod comprises a silicon core (12) and ledit barreau comportant une âme (12) en silicium et
1.6 an external layer (14) of thickness ξ formed around the silicon core une couche externe (14) d’épaisseur ξ formée autour de l’âme en silicium et
1.7 made of a material having a first thermal coefficient of the Young’s modulus of opposite sign to that of the silicon constituée d’un matériau présentant un premier coefficient thermique du module d’Young de signe opposé à celui du silicium
2 said external layer (14) is made of amorphous silicon oxide (SiO2). ladite couche externe (14) est réalisée en oxyde de silicium (SiO2) amorphe
C+M logo

The defendants argued that the highlighted features in 1.2 were not fulfilled in the attacked embodiment, i.e. that i) the spiraled rod is not ‘cut from’ a silicon plate, but rather worked out by way of a plasma-assisted etching method ; and ii) the orientation of the silicon plate is not {001}, but rather {110}.

With respect to the feature ‘cut from’, the decision holds in ¶22 that a proper construction in view of the specification shows that this feature is not limited to a cutting process in a narrow literal sense, but rather has to be understood in the sense of ‘working out’. Both parties had apparently not put forward any construction of the feature. Still, claim construction is a question of law. The decision holds that the defendant’s assumption is mistaken that the court must not construe the ‘cut out’ feature in the sense of ‘working out’ in the absence of an allegation to that effect by the plaintiff:

Da die Auslegung des Patentanspruchs eine Rechtsfrage ist, geht die Annahme der Beklagten fehl, das Gericht dürfe den Anspruch mangels entsprechenden Vortrags der Klägerin nicht so auslegen, dass er auch etwas anderes als einen Schneidprozess erfasst.

With respect to the orientation of the silicon plate, things are getting interesting. It was beyond dispute that there is an outer layer of SiO2 around the silicon core in the attacked embodiment. See the microscopic images of a broken hairspring in ¶11 of the decision:

Broken hairspring; enlarged microscopic images (left: 4’000x; right: 15’000x)

The decision notes that it is not possible to spot features 1.5-1.7 without destroying / breaking the hairspring. This was apparently undisputed and/or known to the court (‘[u]nbestritten respektive gerichtsnotorisch’).

CSEM did not dispute that the orientation of the silicon plate was not {001}, but rather {110}. Thus, only infringement under the doctrine of equivalents (DoE) was at stake, from the very beginning. An interesting factual setup for applying the DoE, in particular in a world after ‘Pemetrexed’.

Firstly, the decision recalls the checklist that the FPC applies in the assessment of infringement under the DoE in Switzerland, with reference to O2015_018 (¶60). Indeed, the same wording of the three questions has already been used in O2015_015 (in French language), i.e.:

Q1: Same effect (‘Gleichwirkung’)

In conjunction with the other technical features of the patent claim, does the modified feature objectively fulfil the same function as the claimed feature?

Erfüllt das abgewandelte Merkmal im Zusammenwirken mit den übrigen technischen Merkmalen des Patentanspruchs objektiv die gleiche Funktion wie das beanspruchte Merkmal?

Q2: Accessibility (‘Auffindbarkeit’)

Is the same function obvious for the skilled person from an objective point of view, taking into account the teaching of the patent, when the features are exchanged?

Ist die Gleichwirkung für den Fachmann bei objektiver Betrachtung unter Berücksichtigung der Lehre des Patents offensichtlich, wenn die Merkmale ausgetauscht sind?

Q3: Equal value (‘Gleichwertigkeit’)

Does the skilled person who has read the patent objectively come to the conclusion that the patentee has formulated the claim — for whatever reason — so narrowly that he does not claim protection for an embodiment that has the same effect (Q1, above) and is accessible (Q2, above)?

Gelangt der Fachmann bei objektiver Lektüre der Patentschrift zum Schluss, der Patentinhaber habe den Anspruch — aus welchen Gründen auch immer — so eng formuliert, dass er den Schutz für eine gleichwirkende und auffindbare Ausführung nicht beansprucht?

