On 5 February 2020 the main hearing in this matter took place at the FPC. We have reported on this matter already on 3 February 2017 when ex parte interim measures had been denied (see this Blog here) and on 26 May 2017 when EPO prosecution and opposition proceedings had been stayed (see this Blog here).
As an introductory remark, the presiding judge invited Tomologic to provide a translation of a Swedish decision that had been submitted earlier; unfortunately, it was not indicated in the hearing what that decision was all about. Even though Bystronic had not commented on that Swedish document, the court felt «not at ease» with having a document on file which is not comprehensible for the judges.
Both parties gave PPT presentations. The presiding judge reminded the parties that this case was already extraordinarily voluminous, even before oral pleadings, and that there was no need to repeat the assertions already made in writing.
Tomologic used flipchart sketches and short films in further support of the PPT presentation. In our perception, flipcharts are generally welcomed by the court. But how tho deal with the table-top microphone in such situations? Any drawer / presenter should be prepared to be reprimanded by the court clerk to use the microphone. Furthermore, flip chart collages, once they are completed, shall form part of the minutes and should not be re-arranged too heavily in later pleadings.
On the merits of the case, we understand that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion had been in favor of Bystronic, at least to the extent nullity of EP 864 is concerned. Claim 1 of EP 864 as granted reads as follows (underlined feature amended over claim 1 as originally filed; potentially distinguishing feature over the prior art highlighted in yellow):
Claim 1 of EP 864, marked-up
Method for machine cutting several parts out of a piece of material using a beam cutting technology, said method providing a set of controlling rules and variables for cutting two dimensional shapes or patterns, where one rule or a combination of several rules are used for the cutting operation depending on the shape or pattern to be cut, said shape or pattern forming said parts out of said piece of material, characterised in that said set of controlling rules comprises rules for the forming of a cluster of parts with free form shapes, said parts being positioned so close to each other so that only the thickness of one cut made by the cutting beam is found between adjacent parts whenever the shape of said parts allows it.
It appears that the introduction of «one cut made by» may have caused an issue under Art. 123(2) EPC. Further, the correct understanding of (rules for the forming of a cluster of parts with) «free form shapes» in the characterizing part of the claim was a big issue in the hearing. In Tomologic’s view, this was a reference to «free form nesting». Free form nesting is a technique which — in contrast to «rectangular nesting» or «rectangular bounding box nesting» — arranges free form parts in a space-saving manner, based on perimeter segments rather than outer perimeter boxes.
In a nutshell, Tomologic held that the claim requires forming of a cluster by means of free from nesting. On the contrary, Bystronic held that it could only be the parts themselves which have a free from shape, without any indication whatsoever of the envisaged nesting technique. It is our understanding that only according to Tomologic’s interpretation, the respective claim feature might potentially constitute a differentiating feature over so-called rectangular nesting. At this point of the hearing, the linguistic discussion about English grammar was quite intense. Bystronic explained the difference by way of a «baking dilemma», i.e. that «baking products with yeast» is not necessarily the same as «products baked with yeast»; the term «with» could not be construed as «by means of» at will.
We understood that the expert opinion had apparently held that the feature as claimed is not much of a limitation, and that it does in particular not exclude rectangular clustering; see e.g. ¶  of EP 864 in this respect:
It has been referred in the pleadings re (lack of) novelty to JP H09-285886 (D1, also available as EN translation) and a further document called «Rao» (likely Rao et al., Int J Adv Manuf Tenchnol (2007) 33: 436-448; available here). Further, it was referred to the publication «Faszination Blech» (you cannot make this up).
We conclude from the pleadings that the above issues had likely not been resolved by Tomologic’s auxiliary request(s) to maintain and assert EP 864 in amended / limited form. Rather, the auxiliary request(s) occasioned further issues re clarity and, maybe, enablement.
Interestingly, Bystronic had initially requested a declaratory judgement of non-infringement; see p 1-9 of the complaint as filed and the FPC’s letter of 16 January 2017:
We conclude from the pleadings that the court might have (partially?) not considered this request for declaratory judgement, but this remains to be confirmed in the final judgement.
The pleadings further circled around Bystronic’s alleged contribution to the subject-matter of EP 864, as the basis for the requested assignment to co-ownership. Note that Bystronic had initially requested assignment to co-ownership for the whole patent family of EP 864, as well as the patent family of WO 2012/136262 A1.
The value in dispute was indicated as 2m CHF for the main claim and 1m CHF for the counterclaim. Actual costs incurred by the parties apparently by far exceed the refundable amounts according to the tariff.
The parties finally agreed to have settlement discussions.
We had reported about the main hearing in this matter on this Blog here.
The patent in suit is CH 707 572 B1; see Swissreg for further bibliographic information. An automated translation can be found here. Harcane had sued Comadur essentially to the effect that CH’572 be declared invalid (based on Art. 261(1) lit. a PatA, not lit. d); or, alternatively, if CH’572 was held valid, that it be transfered to Harcane. On the other hand, Comadur finally defended CH’572 with the claims being limited. Further, Comadur requested that Harcane’s complaint should be held inadmissible.
