What is the ‘plausibility’ concept good for?

Plausibility is a big deal nowadays in almost every high stake patent case:

Does the application as filed in view of the common general knowledge at the filing date make it plausible that the invention really works?

This question addresses the sufficiency of disclosure requirement, Art. 83 EPC, when the alleged effect is recited in the claim (i.e. in case of a medical use claim).

Or, when the alleged effect is not recited in the claim, in assessment of the non-obviousness requirement; Art. 56 EPC:

Is it plausible that (essentially) all embodiments covered by the claim really solve the problem the invention allegedly solves?

Frankly, I am constantly struggling with all the hustle and bustle about ‘plausibility’.

What is it all good for?

‘Plausibility’ is nowhere mentioned in the law, and I question that the ‘plausibility’ criterion is sth that is really needed to come to ‘right’ decisions. Thus, I have eagerly awaited the VESPA autumn conference of 31 October 2019:

Plausibilität — Ein neuer Nichtigkeitsgrund in Europa?

Expectedly, it was a phantastic event. Lara Dorigo (Lenz & Staehlin), Prisca von Ballmoos (Merck Group) and Els Cielen (EPO) shed light on the issue from various perspectives. But still, I am struggling with the over-emphasis on ‘plausibility’ in recent times.

Here is why:

Sufficiency of disclosure

Sufficiency of disclosure is all about the basic trade-off in patent law: In accordance with Art. 83 EPC, the invention has to be disclosed in the application as filed

[…] in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art […]

for that it really provides a contribution to the art in a way that enables the skilled person to carry out the invention later, when the patent has lapsed.

Lara rightly pointed out that ‘plausibility’ is frequently associated with the necessity of including data in the specification:

Source: quotes.deming.org/3734

I have at least two issues with that.

First, the EPC in no way requires data or experimental evidence, and I am convinced that one must not introduce such a requirement through the backdoor. An ‘armchair invention’ is perfectly fine. If an inventor correctly anticipates that his invention will work in practice, and the skilled person is enabled to carry out the invention based on the information given in the application as filed and in further view of the common general knowledge, I fail to see any issue under Art. 83 EPC.

And, second, there is just no basis in the law to only trust in god but not to trust an applicant. If there is a firm statement in the application as filed concerning a certain effect being achieved, I cannot see how that could have been held ‘not plausible’ per se. Unless, of course, there are indications to the contrary. But if that is not the case, then a mere statement w/o any data or experiments should suffice, in my opinion.

Play by the rules

Problems typically arise with (overly) broad claims and/or very vague specifications. No applicant / patentee should be surprised to get in trouble in such cases. But ‘plausibility’ is not the real issue, in my perception. I feel that the problem in such cases is rather that the invention just cannot be worked by the skilled person without undue burden. The ‘undue burden’ criterion is established in the case law and EPO practice since ages, and it would well be sufficient to sort out those cases that only confront the skilled person with some indications of how to set up a research program in the hope to finally make the invention. A prime example in this respect is T 609/02 — Salk Institute / AP-1 complex (HTML | PDF), specifically referring to the ‘undue burden’ criterion in ¶ 12. Consequently, the Board held that the alleged invention was insufficiently disclosed.

No need to fiddle around with ‘plausibility’ in such cases.

Obviousness

T 939/92 — AgrEvo / Triazoles (HTML | PDF) is mostly referred to as the origin of all ‘plausibility’ discussions. Interestingly, though, T 939/92 is silent about ‘plausibility’. It rather uses the term ‘credibly’. In a nutshell, T 939/92 had held that an ambitious technical problem (herbicidal activity) could only be taken into account if it could be accepted as having been solved, i.e. if it would be credible that substantially all claimed compounds possessed this activity — which was clearly not the case here.

Now, let’s have a look at the most controversially discussed case T 488/16 — BMS / Dasatinib I (HTML | PDF). The alleged effect was not recited in the claim; the single claim at stake was a straight forward compound claim:

The only claim at stake in T 488/16

Sufficiency of disclosure was not an issue; the alleged effect is not recited in the claim. ‘Plausibility’ was thus dealt with by the Board in the assessment of inventive step. The Board held in ¶ 4.9:

In the board’s judgement, it is not acceptable to draw up a generic formula, which covers millions of compounds, vaguely indicate an “activity” against PTKs and leave it to the imagination of the skilled reader or to future investigations to establish which compound inhibits which kinase and is therefore suitable to treat the respective diseases associated therewith. In this context, the board notes that it has been acknowledged by the appellant that the skilled person would not expect that each compound would be active against all kinases.

It is pretty evident from the above that a second medical use claim, i.e. a product claim with the alleged effect being recited in the claim, would have been doomed for lack of sufficiency of disclosure. No discussion of ‘plausiblity’ would have been necessary at all; it could have been a straight forward revocation based on the ‘undue burden’ criterion, essentially in line with T 609/02 — Salk Institute / AP-1 complex (HTML | PDF), ¶ 12.

But since a claim on the compound per se was at stake, the Board had to deal with it in the assessment of inventive step; Art. 56 EPC. But that claim is even broader than any medical use claim. Could the result be any different? That would have been somewhat strange, wouldn’t it?

This is where T 1329/04 — Johns Hopkins / Factor-9 (HTML | PDF) comes into play (hn):

The definition of an invention as being a contribution to the art, i.e. as solving a technical problem and not merely putting forward one, requires that it is at least made plausible by the disclosure in the application that its teaching solves indeed the problem it purports to solve. Therefore, even if supplementary post-published evidence may in the proper circumstances also be taken into consideration, it may not serve as the sole basis to establish that the application solves indeed the problem it purports to solve.