Further, the genesis and the prosecution history of the patent is not decisive for claim construction and, thus, for the scope of the claims:

Die Entstehungsgeschichte bzw. das Erteilungsverfahren ist für die Auslegung der Patentansprüche und damit auch für die Bestimmung des Schutzbereichs grundsätzlich nicht massgebend.

Interestingly, the defendants did not really challenge that both the first and the second question were to be answered in the affirmative. Thus, it all boils down to the ‘right’ assessment of only the third question, and/or whether the applicant has waived any rights to claim infringement under the DoE.

In a first step, the decision analyses what the skilled person concludes from the patent specification itself in respect of the relevance of the orientation of the silicon plate. The orientation is mentioned quite often. But it is held that the skilled person does not get any indication from the patent specification per se that the patentee has formulated the claim so narrowly that he does not claim protection for an embodiment of same function (Q1) that is accessible (Q2). In particular, from an obvious point of view, it cannot be inferred from the claim — even when taking the description into account — that conformity with the primary wording is one of the essential requirements of the invention.

The aftermath of ‘Pemetrexed’

Boom! Welcome to the post-‘Pemetrexed’ world. Would you have guessed that before the Supreme Court decisions in Germany, the U.K. and Switzerland?

After having dealt with the patent as such, the decision also assesses whether the applicant might somehow have waived his right during prosecution to now allege infringement under the DoE. Therefore, one may well consider the prosecution history.

The decision emphasizes that from an amendment of the claims, wherein the attacked embodiment was literally covered by the originally filed claims but is no longer literally covered by the amended claims, it cannot automatically be concluded that the applicant intended to waive protection for this embodiment. Rather, the reason for the amendment is decisive. Only if the amendment was made to overcome objections relating to the attacked embodiment — e.g. in view of free prior art for the attacked embodiment — one may conclude that the applicant has waived protection for equivalents of the amended feature. The Swiss Supreme Court in 4A_208/2017 (¶5.5.8) had referred to and agreed with the corresponding 'Pemetrexed' judgment of the German Supreme Court which had held in ¶68 that

[…] if the amendment was made with regard to formal requirements […] or if it is not sufficiently clear for what reason it was made, a selection decision […] cannot normally be assumed.

Further, the decision holds that a waiver of protection for equivalents could be assumed if the specification of the patent shows (at least) two concrete embodiments with which the inventive effect can be achieved, but only one of these embodiments is reflected in the claim (see 4A_208/2017 (¶5.5.4), with reference to X-ZR 29/15 of the German Supreme Court (hn).

Now, how did that play out in the present case?

The prosecution history does not make clear why the orientation of the silicon plate that had originally been specified in dependent claim 2 had later been included in claim 1. The independent claim had been re-drafted after receipt of the search report on the application as filed. The search report mentioned two documents of category ‘X’ (highly relevant), including JP 06-117470 A. But the subsequent limitation of claim 1 also included yet further features of claims 3 and 4, and the applicant’s submission to the EPO of 12 November 2004 lacks any explanation as to the motivation of the amendment. Because the two ‘X’ documents were considered relevant for the patentability of claims 1 and 2 only (which indicates that the features of claim 2 did not appear to be a sufficient limitation) and because only the features of claim 4 were included in the characterizing part of the amended claim, the skilled person cannot easily assume that the limitation to the orientation {001} was made in order to delimit the subject matter of the patent from the prior art. For this purpose, the inclusion of the features of claims 3 and 4 while omitting the features of claim 2, would have been sufficient. With the further limitation, the applicant possibly wanted to pro-actively an anticipated objection of undue extension of subject-matter (Art. 123(2) EPC) or insufficiency of disclosure (Art. 83 EPC). It is therefore not sufficiently clear why the specific limitation had been made.

Further, the decision emphasizes that the limitation did not distinguish the claimed subject-matter from the free prior art for the attacked embodiment. JP 06-117470 A does not reveal an outer layer that encloses the silicon core as it is in the attacked design. It therefore does not represent a free prior art for the attacked embodiment. Even if one were to assume that the limitation would have been made to distinguish the invention from JP 06-117470 A — which is not sufficiently clear — it cannot in any case be said that the limitation was made with regard to the free prior art for the attacked embodiment. The skilled person therefore cannot and must not assume that patent protection is not sought for embodiments of same effect (Q1) which are accessible for him as a skilled person, with knowledge of the invention (Q2).