Parallel proceedings elsewhere
It is a procedural requirement that the case is not the subject of pending proceedings elsewhere or is not already the subject of a legally binding decision; Art. 59(2) lit. d and e CPC.
There had been co-pending proceedings in Neuchâtel where Comadur had sued Harcane and sought for a delaratory judgment based on the Unfair Competition Act that it was the owner of certain manufacturing processes of ceramic injection molding (CIM) material. In turn, Harcane saught a declaratory judgment in proceedings in Neuchâtel that Harcane was the owner of the respective trade secrets relating to the CIM material.
Obviously, these requests differ from the requests in proceedings at the FPC. Thus, the case that has been brought before the FPC had not been the subject of pending proceedings elsewhere. Still, the FPC had stayed its proceedings on 28 May 2018 since certain preliminary questions overlapped with the cantonal proceedings. The stay was lifted on 13 February 2019, i.e. shortly after the Supreme Court had decided on both parties’ appeals against the decision of the Neuchâtel cantonal court; see 4A_584/2017, 4A_590/2017 of 9 January 2019.
Décision du 27 juin 2019 dans la cause Harcane Sàrl c. Comadur SA re. nullité, cession du brevet CH 707 572 : pas d’exception de jugement entré en force; action rejetée, mais répartition égale des frais en raison de la limitation substantielle du brevet, https://t.co/AYbprDpQyK
The decision holds in ¶21 that the plaintiff well has a legitimate interest in bringing the present complaint since, according to the prior cantonal proceedings, Harcane is only prohibited to use some very specific embodiments of the patent in suit. However, even the limited scope of CH’572 goes far beyond that.
limitation of the patent
The defendant / patentee partially surrendered CH’572 in accordance with Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA and declared the same to the FPC; see O2012_030, ¶17.
Claim 1 as amended reads as follows:
Claim 1 as amended
Liant pour composition de moulage par injection comprenant :
de 35 à 54% vol. d’une base polymérique
de 40 à 55% vol. d’un mélange de cires,
et environ 10% vol. d’un surfactant,
dans lequel la base polymérique contient des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acide méthacrylique ou acrylique, ou des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acétate de vinyle, ou des copolymères d’éthylène comprenant un anhydride maléique ou un mélange de ces copolymères, ainsi que du polyéthylène, du polypropylène et une résine acrylique, et dans lequel lesdits copolymères sont des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acide méthacrylique ou acrylique, ou des copolymères d’éthylène comprenant un anhydride maléique ou un mélange de ces copolymères;
à l’exclusion d’un liant pour composition de moulage par injection comprenant de 35 à 50% vol d’une base polymérique, de 40 à 55 % vol d’un mélange de cires, et environ 10% vol d’un surfactant, dans lequel la base polymérique contient des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acide méthacrylique ou acrylique, ou des copolymères d’éthylène et d’acétate de vinyle, ou des copolymères d’éthylène comprenant un anhydride maléique ou un mélange de ces copolymères, ainsi que du polyéthylène, du polypropylène et une résine acrylique.
The underlined / italic part of the claim is a so-called undisclosed disclaimer to exclude the subject-matter of CH 708 097 A2, a prior right that had been filed earlier but published only after the filing date of CH’572. As much as I recall, this is the first time that such an undisclosed disclaimer has been at stake and allowed in proceedings at the FPC. Note, however, that O2012_030 in ¶20.1 already suggested that the FPC would follow the EPO’s precedent G 1/03.
Dependent claims 2-6 remain unchanged. Claims 7-10 have been deleted.
Apparently, the court did not appreciate how the novelty attacks had been presented. The decision holds that, according to common practice, a specific analysis of the features of the claim and a specific reference to the prior art has to be made, for each of the features. It is not the court’s task to establish the facts of its own motion and to seek the information in the references filed as exhibits. On the contrary, the relevant facts must be alleged by providing specific information, in particular by reference to a page or line number, while specifying which feature of the claim is there to be found (see ¶¶28-30).
Le Tribunal n’est pas chargé d’établir les faits d’office et il ne lui incombe pas de rechercher lui-même les informations dans les documents de l’art antérieur déposés en tant que pièce jointe. En particulier, une référence globale à un document dans le sens de «l’objet de la revendication 1 est divulgué dans le document X» ne suffit pas pour satisfaire au fardeau de l’allégation. Il faut au contraire alléguer les faits pertinents en fournissant des indications spécifiques, notamment par renvoi à un numéro de page, de ligne, tout en précisant quelle caractéristique de la revendication se retrouve dans le document de l’état de la technique invoqué.
In the absence of any specific allegations, the FPC did not consider the novelty attacks to the extent they were based on prior art documents. What remained was the sale of a certain feedstock to Comadur. However, the decision holds that these sales were governed by an NDA and thus cannot be considered at all. Further sales to third parties had been alleged but remained essentially unsubstantiated.
Accordingly, novelty was acknowledged.
