A very serious soap opera

Reading time: 6 minutes

Case No. O2019_001 | Hearing of 16 September 2020

Frosch® product

As mentioned earlier on this Blog here, Werner & Mertz (well known e.g. for its brands Erdal® and Frosch®) has sued Compad Consulting GmbH for lack of entitlement to a patent application, i.e. unlawful usurpation thereof.

The patent application at stake is EP 2 592 134; the patent application is licensed to the Swiss start-up company Good Soaps. See the European Patent Register for further bibliographic information.

The file wrapper at the EPO is telling: The complaint of 9 January 2019, the reply of 20 September 2019 (including all appendices) as well as the comments on the rejoinder of 5 December 2019 are available online. The instruction hearing took place on 8 July 2019 — without a settlement being reached.

There had already been some attention in the media a while ago (see e.g. here and here), when the defendant had lodged a press release. Apparently, the plaintiff now also approached the media shortly before the hearing. SRF reported again about this case yesterday in Regionaljournal Zentralschweiz:

Frankly, I am not going to participate in reading the tea leafs here, trying to conclude something from the fact that the inventor has waived her right to be publicly mentioned; or that the applicant is not Good Soaps itself, but rather a consulting firm that has given a license to Good Soaps. These things per se may well happen for good and serious reasons. And I cannot readily spot any troll-like behaviour, either.

UPDATE 18 September 2020:

For some strange reason, the designation of inventor is available in the online file wrapper at the EPO, contrary to R. 144 (c) EPC.

In the end, for an assignment action to be successful, a plaintiff has to prove the following:

    1. that he actually made the invention on his own (when, where and how);
    2. how the defendant was made aware of this invention; and
    3. how this invention is reflected in the application(s) in suit.

See e.g. O2012_001 (r 27) and O2015_009.

The main hearing took place earlier today, and it was definitely one worth attending.

Good Soaps product

Ms Regine SCHNEIDER had met with some people of Werner & Mertz on 27 August 2009 in Mainz, in particular with Mr Karl-Heinz QUADE. That is one of the few things on which the parties can agree. At that time, Ms SCHNEIDER had been employed by Kolb, as head of the business unit New Business. I understood from the pleadings that Ms SCHNEIDER had been decruited on the very next day, i.e. 28 August 2009, and that she was immediately released from work because Kolb closed down the whole business unit. Accordingly, it will be decisive whether the invention — as claimed in the application at stake, or at least the basic concept thereof — had been communicated by Mr QUADE to Ms SCHNEIDER in that meeting.

Evidently, the content of this single meeting is of critical importance. Since there is only very limited written evidence in this respect (only an agenda or invitation, in my understanding), witness testimony will likely be decisive. Accordingly, Ms SCHNEIDER was deposed as a witness today. To the best of my knowledge, this was actually the first time that a witness has been publicly deposed in a main hearing at the FPC. Ms SCHNEIDER was first deposed by the President and the judge-rapporteur, and both parties were given the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. This was actually a pretty smooth exercise.

Frog’s home turf?

But, maybe, Mr QUADE remembers things differently(?). Unfortunately, we did not learn more about this meeting from his perspective today. I understood from the pleadings that the defendant had pressed criminal charges against Mr QUADE, for some wrongdoing in connection with the present matter, and that he was therefore prevented from being deposed as a witness in the hearing today.  The FPC has apparently initiated proceedings for judicial assistance of the German authorities, to have Mr QUADE deposed in Germany. Defendant’s counsel requested the FPC to reconsider this procedural move: Even if Mr QUADE would confirm all that has been asserted by the plaintiff by now, it would still not be sufficient for the plaintiff to fulfill all three criteria as outlined above. Note that judicial assistance might easily take a further 4-30(!) months.

The further course of the proceedings is not yet cast in stone. If the FPC abstains from having Mr QUADE deposed, the judgment would be issued as a next step. If Mr QUADE is being deposed, the parties will again have an opportunity to comment on his testimony, be it in writing or yet another hearing.

Reported by Martin WILMING

Credit: Header image by Karsten Lamprecht from Pixabay

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2019_001 | Hearing of 16 September 2020

Werner & Mertz
./.
Compad Consulting GmbH

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Dr. Frank SCHAGER

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

ANNOUNCEMENT

PATENT APPLICATION IN SUIT

Clean version of the DREX, i.e. the version for which the EPO indicated its intention to grant a patent:

 

Application as filed, published as EP 2 592 134 A2:


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Cluster Failure During a Hearing about Cluster Failure

Reading time: 4 minutes

Case No. O2019_004 | Hearing of 30 June 2020

We first reported here that a blockchain infringement case might be pending at the FPC with some involvement of MLL. Shortly thereafter, on June 4, 2020, the official announcement followed and revealed that Sunshine Software Development GmbH had taken action against FRIENDZ SA for alleged infringement of the Swiss part of EP 1 151 591; see EPO Register and Swissreg for further information. Note that the patent has lapsed on 13 January 2020, after 20 years.

FRIENDZ SA describes itself as a start-up that aims to

[…] decentralize the digital advertising industry.

According to their website,

[…] brands can use Friendz Coins to access digital advertising.

These coins seem to be at the center of the present case.

As noted previously, little information is publically available about Sunshine Software Development.

EP 591 is directed to data access and management. From what could be gathered from the arguments made at the hearing, the subject matter of EP 591 seems to be relevant at least to Ethereum, and possibly other blockchain platforms. Much of the discussion related to infringement seemed to evolve around whether defendants shifted («verschieben») or replicated data, or what the difference between the two would be. Specifically, the two independent claims 1 and 30 of EP 591 comprise the following features:

the data storage means shift data redundantly stored in the system independent of an access of the computer unit as a function of the determined parameters of data transmissions between the data storage means.

redundantly stored data is shifted independently of an access of the computer unit (CL) to the data as a function of the determined parameters of data transmissions between the data storage means.

Apparently, the judge-rapporteur had concluded in his expert opinion that defendants did not shift data, and consequently did not infringe on claims 1 and 30.

We gathered from the pleadings that plaintiffs alleged a replication and subsequent deletion of data, which might realize a shift of data. Defendants appeared to argue that accidental deletion of redundantly saved data would not constitute a shift of data, and that replication was done for data safety reasons.

Speaking of accidental things related to IT,  the hearing was up to a rocky start when the monitors of the judges would not work. But a FPC hearing on blockchain was not going to be stopped by some measly IT issue – or was it? The IT gods stepped up their game and also let the microphones fail, and at a later point the projector. But even when every piece of IT had apparently failed at least once during the hearing, the President shrugged off the cluster failure — «[…] ein Clusterausfall!» —, determined to continue the hearing. Cluster failure is apparently not only a potential blockchain issue …

As usual, the parties were asked whether they would be interested in settlement talks under the court’s guidance. Both parties affirmed, though plaintiffs indicated that while the amount of compensation may be negotiable, the validity and infringement would not be.

As always, the public was not allowed to stay for the settlement talks, and it remains to be seen if a judgement will ever see the light of the day.

Reported by Philippe KNÜSEL and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2019_004 | Hearing of 30 June 2020

Sunshine Software Development GmbH
./.
FRIENDZ SA

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
    • Dany VOGEL
    • Christoph MÜLLER

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dany VOGEL

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Kilian SCHÄRLI (MLL)
    • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
    • Andreas ASCHERL (K. A. L & E), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant:

ANNOUNCEMENT

PATENT IN SUIT

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The dark side of the novum

Reading time: 6 minutes

Case No. O2018_004 | Hearing of 3 September 2020

Some background of the subject-matter at stake can be found on this Blog here. In brief, Synova asserts EP 1 833 636 B1 » against Avonisys, while Avonisys counter-claims for nullity and seeks a declaration of non-infringement. Further bibliographic information about EP 636 B1 » can be found in the European Register and Swissreg.

Sometimes, the Supreme Court clarifies things once and for all. Sometimes, it doesn’t. The very recent decision 4A_583/2019 of 19 August 2020 (published on 28 August 2020) very likely is an example of the latter.

It became clear at the main hearing that the publication of 4A_583/2019 derailed the proceedings to some extent. From the official announcement of the hearing, we already knew that the plaintiff / patentee had partially waived the patent in suit after receipt of the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion, i.e. well after the closure of the file (request of 19 June 2020, published 14 August 2020); see the corresponding CH/EP 1 833 636 H1.