What remains to be dealt with in accordance with ‘Okklusionsvorrichtung‘ and ‘Diglycidylverbindung‘ (and as confirmed in 'Pemetrexed') is the question of whether or not there was a situation of, in simple terms:

What is (specifically disclosed but) not claimed is disclaimed.

The decision holds that the patent does not reveal at least two specific embodiments of which only one is claimed. The unique specific embodiment that is disclosed uses silicon wafers of orientation {001}. The defendants have pointed out that the plaintiff admitted (apparently in the written proceedings before the FPC) that the patent when read together with JP 06-117470 A taught the expert that the three crystal orientations of the silicon plate were of same effect for the purposes of the invention. However, this was of no avail. It only establishes that Q2 has to be answered in the affirmative, i.e. that the same effect of the replacing feature had been accessible for the skilled person. It does not mean that specific embodiments were disclosed in the specification of the patent itself. The mere fact that the applicant could have recognized that silicon plates of orientation {110} have the same effect as those of orientation {001} in the context of the invention is not sufficient. Otherwise protection under the DoE for replacing features of same effect (Q1), which could be readily found by the skilled person (Q2), would be excluded because of the third question — what cannot be it:

Dass die Anmelderin hätte erkennen können, dass Siliziumplatten der Orientierung {110} für die Erfindung gleich wirken wie solche der Orientierung {001}, genügt nicht. Denn sonst wäre ein äquivalenter Schutz für gleichwirkende Lösungen, die für den Fachmann auffindbar waren, wegen der dritten Frage ausgeschlossen, was dazu führen würde, dass es keine auffindbaren gleichwirkenden Lösungen gäbe, die als äquivalent zur beanspruchten Lösung zu betrachten wären.

Anyway, it appears that the mentioning of JP 06-117470 A had only been introduced in the specification during prosecution, after receipt of the search report; the respective paragraph [0008] of the patent as granted is missing in the application as filed.

In sum, the patent to the extent asserted was held to be infringed under the DoE.

Validity of the patent

Novelty was not an issue. But the defendants argued for obviousness as a plea in defense. They proposed EP 732 635 A1 as closest prior art in the assessment of obviousness. The plaintiff disagreed with that choice and argued that EP'635 was totally unsuitable (‘denkbar ungeeignet’) — but did not propose a better one. In any event, the decision holds that EP'635 is not totally unsuitable in that it does not lead to an undue ex post facto analysis. Thus, for that it had been relied upon by the defendants, it has to be assessed; ¶24.

The decision holds that EP'635 did not disclose features 1.2, 1.7 and 2. Next, the decision defines the objective technical problem as follows:

[T]o further develop the hairspring of a balance with a view to increasing the accuracy of a mechanical movement equipped with it, even under external influences on the same.

The decision holds that EP'635 is not of much help in solving the objective technical problem. First, because EP'635 already claims to provide items that are insensitive to temperature influences; see EP'635 in col. 4, l. 45-48. Second, EP'635 is primarily about anchors, not hairsprings.

The defendants relied on US 5,783,973 and US 2002/0104475 A1 to bring in the distinguishing features, but both attempts failed.

In sum, the subject-matter of claim 1 was held to be non-obvious; the same applies to the subject-matter of the combination of claim 1 with dependent claim 2.

Interim injunctive relief

Having established that a valid claim is infringed, the decision turns to the requirements for interim injunctive relief.

The decision holds that it was not made plausible that Cendres+Métaux SA, the parent company of Cendres+Métaux Microtech AG, actually contributed to the infringement. The plaintiff’s request for interim injunctive relief against Cendres+Métaux SA was thus dismissed.

The defendant’s also argued that there was no threat of a not easily reparable harm for CSEM since it is only the licensor of the patent to the ‘consortium’, and that license was exclusive. In turn, CSEM argued that the license fee was based on a royalty per unit (‘Stücklizenzgebühr’) and that it acted as a second source of supply for hairsprings according to the patent in suit, which was held sufficient to establish a not easily reparable harm.