The FPC did not appreciate the way the obviousness attacks had been presented, either. The decision holds that the FPC cannot complete an incomplete factual allegations of the parties. This is in contrast to proceedings at the EPO which shall examine the facts of its own motion and which shall not be restricted in this examination to the facts, evidence and arguments provided by the parties and the relief sought; Art. 114(1) EPC. Determining whether an invention is based on an inventive step is a question of law. However, the general technical knowledge of the skilled person, the closest prior art, the differentiating features, etc. are facts, and it is up to the parties to allege these facts (see ¶37).
In my perception, the considerations with respect to the burden / degree of substantiation are what this decision will likely be cited for in the future.
To the extent the FPC admitted the plaintiff’s arguments and evidence into the proceedings at all, the decision holds that the claimed subject-matter was not obvious over US 5,266,264.
Even though the plaintiff did not succeed with any request, the defendant was still charged with half of the court fee since the patent was maintained only to a limited extent, i.e. the defendant partially acknowledged the plaintiff’s complaint and both parties win and therefore lose equally.
No compensation for legal represenatation was awarded.
Interestingly, the plaintiff only involved a patent attorney when the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur had been established. The respective expenses were not considered necessary anymore since the closure of the file had already occured at that time. On the other hand, defendant’s expenses for the assisting patent attorney of ICB, a company within the Swatch group of companies, had not been considered, either: No intra-group expenses are reimbursed; see O2014_009, ¶6.2.
UPDATE 9 September 2019:
The decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
These two decisions in summary proceedings are heavily redacted — which is an exception to the rule. Obviously, the overall conflict between the parties also involves some criminal allegations against a natural person (Art. 146 CC; fraud).
In view of the criminal allegations I am not going to engage in any de-anonymisation exercise here; and this post is not open for comments, either.
A register ban for six Swiss patent applications had been issued by the public prosecutor of the Canton of Fribourg on 22 May 2017, in view of the criminal charge. The public prosecutor informed the plainfiff on 21 November 2018 of the deadline for finally lodging civil proceedings, i.e. 31 January 2019, and indicated that sequestration of the six patent applications would be lifted at that date (however, this apparently had not happened).
The plaintiff indeed initiated civil proceedings, but only on the very last day of the time limit, and only in summary proceedings. In particular, issuance of a register ban had been requested without hearing the defendant beforehand.
While the President acting as single judge appreciated the risk that the six patent applications might be transferred to defendant (3) in view of some prior conduct of the defendant(s), and even though particular urgency was acknowledged, he did not order a register ban ex parte. The President held that the urgency is exclusively due to the late submission of the request by the plaintiff who should have taken action swiftly after the public prosecutor’s notification of 21 November 2108. If the plaintiff had filed the request in a timely manner, i.e. in early December 2018, the defendants would have had sufficient time to take a position on the request. The President held that the defendants cannot be deprived of their constitutional right to be heard because of the plaintiff’s belated action. The decision refers in passing to S2018_002, ¶7, for that a delay of two months results in the rejection of the request in any event.
The request for issuance of interim measures without hearing the defendant beforehand was thus denied with decision of 6 February 2019.
However, the register ban had still been issued with decision of 11 July 2019. In balancing the potential disadvantages suffered by the plaintiff and the defendants, the President (again acting as single judge) concluded that there was a much greater potential damage that the plaintiff would suffer if the register ban would not be issued, compared with the defendants potential damage if the register ban was granted. Nevertheless, the decision clearly notes that it is highly doubtful that the six patent applications had been contractually assigned to the plaintiff. Still, the fact that defendants (1) and (2) had previously attempted to assign the patent application to defendant (3), which is a mailbox company in Luxembourg, played out to the plaintiffs advantage, for the time being.
UPDATE 22 August 2019:
The decision of 11 July 2019 has not been appealed / is now final.
Laurastar and Innosteam are litigating about ownership of two PCT applications, WO 2018/006994 A1 and WO 2018/036653 A1; see the EPO Register here and here. The patent applications are about devices and methods for producing instant steam (WO’994) and instant hot water (WO’653), for use e.g. in devices for ironing.
Briefly, plaintiff alleges that the subject matter of both PCT applications had been invented by the inventors in fulfillment of their contractual duties while they were employees of Laurastar.
We have reported on this Blog here about the provisional register ban that had been issued without hearing the defendant beforehand, and the subsequent hearing. The register ban had finally been maintained in summary proceedings S2018_003; see this Blog here.
Note that both PCT applications have meanwhile been nationalized inter alia at the EPO, but the EPO has stayed its proceedings on request of Laurastar SA pursuant to R. 14(1) EPC while main proceedings at the FPC are pending; see here (re WO’693) and here (re WO’994). It is still (too) early to obtain full and complete information about the status of nationalization elsewhere in the world, but WIPO’s PatentScope indicates further nationalizations in the Ukraine and the Russian Federation; see here (re WO’653) and here (re WO’994). Anyway, we could now catch a glimpse of what is going on in main proceedings O2018_016 at the hearing on June 25, 2019 in Neuchâtel. The hearing was held in French language — well, at least the most of it.