The independent claims as amended read as follows (available in German only):

Claim 1

Verfahren zur Erzeugung eines Flüssigkeitsstrahls (5), der zur Führung einer in ihn eingekoppelte[n] Laserstrahlung (10) in der Art eines Wellenleiters geeignet ist der als Strahlleiter für eine Laserstrahlung (10) dient, wobei eine in ihn eingekoppelte Laserstrahlung (10) in der Art eines Wellenleiters geführt ist zwecks Bearbeitung eines Werkstücks (3), wobei der Flüssigkeitsstrahl (5) mit einer Flüssigkeitsdüse (1) erzeugt wird und wobei derFlüssigkeitsstrahl (5) mantelseitig mit einem Gasstrom (35) umgeben wird, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass zur Verlängerung des stabilen Bereichs der Strahllänge der Flüssigkeitsstrahl (5) durch eine, entfernt von der Flüssigkeitsdüse (1) angeordnete, den Gasstrom (35) formende Gasauslassdüse (23, 79) hindurchgeführt wird, wobei zwischen der Flüssigkeitsdüse und der Gasauslassdüse (23, 79) ein Zwischenraum mit einer trichterförmigen, nach unten zusammenlaufenden Wandung ausgebildet ist, wobei ein Gehäuse (7) mit einer umlaufenden Wandung (20, 24) als vertikal stehender Doppelkegel mit einander gegenüberliegenden Kegelspitzen ausgebildet ist, wobei in der einen oberen Kegelspitze die Flüssigkeitsdüse und in der gegenüberliegenden unteren Kegelspitze die Gasauslassdüse angeordnet ist, wobei das Beaufschlagungsgas in einen Hohlraum des Gehäuses derart eingebracht wird, dass der eingebrachte Gasstrom den Flüssigkeitsstrahl nicht direkt trifft, sondern dass der gesamte Hohlraum mit dem Beaufschlagungsgas füllbar ist und dass das Beaufschlagungsgas als den Flüssigkeitsstrahl umhüllender Gasstrom das Gehäuse verlässt.

Claim 6

Vorrichtung zur Erzeugung eines Flüssigkeitsstrahls (5), der zur Führung einer in ihn eingekopelten[n] Laserstrahlung (10= in der Art eines Wellenleiters geeignet istder als Strahlleiter für eine Laserstrahlung (10) dient, wobei eine in ihn eingekoppelte Laserstrahlung (10) in der Art eines Wellenleiters geführt ist zwecks Bearbeitung eines Werkstücks (3), mit einer Flüssigkeitsdüse (1) zum Erzeugen des Flüssigkeitsstrahls (5) und mit Mitteln zum mantelseitigen Umgeben des Flüssigkeitsstrahls (5) mit einem Gasstrom (35), dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass zur Verlängerung des stabilen Bereichs der Strahllänge die Mittel zum mantelseitigen Umgeben des Flüssigkeitsstrahls (5) mit einem Gasstrom (35) eine entfernt von der Flüssigkeitsdüse (1) angeordnete, den Gasstrom (35) formende Gasauslassdüse (23, 79) umfassen, durch welche der Flüssigkeitsstrahl (5) hindurchgeführt werden kann, wobei zwischen der Flüssigkeitsdüse und der Gasauslassdüse (23, 79) ein Zwischenraum mit einer trichterförmigen, nach unten zusammenlaufenden Wandung ausgebildet ist, wobei ein Gehäuse (7) mit einer umlaufenden, die Flüssigkeitsdüse aufnehmenden Wandung (20, 24) und mit wenigstens einem Gaseinlass (25a-d) für ein Beaufschlagungsgas vorgesehen ist, wobei der wenigstens eine Gaseinlass (25a-d) der Flüssigkeitsdüse (1) strömungsmässig nachgeordnet ist, und wobei das Gehäuse (7) als Doppelkegel ausgebildet ist, wobei in der einen Kegelspitze die Flüssigkeitsdüse (1) angeordnet ist, und die andere Kegelspitze die Gasauslassdüse (23) hat, wobei das Beaufschlagungsgas in eine m Hohlraum eines Gehäuses derart eingebracht wird, dass der eingebrachte Gasstrom den Flüssigkeitsstrahl nicht direkt trifft, sondern dass der gesamte Hohlraum mit dem Beaufschlagungsgas füllbar ist und dass das Beaufschlagungsgas als den Flüssigkeitsstrahl umhüllender Gasstrom das Gehäuse verlässt.

Thus, the complaint has to be dismissed as devoid of purpose, in view of 4A_583/2019, right?

Oh man, if it only was that easy …

The presiding judge had immediately informed the parties by e-mail of the Supreme Court’s judgment 4A_583/2019, and that the FPC tends towards a decision that the complaint is to be dismissed as devoid of purpose — provided that the defendant did not rely on the partial waiver as a novum.

It was bound to happen: This is exactly what the defendant did the very next day.

The dark side …

The main hearing dealt with only this procedural issue in first place. After deliberation, the presiding judge held that the plaintiff‘s submission of the partial waiver was impermissible, in view of 4A_583/2019. But this did not result in the case being devoid of purpose: The defendant‘s submission of the partial waiver was held to be admissible as a proper novum.

Now that the partial waiver is being considered in the proceedings, it will be highly interesting to see how this finally unfolds, i.e. what this means for the complaint (infringement) and the counterclaim (nullity; declaration of non-infringement).

We understood from the pleadings that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion was quite favorable for the defendant in that EP 636 B1 » was not infringed.

The parties did not settle; we are eagerly awaiting the judgment!

Reported by Tina VOCI and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2018_004 | Hearing of 3 September 2020

Synova AG
./.
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
Avonisys AG
Stephan Mohren
Jens Gäbelein
Jeroen Hribar

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Andri HESS
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Lara DORIGO

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Michael RITSCHER (MLL)
    • Louisa GALBRAITH (MLL)
    • Werner ROSHARDT (K&P), assisting in patent matters
    • Stephan KESSLER (K&P), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendants:

    • Dr. Ralph SCHLOSSER (KasserSchlosser)
    • Dr. Christoph ENGELBRECHT (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Regula RÜEDI (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Zacharias STELZER (Blum), assisting in patent matters

ANNOUNCEMENT

PATENT IN SUIT

As initially granted:

 

After the partial waiver:


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Supreme Court endorses Comvik approach

Reading time: 7 minutes

Case No. 4A_609/2019 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 16 July 2020 » on appeal against O2017_009 (FPC) | Decision of 1 November 2019 »

In first instance proceedings, the FPC held that some of imtmedical’s Bellavista ventilation machines with the ‘Animated Lung‘ feature infringe on Hamilton Medical’s EP 1 984 805 B1 »; see EPO Register and Swissreg for further bibliographic information. See this Blog here for a detailed review of the first instance decision.

The Supreme Court has dismissed imtmedical’s appeal, with decision of 16 July 2020.

As a quick reminder, the independent claim reads as follows:


Claim 1, broken down into features

The decisive features re novelty and inventive step are highlighted.

1A A device with a screen
1B in order on this to represent acquired, changing values with a mechanical ventilation of a patient,
1C with means for acquiring at least three changing values of different origin,
1D [a] and means for representing the values,
[b] which permit the acquired values to be qualitatively represented together on the screen
[c] in a single element
1E [a] said graphical element including
[b] a pictorial representation of a lung shape,
[c] a current design of the lung shape containing qualitative information on the compliance of the lung,
characterized in that
1F [a] the means for representing [the] values are designed such
[b] that a volume change of the ventilated lung which is acquired with each breath, is represented in an animated manner
[c] by way of a size change of the lung shape corresponding to this volume change,
[d] involving an animation of a contour line of the lung shape,
[e] the design of which containing qualitative information on the compliance of the lung.


Welcome to Switzerland, COMVIK(?)

Technicality as such was undoubtedly given; Art. 52 EPC. The Supreme Court endorses the EPO’s approach that the mere presence of at least one technical feature is sufficient. Anything else is to be dealt with under Art. 56 EPC in the case of mixed inventions, i.e. claims comprising technical and non-technical features.

As mentioned earlier, the IPI applies a different test. In my humble opinion, there is no room anymore for the IPI’s ‘holistic’ approach (‘Ganzheitsbetrachtung’) in the assessment of technicality of the claimed subject-matter: The FPC has explicitly committed to apply the EPO’s approach ( T 641/00 (Two identities / COMVIK)) not only for European patents but also for Swiss patents; and the Supreme Court applied the COMVIK approach without any hesitation at all. I cannot see how there could reasonably be two different approaches in place to assess one and the same issue, just depending on whether it is assessed during prosecution or in litigation.

imtmedical had argued that i) there was no improved assistance of a user of a ventilation machine; and ii) there was no plausible contribution to a solution of a technical problem at all.