Against this standard, the patentee in T 488/16 failed and the patent was revoked. The Board was not convinced that the technical problem had already been solved at the filing date, in particular by dasatinib. Apparently, two post-published documents were the first disclosure showing that for dasatinib the purported technical problem has actually been solved. In accordance with established case law, these documents were therefore not taken into consideration in the assessment of inventive step. Thus, the problem to be solved had to be defined in a less ambitious way, namely as the provision of a further chemical compound — a non-starter at the EPO in any event.

I fully agree with the result, but I am not convinced that one really needs the concept of ‘plausibility’ for that. I feel the Board could just have held that the specification re dasatinib was so vague and unspecific that it appears that the invention (in terms of an actual ‘contribution to the art’) had not yet been made on the filing date.

Lara pointed out that the concept of ‘plausibility’ has not yet appeared in Swiss jurisprudence. Frankly, I feel it is not being missed.

Tobias Bremi mentioned in the final discussions that the concept of ‘plausibility’ is sth that judges in various jurisdictions are struggling with. Lack of ‘plausibility’ may have been useful to sort out some cases, but any broader application might well have the (unwanted) consequence that ‘armchair’ inventions were prohibited.

Reported by Martin WILMING

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The public may be excluded from settlement discussions — but maybe not from the instruction hearing in general?

Reading time: 3 minutes

As discussed a while ago on this Blog here, the settlement discussion at the occasion of a main hearing is non-public at the FPC. I trust that this will not change any time soon, in view of a decision of the Supreme Court that has been published earlier this week (4A_179/2019 of 24 September 2019). In that case, an accredited court reporter of the Republik had been asked to leave the room for the settlement discussion at the end of a main hearing in proceedings at the Zurich labor court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court has now endorsed this exclusion of the public from the settlement discussion:

Die Bemühungen des Gerichts, zwischen den Parteien zu vermitteln, gelten nicht als Gerichtsverhandlung respektive Verhandlung und unterstehen nicht dem Grundsatz der Justizöffentlichkeit.

Now, what about instruction hearings according to Art. 226(2) CPC?

Maybe, the Supreme Court telegraphed a message by explicitly saying nothing (emphasis added):

Demgegenüber ist hier nicht zu beurteilen, ob es zulässig wäre, die Öffentlichkeit über die Vergleichsgespräche hinaus generell von Instruktionsverhandlungen auszuschliessen, zumal an solchen nach Art. 226 Abs. 2 ZPO unter anderem auch der Sachverhalt ergänzt und die Hauptverhandlung vorbereitet werden kann ([…]).

In English (emphasis added):

On the other hand, it is not necessary here to assess whether it would be permissible to generally exclude the public from instruction hearings beyond the settlement discussions, especially since, according to Art. 226 para. 2 CPC, the facts of the case can be supplemented and the main hearing can be prepared in the instruction hearings ([…]).

The FPC took note. Here is the FPC’s tweet of earlier today:

Indeed, the Supreme Court did leave it undecided whether the public could also be excluded from the formal part of an instruction hearing. Still, the Supreme Court made it crystal clear that it does not want to see its judgement being read on instruction hearings in general, in view of what is (or maybe) going on in (the formal part of) an instruction hearing — contrary to mere settlement discussions, be it during a main hearing or an instruction hearing.

In my perception, that’s a somewhat deafening silence on this issue, isn’t it?

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. 4A_179/2019 (Supreme Court) |  Decision of 24 September 2019, on appeal against RA190002-O/U (High Court, Zurich) | Decision of 6 March 2019 (unpublished)

[accredited court reporter, Republik] (Appellant)
./.
Labour Court, Zurich (Respondent)

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Christina KISS
      • Dr. Kathrin KLETT
      • Dr. Fabienne HOHL
      • Dr. Martha NIQUILLE
      • Marie-Chantal MAY CANELLAS

Court Clerk:

    •  Dr. Christian KÖLZ

Representative(s) of Appellant:

    • Marin FARNER (FWE)

Representative of Respondent:

    • n/a

SUPREME COURT DECISION

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Tackling questions of law and questions of fact, again …

The annual INGRES event of 2 July 2019 (‘Praxis des Immaterialgüterrechts’) has been very interesting and enjoyable, as always. I am not intending to anticipate the full report about the event that will be prepared by Estelle SEILER for publication in sic!, but there was one specific discussion following-up on Susanna RUDER‘s presentation that I am still digesting.

Susanna had opened the discussion with the following (somewhat provocative) questions:

May the court correct a claim construction mutually agreed upon by the parties? If so, under which conditions?

May the court correct divergent claim constructions of the parties if they both are wrong? If so, under which conditions?

In first place, this gave rise to some discussion about the difference between questions of fact on the one hand (governed by the principle of party presentation [Verhandlungsmaxime]), and questions of law on the other hand (which the court may freely assess).

Michael RITSCHER teased the Supreme Court judges in the room with the remark that aspects are typically considered questions of law when the Supreme Court wants to decide on them. Else, they are (only) questions of fact and remain untouched by the Supreme Court.

In reply, Kathrin KLETT clarified that a question of fact is something about which evidence can be gathered. A legal issue, on the other hand, is something that can be discussed.

Next, on an abstract level of the discussion, there was some agreement that claim construction is a question of law. And I fully concur therewith — in general. But life is complicated. In an attempt to nail the abstract discussion down with an example, I mentioned the following example of a nullity case (adapted from some thoughts on this Blog here):

A claim feature of the attacked patent is “round” (rund);

The parties mutually agreed that “round” means “circular” (kreisrund).

