Claim dismissed, counterclaim dismissed: Huge expense, no recompense

Case No. O2015_018 | Decision of 15 June 2018 | ‘Instrument d’écriture’

The FPC handed down the decision in this remarkable litigation about a highly complex mechanical writing system. Please see this Blog here for a report about the main hearing and some background information.

What follows is a rather lengthy post, but this is due to the complexity of the case, both procedurally and technically.

  1. Party positions in a nutshell

It started off with Guenat‘s request that Swiss Finest‘s CH 704 790 B1 be declared invalid; note that the patent has been limited in March 2017 and re-published as CH 704 790 C1, see Swissreg for further bibliographic details. Guenat argued that the invention had been made by Frédéric Garinaud, an independent inventor who is quite renown for being the mastermind behind the Harry Winston Opus 8. Frédéric Garinaud had filed a patent application for a writing instrument; this patent application has then been assigned to Guenat and a patent was granted; EP 2 479 648 B1, see Swissreg and European Patent Register for further bibliographic details.

In Guenat’s view, the subject-matter of the Swiss Patent was invented by Frédéric Garinaud before it was used by Swiss Finest, and Frédéric Garinaud never transferred his patent rights to Swiss Finest. Guenat further argued that the invention of the Swiss Patent is obvious in view of a PowerPoint Presentation which had been sent to a third party without confidentiality obligation. Frédéric Garinaud being the only creator of the technical teachings contained in Garinaud’s European Patent and having transferred his patent rights to the plaintiff, Guenat argues that the defendant has no right to the Swiss Patent.

Swiss Finest countersued and requested that Guenat’s EP’648 be declared invalid, or assigned to Swiss Finest. Swiss Finest argued that in autumn 2010, Frédéric Garinaud had only a vague idea but had not yet completed an invention at that time. The invention was only made later with the substantial contribution of Swiss Finest’s employees after Frédéric Garinaud’s appointment as Creative Director, and any rights in the invention had been assigned to the defendant by employment contract.

Later, Swiss Finest argued that if Frédéric Garinaud was nevertheless considered to have already conceived the invention in the fall of 2010, the patent rights in this invention had been transferred to a simple partnership founded by Fabrice Thueler (owner of Swiss Finest) and Frédéric Garinaud in the preparation of a company ‘Garinaud SA’ which was foreseen to exploit the invention in dispute. Swiss Finest held thus to be the legitimate owner of the rights in the invention which is the subject of the Swiss Patent and, since the invention of the European Patent is the same, it is also entitled to the European Patent. Further, the subject-matter of the Swiss Patent was new and inventive in Swiss Finest’s view, since the PowerPoint presentation had not become publicly available because it had been sent only under an implicit confidentiality obligation. Even if one were to consider that the presentation was to be considered as prior art, the subject-matter of the Swiss patent is nonetheless inventive.

As if all this was not confusing enough, the case was spiced up further with Swiss Finest’s counterclaim for infringement by the Mechanical Fountain Pen RMS05:

Fountain Pen RMS05 by Richard Mille

This product has some amazing mechanics; see yourself:

In brief:

It’s complicated. Very complicated.

  1. The parties’ requests — and why they failed

The stage is set with a rather complicated factual situation. But at least some of the request could be dealt with quite straight forward by the court:

  1. Nullity for lack of entitlement

Guenat had requested that Swiss Finest’s Swiss patent be annulled based on Art. 26(1) lit. d PatA, i.e. for lack of entitlement. However, such request can only be brought by the entitled person; Art. 28 PatA. Guenat alleged that Frédéric Garinaud transferred ‘full and complete ownership’ of the European patent application to Guenat. Even though the inventions in both (Guenat’s) European and (Swiss Finest’s) Swiss patent may well be the same, this did not help. Frédéric Garinaud specifically assigned only the European patent application to Guenat, but not to the invention itself.

Guenat’s request for declaration of nullity based on Art. 26(1) lit. d PatA was thus held inadmissible for lack of standing.