However, the Supreme Court clearly holds that providing a (non-obvious) alternative solution is sufficient. It does not have to be an improved solution. What is more, the mere fact that a feature does not provide for an improved solution does not mean that it is non-technical; ¶ 10.3.1.

Next, the Supreme Court discussed the criteria mentioned in the EPO Guidelines for Examination, G-II 3.7:

A feature defining a presentation of information produces a technical effect if it credibly assists the user in performing a technical task by means of a continued and/or guided human-machine interaction process (T 336/14 and T 1802/13).

Even though the FPC had not explicitly discussed whether or not the user is credibly assisted in performing a technical task, the Supreme Court holds that the FPC implicitly affirmed this by mentioning that no improvement is necessary; see above. Rightly so; the Supreme Court again referred to the EPO Guidelines for Examination, G-II 3.7:

Such a technical effect is considered credibly achieved if the assistance to the user in performing the technical task is objectively, reliably and causally linked to the feature.

The question is whether it can be assumed that it is useful for medical staff to be able to see the change in volume of the lung being ventilated and the ventilation rate, so that artificial ventilation can be adjusted to suit the patient. The Supreme Court holds that this is undoubtedly the result of the natural anatomical context, just as every user knows the ventilation process and its effects on the patient; ¶ 10.3.2.

Beware of ‘sneak attacks’

Interestingly, at a very early stage of the proceedings the FPC’s delegation at the instruction hearing had apparently indicated that the patentee / plaintiff would have to prove the alleged improvement in the user’s information processing, with suitable pieces of evidence.

Beware of ‘sneak attacks’

imtmedical argued that it was a ‘sneak attack’ (Überraschungsschlag) by the FPC to abstain from this preliminary opinion in the final judgment without further notice, and that this constituted a violation of the right to be heard; ¶ 10.3.3.

The Supreme Court did not buy into that: The interim assessment of the judge-rapporteur at the instruction hearing is non-binding. Moreover, the parties have no constitutional right to be specifically heard on the legal assessment of the facts introduced by them in the proceedings.

imtmedical also asserted a violation of the right to be heard in view of the reformulation of the objective technical problem by the FPC. Indeed, the FPC had reformulated the objective technical problem to a less ambitious one, i.e. to provide for an alternative, without further explanation. The Supreme Court notes that the FPC evidently did so in full conformance with the EPO’s problem-solution approach; ¶ 11.4.2. In any event, the Supreme Court holds that the formulation of the ‘objective technical problem’ is not a factual submission in strict sense:

Likewise, the Supreme Court had no issues with the FPC’s assessment of obviousness and sufficiency of disclosure; ¶ 11.5 and 12, respectively. Further, the witness had not to be heard because the FPC did not actually make use of the piece of evidence offered by Hamilton that the witness had been offered to counter.

Now that the partial decision on infringement is final, it remains to be seen how this litigation continues when imtmedical has provided the information and accounting, as ordered.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. 4A_609/2019 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 16 July 2020 » on appeal against O2017_007 (FPC) | Decision of 1 November 2019 »

Hamilton Medical AG (Respondent / Plaintiff)
./.
imtmedical AG (Appellant / Defendant)

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Christina KISS
      • Dr. Fabienne HOHL
      • Dr. Martha NIQUILLE
      • Dr. Yves RÜEDI
      • Marie-Chantal MAY-CANNELLAS

Court Clerk:

    • Nicolas CURCHOD

Representative(s) of Appellant / Defendant:

Representative(s) of Respondent / Plaintiff:

DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
→ on appeal against FPC decision O2017_007 »
Case no.: 4A_609/2020
Decision of: 16 July 2020

DECISION OF THE FPC
→ partial decision, EP(CH) 1 984 805 B1 » is valid and infringed
Case no.: O2017_007
Decision of: 1 November 2019

PATENT IN SUIT

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Synova and Avonisys litigating over water jet guided laser technology

Reading time: 2 minutes

According to a press release of 21 November 2019,

Synova SA has brought an action against Avonisys AG and its directors with the Swiss Federal Patent Court for infringing on the Swiss part of Synova’s Patent EP 1 833 636 B1 » by marketing its ‘Air-Jet’ technology.

The press release is still available online at presseportal.ch. Synova’s own MicroJet technology is explained in the following promotional video:

Synova explained in their press release that Avonisys’ founders and directors are former employees of Synova. Avonisys’ Air-Jet technology that allegedly infringes EP 636 » can be understood from their technical paper and a promotional video below:

Further bibliographic information about EP 636 » can be found in the European Register and Swissreg.

From Avonisys’ press release of 4 December 2019 (still available online at presseportal.ch), in response to Synova’s press release, it becomes clear that Synova had apparently already filed their complaint on 5 June 2018 — but only made this public in November 2019.

Avonisys denies that their Air-Jet technology infringes EP 636 ». Further, Avonisys has apparently lodged a counter-claim for nullity (inter alia based on a PhD thesis of Ricardo Cadavid-Giraldo), and yet a second counter-claim based on the Unfair Competition Act.

Stay tuned …

UPDATE 2 September 2020:

Synova has partially waived the patent (request of 19 June 2020, published 14 August 2020); see the corresponding H1 publication ».

Further, the battle of press releases continues: Avonisys has commented on the partial waiver with a press release of 1 September 2020, shortly before the main hearing of 3 September 2020.

Reported by Martin WILMING

PATENT IN SUIT

As initially granted:

 

After the partial waiver:


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Of course I am in shape: Round is a shape …

Reading time: 8 minutes

Case No. O2017_002 | Decision of 8 May 2020 » | ‘Freiform-Schneidverfahren’

We have reported about the main hearing on this Blog here ». From the pleadings at the hearing, I had expected a pretty straight-forward outcome. But when I had downloaded the decision, I panicked: 110 pages(!), a decision of epic length. When will I ever find time to read all this? But in the end it was not half as bad: One can thumb through more than half of the decision without missing much: It takes essentially the first 65(!) pages to recite the various requests of the parties during the proceedings.

The mountain in labour

Against the background of the pleadings at the main hearing, the conclusions of the decision indeed do not come as a big surprise anymore: EP(CH) 864 » is declared null and void; Bystronic’s further requests are dismissed, as well as Tomologic’s counterclaim for infringement. Appeal proceedings are currently pending at the Supreme Court.

Besides EP(CH) 864 », the further members of this patent family in other jurisdictions had also been at stake: Bystronic had requested assignment to co-ownership. Yet another patent family was at stake with respect to co-ownership, i.e WO 2012/136262 A1; grant of a European patent had already been intended, but proceedings at the EPO have been stayed in view of the entitlement proceedings at the FPC.

Now that the outcome is essentially in line with what we had learned in the main hearing », let’s have a look at some procedural aspects, and some issues of potentially more general interest.

Competency of the FPC

Competency of the FPC to hear all aspects of the case was not a given, since e.g. Bystronic had requested that foreign members of the patent families were assigned to co-ownership. It was only due to a Service Agreement between the parties, i.e. a choice of forum clause contained therein, that the FPC’s competency was acknowledged in toto.

based on a choice of forum agreement between the parties.
the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion

Parties sometimes feel that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion should have dealt with yet further aspects of the case: Why didn’t he/she take a deep(er) dive? The decision holds that the parties do not have the right to have all the questions which might arise and which concern technical issues be dealt with in a specialised judge’s opinion; see ¶ 32. This is even more so in cases like the present one when more than 20 auxiliary requests are pending (which ultimately all failed for clarity issues and insufficiency of disclosure of a feature that was contained in all requests). It is at the judge-rapporteur’s discretion to make a reasonable choice of aspects to be dealt with in the expert opinion:

Do the examples have to be covered by the claim?

In general terms with respect to claim construction, the decision holds in ¶ 43 that a claim shall be read in such a way that the embodiments disclosed in the patent are literally covered. Applying this to the case at hand, the decision holds in ¶ 46, that one has to arrive at a certain conclusion since the embodiments disclosed in the specification must be covered (literally):

I have stumbled over the same wording several times in recent decisions of the FPC — and I am still not really comfy with it. My experience as a patent attorney is different: It frequently happens during prosecution that claims are amended in such a way that specific examples (only some or even all) disclosed in the specification are not covered anymore by the amended claim. Clearly, both the attorney and the examiner should spot and remove such inconsistencies before grant. But it just doesn’t happen, quite often.

By way of example, if a claim is amended during prosecution by specifying that a certain element is circular, and the patent as granted contains various embodiments of circular shape and still an embodiment where that element is rectangular, there is no way in my perception that circular in the claim should be construed such that it covers a rectangle.