The patent is only attacked for lack of inventive step / obviousness because the prior art on file only showed a polygon, but no circular shape (i.e. “round” as mutually agreed upon by the parties). Let us further assume that the attack for lack of inventive step is weak, for any reason whatsoever.

But: In a single, isolated example 97 on page 35 of the patent, the shape of a “polygon” is used. Neither party ever pointed to that example.

Now, just imagine the potential consequences if the court points to that example on page 35 and corrects the claim construction mutually agreed upon by the parties: The prior art on file would in fact be novelty destroying. I argued that this should not happen because it contravenes the principle of party presentation (Verhandlungsmaxime).

Interestingly, Mark SCHWEIZER jumped in and said that there are two separate issues involved: First, the court should indeed not pinpoint to the example on page 35. Second, he confirmed that in his view claim construction is a question of law which can and should be adressed by the court.

I did not manage to follow-up on this remark. Now, what does that mean when both issues are intermingled in a specific situation like the example above? In my perception, proper claim construction can only be done in light of the specification. But may the court only construe the claim in light of the specification to the extent pleaded?

Any thoughts, anyone? Or would someone please get this clarified in a case to be decided by the FPC? 😉

Reported by Martin WILMING

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The money behind the pharmaceuticals being litigated

The Njardarson Group of the University of Arizona has just published the 2018 edition of the poster ‘Top 200 Pharmaceutical Products by Retail Sales‘ (file size is about 8 Mb).

Quite a few have already been litigated in Switzerland. And there is more to come, for sure. Stay tuned.

Reported by Martin WILMING

TOP 200 PHARMACEUTICALS (2018 ed.)

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The EPO assesses all aspects of entitlement to priority. Rightly so.

Reading time: 9 minutes

Proper assignment of the right to claim priority is intensely discussed in recent times, in particular the way how the EPO addresses such issues.

Why is that?

Broad’s logo

Most attention is where the biggest money is. Or where the most spectacular mishap occurs. Or both. The Broad Institute is upon to lose its CRISPR-Cas gene editing patents in Europe, for a lack of entitlement to priority. It’s not a question of ‘same invention’ this time, but rather of identity of inventor(s) / applicant(s) in both the priority application and the subsequent application.

Some priority basics at the EPO

Art. 87 to 89 EPC provide a complete, self-contained code of rules on claiming priority for the purpose of filing a European patent application (see J 15/80, confirmed in e.g. J 9/07). However, since the EPC — according to its preamble — constitutes a special agreement within the meaning of Art. 19 PC, it is clearly intended not to contravene the basic principles concerning priority laid down in the latter (see T 301/87, G 3/93 and G 2/98).

EPO logo

The EPO does not normally check the validity of a priority right during examination. A check, however, is made if relevant prior art has been made available to the public within the meaning of Art. 54(2) EPC on or after the priority date claimed and before the date of filing or if the content of the European patent application is totally or partially identical with the content of another European application within the meaning of Art. 54(3) EPC, such other application claiming a priority date within the above-mentioned period. In opposition proceedings this applies where prior art is invoked in connection with a ground for opposition under Art. 100(a) EPC in relation to which the priority date is of decisive importance. If the claim to priority turns out to be not valid, intervening prior art may lead to revocation of the patent.

All this is not very exciting; it’s just the law because the patentee cannot enjoy the benefit of an earlier effective date.

It is established practice at the EPO that the claim to priority is invalid if, at the filing date of the subsequent application, the applicant did not have the right to claim priority. Further, it is settled case-law at the EPO that the validity of the transfer of the right to claim priority is a matter of national law (cf. e.g. T 1008/96). All this is even reflected in the Guidelines, A-III, 6.1:

[T]he transfer of the application (or of the priority right as such) must have taken place before the filing date of the later European application and must be a transfer valid under the relevant national provisions. Proof of this transfer can be filed later.

A revolutionary new approach?

Tobias Bremi (second ordinary judge at the FPC) recently made an interesting contribution to the discussion on priority issues at the Fordham Conference (summarized on IPKat here). Tobias argued:

[The] EPO is not competent to assess entitlement to priority issues. […] As long as the formalities encoded in the law have been complied with, entitlement is to be presumed by the EPO.

And, finally, with respect to the CRISPR-Cas case referred to above, Tobias mentioned that he is

still hopeful that they will reconsider in the next instance.

The FPC has distributed a link to IPKat’s report, and the tweet is strict to the point: In Tobias’ view, third parties have no standing to challenge the assignment of the right to priority.

That’s a pretty bold statement, and Judge Grabinski apparently referred to it as ‘revolutionary’. Tobias’ key arguments are as follows:

  1. Analogy to entitlement proceedings

Tobias is cited on IPKat as follows:

Once the formal requirements for claiming priority have been complied with, there is actually no legal basis for questioning entitlement, there is no legal basis for the EPO to ask for proof, and there is also no legal basis for finding a loss of the priority right. [T]he general idea of the EPC was to keep the EPO completely out of entitlement issues as a matter of principle for a number of reasons and to leave that exclusively to the jurisdiction of national courts. It is for national courts to decide on entitlement issues when challenged by an allegedly entitled person. As long as the formalities encoded in the law have been complied with, entitlement is to be presumed by the EPO.