Horage logo

Finally, was the matter (still) relatively urgent? CSEM argued to have gained positive knowledge of the infringement only in August 2018, while the defendants argued that CSEM should / could have known since as early as 2013. Indeed, e.g. Andreas Felsl mentioned in an interview in 2013 that the new movement

did not encroach on existing patents. We did all we could to avoid being taken to court.

Screenshot from www.europastar.com (visited 23 February 2019)

The decision holds that CSEM had no reason to make further inquiries due to the above statement. The infringement is not obvious from public documents,  and there is no obligation to acquire and destroy potentially infringing embodiments in the market in order to be able to prove an infringement. Therefore, CSEM cannot be blamed for having abusively waited with the request until September 2018 and thereby forfeited its right to interim injunctive relief.

Food for thought

  1. How much patent / legal knowledge does the skilled person have?

What I find interesting is that the decision walks the reader through each and every occasion where the patent specification deals with the orientation of the silicon plate in ¶36, and holds that the skilled person attributes the explanations in [0023], [0025], [0028], [0030] and [0031] of EP’436 to the specific embodiment only, and will not consider them to be directly relevant for the assessment of the scope of protection.

Further, the skilled person also draws conclusions from the fact that a feature is placed in the so-called characterizing part of an independent claim; see ¶39.

Really? Why is that?

The skilled person had been defined as a a micromechanic specialised in the field of mechanical watchmaking, working in a team with a physicist specialising in microfabrication techniques; ¶20. How comes that these tech people have the patent / legal skills to distinguish between a general, binding teaching in a patent on the one hand, and the merely explanatory examples on the other hand? The aforementioned paragraphs are not introduced with a wording like ‘non-limiting examples’ or sth similar to that effect. The distinction between limiting and non-limiting teachings in a patent requires quite some patent / legal experience, but no such qualification is apparent from the definition of the skilled person.

Similarly, I doubt that the skilled person(s) as they had been defined are aware of the dos and don’ts of claim drafting, e.g. the distinction between the preamble and the characterizing part of a claim and how to place the features therein.

  1. Which effect(s) is/are to be taken into account in the assessment of Q1?

Specifically with respect to the first question, the present decision refers to the Supreme Court decision 143 III 666 — Pemetrexed (¶5.3.3) and the FPC’s decisions S2013_001 — Drospirenon (hn) as well as O2014_002 — Urinalventil (¶6.5.2.3). But the exact wording of the first question is not taken from any of the referenced decisions. In particular, the Supreme Court held in 143 III 666 that the allegedly infringing embodiment must achieve all those effects which, according to the skilled person’s understanding, are to be achieved by the attacked embodiment with the individual technical features of the claim per se and in their interaction (emphasis added):

Die abgewandelte Ausführungsform muss alle diejenigen Wirkungen erzielen, die nach dem Verständnis des Fachmanns mit den einzelnen technischen Merkmalen des Patentanspruchs für sich und in ihrem Zusammenwirken erzielt werden sollen.

This does not necessarily imply that the modified feature of the allegedly infringing embodiment has only one single function or effect. A feature may well, and in my perception typically does, have more than just one single function or effect. S2013_001 does not provide any further clarification in that respect, either; the wording of Q1 in the hn is even shorter, and also uses the singular: Does the replacing feature objectively fulfil the same function? Finally, O2014_002 only refers to the ‘relevant’ function of the feature in ¶6.5.2.3, thus implicitly accepting that there may well be other (potentially less relevant?) functions — and subsequently indeed only discusses one single function.

Moreover, Q1 only refers to the function or effect of the replacing feature. In my reading, this adresses the function or effect of that feature per se only, but does not readily address the interaction of that feature with the other features in the attacked embodiment, and the function(s) or effect(s) of the attacked embodiment as a whole.

I am very much looking forward to a decision that actually expands a bit more on the effect(s) that is/are to be considered in Q1 under the DoE.

