Large date indication of De Grisogono’s “Instrumento Grande”: Patented, yet held to infringe

Case No. O2012_033 ¦ Decision of 30 January 2014 ¦ “Conclusions; fardeau d’allégation; double protection”

HEADNOTE

(Official version in English language)

1.  Art. 72 PatA:
Request for an order to cease and desist a patent infringement.

For a request for an order to cease and desist a patent infringement to be admissible it must contain a detailed description of the incriminated act. This description must be sufficiently specific such that a purely factual examination is sufficient to determine whether an act is prohibited. A description which requires a legal qualification or the interpretation of ambiguous technical expressions is insufficient. A request for an order can therefore be limited to the wording of a patent claim only if the wording of the patent claim itself fulfils these requirements (r. 17).

2.  Art. 26 PatA; Art 8 CC:
Burden of allegation if a party raises a ground for nullity of a patent.

If a party raises a ground for nullity the assessment of which involves the skilled person [and] his common general knowledge, this party bears the corresponding burden of allegation, i.e. it must specifically name the skilled person (defined according to education and/or profession) and his common general knowledge (in particular the extent of the pertinent technical knowledge supposed to be known to him at the relevant date). If such a specific allegation is not put forward the ground for nullity will be dismissed (r. 19-20 and 31-32).

3.  Art. 125 PatA; Art. 51PatA:
Prohibition of double patenting.

The loss of effect of the Swiss patent due to the existence of a European patent for the “same invention” with the same effective date according to Art. 125(1) PatA is subject to the condition that the same technical teaching is protected by the claims of both patents (r. 37).

1.  Procedural History

Richemont International S.A. had sued De Grisogono S.A. for patent infringement before the Civil Court of the canton of Geneva on 15 July 2008. The defendant delivered his answer on 04 November 2008 (the year 2011 given in the decision on p.6 is evidently a typo), argued for non-infringment, lodged a counterclaim for nullity of the patent in suit and requested that the infringemenent action be held an act of unfair competition. As an auxilliary measure, the defendant requested to appoint an expert. With his reply of 30 January 2009, the plaintiff inter alia requested that three experts were to be appointed. The rejoinders were filed on 27 April 2009 (defendant) and 12 July 2009 (plaintiff), respectively.

Finally, three experts were appointed: René BESSON (horologist), Ronald NOLL (patent attorney) and René ADDOR (horologist). BESSON and NOLL submitted a joint opinion on 05 April 2011; ADDOR completed his opinion on 13 June 2011.

The Civil Court of Geneva decided to transfer the case to the Federal Patent Court on 26 January 2012. The parties were invited on 23 October 2012 to comment on the two expert opinions. They filed their comments on 14 January 2013, and the plaintiff put the competence of the FPC into doubt. The main hearing took place on 05 November 2013 (extra muros in Fribourg).

2.  The patent in suit

The patent in suit is CH 695 712 A5 of Richemont International S.A.; for bibliographic details and legal status, see Swissreg. In brief, independent claim 1 pertains to a mechanism to display a date from two separate numbers, comprising

a first annulus (1) with a first set of digits and a toothing at its inner circumference to drive it;

a mobile (9,10) with a plate (9) comprising a second set of digits and a part (10) with a multitude of teeth and wherein the plate (9) is partially arranged on top of the first annulus; such that at each stable position of the first annulus (1) and the mobile (9,10) a digit of the first annulus (1) and a digit of the mobile (9,10) are arranged side by side in a frame or two parts (2,13) of a frame;

characterized in that the mobile (9,10) is pivot-mounted outside of the first annulus (1) and wherein the first annulus (1) comprises a toothing (14) also at its outer circumference, interacting with the teeth of part (10).