Plaintiff’s pleadings emphasized that the invention was conceived before the inventors left Laurastar SA to work for Innosteam Swiss SA. A significant part of the argument evolved around a document created by Mr. Pasche that allegedly shows all the features of the patent applications in question (hereinafter refered to as ‘Pasche’):
But even if there were any potential differences between Pasche and the two patent applications, they were only of minor importance and could not render the claimed subject-matter inventive. And, in the plaintiff’s view, this has to be taken into account; else, one could just steal an invention, add an insignificant feature to it and be unassailable.
Plaintiff further questioned to what extent a detailed claim analysis, as apparently done by the judge rapporteur, was appropriate. In the plaintiff’s view, the claims are still subject to change and do not necessarily represent the invention as a whole. For this reason, according to the plaintiff, the judge rapporteur should have analyzed the description as well. In addition, plaintiff argued that the inventiveness of the subject matter over Pasche should have been analyzed as well.
Defendant, by contrast, argued that the subject-matter outlined in Pasche was free state of the art, in any event. Thus, even if it showed all the features of the patent applications in question, just for the sake of argument, it could not be proprietary to Laurastar SA or anybody else. This led to some discussion about the term ‘invention’: Does it imply non-obviousness over the prior art, i.e. an inventive step? It has been argued that under the Swiss Code of Obligations (Art. 332), an invention does not require an inventive step (emphasis added):
Inventions and designs produced by the employee alone or in collaboration with others in the course of his work for the employer and in performance of his contractual obligations belong to the employer, whether or not they may be protected.
A decision on these issues might be an interesting read — if the parties haven’t settled.
On the procedural side, the hearing was quite illustrative of Switzerland:
Defendant’s representative started his pleadings with reference to the federalism in Switzerland and explained that he was going to structure his pleadings according to what is customary in Geneva. This may have contributed to some confusion that arose after a (brief) first part of defendant’s pleadings. Defendant’s representative sat back down, and the President asked if he was done, which the representative affirmed. The president then firmly told the parties that the time to make arguments was now:
Le temps de répondre, c’est maintenant!
This prompted defendant’s councel to get back up again and finish his pleadings. The assisting patent attorney then added his share to the pleadings — in German language. This was apparently not appreciated by everybody in the room, and the opposing patent attorney could not help himself but leave a snarky remark about this in his own pleadings later.
I wonder whether I should better immediately refresh my French and learn some Italian, just to be prepared for some spontaneous pleadings in a language that hasn’t been announced beforehand(?). (Just kidding) /MW
At the end of the hearing, the President asked whether the parties were interested in settlement talks. Both parties gave answers along the same lines, saying that in principle they would of course be interested in a settlement. However, neither party found it realistic to find a mutually agreeable compromise since a joint assignment of the patent applications was not desirable to either party. Thus, according to both parties, settlement negotiations were pointless.
The President buried the face in his hands and, after a sigh, explained to the parties in German (‘Erlauben Sie mir, das auf Deutsch zu sagen’) that it was conceivable that a judgment could give exactly that result: Joint ownership. Such a forced marriage may not facilitate things for either party and the President gently reminded both parties that a settlement may well be the better course of action.
The parties asked for a short break to discuss the President’s comment, after which it was discussed non-publicly whether the parties may be willing to settle after all.
Both parties had lodged an appeal — but the Supreme Court dismissed both appeals. While the FPC’s judgement was quite a booklet of 50+ pages, it took the Supreme Court only 7 pages to deal with both appeals. Most of the judgment indeed is pretty straight forward. Still, the judgment has quite some interesting aspects, in my perception:
Assignment of a patent does not imply assignment of the universal right to the invention per se
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. But that did not help. Frédéric Garinaud specifically assigned the European patent application to Guenat, but not the universal rights in 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.
On appeal, Guenat criticises the FPC’s ‘artificial dichotomy’ between the invention and the related patent application, and claims complete control over the invention in dispute. The Supreme Court didn’t buy into that. The decision holds in ¶3.2 that Guenat’s argument is based on an assumption about the parties’ intention in respect of the transfer agreement of April 2013. This is not a question of law, but of fact. But the FPC had not found that the real and common intention the parties had been to assign all intellectual property rights to the invention and the right to be granted all related patents. On the contrary, according to the FPC, the agreement in question ‘clearly refers only to the European patent application and the resulting European patent, and not to the invention as such’ — which finding is binding on the Supreme Court since it is not ‘arbitrary.’
Thus, the Supreme Court apparently had no doubt that the assignment of a specific patent does not necessarily imply the assignment of the universal rights in the invention itself.
Assessment of inventive step is a question of law, but …
Guenat argued on appeal that the FPC had violated the principle of party disposition because it took facts into account that had not been alleged by the defendant.
Now, what had happened?
The FPC had held that a specific feature (C3-1) was not disclosed in the closest prior art document. Guenat had a different understanding of the specific feature, and had argued that based on a ‘correct’ understanding of the feature it had well been disclosed in the closest prior art.
On appeal, Guenat argued that Swiss Finest had not even alleged that feature C3-1 was not disclosed in that document. Unfortunately, it is not readily clear from the decision to which version of feature C3-1 that allegation pertained: The feature as construed by the Guenat, or the feature as construed by the FPC?