On the other a hand, when the claim says round and the embodiments disclose only various polygons, chances are that polygons might well read on round(?). Subject to discussion, of course. But I feel that it is in no way a universal truth that a claim has to be construed in a way that it literally covers the disclosed embodiments, no matter what. Rather, it depends.

Accordingly, the German Supreme Court has held several times that the correct claim construction may well lead to a situation where only some or, in exceptional cases, even no embodiment at all is covered by the claim (see e.g.  X ZR 43/13Rotorblätter (¶ 16) and X ZR 35/11Zugriffsrechte (¶ 26)):

Eine Auslegung des Patentanspruchs, die zur Folge hätte, dass keines der […] geschilderten Ausführungsbeispiele vom Gegenstand des Patents erfasst würde, kommt […] nur in Betracht, wenn andere Auslegungsmöglichkeiten, die zumindest zur Einbeziehung eines Teils der Ausführungsbeispiele führen, zwingend ausscheiden oder wenn sich aus dem Patentanspruch hinreichend deutliche Anhaltspunkte dafür entnehmen lassen, dass tatsächlich etwas beansprucht wird, das so weitgehend von der Beschreibung abweicht.

In English:

A claim construction which would have the consequence that none of the described embodiments would be covered by the patent is only possible if other ways of claim construction which lead to the coverage of at least some of the embodiments are definitely ruled out or if there are sufficiently clear indications from the patent claim that something is actually claimed which deviates so widely from the description.

Co-inventorship

What’s the threshold for someone’s contribution to be considered relevant enough to give rise to co-inventorship?

The decision holds in ¶ 62 that a co-inventor is someone who has participated creatively in the development of the invention. Mere workmanship is not sufficient to be a co-inventor, but it is not required that the contribution in itself is inventive or even that it fulfils the conditions for patentability in itself.

mere constructional conribution does not suffice.

In the case at hand, the decision holds that mere evaluation of an invention-in-progress is not a creative / substantial input to the invention per se:

is not a creative / substantial contribution to the invention per se.

This example appears straight-forward to me. On the other side of the threshold, an input that is more than standard workmanship (or which is substantial; see ¶ 69) but not yet inventive in itself is sufficient for someone to be a co-inventor. Again, there may well be clear cases, e.g. when a car is claimed and the invention is all about an engine for the car, and someone only contributes to the subject-matter of the claim that the car has wheels (guess what!). But most cases won’t be this easy to decide.

On a sidenote, the decision also holds that the inventor has to be a human. Well, that is the current mainstream approach, see e.g. the EPO’s DABUS decisions and a recent report from the Five IP Offices:

ManMachine

But there are certainly AI-generated inventions around; see e.g. The Artificial Inventor Project, and it is a pity that the law — at least as it stands and as it is currently interpreted by the offices and courts(?) — deprives AI-generated inventions from patent protection. But the discussion about this and further AI-related aspects has only just begun.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_002 | Decision of 8 May 2020 » | ‘Freiform-Schneidverfahren’

Bystronic Laser AG
./.
Tomologic AB

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Thomas LEGLER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Christoph MÜLLER
    • Christophe SAAM
    • Dr. Rudolf RENTSCH

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Markus FRICK (Walder Wyss)
    • Manuel BIGLER (Walder Wyss)
    • Dr. Peter WALSER (Frei), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Markus MÜLLER (Frei), assisting in patent matters

Former representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Catherine WEISSER
    • Paul ROSENICH (PPR), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant / Counterclaimant:

    • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
    • Martin TOLETI (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Christoph ENGELBRECHT (Blum), assisting in patent matters

DECISION

PATENT IN SUIT

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Fulvestrant, again

Reading time: 4 minutes

Case No. O2017_014 | Decision of 10 March 2020 | ‘Fulvestrant use’

When you have read the report about the main hearing of 20 January 2020 on this Blog here, you probably won’t be overly surprised by the outcome: AZ’s complaint has been dismissed.

In brief, AstraZeneca asserted that EP(CH) 1 272 195 (see EPO Register and Swissreg for further information) is infringed by Sandoz’s generic version of AZ’s Faslodex®, i.e. Fulvestrant Sandoz 250 mg/5ml (Swissmedic approval no. 56778). The patent has been partially waived after closure of the file, in accordance with Art. 24 PatA (newly added features marked-up):

Additional features in claim 1, by way of a partial waiver

Here are my take-away messages from the decision:

Expert opinion

The decision clarifies in no uncertain terms the nature of the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion (EO):

... is a legal assessment of the facts as pleaded before closure of the file.

Loose translation to English:

The [EO] is established after closure of the file, and it is the judge-rapporteur’s legal assessment of the facts put forward by the parties. It provides a contribution to the discussion for the purpose of rendering a judgment. The [EO] can therefore only deal with questions of law, but not with questions of fact. Accordingly, [an EO] cannot entitle the submission of new facts from the outset. Certainly, a party cannot use [the EO] as a trigger to remedy incomplete factual allegations.

Admissibility of partial waiver

Nosy? Me too. But it’s not yet time. Admissibility of the partial waiver after closure of the file is left undecided, in view of the appeal in case O2016_012 that is currently still pending at the Supreme Court. Irrespective of the answer to this highly interesting question, the complaint had to be dismissed for other reasons; see below.

Belated and insufficient factual allegations re infringement of the partially waived patent

A partial waiver after closure of the file per se cannot carry the day.

The decision holds that AZ’s pleadings re infringement of the partially waived patent — for the first time at the hearing — were belated and insufficiently substantiated:

... and insufficiently substantiated pleadings re infringement of the partially waived patent.

Accordingly, the complaint was dismissed.

How to (formally correctly) introduce a partially waived patent into the proceedings

AZ had submitted the partially waived patent to the court with letter of 8 August 2019, and Sandoz had been given the opportunity to comment thereon. The decision holds:

... and how it had been introduced into the proceedings.

Loose translation to English:

In this respect, it is not clear to the Court what the defendant means when asserting that the partially waived patent has not yet been asserted or formally correctly introduced into the proceedings.

Frankly, I am confused. My understanding from what had been pleaded at the hearing was that AZ had indeed submitted the partially waived patent — but merely as an annex, i.e. without asserting the substance of the partially waived patent in the submission itself. That could have been an interesting issue, somewhat similar to the situation that gave rise to the order of 3 May 2012 in O2012_022; see ¶¶ 10.4 et seqq. But, maybe, I just got it wrong. Anyway, that’s not the decisive issue here.

UPDATE 27 May 2020:

According to an update on the FPC’s website earlier today, the decision has not been appealed / is final.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_014 | Decision of 10 March 2020 | ‘Fulvestrant use’

AstraZeneca AB
./.
Sandoz Pharmaceuticals AG

Panel of Judges:

    • Prof. Dr. Daniel KRAUS
    • Prisca VON BALLMOOS
    • Marco ZARDI

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Prisca VON BALLMOOS

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

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

Representative(s) of Defendant / Patentee:

DECISION IN FULL

PATENT IN SUIT

EP 195 as granted by the EPO:

 

EP 195 after partial waiver in Switzerland:

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A flow sensor in limbo: Up, and down. Up, and … – down or done?

Reading time: 5 minutes

Case No. O2019_008 | Decision of 17 December 2019, on remittal of 4A_70/2019 | Decision of 6 August 2019 | ‘Flow sensor II’

The flow sensor litigation between Hamilton Medical and imtmedical is popping up once in a while. We had reported already on this Blog about the main hearing of 29 October 2018, the first decision of the FPC (case O2016_009 of 18 December 2018) and the Supreme Court decision (case 4A_70/2019 of 6 August 2019). The Supreme Court had remitted the case to the FPC, to assess one specific issue; see 4A_70/2019, ¶2.5.4:

... for which the Supreme Court had remitted the case back to the FPC.

Inofficially translated:

[The FPC] did not examine whether there was a causal connection between the improper novum [document E10] in the rejoinder and the verbal limitation of the patent claim, i.e. whether the limitation was specifically occasioned by [E10]. The case must thus be remitted to [the FPC] for assessment of this issue.

Now, was the verbal limitation of the patent been occasioned by E10 (JP S61-205023) that had been submitted only with the rejoinder? The decision discusses three criteria in order to assess this question; ¶ 16:

    1. Is the limitation admissible; Art. 24 PatA?
    2. Is the claimed subject-matter after the limitation new and non-obvious?
    3. Does the limited claim still cover the attacked embodiment?

All three criteria are met here. And the decision holds that it would not be realistic to assume that this just happened by accident:

It is hardly conceivable that the patentee would come up with a permissible limitation leading to a claim which is infringed by the attacked embodiments without reacting to [E10 and other prior art] in a technical sense.