  1. General principles of property law

In Tobias’ view,

[i]t goes against the general principles of property law that priority entitlement issues can be brought up by any third party before the EPO and not just by the one who is allegedly entitled. This opens up rather opportunistic and destructive battles on the validity of priority claims.

  1. Clash with the Paris Convention

With respect to the same/all applicant(s) approach of the EPO (see e.g. T 788/05), Tobias held that

if the EPO uses that approach, actually they apply the ‘lex protectionis’, i.e. the law of the country where protection is sought, to the priority applicants. However, the gist of the Paris Convention is to reduce impediments for international protection.

In Tobias’ view, these principles are in jeopardy by forcing applicants to comply with the law of the country of subsequent filing.

In sum, arguments i) – iii) are also presented by Broad on appeal in opposition proceedings of EP 2 771 468 B1; see Broad's appeal brief (p. 19 ff).

I don’t agree.

Wholeheartedly. Here is my line of thinking:

  1. The analogy with entitlement proceedings is flawed

Entitlement proceedings concern only two sides; i.e. the applicant / patentee on the one hand, and yet another party who believes to be the legitimate owner on the other hand. The EPC explicitly applies the legal fiction that the applicant is entitled (Art. 60(3) EPC), until someone else comes along at a national court and challenges this. The EPO then steps back until the national court has decided on this issue, and thereafter continues its proceedings with the legitimate owner. In my view, this makes perfectly sense since the public is not concerned in any way.

On the other hand, entitlement to priority affects the effective filing date and is therefore decisive for the EPO to correctly assess patentability. There is no legal fiction of entitlement to priority. The EPO fulfills its duties according to Art. 114 in conjunction with Art. 87 to 89 EPC and aims to grant / maintain only those patents that comply with the EPC, to full extent. Rightly so.

  1. General principles of property law are not contravened

It is not just a ‘third party’ who challenges the right to claim priority. It is either the EPO when fulfilling its duties to check for compliance with the EPC, or it is a party to the proceedings in opposition / appeal proceedings who raises the issue. It is in no way ‘destructive’ or ‘opportunistic’ by the EPO or parties to proceedings to challenge a patent for non-compliance with the law. I fail to see how this might go against general principles of property law.

  1. There is no clash with the Paris Convention

The Paris Convention clearly aimed to facilitate international filings. The current practice at the EPO in no way contradicts this purpose. It definitely makes foreign filings much more simple than before the Paris Convention. Admittedly, the European approach is not absolutely fool-proof by design. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s the law: Practitioners are navigating a jungle of pitfalls every day — not only in their home jurisdictions, but in particular abroad. Messing up a priority claim before an IP5 office is just one of many potential nightmares. 

The mere fact that the USPTO more easily acknowledges entitlement to priority even in cases where not all initial applicants are named in the subsequent application doesn’t impress me much. In my view, they just overachieve the minimum standards defined in the PC. But that’s no good reason to abolish with decades of consistently developed case-law at the EPO.

Final thoughts

Consider a world where the EPO does not care anymore about who claims priority.

Bad guys could systematically just grab all early published European patent applications, or utility models, that are still within the priority year and then file subsequent applications with the EPO, claiming priority. The applications could proceed to grant without the entitlement to claim priority ever being challenged. Bad guy could only be stopped by the legitimate owner of the utility model.  If that just doesn’t happen because he/she doesn’t care anymore, or is afraid of costly litigation, bad guy has got the patent. This cannot be it.

Stay firm, EPO.

Reported by Martin WILMING

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT

Nil. I have nothing to disclose. In particular, I am not in any way engaged in the CRISPR-Cas proceedings referred to above. /MW

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Should instruction hearings and/or court-mediated settlement talks be public?

Reading time: 5 minutes

The FPC has attempted from the very beginning to settle its cases by compromise; see e.g. the Annual Report 2013 (p 6, left col):

The Federal Patent Court sees itself as a service provider to the private sector. Each patent case is an obstacle for all of the parties concerned and the aim is to overcome this obstacle. One means of achieving this objective is to issue a judgment but a better alternative is for the parties to reach a compromise. The Federal Patent Court therefore strives to reach mutually acceptable compromises in its handling of cases. During instruction hearings, which take place after the first exchange of briefs, the court delegation provides the parties with a preliminary legal as well as – and especially – a technical assessment of the dispute. The Federal Patent Court expects that this approach will result in a settlement by compromise in around 50% of the  cases,  […].

Please see this Blog here if you are interested in the actual development of the settlement rate over time; the early estimate has proven stunningly correct.
Private stuff(?)

Instruction hearings at the FPC (referred to in the above citation) have never been announced by now. I thus cannot tell whether the public would be admitted to attend or not. One just cannot even try to attend in the absence of any announcement — i.e., neither the first (formal) part is public, nor the second (informal) part where the court-mediated settlement talks are taking place.

I frequently report about main hearings at the FPC on this Blog; see e.g. here. Contrary to instruction hearings, the main hearings are announced and thus it is very easy for the public to just walk in and see what is going on. The presiding judge always asks the parties at the end of the hearing whether they are interested in settlement talks. In the early days, I had to leave only after the parties had agreed to have settlement talks. In more recent times, I am being asked to leave the room even before the representatives even answer that basic question. This way, the public does not even get to know whether or not settlement talks take place, not to mention how they are conducted or the result thereof.

I shrugged that off by now, even though I didn’t like it. But it appears that public accessibility of hearings and court-mediated settlement talks are currently of quite some wider public interest. Corsin Zander (Tagesanzeiger) recently reported about some labour law cases before a Zurich court where the public had been expelled from court-mediated settlement talks. Apparently it is customary at the Zurich labour courts for the presiding judges to give an initial, non-binding assessment of the case in the courtroom prior to court-mediated settlement talks. Likewise, this is what happens at the FPC (see above).

