Matter fixed: patent maintained in amended form

Case No. O2013_006 ¦ Decision of 07 October 2015 ¦ “Teilweise Klagegutheissung; Teilnichtigkeit wegen offenkundiger Vorbenutzung”

Note that Hepp Wenger Ryffel is involved in this case on behalf of the defendant.

The patent in suit is EP 944 937 B1 of Gustav Klauke GmbH; the plaintiff in this nullity case is Von Arx AG. See Swissreg for further bibliographic details. The patent pertains to a hydraulic pressing device (such as illustrated below) with an automatically actuating return valve for the hydraulic oil. The closed and open positions of this return valve are illustrated in Fig. 1 and 2 of the patent, respectively (click to enlarge):

The main hearing took place on September 3, 2015; see this Blog here.

i)   Prior use

The plaintiff alleged that a public prior use of a device PT2 with the serial no. 95112060 was novelty destroying for the patent in suit. In first place, it had to be assessed whether the alleged prior use had actually occured, and what exactly had been made publicly available.

prior use in re O2013_006
Powertool PT2-H

In general terms, the FPC held that it is up to the plaintiff to establish what exactly had been made available to whom, and under which circumstances (BGE 117 II 480, r. 1; Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, I.C.1.9.9; EPO Guidelines of Examination, G-IV, 7.2). Absolute certainty is not required. Rather, it is sufficient if no reasonable doubt remains, or any such doubt appears neglectable (BGE 130 III 321, r. 3.2).

The FPC held that a public disclosure of this device had occured on July 17, 1996, by means of a sale. However, it was also under dispute what actually had been made available to the public at that time. Various technical drawings of the valve of the PT2 device were presented by the plaintiff. Even though the technical drawings of the valve of the PT2 device were not fully consistent, the FPC held that the differences between these drawings were only minor and could be neglected. In particular, the FPC held that none of these differences would imply any functional difference of the valve.

The FPC thus held that a prior use of the PT2 device with a valve as shown in the adjacent figure has been established.

ii)   Claim construction

The independent claim as granted required that

the automatically reacting return valve is built such that it is maintained in the open position during the entire return stroke of the hydraulic piston.

In consideration of what is discussed in the specification of the patent (in particular paragraphs [0008] and [0020] where only a partial return stroke is outlined), the FPC held that this feature is to be understood as to refer to a (return) stroke until a starting position for the next working cycle is reached again. Thus, the feature neither necessarily requires a (return) stroke until a mechanical stopper is reached, nor is it fulfilled by just an indefinitely small length of a stroke. Note that this claim construction differs from the decision of the German Federal Patent Court; see decision 6 Ni 47/14 (EP), r. 5.2.

With regard to the features in the 2nd auxiliary request, the FPC clarified how the term “return valve consists of a hydraulic piston” is to be construed. “Consists of” cannot reasonably mean that the return valve consists exclusively of a hydraulic piston in the strict sense because a valve cannot consist exclusively of a piston. Therefore, the FPC argues that the term “return valve consists of a hydraulic piston” specifies the object of the invention in a clear and comprehensible manner.

iii)   Patentability

The European patent had already been challenged in EPO opposition / appeal proceedings by other parties but had been upheld as granted; cf. EPO file wrapper and decision T 0861/05 for further details.

Novelty of the patent in suit over EP 636 788 A1 and FR 2 563 291 A1 (referred to in col. 1, l. 8-13 of EP’788 with its application number FR 8406346) was again acknowledged by the FPC, but the prior use PT2 was held to be novelty-destroying. Nevertheless, the 2nd auxilliary request was upheld.

iv)   Patent maintained in amended form

Claim 1 as upheld according to the 2nd auxilliary request reads as follows (amendments over claim 1 as granted marked-up):