But what is more, the plaintiff specifically argued why the limited claim was new and non-obvious over E10. Accordingly, the decision holds that the limitation had effectively been occasioned by E10. 

A further aspect of the decision relates to timing. The law requires submission of improper nova (such as a limitation of the claims) ‘immediately’; Art. 229(1) CPC. The decision holds that a submission within 10 days is fine, but not mandatory: As long as a time limit is currently pending for the respective party for a submission on the merits of the case, submission of the novum within that time limit is also fine.

... means within the pending period for a party to make a submission, as long as this submission is in relation to the novum. Else, without delay means within ten (10) days.

The Supreme Court had already made clear that the mere fact that the plaintiff had presented the very same limitation with the second part of the reply (according to the old practice) is irrelevant; see 4A_70/2019, ¶ 2.5.3.

Still, I am bursting with curiosity: How comes that the plaintiff had limited the claim in exactly the same way with the completed reply, i.e. at a time when E10 had not yet been at stake? Is that just a coincidence? I can hardly believe that.

From the Supreme Court decision in ¶ 2.5.3, one might read between the lines that E10 had been at stake at the instruction hearing:

On the other hand, the present decision clarifies that E10 had not been at stake in the informal part of the instruction hearing:

Anyway, it is left explicitly undecided whether a mentioning of E10 in the informal part of the instruction hearing would have allowed the plaintiff to react thereon in any event, in view of Art. 8(4) lit. b of the Guidelines on Proceedings before the FPC.

Maybe, E10 had been discussed between the parties, outside of the court proceedings? There is an obiter dictum in the decision that suggests that this would not oblige the plaintiff to react on this in the proceedings in advance:

In sum, the FPC confirmed the substance of the earlier decision.

Up & Down (Vengaboys)

So, that’s it?

No, not yet. The advantage of being late with this report is that I now already know that this decision has (again) been appealed to the Supreme Court. Up, and down. Up, and … – down? Or done? We shall see.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2019_008 | Decision of 17 December 2019, on remittal of 4A_70/2019 | Decision of 6 August 2019 | ‘Flow sensor II’

Hamilton Medical AG (Plaintiff)
./.
imtmedical AG (Defendant)

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Dr. Lorenzo PARRINI

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

SECOND FPC DECISION

on remittal of 4A_70/2019 | Decision of 6 August 2019:
O2019_008 17 December 2019

SUPREME COURT DECISION

on appeal against O2016_009 | Decision of 18 December 2018:
4A_70/2019 6 August 2019

FIRST FPC DECISION 

O2016_009 18 December 2018

CH 701 755 B1


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How many deaths can one die?

Reading time: 11 minutes

Case No. O2017_015 | Decision of 7 November 2019 | ‘Rame ferroviaire modulaire’

HEADNOTE

Art. 56 EPC, Art. 1(2) PatA: Inventive step and technical disadvantages in the event of a change in the teaching of the state of the art.

If an obvious technical disadvantage for the skilled person results from a change of the teaching of a prior art leading to the claimed invention, it cannot be asserted, that the skilled person would not seriously consider such a change of the teaching of the prior art, if at the same time the claimed invention does not remedy that disadvantage in an unexpected manner, but merely accepts it.

Alstom’s logo

The patent at stake in this infringement case is Alstom‘s EP 1 024 070 B1; see EPO Register and Swissreg for further bibliographic information. We have reported about the main hearing in this matter on this Blog here.

Alstom alleged that Bombardier‘s Twindexx train in the IR100 (SBB RABe 502) configuration infringes EP’070:

The IR100 configuration of Bombardier’s Twindexx train
SBB logo

Please find some further information about the Twindexx train on SBB’s website, and on Bombardier’s swissdosto.ch website and fact sheet. The video below is embedded from swissdosto.ch, for amusement of the railway enthusiasts out there before we are going to have a closer look at the more legal issues of the case …

Promo video, embedded from swissdosto.ch (Bombardier)

The relevant claims are the independent claim 1 and its dependent claim 7 (emphasis added), as asserted by Alstom:


Claim 1:

A modular railway rake formed of at least two vehicles (1, 2) with two superposed levels, including at least one bogie (10) including at least one driving axle, at least one bogie (11) including at least one carrying axle, and on-board equipment including at least one power supply electronic unit (19) for supplying motive power to one or more traction motors, at least one motive power supply unit (22, 25) for supplying power to the electronic unit (19), at least one auxiliary power supply unit (30) for supplying power to auxiliary equipment, and at least one device (21) for connection to an overhead power supply network, in which rake the motive power factor of a vehicle or a group of vehicles is defined as the ratio of the number of driving axles to the total number of axles of the vehicle or group, the rake being characterized in that at least one vehicle (1) includes at least one bogie (10) including at least one driving axle and at least one bogie (11) including at least one carrying axle, at least one bogie (11) of the rake including at least one carrying axle is associated with at least one of said on-board equipment items (19; 22, 25; 30; 21) disposed approximately over that bogie, and the ratio between the respective motive power factors of any two groups of two vehicles of the rake is not less than 1/3 and not more than 3.

Claim 7:

A railway rake according to claim 1, characterized in that at least one power supply unit (22, 25; 30) is disposed approximately over a bogie (11) including at least one carrying axle.
Bombardier Logo

Bombardier took the position that the IR100 did not make use of the features as marked-up in bold above; in particular, that the IR100 was not modular and did not have two superposed levels in the sense of EP’070.

Alstom had amended the request for injunctive relief after the instructional hearing in that the term ‘modular’ was replaced by the following:

What ‘modular’ means, in Alstom’s view

With regard to modularity, the court came to the conclusion that only a modularity could be meant which allows the train operator to react on momentary needs, by way of adding vehicles to preexisting train compositions. The decision refers to ¶¶[0002]-[0003] of the general specification of EP’070, as well as the explanations with respect to specific embodiments:

Alstom had argued that also modifications in medium and long term would be covered by the term ‘modular’ when properly construed. This, however, did not convince the judges because such broad reading would cover virtually any system composed of a plurality of parts. The term must necessarily have a (more narrow) meaning. Otherwise, so the decision, it would not have been used (¶19):

Par conséquent, étant donné que la rame ferroviaire est définie dans la revendication comme etant «modulaire», ce terme doit nécessairement avoir une signification particulière, sinon il n’aurauit pas été spécifié dans la revendication.

That’s pretty catchy, isn’t it? I would not be surprised if (mis?)use of this reasoning will become somewhat popular in response to an invalidity challenge:

Uuhu, hold on, the feature is in the claim, it must have a very specific meaning, else it wouldn’t be there.

Well, not necessarily. Sometimes there are features in a claim that are just trivial — and can be (easily) challenged as such.

Anyway, the decision holds that omission of the term ‘modular’ in the plaintiff’s request for injuctive relief as amended resulted in the court’s finding that the request went beyond the scope of protection of EP’070 and that it had to be rejected already for this reason alone; ¶21. Death #1.

This could have been it. However, the decision gives even more reasons as to why the complaint had to be rejected: EP’070 was neither valid nor infringed.

After a detailed claim construction, the decision holds that EP’070 to the invoked extent was novel over the closest prior art, D1, at least for the modularity of the rake and for the positioning of heavy elements approximatively above the carrying axle bogie.

Now … what is D1?!

But … what the heck is D1?

The decision is silent on what D1 is — which is regrettable. No chance to really review the stringency of the court’s line of arguments. It can only be assumed from what had been pleaded at the main hearing and some annotations in figures reproduced in the decision that D1 is a publication about the first generation DD-IRM (1994) train of the Dutch Railways (see Wikipedia: NS_VIRM).

Anyway, the decision holds that the subject-matter of EP’070 to the invoked extent did not involve an inventive step over the teachings of D1. The differentiating features (first, the modularity; and, second, the positioning of heavy elements approximatively above the carrying axle bogie) are associated with the technical effects that the weight is distributed evenly over the length of the train rake and that train operation becomes more profitable.

As to modularity, the decision holds that the skilled person would arrive at a modular train without further ado if he/she were to develop a more flexible and hence more profitable train rake.

With regard to the positioning of heavy equipment (such as the down chopper module in D1) the judges agreed with the patentee in that such heavy equipment would intuitively be placed in the lowest possible location of the rake, e.g. at the bottom of a low voltage machine room. However, and this is where the headnote stems from, if the claimed invention merely accepts an obvious disadvantage without suggesting any remedy thereto, the unfavorable feature cannot support the finding of an inventive step.

... when an apparent technical disadvantage of a technical solution is not overcome in a non-obvious manner but merely accepted.