For ease of reference, an illustrative figure and the original claim wording in French language is given below:

O2012_033_illustration_patent_in_suit

The mechanism can be best understood on the basis of Fig. 1-3 of CH 695 712 A5 (excerpts of which are given below) showing the sequence of a date switch:

Excerpts from Fig. 1 (left), 2 (middle) and 3 (right) of CH 695 712 A5
Excerpts from Fig. 1-3 of CH 695 712 A5
3.  The incriminated watches

Two de GRISOGONO watches were incriminated, i.e. Instrumento Grande and Instrumento Grande Open Date. A key feature of both these watches is the large date indication (at 6-position in the pictures below):

De Grisogono: Instrumento Grande (left) and Instrumento Grande Open Date (right)
Instrumento Grande (left)
Instrumento Grande Open Date (right)

An annotated picture of one of these watches had been filed by the plaintiff, for illustrative purposes:

instrumento_grande_open_date_-_annotated
Instrumento Grande Open Date, annotated by the plaintiff (taken from p. 5 of the decision).
4.  What has been decided
4.1  Competency of the FPC

According to Art. 41 PatCA, the Federal Patent Court shall, where it is competent, adjudicate in cases that are pending before the cantonal courts, provided that the main hearing has not yet been held. The procedure of taking evidence had not yet been concluded, and no main hearing had taken place. Thus, the cantonal court referred the case to the FPC.

On the subject matter of the case, the competency of the FPC is evident (Art. 26 PatCA).

4.2  Wording of the requests

The wording of the request essentially recites the wording of the only independent claim 1 of the patent in suit. Don’t assume that this is typically the case. Formal requirements for such requests are harsh and sometimes difficult to meet in view of the decision 131 III 70 of the Supreme Court. For a request for an order to cease and desist a patent infringement to be admissible it must contain a detailed description of the incriminated act. This description must be sufficiently specific such that a purely factual examination is sufficient to determine whether an act is prohibited. A description which requires a legal qualification or the interpretation of ambiguous tehcnical expressions is insufficient. A request for an order can therefore be limited to the wording of a patent claim only if the wording of the patent claim itself fulfils these requirements. This was held to be the case here. (But beware: It is more an exception than the rule that recitation of the claim wording is sufficient.)

4.3  On the merits of the patent

Besides the alleged infringment of CH 695 712 A5 (see 4.4, below), the FPC had to deal with validity issues since the defendant raised a counterclaim of invalidity (see 4.3.1 to 4.3.4, below). Note that Swiss patent applications are only formally examined but not on the merits, i.e. for novelty and inventive step. (A pre-examination on the merits had been introduced for certain inventions in the textile and watch industry with an amendment of the PatA in 1954, but this has been abolished again in 1996.)

4.3.1  Alleged undue extension of subject-matter

The amendments carried out during prosecution are discussed in the decision on the basis of the claim wording with tracked changes:

Amendments CH 695 712

The amendments were found to be clearly and unambiguously derivable from the documents as filed. In any case, this would not have been a ground for nullity under Art. 26(1) c PatA, but would rather have resulted in a shifted filing date (Art 58(2) PatA effective until June 30, 2008; BGE 4A_109/2011 / 4A_111/2011, r. 4.1).

As a sidenote, the FPC emphasized that it is the understanding of the person of routine skill in the art that counts for assessment of the question of whether or not an amendment goes beyond of what can be clearly and unambiguosly derived from the application as filed. Thus, the person of routine skill in the art is to be identified beforehand, typically by means of his profession and/or education. Providing this definition is an obligation of the party who raises an argument or counterclaim that relies on the knowledge of the person of routine skill in the art. The defendant did not do so but rather only gave a general definition without any context to the technical matter at stake.

4.3.2  Novelty

The defendant alleged a lack of novelty of the patent in suit over the following documents:

i)  CH 316 461 (Valjoux)

As can be concluded from Fig. 1 of the Valjoux patent (below, for ease of reference), the disk carrying the first series of digits (the upper disk in fig. 1) is not in the form of an annulus (couronne). Consequently, there is also no disclosure of an inner and outer toothing on the (missing) annulus. Novelty over the Valjoux patent was thus acknowledged.

Fig. 1 of CH 316 461 (Valjoux)
Fig. 1 of CH 316 461 (Valjoux)

ii)  CH 689 601 A5 (Piguet)

Piguet discloses an annulus for the first series of digits, but without any outer toothing (but rather only two inner toothings). Moreover, the mobile (carrying the digits 0-3) is not is pivot-mounted outside of the annulus. Novelty over the Piguet patent was thus acknowledged. See Fig. 2 of the Piguet patent below, for ease of reference:

Fig. 2 of CH 689 601 A5 (Piguet)
Fig. 2 of CH 689 601 A5 (Piguet)

iii)  EP 529 191 B1 (Jaeger-Le Coulte)