Hydraulisches Pressgerät (2)

mit einem Festteil (26) und einem Bewegungsteil (24),

wobei das Bewegungsteil (24) durch einen Hydraulikkolben (9) relativ zu dem Festteil (26) bewegt wird

und mittels einer Rückstellfeder (10) in eine Ausgangsstellung zurückbewegbar ist,

wobei die Rückbewegung in Abhängigkeit von einem vorbestimmten Pressdruck auslösbar ist durch Ansprechen eines Rücklaufventils (1)

dadurch gekennzeichnet,

dass das selbsttätig ansprechende Rücklaufventil (1) so ausgebildet ist, dass es durch den Druck des zurücklau-
fenden Öls über den gesamten Rückstellweg des Hydraulikkolbens (9) in der Öffnungsstellung gehalten ist und

dass das Rücklaufventil (1) aus einem Ventilkolben (3) besteht, wobei der Ventilkolben (3) mit einer Ventilkolbenfläche (4, 5) ausgebildet ist,

wobei eine im Verschlusszustand wirksame Teilkolbenfläche im Hinblick auf den gewünschten Maximaldruck ausgelegt ist,

wobei die durch den Bohrungsdurchmesser einer mit dem Druckraum (6) verbundenen Bohrung (7) wirksame kleinere Teilkolbenfläche im Zuge der Verpressung mittels des hydraulischen Pressgerätes (2) von dem Öl beaufschlagt ist und

wobei bei Überschreiten einer durch den Bohrungsdurchmesser vordefinierten Höhe des Öldrucks der Ventilkolben (3) des Rücklaufventils (1) über die Teilkolbenfläche aus dem Dichtsitz angehoben wird,

wonach eine wesentlich grössere Kolbenfläche in Wirkung tritt,

wobei weiter das Rücklaufventil (1) in dieser Stellung mit einem wesentlich niedrigeren Begrenzungsdruck als in der Verschlusslage arbeitet, da der Begrenzungsdruck in dieser Stellung nicht mehr durch die Teilkolbenfläche definiert ist, sondern vielmehr durch die Gesamtoberfläche (5) des als Längsschieberkolben ausgebildeten Ventilkolbens(3)

und wobei der Ventilkolben (3) über den gesamten Rückstellweg des Hydraulikkolbens (9) infolge des auf den Ventilkolben(3) einwirkenden Öldruckes in der Öffnungsstellung verbleibt.

v)   Interim assessment of the reporting judge

In an interim assessment the reporting judge had assessed the validity of the patent in suit and the validity of the main and auxiliary requests: Assuming the prior use was substantiated, then only the 4th auxillary request was considered new and inventive. The FPC followed this assessment only partially and concluded that claim 1 of the 2nd auxiliary request is admissible, new and inventive (see also section iv), above).

vi)   Co-pending proceedings in Germany

This claim had also been presented in parallel proceedings in Germany, but the Federal Patent Court of Germany denied an inventive step; see decision 6 Ni 47/14 (EP), r. 6.4. The German Federal Patent Court only upheld the 4th auxiliary request. Both parties lodged an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court in Germany.  

vii)   Foreign court rulings in parallel proceedings

The FPC emphasized that it generally does not appreciate any unsolicited submissions. However, the Supreme Court requires that court rulings in parallel proceedings are to be considered. Therefore, parties are expected to inform the court of any foreign rulings immediately; see also this Blog here.

viii)   Costs

Both parties did not prevail entirely. The defendant limited the patent with his 2nd auxiliary request. Therefore, the court held that an apportionment of the costs at 2/3 (defendant) vs 1/3 (plaintiff) is justified.

The decision has not been appealed by either party.

Reported by Ingo LUMMER and Martin WILMING

— BIBLIOGRAPHY —

Case No. O2013_006 ¦ Decision of 07 October 2015 ¦ “Teilweise Klagegutheissung; Teilnichtigkeit wegen offenkundiger Vorbenutzung”

Von Arx AG ./. Gustav Klauke GmbH

Board of Judges:

  • Dr. Dieter BRÄNDLE
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Kurt SUTTER

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Reporting Judge:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

— FULLTEXT  —

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