In consequence, EP’070 was found obvious over D1 in combination with the skilled person’s general technical knowledge. Death #2.

At the face of it, the hn makes much sense against the background of the case at hand. But is the absolute character of the statement justified? One might well think of situations, where a particular disadvantage of a feature would be merely accepted (rather than remedied), but where the choice of the feature would still be non-obvious. For example, when the commonly known and persisting drawbacks are set off by other, unrelated or indirect advantages associated with the feature. In our perception, the hn should be understood with the provision marked-up below:

[…] if at the same time the claimed invention does not remedy that disadvantage in an unexpected manner, but merely accepts it and does not compensate for it by any unexpected technical advantage.

This would actually be perfectly in line with established case law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO; see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal (2019), I.D.9.19.1, in particular T 119/82 (hn 2).

Again, the decision could have ended at this point. But the decision also expands on the question of infringement, i.e. that Bombardier’s Twindexx IR100 was not modular in the sense as described above. In particular, it could not, due to software issues, be supplemented with additional coaches nor could coaches be removed by the train operator in the short run. Also, no equivalent feature providing such flexibility could be found in the IR100 train. Death #3.

It is remarkable that the decision gives no less than three reasons for rejecting the request for injunctive relief. This is rarely seen. Still, it may well serve procedural economy: Both the parties and the appellate body are provided with a more complete picture of the first instance’s views. This way, the unsuccessful party can make a more informed decision on whether or not to lodge an appeal; and if an appeal is lodged, the appellate body might not have to remit the case back to the first instance — hence saving time and money.

Patent Reaper

But as if three reasons were not enough, death #4 was just around the corner: EP’070 lapsed after 20y in January 2020.

The decision has not been appealed / is final.

Reported by Jolanda MINDER and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_015 | Decision of 7 November 2019 | ‘Rame ferroviaire modulaire’

Alstom Transport Technologies SASU
./.
Bombardier Transportation (Switzerland) AG

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Philippe DUCOR
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Christophe SAAM

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Agnieszka TABERSKA

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

DECISION IN FULL

PATENT IN SUIT

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How to interpret expressions stating a purpose in a patent claim

Reading time: 10 minutes

Case No. O2018_017 | Decision of 31 January 2020

Aschwanden’s logo

F.J. Aschwanden on the one hand, and acG Holding (Anita and Clément Gutzwiller) and Andreas (André) Robert on the other hand are litigating over validity of EP 2 475 827 in Switzerland. We had reported about the main hearing in this matter on this Blog here.

Basys’ logo

From the earlier case S2018_005 it is known that Basys is the exclusive licensee of EP 827; Aschwanden’s ‘Dura Box‘ line of products had been asserted to infringe EP 827.

EP 827 pertains to reinforcing elements that can be integrated in concrete structures in order to support recesses for conduits (water, electricity, etc.).

No suspension of proceedings / the judgment

Opposition proceedings are currently pending at the EPO, and the parties have been summoned for oral proceedings on 31 March 2020. One of the two opponents is F.J. Aschwanden, i.e. the plaintiff in the present case. The second opponent is Jordahl H-Bau AG. The latter has submitted the judgment to the EPO with letter of 18 February 2020.

The FPC may suspend proceedings, and in particular defer the judgment, where a final decision has not yet been taken in EPO opposition proceedings; Art. 128 lit. b PatA. The decision holds that the timeline is decisive. If a legally binding decision is to be expected soon by the EPO, it is justified in order to avoid contradictory decisions to suspend the national proceedings, or the judgment only. However, if it is likely to take longer for the EPO to reach a final decision, the constitutional right to an assessment within a reasonable period of time will prevail.

Defendant’s request to suspend proceedings had already been dismissed with order of 30 October 2019. The request at the main hearing to only suspend the judgment was unsuccessful, either. First, a delay of at least one year could hardly be considered acceptable for the plaintiff, in view of the constitutional acceleration requirement; Art. 29(1) FC, Art. 6(1) CPHR. Second, the decision holds that there is not even a risk of conflicting decisions since the claims for which the Opposition Division provisionally indicated allowability are not to be considered in the present proceedings; see below.

Belated claim amendment

The patentee / defendant had requested twice to maintain the patent in amended form: For the first time with the rejoinder, and for the second time in an even more limited form with the comment on the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur. Clearly, the former was still timely filed, i.e. well before closure of the file. On the other hand, the latter was filed only after closure of the file. What is more, the patentee had submitted the very same claims in EPO opposition proceedings already well before the rejoinder was filed. The decision holds that the mere fact that the Opposition Division of the EPO indicated allowability of these claims (Auxiliary Request 2) with the summons to oral proceedings in no way justifies the belated submission of the claims in proceedings at the FPC.

On the merits

The decision extensively deals with claim construction on about five pages. Clearly, this facilitates the analysis of novelty and inventive step later on.

Neither claim 1 as granted nor claim 1 as amended with the rejoinder is held to be novel over Suzuki et al. (Nippon Steel Technical Report No. 96 July 2007: High Strength Deformed Bar-in-Coil «HDC800» for Shear Reinforcement of RC Beam with Web-opening) and JP 6-32280; an automated translation of the latter (which is actually not too bad) is available via the Global Dossier.


Claim 1 as granted (EN translation)

A Device for the reinforcement of concrete structures
B which, by means of inserted structural elements, bridges weakened zones
C which are produced by recessed parts
D and which transmits the forces
E wherein in addition to the conventional design of the reinforcement (11) originally calculated by the structural engineer
F and before the concrete is cast
G  the recessed parts are surrounded by at least one structural element
H the structural element (1) comprises at least one tension element (2) in the form of a straight tension rod, a bent rod or a frame
I which is connected at both ends to an anchoring
J at least one holder (4) is provided, which is connected to the tension element (2) or to the anchoring (3) or is formed by the tension element itself
K wherein a force model is formed by the structural element
L which reinforces the local shear behavior of the statics in the region of the recessed parts
M and thus improves the concrete structure weakened by the recessed parts by transferring the forces
N and reduces or eliminates the static weaknesses of the concrete structure caused by the recessed parts
O the tension element taking over shear, compression, transverse, tensile forces and / or bending moments
P wherein force-neutral zones are formed for the recessed parts by the force model
Q the structural element surrounds these force-neutral zones at least partly on two opposite sides
R and completely on a third side connecting the two sides
S the holder is arranged to hold the recessed parts in the force-neutral zone and the recessed parts are accommodated in the force-neutral zones

Claim 1 of the Auxiliary Request (EN translation), marked-up

A Device for the reinforcement of reinforced-concrete floorsstructures
B which, by means of inserted structural elements inserted into the reinforced-concrete floor, bridges weakened zones
C which are produced by recessed parts
D and which transmits the forces
E wherein in addition to the conventional design of the reinforcement (11) originally calculated by the structural engineer
F and before the concrete is cast
G  the recessed parts are surrounded by at least one structural element
H the structural element (1) comprises at least one tension element (2) in the form of a straight tension rod, a bent rod or a frame
I which is connected at both ends to an anchoring
J at least one holder (4) is provided, which is connected to the tension element (2) or to the anchoring (3) or is formed by the tension element itself
K wherein a force model is formed by the structural element
L which reinforces the local shear behavior of the statics in the region of the recessed parts
M and thus improves the concrete structure weakened by the recessed parts by transferring the forces
N and reduces or eliminates the static weaknesses of the concrete structure caused by the recessed parts
O the tension element taking over shear, compression, transverse, tensile forces and / or bending moments
P wherein force-neutral zones are formed for the recessed parts by the force model
Q the structural element surrounds these force-neutral zones at least partly on two opposite sides
R and completely on a third side connecting the two sides
S the holder is arranged to hold the recessed parts in the force-neutral zone and the recessed parts are accommodated in the force-neutral zones

The statements in the claim that indicate a purpose are the most crucial ones for the outcome of the case; see below.

Interpretation of expressions stating a purpose

The decision holds that according to the Supreme Court (122 III 81, r. 4b), in the case of a device claim (product claim), indications of purpose, effect or function do not normally have a restrictive effect on the scope of protection. Such statements generally are only to ease understanding. The situation is different if the disclosed use is not merely a statement of purpose, but already indicates the functional suitability of the device and its physical properties by way of explanation.

According to the practice at the EPO, on the other hand, the indication of a purpose in a device claim must in principle be interpreted such that the device is suitable for the specified purpose; see Guidelines F-IV, 4.13.1 and Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 9th ed. (2019), I.C.8.1.5.