Reported by Philippe KNÜSEL and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2018_006 | Decision of 8 February 2019

CSEM Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique SA

./.

  1. Cendres+Métaux Microtech AG
  2. Cendres+Métaux SA

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
  • Dr. Philipp RÜFENACHT
  • Dr. Lorenzo PARRINI

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Philipp RÜFENACHT

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

  • Dr. Andri HESS (Homburger)

Representative(s) of Defendant:

  • Dr. Demian STAUBER (Rentsch Partner)
  • Fabio VERSOLATTO (Rentsch Partner)

DECISION IN FULL

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EP 1 422 436 B1

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Paying annuities may have unexpected consequences …

Case No. O2018_018 ¦ Order (excerpt) of 4 January 2019 ¦ ‘Klageüberfall’

Reading time: 3 minutes
HEADNOTE

Art. 106(1), 107(1) lit. e CPC:

Allocation of costs.

The patentee who deletes their patent from the patent register after the filing of a nullity action is liable to pay the procedural costs even if they have not been forewarned before the filing of the action.

The hn highlights in no uncertain terms the risk associated with maintaining patents of doubtful validity in Switzerland: Even in case of a nullity action out of the blue, and even if the patent is then withdrawn immediately, the patentee / defendant still has to bear the procedural costs.

Frankly, this does not come as a complete surprise. The tendency has already been clear since O2015_010, decision of 5 January 2016. The present order again confirms that Swiss law (unlike Germany, cf. § 93 DE-ZPO) does not provide for an obligation to issue a prior warning letter. With reference to the practice of the cantonal court of Zug (A3 2010 58, ‘Geburtsgel’), the order holds that clapping all costs on the defendant is justified if the defendant had

[…] given the impression by his pre-litigation conduct that he had not had the patent cancelled on mere warning.

Noteworthy, the present order holds that this conclusion can already be drawn from the mere existence of a formally valid patent. This is because the patent is cancelled if the renewal fees due are not paid on time (Art. 15(1) lit. b PatA). It would be unreasonable to assume that the patentee would pay the annuities on time but cancel the patent on first demand.

And, in fact, the patentee in the present matter did not respond immediately to the (informal) notification of the action by cancelling the patent, but rather offered the plaintiff a licence. This suggests that even in the case of a pre-litigation request, the patent would not have been cancelled immediately.

Feller logo

The order has been published in highly truncated form only. But still, I am reasonably sure about the patent at stake. Searches in Swissreg give only a single perfect fit, i.e. EP(CH) 1 204 164 B1 of Feller AG; see Swissreg. Annuities had been validly paid until 30 November 2018, but the patent had been withdrawn shortly before that date, with letter of 6 November 2018 (published in Swissreg on 8 November 2018).

The invention of EP’164 apparently is all about a screwless connecting terminal for electrical conductors, with more secure releasability of the conductors. Claim 1 reads as follows:

Device (1) with screwless terminals for connecting electrical conductors, with at least one spring comprising an elastic terminal arm (7) and a brace (2) which encloses it, where a contact tongue (8) of the terminal arm (7) cooperates with a retaining part (5) of the brace (2) so as to maintain a conductor introduced between the contact tongue (8) and the retaining part (5), where the brace (2) leaves the contact tongue (8) at least partially accessible on both sides of the retaining part (5), so that it can be acted upon from outside the brace (2) on both sides of the retaining part (5), characterized in that the brace (2) comprises a base (3) and a lateral wall (4) the upper part of which is bent so as to form the retaining part (5) in such a way that this retaining part (5) is only connected through its longer side with the lateral wall (4), and that the latter comprises at least one recess (11) in the vicinity of the extremity of the contact tongue (8).

All this is more readily understandable with Fig. 1 of EP’164 at hand:

EP 1 204 164 B1, Fig. 1

Unfortunately, I failed miserably to track the plaintiff of this case. If someone out there does know more, please let me know.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2018_018 ¦ Order (excerpt) of 4 January 2019 ¦ ‘Klageüberfall’

n/a
./.
Feller AG

ORDER (EXCERPT)

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EP 1 204 164 B1

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