As reported by Corsin Zander, Markus Schefer holds that it is problematic that journalists cannot check how the judges act in such settlement negotiations. The renowned professor of constitutional and administrative law at the University of Basel well understands the will to exclude the public from settlement negotiations because two private individuals are trying to come to an agreement. But if such negotiations are conducted with the assistance of a court, at least the behaviour of the judges should be public, says Schefer:

Courts act in the name of the state. The public must be able to understand this.

That’s currently not the case. But one might easily conceive court-mediated settlement talks being conducted in a way that makes the court’s conduct public, while at the same time the parties negotiate the details in break-out sessions, based on the court’s input. Anyway, my understanding is that the Supreme Court will now have to deal with the issue because a journalist brought the matter to the attention of the Supreme Court.

While I do have some understanding for courts to expel the public from settlement talks in certain labour law issues (which may occasionally be of very personal nature), I fail to see why that should be the case in typical proceedings at the FPC where SMEs and multinationals quarrel over patent infringement and/or validity.

I’d be keen to know your thoughts on the following questions:

Instruction hearings

Instruction hearings are foreseen in Art. 226 CPC. The formal part is followed by court-mediated settlement talks (if the parties are interested).

Should instruction hearings at the FPC be open for the public to attend?

  • Yes, without ifs or buts. (44%, 12 Votes)
  • The formal part: yes; the settlement talks: no. (37%, 10 Votes)
  • No. (19%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

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The above poll had been open from May 5-20, 2019.

Public announcement

Should instruction hearings be publicly announced, just like main hearings?

  • Yes. (72%, 18 Votes)
  • No. (28%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 25

Loading ... Loading ...
The above poll had been open from May 5-20, 2019.

Main hearings

Main hearings are foreseen in Chapter 3 CPC (Art. 228 ff). Parties are typically asked at the end of the public hearing whether they are interested in court-mediated settlement talks.

Should the court-mediated settlement talks at the end of the main hearing be open for the public to attend?

  • Yes. (44%, 11 Votes)
  • No, except for the fact that they are taking place. (40%, 10 Votes)
  • No, incl. the fact that they are taking place. (16%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 25

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The above poll had been open from May 5-20, 2019.

/MW

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Yet another referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal upon to be planted

Reading time: 4 minutes

In addition to the cases concerning double patenting, computer-implemented simulation and the location in Haar, there is yet another referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBoA) in the pipeline, i.e. concerning patentability of plants exclusively obtained by an essentially biological process.

In case T 1063/18, an Examining Division had refused the European patent application no. 12 756 468.0 (publication no. EP 2 753 168) for the sole reason that plants exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process fall within the exception to patentability according to Article 53(b) and Rule 28(2) EPC. However, Board of Appeal (BoA) 3.3.04, in an enlarged composition consisting of three technically and two legally qualified members, decided that Rule 28(2) EPC (see OJ 2017, A56) was in conflict with Article 53(b) EPC as interpreted by the EBoA in decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13. In these decisions, the EBoA had concluded that the exclusion of essentially biological processes for the production of plants in Article 53(b) EPC did not preclude the allowability of a product claim directed to plants or plant material.

Moreover, BoA 3.3.04 held that Rule 28(2) EPC could not be interpreted in such a way that it was not in conflict with Article 53(b) EPC as interpreted by the EBoA. The board also saw no reason to deviate from the interpretation of the EBoA. Thus, in view of Article 164(2) EPC, the provisions of the Convention prevail.

Now, how to resolve this clash of an Article as interpreted by the EBoA on the one hand, and a Rule and the political will on the other hand?

That’s what this referral is all about. According to a news alert on the EPO website, the President of the EPO expressed his view at the 159th meeting of the Administrative Council on 27/28 March 2019 as follows:

[…] that a President’s referral of the case to the Enlarged Board of Appeal is justified and necessary. The aim is to obtain an opinion from the Enlarged Board of Appeal on the patentability of plants exclusively obtained by essentially biological processes, hereby considering recent legal developments (interpretations and statements of the European Commission, the EU Council, European Parliament and EPO’s Administrative Council on the interpretation of the European Patent Convention and the EU Bio-Directive, all of them concluding that there should be no patentability in these cases).

The President’s proposal apparently received broad and overwhelming support from almost all Contracting States, and President António Campinos announced that the EPO will proceed swiftly to submit the referral.

It will be highly interesting to see how the EBoA deals with this referral, in light of what Art. 112(2) EPC requires, i.e.

[…] a point of law […] where two Boards of Appeal have given different decisions on that question.

I will report again when the referral is available; stay tuned …

UPDATE 3 April 2019:

The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) has issued a position paper on this issue on 25 March 2019, which is well worth reading and to the point.

UPDATE 9 April 2019:

The President’s questions referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal are now available; see here. Here they are:

    1. Having regard to Article 164(2) EPC, can the meaning and scope of Article 53 EPC be clarified in the Implementing Regulations to the EPC without this clarification being a priori limited by the interpretation of said Article given in an earlier decision of the Boards of Appeal or the Enlarged Board of Appeal?
    2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, is the exclusion from patentability of plants and animals exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process pursuant to Rule 28(2) EPC in conformity with Article 53(b) EPC which neither explicitly excludes nor explicitly allows said subject-matter?

The official case no. is G 3/19.