  1. Nullity for lack of inventive step

Novelty of Swiss Finest’s Swiss patent after partial surrender was not contested anymore. But Guenat alleged obviousness over the PowerPoint presentation that had been sent to Hamdi Chatti of Louis Vuitton in 2010, in further view of i) F. Lecoultre, Les Montres Compliquées, 3ème éd. Neuchâtel 1985; ii) Huguenin / Guye / Gauchat, Les Echappements, 2ème éd. Neuchâtel 1974; and/or EP 1 221 383 A1.

Louis Vuitton logo

With respect to the PowerPoint presentation, the parties dissented whether or not it had been sent to Hamdi Chatti with an implied confidentiality obligation. The last page of the PowerPoint presentation mentioned ‘breveté’ (‘patented’), even though the Swiss patent application had not yet been filed. Frédéric Garinaud was apparently aware of this faux-pas; he wrote to his patent attorney:

I confess I anticipated the patent application.

The decision holds that under the specific circumstances there was no implicit confidentiality obligation associated with the PowerPoint presentation.

It then remained undisputed that the PowerPoint presentation was the closest prior art. However, quite a lot of differentiating features were missing. The missing features could be grouped into three aspects, and three partial problems are dealt with in the decision:

amovibilité the removable endpiece allows wide access to the pen holder, and indirectly to the other components housed in the front part of the writing instrument, avoiding manipulation by the writing tip;
échappement the choice of an escapement as a control mechanism offering a simple and proven solution to control energy release, while producing an audible indication;
verrouillage cooperation between the actuator and the locking system to unlock the power source to release the writing tip when the actuator is actuated, without additional action.

This is the only picture from the PowerPoint presentation in the decision:

PowerPoint presentation

As to the locking system (‘verrouillage‘), the decision holds that this was readily obvious (if not implicitly disclosed already in the PowerPoint presentation). Likewise, the escapement (‘échappement‘) is held obvious in further view of Lecoultre:

Lecoultre, p. 113

However, the removable endpiece (‘amovibilité‘) was more tricky, and the decision holds that this was not obvious from the cited prior art. When seeking a solution to the problem of replacing the ink cartridge, the skilled person would not have thought of a removable endpiece. Instead, he would have e.g. made a pen in which the writing tip as such is detachably mounted on the body or tip, like e.g. in EP'383:

EP 1 221 383 A1, Fig. 1

Thus, the subject-matter claimed in Swiss Finest’s Swiss patent was held to be non-obvious over the cited prior art.

  1. Nullity for yet further reasons

Guenat argued for nullity of Swiss Finest’s Swiss patent for yet further reasons.

First, an alleged undue extension of subject-matter (Art. 26(1) lit. c PatA) in the course of the partial surrender according to Art. 24 PatA; see the B1 and the C1 version of the Swiss patent below.

Second, Guenat alleged a lack of enabling disclosure; Art. 26(1) lit. b PatA.

Without setting out all the details here, both these alleged grounds of nullity failed for apparently straight forward reasons.

  1. Entitlement to Guenat’s European patent

The invention disclosed in the European Patent was already disclosed or was obvious to a large extent from the PowerPoint Presentation prepared and sent by Mr. Garinaud on November 17, 2010; see above — with the only exception of the removable endpiece. This removable endpiece was first mentioned by Frédéric Garinaud’s patent attorney François-Régis Richard (e-patent). In an email dated December 9, 2010, he wrote to Frédéric Garinaud:

I am also realizing that for the change of the cartridge, it would probably be simpler to disassemble the pen by its front part to avoid exposing the watch mechanism in the back.

This undisputedly was the first note of the removable endpiece. Whether the rights to this creative contribution were transferred to Frédéric Garinaud, as alleged by Guenat, could remain open. In any event, it had not been alleged that François-Régis Richard transferred the rights to Swiss Finest. Rather, Swiss Finest only held that the invention was made by Frédéric Garinaud when he was employed at Swiss Finest — which could not be true given the PowerPoint presentation and the email of December 9, 2010.