The Supreme Court held that it had not been disputed that all the factual elements necessary for the analysis of obviousness had been brought on file by the parties. Further, the Supreme Court held that Guenat had not asserted that the FPC had to supplement the facts on its own, and that such conduct was also not apparent from the file. In the Supreme Court’s view, the FPC was thus in a position to assess obviousness, which is a question of law. It is irrelevant in this respect that the presence or absence of specific features in the prior art and/or the patent have been alleged by the defendant or the plaintiff. On the basis of the facts gathered by the parties in order to consider a question of law, the court did not violate the principle of party disposition.
Without any in-depth knowledge of what had or had not been argued by the parties, I just cannot say whether I would agree with the assessment on the merits of the case. But the Supreme Court’s general considerations on questions of law vs. questions of fact trigger some further thoughts.
Clearly, assessment of obviousness is a question of law — but the underlying factual elements still need to be asserted by the parties. But what are the ‘factual elements’? They must be something more specific than just ‘the patent in suit’, ‘D1’ or the like. Else, a court could just combine whatever is on file in its assessment of obviousness, fully detached from the pleadings. This cannot be it. Now, let’s assume that both parties come up with a somewhat strange claim construction, and base all their obviousness attacks / defenses on a wrongly construed claim. In my understanding, claim construction clearly is a question of law, too (see e.g. X ZR 255/01 – ‘Bodenseitige Vereinzelungseinrichtung’ of the German Federal Supreme Court in ¶5, with further reference). But what if no party ever pointed to the relevant underlying ‘factual elements’ (i.e. specific sections of the patent in suit) that support the ‘correct’ claim construction? May the court then even come up with a different / the ‘correct’ claim construction at all?
UPDATE 21 March 2019:
Note that the FPC had held in the recent decision S2018_006 that claim construction is a question of law. In that case, both parties had not construed the feature in question at all, and the FPC came up with a construction on its own:
Wie der Begriff korrekt auszulegen ist, tragen die Beklagten hingegen ebenso wenig wie die Klägerin vor. Da die Auslegung des Patentanspruchs eine Rechtsfrage ist,15 geht die Annahme der Beklagten fehl, das Gericht dürfe den Anspruch mangels entsprechenden Vortrags der Klägerin nicht so auslegen, dass er auch etwas anderes als einen Schneidprozess erfasst.
But, again, what if both parties came up with a claim construction mutually agreed upon — but which, in the courts view, is just wrong? Or, what if both parties come up with different constructions which are both wrong in the court’s view? Can the court then correct such (a) construction(s) if it would have to rely on ‘factual elements’ that have never been pointed at by the parties, just because it is a question of law? And if that was the case, then where is the limit in the assessment of obviousness — which is a question of law, too?
The theory of separating questions of law from questions of fact is simple. But life is complicated …
On a sidenote: Wouldn’t it be good to establish common ground on what the claim actually is all about before diving any deeper? This is what a Markman hearing in the U.S. is all about. Even though I am not overly enthusiastic about quite some aspects of patent litigation in the U.S., this one certainly is useful.
I had reported about the ownership dispute in summary proceedings between between David Bensoussan and Rock dental AG on this Blog here.
Except for the complaint, nothing had surfaced in main proceedings O2017_026, though. See the full complaint below. I now came across an order that had been issued on 11 September 2018: The parties apparently found an amicable solution. The order had not been published by the FPC, but the terms agreed upon by the parties do not contain any confidentiality obligation. It is rare that one can catch a glimpse of how cases are settled at the FPC: The full order is available in the file wrapper at the EPO in relation to the European phase of the patent application concerned. In brief, the parties agreed as follows:
Marc Fehlmann and David Bensoussan are joint inventors.
Rock dental AG shall be the sole owner of the patent applications / patents.
David Bensoussan shall be reimbursed for assignment of his share of rights in the patent applications / patents with a 20% share of the license income.
As a result of the settlement, case O2017_026 was written off as settled.
Note that Hepp Wenger Ryffel is involved in this matter on behalf of the plaintiff / appellant.
Please see this Blog here for a discussion of the underlying decision of the FPC. In brief, it is all about an assignment action of Marcel Riendeau against Zehnder Group International AG, concerning two European patent applications, i.e.:
Both EP2 and EP3 had been filed in Zehnder’s name only; the plaintiff had been designated as inventor. The plaintiff had partially suceeded in first instance when the FPC held that the parties are jointly entitled to both patent applications.
On appeal, the plaintiff objected that the facts had been wrongly established in the first instance decision in various aspects, that the burden of proof had been incorrectly allocated and that the FPC had not dealt with the plaintiff’s entitlement to a transfer of the patent applications based on a contractual undertaking.
To cut a long(er) story short: The Supreme Court did not agree and dismissed the appeal. The FPC’s decision is thus final now, and it remains to be seen how the parties get along with their joint entitlement to both EP2 and EP3.