Reported by Martin WILMING

EPO NEWS ALERT

from the 159th meeting of the Administrative Council

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T 1063/18

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Board of Appeal 3.3.01 moving house on the rush

Reading time: 2 minutes

As reported earlier on this Blog here, the Enlarged Board of Appeal will have to decide whether or not the Boards of Appeal may properly summon parties to oral proceedings at their new premises in Haar.

But this will take some time. What’s happening in the meantime? There are hearings in Haar every single day. Will proceedings be stayed? Or will parties be re-summoned to Munich, as a matter of precaution? All these options would be highly uncomfortable for the Boards which are still struggling with a huge backlog and an ever increasing number of incoming appeals.

In a hearing of 11 March 2019 in Haar, Board of Appeal 3.3.01 was faced with a request to conduct the hearing in Munich; the patentee’s representative relied on the pending referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal.

According to the minutes, the hearing in Haar was indeed postponed — but re-started at 1pm on the same day in the EPO’s building at Bob-van-Benthem-Platz 1 in Munich downtown, the previous premises of the Boards of Appeal. A smart move! See the EPO Register for any further information on the case; the reasoned decision is not out yet.

About three hours later, the patent was revoked. (Note that this patent had been at stake in proceedings at the FPC; see this Blog here.)

I sincerely hope that parties will not try to take advantage of the current legal uncertaintly about whether or not the venue in Haar is proper. Board 3.3.01 gave a clear sign that the venue may quickly be changed, if necessary.

UPDATE 3 April 2019:

The case is officially referred to as G 2/19, according to the list of referrals pending before the Enlarged Board of Appeal (visited 3 April 2019).

Reported by Martin WILMING

MINUTES
of the oral proceedings in case T 403/18 before the Board 3.3.01

Chairman: A. Lindner
Member: T. Sommerfeld
L. Bühler
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Towards a more modern Swiss patent system

An interesting initiative has been lodged in the Swiss parliament on 21 March 2019 by Thomas HEFTI, member of the Council of States; see here. The title is pretty self-explanatory:

For a more modern Swiss patent

No further details have been made public by now; this post will be updated with further information when available; see below.

The future of the Swiss patent system had been widely discussed a few years ago, and the various options have been presented and discussed at an event on 1 June 2015, jointly organised by VSP, VESPA, VIPS and INGRES; see the summary in German language here. Not much has happened since then, but the present initiative might now restart the efforts to modernise the Swiss patent system.

By far the most patents that are currently in force in Switzerland are validations of European patents that are granted only after thorough examination on the merits. On the other hand, national Swiss patents are currently not examined on the merits, i.e. for novelty and obviousness. Some say that this is embarrassing, in particular for the leader in the Global innovation index.

Yet another good reason for a modernised patent system is that Swiss patents may be used in the ‘patent box’ that is foreseen to be enacted with the ‘Federal Act on Tax Reform and AHV Financing‘, subject to a positive outcome of the referendum on 19 May 2019.

UPDATE 28 March 2019:

The text of the motion and the reasons are now available on the website of the parliament, but currently only in German language. I have made a quick and dirty translation to English language.

UPDATE 20 May 2019:

The Swiss people voted in favor of the ‘Tax Reform and AHV financing’, with overwhelming majority of 66.4%. Thus, be prepared for the Swiss patent box!

UPDATE 4 June 2019:

On 29 May 2019, the Federal Council requested that the motion be adopted:

The Swiss patent system has proven itself in practice. However, by implementing the measures proposed in the motion, Switzerland could align itself with the systems of other states. With a fully examined patent, the hurdles and costs for patenting are higher, but at the same time its value increases. For those who do not want to use these advantages, the utility model would be available in future as an alternative to the current, unexamined patent. The concrete form of a revision as well as the legal and economic implications would still have to be clarified in detail.

At 4 June 2019, the Council of States adopted the motion. The matter will next be dealt with by the National Council.

Reported by Martin WILMING

DOCKET 19.3228

at the website of the Swiss Parliament.

REFERENDUM

of 19 May 2019 on the Federal Act on Tax Reform and AHV Financing. See the official brochure with all details about the referendum below (not available in English language):

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The Federal Patent Court’s Annual Report 2018

The official Annual Report 2018 of the FPC has been published earlier today, together with a press release. It comes along with an official Executive Summary as follows:

Compared to the previous year, the total number of incoming cases decreased slightly to 29 (34 in the previous year). The number of ordinary proceedings declined (22, 26 in the previous year), while the number of summary proceedings remained virtually unchanged (7, 8 in the previous year).

During the reporting year the Federal Patent Court handled 23 ordinary proceedings, of which 11 were disposed of by settlement and 5 by judgment. A total of 6 summary proceedings were disposed of during the reporting year, 4 of which were decided by judgment and 2 were declared groundless. The number of cases pending at the end of the year remained unchanged (39, 39 in the previous year).

Income from court fees rose to an all-time high of CHF 965,741 (672,804 in the previous year). This improved the Federal Patent Court’s coverage ratio from 44.3% to 54.4% despite higher expenses (CHF 1,776,342, CHF 1,519,014 in the previous year). This rise in expenses can be attributed to a CHF 140,000 increase in remuneration for the non-permanent judges who took charge of more proceedings because the President [Note: Mark Schweizer, formerly with the law firm MLL] had recused himself on numerous occasions as well as to expenditure of CHF 65,000 for legal aid in one case.