The decision thus holds that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the Swiss patent was created by Frédéric Garinaud before its use by Swiss Finest — with the exception of the removable endpiece which was proposed by François-Régis Richard without having assigned his rights in this contribution to the defendant.

In anticipation of this outcome, Swiss Finest apparently modified its position later and alleged that it had obtained rights in the European Patent by virtue of a simple partnership agreed between Frédéric Garinaud and Fabrice Thueler in preparation of a company ‘Garinaud SA’ to be established.

However, this was not convincing, either. The decision holds that it is unclear how the right to the patent, even if it had been transferred to the simple partnership, should finally reside with Swiss Finest. Members of a simple partnership are joint owners of the assets, with the consequence that they can only dispose of them jointly. In any event, according to the defendant’s allegations, Frédéric Garinaud and Fabrice Thueler were the partners of the simple partnership. A patent right could therefore only belong to them jointly. However, the defendant did not allege that Frédéric Garinaud agreed to transfer the right to the patent to it.

  1. Injunctive relief

Swiss Finest’s request for injunctive relief in respect of the ‘Mechanical Fountain Pen RMS05’ failed for a lack of concreteness of the attacked embodiment. See e.g. this Blog here (O2012_004, ‘Leichtbeton’) for further information on the necessary concreteness of a request for injunctive relief.

Swiss Finest did not argue for literal infringement, but rather only for infringement under the Doctrine of Equivalents (DoE); see below. Still, the request for injunctive relief merely recited the wording of the claims, and was thus held inadmissible.

  1. Infringement by the Mechanical Fountain Pen RMS05
RMS05 (annotated)

Even though the request for injunctive relief was held inadmissible, the court still dealt with had to assess whether or not the RMS05 was infringing. Confused? I will clarify this later; see below.

It was undisputed that the RMS05 did not comprise a removable endpiece (’embout amovible’). However, Swiss Finest alleged that the function of the removable endpiece is to allow the writing tip to be removed from the pen body to allow an ink cartridge to be inserted or replaced. Swiss Finest further alleged that the fountain pen holder (indicated by the white arrow in the annotated figure) can be unscrewed and removed from the body using a wrench formed in the cap of the pen to place and replace an ink cartridge. In Swiss Finest’s view, the removable fountain pen holder inserted into the endpiece of the RMS05 amounts to an infringement under the DoE.

First, the court carefully defined the function of the removable endpiece in the context of the invention and reverted to ¶ [0015] of the Swiss patent:

It can still be noted that, to have access to the pen holder, the endpiece is screwed on the body and can therefore be unscrewed. The ink supply can then be changed by disassembling the pen holder and the intermediate holder.

The decision holds that this function does not exist in the RMS05. The endpiece is not removable and the disadvantage of the access to the fountain pen holder still remains in the RMS05. The fact that the fountain pen holder of the attacked embodiment can be removed does not change anything in this respect, because according to the Swiss Patent, after unscrewing the endpiece and facilitating access, the fountain pen holder is also removed to replace the cartridge.

As can be seen in the below screenshot of this video on YouTube, the fountain pen holder can be gripped with the cap and removed to replace the ink cartridge. However, the endpiece is fixed (indicated by the white arrow in the screenshot below).

RMS05, replacement of ink cartridge

Therefore, there is no removable endpiece in the RMS05, neither literally nor under the DoE, because the function of the removable endpiece is not realized in this pen. Thus, already the first question of the questionnaire established with O2014_002 was denied.

In sum, neither party succeeded with any attack. This somehow reminds me of the ‘Hornberg salute’:

‘Hornberger Schiessen’
  1. What the decision might be cited for
  1. Competency for assignment of all national validations of a European patent

Swiss Finest had requested that Guenat’s European patent be assigned to them. This was interpreted by the court as to concern all national validations of the meanwhile granted patent. To the best of my knowledge, it had been mentioned for the first time in O2015_009, ¶ 2.1, that the FPC is competent to decide also on ownership of foreign rights — without any in-depth discussion because it had not been decisive anymore in that case.