Laurastar and Innosteam are litigating about ownership of two PCT applications, i.e. WO 2018/006994 A1 and WO 2018/036653 A1; see the EPO Register here and here. The patent applications are about devices and methods for producing instant steam (WO’994) and instant hot water (WO’653), for use e.g. in devices for ironing.
We have reported on this Blog here about the provisional register ban that had been issued without hearing the defendant beforehand, and the subsequent hearing.
The main disagreement between the parties relates to the relevant time period in which the inventions had been made: While Laurastar alleges that the inventions had been made by Mr. Mantegazzi and Mr. Pasche when they had been employed by Laurastar, defendant submits that the inventions had only been made thereafter, i.e. when Mr. Mantegazzi and Mr. Pasche have been employed by the defendant.
Plaintiff inter alia relied on the following document that was undisputedly created by Mr. Pasche during his employment with the plaintiff:
In a nutshell, the present decision maintains the register ban while main proceedings are pending, to sort out the ownership dispute. And this might turn out to be a tricky exercise: The decision provisionally holds that the subject-matter of
claims 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11 (first and second option), 22 and 23 of WO’994
had likely already been invented by the two inventors when they had been employed by the plaintiff, in fulfilment of their contractual duties. Rights in these aspects would reside with the plaintiff; Art. 332(1) CO. The two PCT applications may thus have to be partially assigned to the plaintiff (Art. 29(1) PatA) — but only in main proceedings. This co-ownership would be kind of a forced marriage. If it doesn’t work out in practice and the parties get divorced, it will be hard to cut out and reshuffle the respective shares in the inventions.
Now, how to proceed with the two PCT applications in the meantime? They need to be nationalized in early 2019, and a decision in main proceedings is unlikely to be final by then. The decision unmistakably holds that it will be up to the plaintiff to decide how to best protect his interests in this respect:
On ne saurait manifestement condamner la défenderesse à entrer dans les phases nationales dans tous les Etats contractants du PCT, car cela pourrait se révéler prohibitif. Il appartiendra à la demanderesse de décider comment sauvegarder ses intérêts une fois que le délai d’entrée dans les phases nationales approchera de sa fin, ce qui semble être le 5 janvier 2019 (pour WO’994) respectivement le 24 février 2019 (pour WO’653).
It is clearly not possible to order the defendant to enter the national phases in all the contracting states of the PCT, as this could be prohibitive. It will be up to the plaintiff to decide how to safeguard its interests once the deadline for entry into the national phases approaches its end, which appears to be 5 January 2019 (for WO’994) and 24 February 2019 (for WO’653), respectively.
I am very much looking forward to see how this finally unfolds. The immanent time pressure requires some creativity to ensure that no rights in at least the most relevant designated states are lost.
On the procedural side, it is worthwile to note how the FPC dealt with a document that had been submitted by the defendant that contained additional technical data. The defendant requested that this information shall be considered by the court, but not being handed over to the plaintiff. The court held that either a redacted copy shall be submitted that can be provided to the plaintiff, or the defendant shall agree to have the unredacted version provided to the plaintiff’s attorney and patent attorney, for attorney’s-eyes-only and under threat of sanctions according to Art. 292 CC. The defendant chose to not agree to any of these options. Thus, the court did not take this additional document into account at all.
UPDATE 10 October 2018:
No appeal has been filed; the decision in summary proceedings has become final; main proceedings pending.
Décisions du 20 avril et 24 août 2018 dans la cause de Laurastar SA c. Innosteam Swiss SA re mesures (super)provisionelles : interdiction de disposer des demandes de brevets WO2018/006994 et WO2018/036653 pendant la durée du procès au fond, https://t.co/DA3B5nIdn3
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.
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:
This product has some amazing mechanics; see yourself:
It’s complicated. Very complicated.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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;
the choice of an escapement as a control mechanism offering a simple and proven solution to control energy release, while producing an audible indication;
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:
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:
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:
Thus, the subject-matter claimed in Swiss Finest’s Swiss patent was held to be non-obvious over the cited prior art.
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.
Without setting out all the details here, both these alleged grounds of nullity failed for apparently straight forward reasons.
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.
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.
Infringement by the Mechanical Fountain Pen RMS05
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 ¶  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).
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’:
What the decision might be cited for
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.
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.
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.
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
Header image (Hôtel de Ville de Neuchâtel, Salle du Conseil Général) courtesy of Lucas Vuitel – ArcInfo.
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,–.
Get to know Mr Garinaud in this video, talking about the Opus 8:
This post initially mentioned that the prohibition to dispose of the applications at stake has been lifted. We have learned meanwhile that this was unfortunately not correct. Rather, the register ban was maintained. The post has accordingly been corrected.
The patent applications are about devices and methods for producing instant steam (WO’994) and instant hot water (WO’653), for use e.g. in devices for ironing.
Plaintiff alleges that the two patent applications pertain to subject-matter that has been invented by two of its former employees that are now employed by the defendant. On the contrary, defendant argues that the claimed subject-matter had been invented when the inventors had no longer been employed by the plaintiff. In the hearing, the role of yet another former employee of Laurastar was briefly touched who apparently changed sides, too. He is not named as an inventor in the applications at stake, but from what the defendant has argued we understand that he apparently has referred his new employer to publicly available documents (inter alia patents / patent applications) of his former employer. Further clarification in this respect may well be subject of main proceedings which are pending.