The FPC’s ‘even more executive’ summary on Twitter:

Now, do we need to worry about the slight decline of incoming cases? I don’t think so. Let’s put in in perspective, taking all reporting years into account:

dyerware.com



The number of incoming main proceedings is still the second highest of all times; it equals with the 22 cases received in 2013. The slight decrease vis-à-vis the all-time high of 2017 is still within normal fluctuation, in my perception.

The overall number of concluded cases increased; a slight decline of concluded summary proceedings (6 in 2018 vs. 9 in 2017) is more than outweighed by an increase of concluded main proceedings (23 in 2018 vs. 15 in 2017):

dyerware.com



Indeed, the FPC has been pretty productive in 2018. It was only in 2013 that the FPC had ever disposed of more cases.

The backlog of cases had reached an all-time high in 2017, and the same number of cases is also pending at the end of 2018. But, frankly, I don’t feel that 39 pending cases is sth to worry about.

dyerware.com



But what’s up with the settlements by compromise?

The settlement rate dropped again to 48% in main proceedings (which is pretty much the same as the all-time low of 2016 with 47%) and 0% in summary proceedings (no, that’s not a typo; it’s literally zero. Not a single summary proceeding has been concluded by settlement).

dyerware.com



Why is that? If the parties to main proceedings prefered a judgment because they felt they would get a more favorable outcome on appeal, this expection was most likely in vain: 80% of the judgments in main proceedings had been appealed, but not a single appeal was successful until 1 February 2019 when the Annual Report had been finalized (the appeal in O2016_009 was still pending then, and it is still pending today).

The report itself does not expand much on the settlement rate; it only mentions:

Over the first seven years of activity, the ratio of cases settled stands at around 70%.

Well, that’s true, but the settlement rate is apparently going down. Good for me: I do need some published judgments for this Blog! 😉 In any event, a settlement rate of 70% is anything but alarming; it is still outstanding.

If you wonder about the case where legal aid has been granted, I am pretty sure that it is the main proceeding in the aftermath of S2013_009; see also this Blog here.

Reported by Martin WILMING

PRESS RELEASE

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ANNUAL REPORT 2018

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The Annual Report is also available in German, French and Italian.

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Munich, or Haar, or what?! The Enlarged Board of Appeal will have its say!

Reading time: 7 minutes
Groundhog Day: Yet another one …

It feels like I’m on repeat: There is yet another referral to the EBoA in the pipeline, in addition to those listed on this Blog here.

Frankly, this referral is somewhat out of the ordinary.

The underlying case is IPCom‘s EP 2 378 735 B1; see the EPO Register for further bibliographic information.

The appellant Jostarndt Patentanwalts-AG had submitted various third party observations during the examination phase — but the patent had nevertheless been granted. Jostarndt lodged an appeal against the decision of the ED to grant EP'735 and argued that the raised objections re clarity had not been duly considered by the ED. Jostarndt took the view that it must be entitled to appeal since otherwise, because of the limited grounds for opposition, there is no legal protection against the ED’s failure to consider the objections under Art. 84 EPC. Further, Jostarndt argued that there was an intolerable gap of legal protection and made clear that it seeks to have this fundamental question clarified. The Board accordingly summoned to oral proceedings on 25 January 2019 to the premises of the Boards of Appeal in Haar. Now, here we are at the gist of the matter: The appellant requested that the hearing be re-located to Munich, since Haar is not listed in the EPC as one of the premises of the EPO; ¶V.

[Die Beschwerdeführerin] hat […] eine mündliche Verhandlung auch über die Zulässigkeitsfrage beantragt und stellte, nachdem die Kammer sie für den 25. Januar 2019 zu einer mündlichen Verhandlung in das Dienstgebäude der Beschwerdekammern nach Haar geladen hatte, Antrag auf Verlegung der Verhandlung nach München, da das Europäische Patentamt dort seinen Sitz habe, und Haar – anders als Den Haag – «im Europäischen Patentübereinkommen offensichtlich nicht als Ort für Handlungen oder Verhandlungen vorgesehen» ist.

The Board did not re-locate the hearing but rather cancelled it, and submitted the following questions to the EBoA (in the German language of the proceedings):

1.  Ist im Beschwerdeverfahren das Recht auf Durchführung einer mündlichen Verhandlung gemäss Artikel 116 EPÜ eingeschränkt, wenn die Beschwerde auf den ersten Blick unzulässig ist?

2.  Wenn die Antwort auf Frage 1 ja ist, ist eine Beschwerde gegen den Patenterteilungsbeschluss in diesem Sinne auf den ersten Blick unzulässig, die ein Dritter im Sinne von Artikel 115 EPÜ eingelegt und damit gerechtfertigt hat, dass im Rahmen des EPÜ kein alternativer Rechtsbehelf gegen eine Entscheidung der Prüfungsabteilung gegeben ist, seine Einwendungen betreffend die angebliche Verletzung von Artikel 84 EPÜ nicht zu berücksichtigen?

3. Wenn die Antwort auf eine der ersten beiden Fragen nein ist, kann die Kammer ohne Verletzung von Artikel 116 EPÜ die mündliche Verhandlung in Haar durchführen, wenn die Beschwerdeführerin diesen Standort als nicht EPÜ-konform gerügt und eine Verlegung der Verhandlung nach München beantragt hat?

Inofficially translated:

1.  In appeal proceedings, is the right to an oral hearing under Article 116 EPC restricted if the appeal at first sight appears inadmissible?

2.  If the answer to question 1 is in the affirmative, is an appeal against the decision to grant a patent prima facie inadmissible which a third party (in the sense of Article 115 EPC) has lodged and justified by the fact that there is no alternative remedy under the EPC against a decision of the Examining Division not to take into account its objections concerning the alleged violation of Article 84 EPC?

