Clarification on clarity

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

Reading time: 15 minutes

HEADNOTE in O2016_010

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

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

Loepfe logo

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

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

O2016_010 re EP’250

Uster logo

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

Added Matter

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

AR1 and AR2 failed for the very same reason.

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

  • Claim 1 of AR3

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

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

Inventive Step of AR3

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

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

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

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

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

Clarity

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

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

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

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


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

Costs

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

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

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

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

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

O2016_011 re EP’018

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

Main Request: Added matter?

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

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

… but is it inventive?

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

Plan B

The FPC then moved on to AR1:

  • Claim 1 of AR1

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

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

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

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

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

Clarity and costs

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

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

Reported by Philippe KNÜSEL and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

Gebr. Loepfe AG
./.
Uster Technologies AG

Panel of Judges:

  • Frank SCHNYDER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Christoph MÜLLER

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

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

Representative(s) of Defendant:

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

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

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

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