On plaintiffs request, the President of the Court had ordered the defendant in a summary judgement of 20 April 2018 (unpublished) and without hearing the defendant beforehand not to dispose of the two patent applications while the main proceedings are pending.
The hearing was remarkable for some procedural reasons.
First, an exhaustive expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur in accordance with Art. 183(3) CPC has been given orally — for the first time ever, to the best of our knowledge. This expert opinion was not favorable for the plaintiff. The parties were then given the opportunity to comment on the expert opinion immediately thereafter.
The parties were then asked for their interest in settlement discussions, but both parties denied.
Typically, this would have been it, and a decision on whether or not the interim measures are upheld would be issued in writing. Not so here. The President asked the second judge for his brief opinion, which was unfavorable for the plaintiff, too.
The prohibition for the defendant to dispose of the two patent applications while the main proceedings are pending has been upheld, for the time being.
débats publics à Neuchâtel dans le cause de Laurastar SA c. Innosteam Swiss SA (interdiction de disposition, mesures provisionelles) le 28 juin 2018 (juges Schlosser, Schweizer, Gervasio) pic.twitter.com/i7rREPCZZv
This case started off already on 27 February 2016, between Harcane and Comadur. There is not much known about the plaintiff, but the defendant is a company of the Swatch Group, specialising in hard materials. Noteworthy, the owner of Harcane, Rui Carolla, apparently had spent part of his career with Comadur; see SHAB.
Quite some background information was already included in the official announcement of the hearing. The plaintiff in first place requests that CH 707 572 B1, concerning a binder for an injection molding composition, be declared null and void. As an auxiliary measure, it is requested that the patent be assigned to the plaintiff. Allegedly, the patent lacks novelty over US 5,266,264, several PhD theses and the sale of a certain “feedstock” including the patented binder. The defendant had allegedly been provided with it back in November 2012. Further, the plaintiff alleges that the mixture according to CH 707 572 B1 had in fact been invented by Mr. Lestarquit, who was at the time an employee of the Plaintiff.
The defendant holds the view that the claimed subject-matter is new and inventive. All the compositions had been developed by Mr. Cartier, an employee of the defendant since 1999. The “mix sheets” developed by Mr. Cartier allegedly have only been put into practice by employees of the plaintiff, including Mr. Lestarquit. The defendant thus requests that the case should be dismissed in its entirety.
In the hearing, the alleged obviousness of CH 707 572 B1 was intensely discussed. Both parties had identified the characterizing part of claim 1 as the distinguishing feature, but proposed (opposing) problem-and-solution approaches (EPO Guidelines, G-VII, 5). The expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur had apparently been in favor of the plaintiff. Further, it was discussed whether the feedstock that had been exchanged between the parties during the collaboration had become public / is part of the prior art.
Initially, the defendant had no interest in settlement discussions, in view of some parallel proceedings elsewhere. Rather, the defendant requested that the present proceedings be stayed until after such parallel proceedings are concluded. Still, the defendant finally agreed to enter into settlement discussions as a first step.
Note that CH 707 572 B1 (filed 15 July 2013) has no further family members. However, we came across patent family WO 2014/191304 A1, claiming priority of CH 01021/13, filed 28 May 2013 and published as CH 708 097 A2, which is pretty similar to the patent in suit. It remains to be seen how all this will be sorted out.
Note that Hepp Wenger Ryffel is involved in this matter on behalf of the plaintiff.
Art. 58(1) CPC
Binding nature of prayers for relief, principle of party disposition
The request that the court should find the plaintiff to be solely entitled to a patent or patent application includes a maiore minus the request that the court should find the plaintiff to be entitled to the patent or patent application together with another party (see r. 2.3).
Both EP2 and EP3 had been filed in Zehnder’s name only; the plaintiff had been designated only as inventor.
Independent claims 1 of both EP2 and EP3 are all about methods for the production of enthalpy heat exchanger elements; they read as follows:
Method for the production of enthalpy exchanger elements comprising steps of:
perforating a flat plate element (1) according to a predetermined perforation pattern within the plate outer dimensions;
perforating a flat plate element (1) according to a predetermined perforation pattern (2, 2, …) within the plate outer dimensions;
forming the plate element (1) into a desired embossing pattern and geometrical shape; and
applying to at least one side (1a) of the plate element (1) a thin polymer film (3) with water vapor transmission characteristics […];
applying to at least one side (1a) of the plate element (1) a polymer film (3) with water vapor permeation characteristics […].
forming the plate element (1) into a desired shape exhibiting a corrugation pattern (4, 4, …), whereby the polymer film (3) is formed into the same corrugation pattern shape as that of the plate element (1).