Not so here. The court now took the chance to set out its reasoning in any detail in ¶ 10 of the decision. The question of ownership of IP rights does not fall within the exclusive jurisdiction under Art. 22(4) of the Lugano Convention; see decision C-288/82 of the ECJ, Ferdinand M.J.J. Duijnstee ./. Ludowijk Goderbauer and further literature in fn 1 of the decision. Under Swiss national law, international jurisdiction for disputes relating to intellectual property rights is governed by Art. 109 CPIL. However, only validity and infringement actions are mentioned, but not assignment actions. Jurisdiction for actions for the assignment of an IP right, in particular a patent, is therefore determined in accordance with the general rule of Art. 2 CPIL, according to which the Swiss judicial or administrative authorities of the defendant’s domicile are competent. As the plaintiff (defendant of the counterclaim) is domiciled in Switzerland, the FPC is also competent for counterclaims relating to the transfer of foreign patents.

  1. Right to accounting

The court re-visited the right to accounting based on Art. 66 lit. b PatA in view of critical voices in the aftermath of O2013_008; see ¶ 58 of the decision (note that fn 33 erroneously refers to O2012_008). However, the decision explicitly confirms the FPC’s practice that in case the court finds infringement there is a substantive entitlement to information and accounting based on Art. 66 lit. b PatA.

  1. Request for accounting with reference to a trademark / product name

As mentioned above, the request for injunctive relief was held inadmissible for lack of concreteness. Still, the court did the whole exercise of infringement analysis. It had to because of the request for accounting. The request for accounting referred to the ‘Mechanical Fountain Pen RMS05’. Such a description would be perfectly inadmissible in a request for injunctive relief, because the product name could be changed at any time. But not so in a request for accounting. The name of a product that has been sold in the past cannot be changed anymore:

However, in the case of conduct that has taken place in the past, it is permissible to specify the allegedly infringing object by means of a type designation or trademark. Such a designation cannot be changed for the past and one therefore knows exactly which product — namely in this case the product previously offered under the designation ‘Mechanical Fountain Pen RMS05’ — is the subject of the information request.

I guess we will see more such simplified requests for accounting in the future.

  1. No mixing-up of functions of features in the test for infringement under the DoE

There is an interesting general remark in ¶ 63 of the decision, i.e.:

One cannot reasonably expand the function of a claim feature and argue that this expanded function is fulfilled by another feature of the attacked embodiment, when the same element (penholder) with the same functionality (can be dismantled to replace the cartridge) is found in the invoked patent in parallel to claimed features, and independently of it (removable endpiece).

Reported by Martin WILMING

IMAGE CREDIT

Header image (Hôtel de Ville de Neuchâtel, Salle du Conseil Général) courtesy of Lucas Vuitel – ArcInfo.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2015_018 | Decision of 15 June 2018 | ‘Instrument d’écriture’

Guenat SA Montres Valgine
./.
Swiss Finest SA

Judges:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Philippe DUCOR
  • Christoph MÜLLER
  • Dr. Ralph SCHLOSSER

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

  • Dr. Nathalie TISSOT (Etude Tissot)
  • Christophe SAAM (P&TS), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant:

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

DECISION IN FULL

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CH 704 790 B1

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CH 704 790 C1

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EP 2 497 648 B1

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FRÉDÉRIC GARINAUD

Harry Winston Opus 8

Frédéric Garinaud apparently is a master of complicated mechanics. He developed the Harry Winston Opus 8, a manually-wound watch with a ‘digital’ display of the hours and minutes.

The numbers appear only on demand, when a slide on the right side of the watch is activated. I could not help but do some further research on the Opus 8. It was a limited edition of 50 pieces only, on 9 July 2018 seen at luxurybazaar.com with a price tag of US$ 350’125,–. A somewhat fair deal in view of a purported retail price of US$ 449’700,–.

www.luxurybazaar.com; July 9, 2018

Get to know Mr Garinaud in this video, talking about the Opus 8:

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