Some recent case law revisited

VESPA’s annual evening conference earlier this week shed light on some key aspects of recent case law of the FPC.

Discussion centred on the following topics:

i)   Protective letters

Protective letters are frequently used. See the most important do’s and don’ts here. In addition, note that protective letters can be filed by a legal representative or the party itself, but not by a patent attorney.

The audience unanimously critcized decisions D2015_035 of 08 March 2016 (hn: A protective letter may not be withdrawn) and, to less extent, D2015_035 of 09 February 2016 (no later addendum to a protective letter, except for proper and improper novae).

By the way: A protective letter may not only be useful in anticipation of a request for ex parte interim injunctive relief, but also in anticipation of a request for preliminary measures to secure evidence like this one here.

ii)   Ex parte interim measures

Decisions S2016_007 (“don’t play games”) and S2017_001 were only briefly touched.

S2017_002 and S2017_003 made clear which requirements are to be fulfilled for an ex parte register ban to be successful; the former failed, the latter has been successful.

It became clear in the discussion that the surprising effect is not the only motivation for practitioners to request ex parte interim measures. Actually, ex parte interim measures are perceived by some as the only way to get speedy relief. Interim measures typically take seven to twelve months if they really dive deep into the subject-matter at stake (which is more the rule rather than the exception). Some participants questioned whether there is actually any difference to main proceedings, besides the fact that judicial vacations are not applicable. Sure, court fees are reduced — but so is the party compensation. On the other hand, parties typically do not perceive that the reasonable effort in summary proceedings is reduced by half.

iii)   Service of process

Two Swiss parts of European patents have been recently revoked by the FPC in judgements rendered in absentia; O2015_007 and O2015_017. The patentees / defendants did not respond at all. At least for O2015_007, it is clear meanwhile that this happened by accident; see the detailed discussion here. In both cases, the U.S. patentee / defendant had been directly served with the writ in accordance with the Hague Convention and Art. 137 CPC. In accordance with U.S. rules, the Swiss embassy in the U.S. thus served the writ to the patentees / defendants by registered letter. In the absence of any reaction, the FPC had published subsequent notifications to the patentees / defendants only in the Swiss Official Gazette of Commerce; Art. 141 CPC.

It has been proposed that the FPC could at least bring the subsequent publications in the Swiss Official Gazette of Commerce also to the attention of the representative on file at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property for the patent in suit.

On a personal note: I have my doubts. (I have been involved in O2015_007, but this case is finally concluded now.) It may well appear formalistic to only publish a notification in the Swiss Official Gazette of Commerce when contact details of a representative of the patent are available from Swissreg. As a patent attorney on file in Swissreg, one may easily find it unsatisfactory to just be ignored. But it’s the law. Even if such an additional notification would not constitute a breach of judicial confidentiality: It surely is more than what is required by law. Nota bene: In inter-partes proceedings. Any assistance by a court for the potential benefit of one party is of potential disadvantage for the respective other party; and I cannot see any superordinated public interest, either. This is why I am hesitant. But may the lawyers have their say on this.

iv)   Doctrine of Equivalents

Discussion of decision 4A_131/2016 of the Supreme Court highlighted the apparent gap in the assessment of literal infringement and infringement under the DoE; see this Blog here. But let’s focus on the positive: The three-step questionnaire for the assessment of infringement under the DoE is approved. Let’s await the next decision(s) of the Supreme Court which hopefully provide further guidance.

As to the assessement of the third question in O2015_004, it has been discussed whether the actual wording of a claim is more binding if the alternatives are readily apparent — both for the person skilled in the art reading the patent, as well as for the patentee when drafting the application. (Note that Hepp Wenger Ryffel is involved in this matter, and the decision is not yet final. It can thus not yet be discussed in detail here.)

v)   Abandonment of subject-matter

A further interesting aspect of O2015_004 surely is the issue of abandonment of subject matter; see this Blog here for further details. (Note that Hepp Wenger Ryffel is involved in this matter, and the decision is not yet final. It can thus not yet be discussed in detail here.)

vi)   Miscellaneous

Discussion briefly touched decisions 4A_427/2016 of the Supreme Court with respect to the legal standard of implied confidentiality (see this Blog here) and S2016_002 with respect to the admitted prior art as supporting basis for claim construction (see this Blog here).

Reported by Martin WILMING

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4 Replies to “Some recent case law revisited”

  1. Would an additional notice to the IGE representative not be in the interest of your professional colleagues / patent attorneys?

    1. Frankly speaking, I don’t think it’s that easy. Patent attorneys are typically involved on both sides in nullity proceedings. Any courtesy service for a party in default is a potential disadvantage for the other party. Thus, one of the two patent attorneys will be disappointed anyway. On a more general level, I see the point that having a representative on file at the IGE might not appear necessary anymore. But I feel a change of the law is required to tackle this issue, not any kind of courtesy service by the court. In the meantime, one is well advised to keep track of SHAB publications. It’s easy; please find a tool in the sidebar of this Blog.

  2. What about the “gerichtliche Hinweispflicht” (judicial duty to notify) as known in Germany, Art. 139 ZPO? Any similar provision in Switzerland?

    1. Well, the court’s duty to enquire is stipulated in Art. 56 CPC (“If a party’s submissions are unclear, contradictory, ambiguous or manifestly incomplete, the court shall give the party the opportunity to clarify or complete the submission by asking appropriate questions.”). I don’t think that this helps much. The problem is not that the party is not given the opportunity to clarify or complete the submissions. There just were no submissions. A failing party which does not participate at all can hardly be given such a (further) opportunity under this title via a different channel not foreseen in the CPC, in my perception. But, as mentioned earlier: May the lawyers have their say on this. I’m just a patent attorney …

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