3. If the answer to one of the first two questions is no, can the Board hold the oral proceedings in Haar without infringing Article 116 EPC if the appellant complains that this location is not in conformity with the EPC and has requested that the hearing be moved to Munich?

Q1 and Q2 are interesting in that they will clarify the extent of the right to be heard. The referring Board explicitly notes that an answer to Q3 will likely be needed, i.e. the answer to Q1 and/or Q2 will likely be ‘No’; see ¶3.4 and 4.1:

Die Kammer geht davon aus, dass die Frage nach dem richtigen Verhandlungsort auch im vorliegenden Fall, also trotz ihrer vorläufigen Einschätzung, die Beschwerde sei unzulässig, entscheidungserheblich ist; die Kammer folgt insoweit der herrschenden Rechtsprechung […], wonach einem Antrag der Beschwerdeführerin auf Durchführung einer mündlichen Verhandlung regelmäßig auch bei ersichtlich unzulässigen Beschwerden nachzukommen ist.

But when it comes to Q3, things can get interesting. The answer will essentially depend on whether the President of the European Patent Office or the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation, which authorised the President to rent the new office building and thus to relocate the Boards of Appeal to the municipality of Haar, had the power either to appoint organs of the Office within the meaning of Art. 15 EPC also outside the areas covered by the EPC (Art. 6(2) EPC including the Protocol on Centralisation, I(3)a), or whether Art. 6(2) EPC is to be interpreted in a way that ‘Munich’ does not mean the city of the same name but a whole (not more precisely defined) region, or the district (‘Landkreis’) of the same name, which borders on the city of Munich (which does not belong to the district of Munich, as it is a free city).

Let’s have a quick look at a map. The district Munich is marked-up in dark grey in the insert in the figure below. The new premises of the Boards of Appeal are located in Haar (marked-up in red):

Now, where is ‘Munich’?

The referring Board notes that it is not aware of the exact reasoning why the President took the view in 2016 that a relocation of the Boards of Appeal to a place outside the city limits of Munich was in accordance with the EPC, and that it thus has not yet formed its final opinion on the issue; ¶3.3. Well, this will now be something for the EBoA to find out.

Once more: Stay tuned …

UPDATE 2 March 2019:

I just noticed yet another twist in the file wrapper. Jostarndt has filed a second appeal in the same case, arguing that it had never been duly served with the decision of the ED and that the second appeal is thus still timely filed.

Reported by Martin WILMING

The map used in this post is based on Hagar66‘s Wikimedia Commons image (slightly modified), with kind permission. 

REFERRAL TO THE ENLARGED BOARD OF APPEAL
in case T 831/17 by Board 3.5.03

Chairman: F. van der Voort
Member: P. Guntz
A. Madenach

Interlocutory decision of 25 February 2019:

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Patentability of computer-implemented simulation upon to be reviewed by the Enlarged Board of Appeal

Reading time: 4 minutes

Busy times ahead for the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBoA). While we are still awaiting the decision G 1/18, and only shortly after the referral re double-patenting, yet another Board referred questions to the EBoA in case T 489/14; interlocutory decision of 22 February 2019. Computer-implemented inventions (CIIs) are at stake now. The last time that the EBoA had to deal with CIIs was the finally inadmissible (yet exhaustively answered) referral by the President in G 3/08.

Now, the underlying case is EP 1 546 948 which pertains to a computer-implemented method of simulating pedestrian motion. It’s a Euro-PCT application published (without search report) as WO 2004/023347 A2; the (belated) search report had been published separately as  WO 2004/023347 A3.

The application had been refused by an Examining Division (ED) already back in 2013; the ED held that the claimed subject-matter was not inventive. It’s all about how to assess computational simulations: The referring Board disagrees with the reasoning of Board 3.5.01 in T 1227/05, the reasoning of which would clearly have helped the present applicant’s case: In T 1227/05 it had been held that a computational simulation of a circuit was both technical and non-obvious, even though it had no direct physical effect.

To resolve the issue, the following questions are referred to the EBoA:

1. In the assessment of inventive step, can the computer-implemented simulation of a technical system or process solve a technical problem by producing a technical effect which goes beyond the simulation’s implementation on a computer, if the computer-implemented simulation is claimed as such?

2.  If the answer to the first question is yes, what are the relevant criteria for assessing whether a computer-implemented simulation claimed as such solves a technical problem? In particular, is it a sufficient condition that the simulation is based, at least in part, on technical principles underlying the simulated system or process?

3.  What are the answers to the first and second questions if the computer-implemented simulation is claimed as part of a design process, in particular for verifying a design?

The outcome of this referral will not only affect claim drafting practice, i.e. whether claims will be drafted with and/or without some physical implementation step(s). Perhaps more importantly, an answer to Q1 in the affirmative would significantly improve the position of companies / developers that are active in the field of technical simulations and which are no longer involved in the actual physical implementation. Will their work product finally be patentable per se?

Stay tuned …

UPDATE 3 April 2019:

The case is officially referred to as G 1/19, according to the list of referrals pending before the Enlarged Board of Appeal (visited 3 April 2019).

Reported by Martin WILMING

REFERRAL TO THE ENLARGED BOARD OF APPEAL
in case T 489/14 by Board 3.5.07

Chairman: R. Moufang
Member: R. de Man
P. San-Bento Furtado

Interlocutory decision of 22 February 2019:

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