UPDATE 09 March 2020:

I only realized now that indications of a purpose had already been at stake in S2012_004 of 24 March 2012; see this Blog here. At that time, the FPC had applied the EPO’s approach without hesitation; see ¶8.

Anyway, the decision holds that the principles of interpretation of the Supreme Court and the EPO lead to same result: A known device prejudices the subject matter of a later claim if that known device was suitable for the purpose stated in the claim.

Even though it is a non-issue for the case at hand, I am still struggling with the reasons in 122 III 81, r. 4b.

Do you get it? I don’t.

In a claim directed to a «[d]evice for [doing x], wherein the device comprises [y and z]», how would I ever know whether the indicated purpose is only meant ‘to ease understanding’ («Verständnishilfe») or whether it defines ‘the functional suitability of the device and its physical properties by way of explanation’ («die funktionelle Eignung der Vorrichtung und deren körperliche Ausgestaltung erläuternd klarstellt»). Frankly, that doesn’t make much sense to me; it is the exact opposite of legal certainty. Anyway, the decision is almost a quarter of a century old. I would assume that the Swiss Supreme Court would nowadays assess the issue similar as the German Supreme Court did in the hn of Xa Zr 140 05 of 28 May 2009:

[Purpose features] regularly have the task of defining the subject-matter protected by the patent in such a way that it does not only have to fulfil the spatial-physical features recited in the claim, but that it must also be designed in such a way that it can be used for the purpose stated in the claim.

approaches 'purpose' features in pretty much the same way as the EPO.

Well, this is it. Period.

UPDATE 12 March 2020:

The decision has not been appealed / is final now.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2018_017 | Hearing of 18 November 2019

F.J. Aschwanden AG

./.

  1. acG Holding AG
  2. Andreas (gen. André) ROBERT

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
    • Natalia CLERC
    • Dr. Kurt SUTTER

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Natalia CLERC

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Christoph KÜNZI (CBK)
    • Tarik KAPIC (Bovard), assisting in patent matters
    • Beat SCHEUZGER (Bovard), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant / Patentee:

    • Felix GRETHER (EBD)
    • Daniel MAIER (euromaier), assisting in patent matters

DECISION IN FULL

PATENT IN SUIT

EPO SUMMONS

EPO AUXILIARY REQUEST 2

RELATED CASE S2018_005


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A dossier that has risen like yeast dough

Reading time: 7 minutes

Case No. O2017_002 | Hearing of 5 February 2020

On 5 February 2020 the main hearing in this matter took place at the FPC. We have reported on this matter already on 3 February 2017 when ex parte interim measures had been denied (see this Blog here) and on 26 May 2017 when EPO prosecution and opposition proceedings had been stayed (see this Blog here).

Tomologic logo

In first place, Tomologic‘s EP 2 485 864 B1 (see EPO Register) is at stake. Bystronic requested that EP(CH) 864 be declared null and void, or that it be assigned to co-ownership as an auxiliary measure. Some further patents or patent applications are concerned in addition, in particular national parts of WO 2012/136262 A1 such as e.g. EP 2 694 241; see EPO Register).

Tomologic has countersued for infringement of EP 864 by Bystronic’s software product Bysoft 7 with the implemented function to create cutting plans:

As an introductory remark, the presiding judge invited Tomologic to provide a translation of a Swedish decision that had been submitted earlier; unfortunately, it was not indicated in the hearing what that decision was all about. Even though Bystronic had not commented on that Swedish document, the court felt «not at ease» with having a document on file which is not comprehensible for the judges.

Both parties gave PPT presentations. The presiding judge reminded the parties that this case was already extraordinarily voluminous, even before oral pleadings, and that there was no need to repeat the assertions already made in writing.

Clunky mike

Tomologic used flipchart sketches and short films in further support of the PPT presentation. In our perception, flipcharts are generally welcomed by the court. But how tho deal with the table-top microphone in such situations? Any drawer / presenter should be prepared to be reprimanded by the court clerk to use the microphone. Furthermore, flip chart collages, once they are completed, shall form part of the minutes and should not be re-arranged too heavily in later pleadings.

On the merits of the case, we understand that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion had been in favor of Bystronic, at least to the extent nullity of EP 864 is concerned. Claim 1 of EP 864 as granted reads as follows (underlined feature amended over claim 1 as originally filed; potentially distinguishing feature over the prior art highlighted in yellow):


Claim 1 of EP 864, marked-up

Method for machine cutting several parts out of a piece of material using a beam cutting technology, said method providing a set of controlling rules and variables for cutting two dimensional shapes or patterns, where one rule or a combination of several rules are used for the cutting operation depending on the shape or pattern to be cut, said shape or pattern forming said parts out of said piece of material, characterised in that said set of controlling rules comprises rules for the forming of a cluster of parts with free form shapes, said parts being positioned so close to each other so that only the thickness of one cut made by the cutting beam is found between adjacent parts whenever the shape of said parts allows it.

It appears that the introduction of «one cut made by» may have caused an issue under Art. 123(2) EPC. Further, the correct understanding of (rules for the forming of a cluster of parts with) «free form shapes» in the characterizing part of the claim was a big issue in the hearing.  In Tomologic’s view, this was a reference to «free form nesting». Free form nesting is a technique which — in contrast to «rectangular nesting» or «rectangular bounding box nesting» — arranges free form parts in a space-saving manner, based on perimeter segments rather than outer perimeter boxes.

In a nutshell, Tomologic held that the claim requires forming of a cluster by means of free from nesting. On the contrary, Bystronic held that it could only be the parts themselves which have a free from shape, without any indication whatsoever of the envisaged nesting technique. It is our understanding that only according to Tomologic’s interpretation, the respective claim feature might potentially constitute a differentiating feature over so-called rectangular nesting. At this point of the hearing, the linguistic discussion about English grammar was quite intense. Bystronic explained the difference by way of a «baking dilemma», i.e. that «baking products with yeast» is not necessarily the same as «products baked with yeast»; the term «with» could not be construed as «by means of» at will.

We understood that the expert opinion had apparently held that the feature as claimed is not much of a limitation, and that it does in particular not exclude rectangular clustering; see e.g. ¶ [0052] of EP 864 in this respect:

Faszination Blech

It has been referred in the pleadings re (lack of) novelty to JP H09-285886 (D1, also available as EN translation) and a further document called «Rao» (likely Rao et al., Int J Adv Manuf Tenchnol (2007) 33: 436-448; available here). Further, it was referred to the publication «Faszination Blech» (you cannot make this up).

We conclude from the pleadings that the above issues had likely not been resolved by Tomologic’s auxiliary request(s) to maintain and assert EP 864 in amended / limited form. Rather, the auxiliary request(s) occasioned further issues re clarity and, maybe, enablement.

Interestingly, Bystronic had initially requested a declaratory judgement of non-infringement; see p 1-9 of the complaint as filed and the FPC’s letter of 16 January 2017:

by the FPC, indicating the case number (O2017_002) and the subject-matter of the complaint, i.e. request for declaratory judgement of non-infringement.

We conclude from the pleadings that the court might have (partially?) not considered this request for declaratory judgement, but this remains to be confirmed in the final judgement.

The pleadings further circled around Bystronic’s alleged contribution to the subject-matter of EP 864, as the basis for the requested assignment to co-ownership. Note that Bystronic had initially requested assignment to co-ownership for the whole patent family of EP 864, as well as the patent family of WO 2012/136262 A1.

The value in dispute was indicated as 2m CHF for the main claim and 1m CHF for the counterclaim. Actual costs incurred by the parties apparently by far exceed the refundable amounts according to the tariff.

The parties finally agreed to have settlement discussions.

Reported by Jolanda MINDER and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_002 | Hearing of 5 February 2020

Bystronic Laser AG
./.
Tomologic AB

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Thomas LEGLER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Christoph MÜLLER
    • Christophe SAAM
    • Dr. Rudolf RENTSCH

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Markus FRICK (Walder Wyss)
    • Manuel BIGLER (Walder Wyss)
    • Dr. Peter WALSER (Frei), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Markus MÜLLER (Frei), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Michael BERGER (Bystronic), assisting in patent matters

Former representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Catherine WEISSER
    • Paul ROSENICH (PPR), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant / Counterclaimant:

    • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
    • Martin TOLETI (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Christoph ENGELBRECHT (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Henrik HÄGGLÖF (Zacco), assisting in patent matters

ANNOUNCEMENT

 

PATENT IN SUIT

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Fulvestrant, the never-ending story(?)

Reading time: 9 minutes

Case No. O2017_014 | Hearing of 20 January 2020

Fulvestrant, a breast cancer medication of the class of antiestrogens, is probably the most frequently appearing bone of contention at the FPC to date.