This piece of prior art was not alleged by the defendant in order to challenge novelty or inventive step (but rather only in the context of the alleged undue extension of subject matter). Nevertheless, ADDOR had discussed this document also for patentability issues — and the plaintiff did not object. Anyhow, novelty over the Jaeger-Le Coultre patent was acknowledged by the FPC: The mobile (carrying the digits 1-3) is not pivot-mounted outside of the annulus. Moreover, there is no outer toothing on the annulus that interacts with the toothing of the mobile. See Fig. 1 of the Jaeger-Le Coultre patent below, for ease of reference:

Fig. 1 of EP 529 191 B1 (Jaeger-Le Coultre)
Fig. 1 of EP 529 191 B1 (Jaeger-Le Coultre)

iv)  JP 44-20619 (Aichi Tokai Denki)

This document had not been relied on by either of the parties. ADDOR had identified it in a search which had not been authorized or instructed by the FPC. Even worse, he came up with this document only two months after he had initially provided his opinion. The plaintiff could have objected against consideration of this document, but did not do so. Anyhow, novelty over the Aichi Tokai Denki patent was acknowledged for essentially the same reasons as outlined for the Valjoux patent above: It does not disclose an annulus being driven by an inner toothing and interacting with a mobile by means of an outer toothing.

Unfortunately, I could not find a pdf of this document, but at least the figure given in the decision is shown below for illustration purposes:

Figure of JP 44-20619 (Aichi Tokai Denki)
Figure of JP 44-20619 (Aichi Tokai Denki)
4.3.3  Inventive step

The FPC assessed the inventive merit on the basis of the so-called problem-and-solution-approach (see EPO Guidelines for Examination, G-VII, 5). The objective technical problem to be solved was identified in a simplification of the mechanism and a reduction of the number of pieces (see paragraphs [0005] and [0006] of CH 695 712 A5). There was no apparent incentive for the person of routine skill in the art to arrive at the claimed invention in an obvious manner; thus, the could-would-approach failed and inventive step was acknowledged.

4.3.4  Double patenting

The plaintiff is also owner of EP 1 296 204 B1. The European application and the Swiss patent CH 695 712 A5 had been filed on one and the same day, with apparently the same documents. However, the resulting scope after prosecution was different in both cases (I did not yet make a detailed comparison of the claim wordings). Thus, the FPC held that both patents are not directed to the same invention and therefore Art. 125 PatA does not apply.

4.3.5  Infringement

The report BESSON/NOLL came to the conclusion that the patent in suit is infringed. From the report ADDOR, the FPC took the same conclusion (albeit implicitly). Taking both reports into due consideration, the FPC followed the conclusions drawn by BESSON/NOLL.

The primary counter-argument of the defendant was that the (let’s call it) structure 3 in the figure below was not an external toothing (“denture périphérique externe” in the original claim wording in French).

Fig. 1 of EP 1 612 628 B1
Fig. 1 of EP 1 612 628 B1 (De Grisogono); this mechanism is embodied in the incriminated watches.

The ADDOR report provided the following illustration of the technical term tooth (dent; left side) and gudgeon (ergot; right side):

Illustrations of technical terms by the expert Addor: dent (left); ergot (right)
Illustrations of technical terms by the expert Addor: dent (left); ergot (right)

The FPC was not at all convinced that the so-called ergot was not a tooth. In fact, even in EP 1 612 628 B1 itself the structure 3 is referred to as a tooth (dent); see paragraph [0010]. The FPC held that also a single tooth constitutes a toothing according to the patent in suit.

5.  In a nutshell

The defendant was ordered to cease and desist from using the invention, and to report on the sales figures of the infringing devices within a deadline of 60 days. The counterclaims of the defendant were dismissed. The decision can be appealed within 30 days.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2012_033 ¦ Decision of 30 January 2014 ¦ “Conclusions; fardeau d’allégation; double protection”

Richemont International S.A. ./. De Grisogono S.A.

Subject(s):

  • Infringement and nullity
  • Unfair competition
  • “Couronne dentée”

Composition of the Board of the FPC:

  • Dr. iur. Dieter BRÄNDLE (President)
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI (Judge)
  • Frank SCHNYDER (Judge)
  • Lic. iur. Jakob ZELLWEGER (First Court Secretary)

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

  • Maître Michel MUHLSTEIN (JMLP)

Representative(s) of Defendant:

Full text of the decision right here:

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