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

Fulvestrant per se is generic since about 2004 (EP 138 504 B1). However, patents relating to certain second-medical uses of fulvestrant are still in force today.

The St Gall’ish part of the story
AZ logo

AstraZeneca asserts that EP(CH) 1 272 195 (see EPO Register and Swissreg for further information) is infringed by Sandoz’s generic version of AZ’s Faslodex®, i.e. Fulvestrant Sandoz 250 mg/5ml (Swissmedic approval no. 56778).

KSSG logo

The FPC’s seat is in St. Gall — you knew this. But this time, even the inventor is based in St. Gall: Prof. Dr. Beat THÜRLIMANN, chief physician at the breast center of the St. Gall cantonal hospital. A very St. Gall’ish part of the complex portfolio of fulvestrant patents and litigation in Switzerland and beyond, isn’t it?

Sandoz logo

Note that Sandoz’s generic has been on the market in Switzerland ever since 26 July 2016, despite various attempts of AZ to stop this; see this Blog here (PI proceedings, based on EP 2 266 573 B1) and here (PI proceedings, based on EP 1 250 138 B2). Yet further proceedings between AZ and Sandoz are currently co-pending at the FPC (O2018_010), with AZ asserting infringement of EP 2 266 573 B1 in main proceedings. I understood from the pleadings that AZ’s reply (incl. the first counter to Sandoz’s nullity plea in defense) was due only after this hearing, i.e. on 23 January 2020.

A quick recap of the procedural history

It all started off with a pretty standard exchange of briefs in infringement proceedings (AZ’s submissions in red; Sandoz’s submissions in blue; court interventions in yellow):

10 Jul 2017 Stmt of claim
11 Oct 2017 Stmt of defense w plea for nullity
8 Dec 2017 Partial reply re validity
4 Sep 2018 Preparatory hearing
22 Oct 2018 Full reply
6 Dec 2018 Rejoinder
11 Dec 2018 Closure of the file
18 Jan 2019 Comments on rejoinder
12 Mar 2019 Expert opinion of judge-rapporteur
5 Apr 2019 Summons for main hearing (28 Aug 2019)
10 May 2019 Cmt on expert opinion Cmt on expert opinion

The judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion had been unfavorable for AZ: In the judge-rapporteur’s view, EP 195 as granted was neither valid nor infringed.

I understood from the pleadings that AZ had apparently asserted EP 195 as granted only, without any ‘verbal limitation’ inter partes, neither as a main request nor as an auxiliary request. Later, proceedings ran off the rails (as defendant put it):

29 Jul 2019 Advance notice, patent will be partially waived
8 Aug 2019 Notice that partial waiver has been filed
12 Aug 2019 Main hearing cancelled; defendant to comment on partially waived patent
11 Sep 2019 Request that deadline be lifted
13 Sep 2019 Setting deadline for defendant
11 Oct 2019 Comments on partially waived patent
15 Oct 2019 Publication of the partially waived patent

I understood from the pleadings that the actual subject-matter of the partially waived patent had never been pleaded by AZ, neither with respect to validity nor infringement. Apparently, it was only at the main hearing that AZ did so — partially due to the fact that the FPC had ordered AZ to respond to defendant’s submission of 11 October 2019 at the main hearing.

the leftovers of the patent in suit after the partial waiver

Claim 1 of EP 195 as granted and maintained in EPO opposition/appeal proceedings was quite concise, a straight-forward second medical use claim:

Use of fulvestrant in the preparation of a medicament for the treatment of a patient with breast cancer who previously has been treated with an aromatase inhibitor and tamoxifen and has failed with such previous treatment.

The partial waiver in accordance with Art. 24 PatA added quite a lot to this (marked-up):

Additional features in claim 1, by way of a partial waiver
The pleadings in a nutshell

AZ argued that validity of the partially waived patent had essentially already been decided by the FPC, in proceedings O2018_009 with decision of 27 May 2019 (in line with T 1680/17 of an EPO Board of Appeal), with only the target patient group being now even more more precisely defined. AZ emphasized that this was the trigger for the partial waiver that had been filed only shortly therafter, on 30 July 2019; not defendant’s nullity plea in defense and/or the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion.

It was also referred to decision X ZR 59/17 of the German Supreme Court, revoking EP 1 250 138 B2 within the same patent family. In AZ’s view, this was due to an incorrect formulation of the technical problem, disregarding the problem-solution approach; and with the threshold for a reasonable expectation of success being set much too low.

Both parties disagreed on what ‘failure with a treatment’ means; see ¶ [0018] of EP 195 for a definition. In AZ’s view, this covers both adjuvant and palliative therapy. Defendant pointed out that switching therapy does not necessarily mean that the first therapy had failed. Rather, therapy is frequently switched before resistance occurs; thus, therapy has not yet failed.

Defendant pointed out that no substantiated assertions had been on file until the day before the hearing concerning the actual scope of the partially waived patent, as well as validity and infringement thereof.

Further, admissibility of the partial waiver after formal closure of the file was a big issue. Note that this has also been at stake in the recent decision O2016_012, where the panel of judges had been split 3:2 in favor of admissibility. However, defendant noted that the factual setup was very different. Contrary to the present matter, the partial waiver in O2016_012 did not require any new pleadings or assertions:

In O2016_012, the partially waived patent integrated smoothly into the proceedings as pleaded beforhand. This was of great importance ('von ganz wesentlicher Bedeutung') for admissiblity in that case.

In any event, defendant apparently considers the partial waiver after formal closure of the file as an improper novum (‘gewillkürtes Novum’; ‘Potestativ-Novum’), contrary to what had been held in O2016_012. Defendant referred to a decision of the Cantonal Court Zug in this respect, i.e. ES 2018 449. This decision is totally unrelated to patents. But it has been held that a document that has only been created after closure of the file cannot be admitted anymore into the proceedings when the respective assertion of the counterparty had already been made in the statement of defense, i.e. when the document could well have been created and submitted before closure of the file; see ¶2.7:

A document that had only been created after closure of the file, even though the respective assertion that the document was meant to counter had already been made in the statement of defense, is belated.
UPDATE 30 January 2020:

I have obtained a copy of this decision only yesterday. Accordingly, this post has been updated today with some more information about the actual content of the decision.

Finally, defendant placed the procedural request that a deadline be set for a written response to AZ’s validity arguments presented at the hearing, should the court admit them into the proceedings.

Please find some quick notes from the hearing below this post.

A hot potato?

The presiding judge made an opening remark that ‘contrary to what defendant  apparently assumed the court has not yet decided on the admissiblity of the partial waiver after closure of the file.’ That was not much of a surprise. However, the presiding judge further noted that the court is not inclined to decide on that issue while the appeal in case O2016_012 is still pending.

I was flabbergasted. I understood from the later pleadings that admissibility of the partial waiver after formal closure of the file might not necessarily be the decisive issue in this case. But let’s assume it was: Is an informal stay of proceedings appropriate? I have my doubts. It might easily take the Supreme Court six months or more to decide on that issue, which is (much) longer than what it normally takes from the main hearing to the decision being handed down.

Meanwhile in Germany

A PI request of AZ based on EP 195 has been rejected by the Regional Court Dusseldorf (4C O 10/18, 5 July 2018). Likewise, AZ’s appeal failed at the Higher Regional Court (2 U 28/18, 9 January 2018). In a nutshell, AZ could not establish that the treatment regime as claimed had actually been used to an extent that could not remain unnoticed by the defendant (if it had been used at all in more recent times).

Nullity proceedings re EP 195 are pending at the FPC since 14 August 2017, with case no. 3Ni32/17(EP).

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_014 | Hearing of 20 January 2020

AstraZeneca AB
./.
Sandoz Pharmaceuticals AG

Panel of Judges:

    • Prof. Dr. Daniel KRAUS
    • Prisca VON BALLMOOS
    • Marco ZARDI

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Prisca VON BALLMOOS

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Michael RITSCHER (MLL)
    • Dr. Kilian SCHÄRLI (MLL)
    • Andreas BRAUN (MLL)
    • Dr. Ulrike CIESLA (MLL), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant / Patentee:

    • Dr. Andri HESS (Homburger)
    • Julian SCHWALLER (Homburger)
    • Dr. Elisabeth GREINER (df-mp), assisting in patent matters

ANNOUNCEMENT

PATENT IN SUIT

EP 195 as granted by the EPO:

 

EP 195 after partial waiver in Switzerland:

T 0108/09 – 3.3.02

Maintenance of EP 195 as granted by a BoA of the EPO:

SOME LIVE NOTES FROM THE HEARING

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