This can be best understood with the following figures at hand:
The decision is pretty exhaustive; I feel the most relevant issues of potentially broader interest are the following:
Admissibility of late requests
The plaintiff had requested with the rejoinder that his sole ownership of the patent applications be declared. An explicit auxiliary request for declaration of co-ownership was submitted in reply to the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur. This request was not admitted into the proceedings anymore, with reference to O2015_009. However, the decision holds that the request for sole ownership includes a majore minus the request that the plaintiff is not the sole owner but rather only co-owner together with others (see hn). In contrast to a new version of the patent applications like in O2015_009, this does not constitute a new issue.
The person who claims to derive rights from it must prove the existence of an alleged fact; Art. 8 CC. The decision thus holds that it is up to the plaintiff to prove all elements of the test outlined in O2012_001 (r. 27), i.e.
that he actually made the invention on his own (when, where and how);
how the defendant was made aware of this invention; and
how this invention is reflected in the application(s) in suit.
It is reiterated again that dependent claims and even the specification have to be dealt with. Only subordinate and routine details can be ignored.
Eine Patentanmeldung umfasst regelmässig technische Lehren, die über den Gegenstand der unabhängigen Ansprüche hinausgehen respektive diesen wesentlich weiter konkretisieren. Solche Gegenstände können sich in den abhängigen Ansprüchen, aber auch in der Beschreibung finden. Wer behauptet, alleiniger Erfinder der in einer Patentanmeldung offenbarten Lehre zu sein, muss daher darlegen, dass er der geistige Urheber aller darin der Fachperson unmittelbar und eindeutig offenbarten Lehren ist, soweit es sich bei den offenbarten technischen Details nicht um untergeordnete, bloss handwerkliche Details handelt.
The decision does not expand further on how to assess whether a certain feature or technical detail is merely a subordinate element / routine detail or not. This still remains to be seen in cases to come.
Further, the plaintiff needs to prove that no rights had been assigned to the defendant; see below. However, this is an indefinite negative fact and the defendant is thus required to at least substantiatedly assert why he believes that the right had been assigned; see BGE 119 II 305, r. 1b; 4C.64/2003, r. 4.
Authorship of draft applications does not prove (sole) inventorship
The decision holds that the mere fact that the plaintiff had (undisputedly) drafted first versions of the patent application(s) does not yet prove that he had invented the respective subject-matter solely on his own. In the view of the defendant, the draft patent application(s) only summarized the results of the joint development. Since the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff in this respect, the decision holds that he has to bear the consequences of the remaining doubt.
In any event, it remained undisputed that the plaintiff is one of the inventors of the subject-matter of EP2 and EP3.
The parties have agreed in the main hearing to submit their contractual relationship to Swiss law. In an overall assessment of the allegations and evidence, the decision holds that the parties could neither agree on a written consultancy agreement which would have provided for an explicit transfer of rights, nor did they live it unconditionally. The oral work order to the plaintiff did not clearly include the task of making inventions. The defendant is therefore not the legal successor of the plaintiff with regard to the rights to the patents to which he is entitled on the basis of his position as (co-)inventor.
The right to claim priority
The plaintiff had requested that the claims to priority of EP2 and EP3 in the corresponding PCT applications WO’544 and WO’543 were to be deleted. Towards this end, the decision holds that for a valid priority claim only formal identity of the applicant(s) at the time of filing of the applictions is required; it is referred to T1201/14 (r. 220.127.116.11 ff.), T5/05 and T788/05 in this respect. In the case at hand, identity of the applicant of both the PCT applicantions and the EP priority applications had been the same (Zehnder). On the other hand, the decision also holds that even if one would assume that the legally correct ownership would be decisive, the result would have been the same since both parties are jointly entitled to both the priority applications and the PCT applications. The request was thus dismissed.
That could have been it. But in a surprisingly clear-cut obiter dictum the decision holds that the EPO constantly gets priority issues wrong. It is held that contrary to the case law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO (e.g. T788/05 (r. 2) and T382/07 (r. 9)), it is sufficient for the priority claim under Art. 87(1) EPC to be valid if at least one of the applicants of the prior application and one of the applicants of the subsequent application are identical. Note that this is the approach taken e.g. in the U.S., see MPEP. If a person that is no longer named as applicant in the subsequent application wishes to assert substantive claims to the patent, he may do so before court.
Entgegen der Rechtsprechung der Beschwerdekammern des EPA genügt es […], wenn wenigstens einer der Anmelder der Voranmeldung und einer der Anmelder der Nachanmeldung identisch sind. […] Soweit in der Nachanmeldung nicht mehr als Anmelder genannte Personen materielle Ansprüche auf das Patent geltend machen wollen, können sie das auf dem Wege der Abtretungsklage tun.
Making a long story short, the decision holds that the parties are jointly entitled to both patent applications.
The decision is not yet final / still open for appeal to the Supreme Court.
UPDATE 08 May 2018:
The decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
UPDATE 04 October 2018:
The appeal has been dismissed by the Supreme Court (4A_277/2018; reasons not yet available).
Reported by Martin WILMING
Marcel Riendeau v. Zehnder Group International AG, Urteil vom 21. März 2018 – “Wärmetauscherelement”: Antrag, festzustellen, dass Kläger alleinberechtigt am Patent sei, umfasst Antrag festzustellen, dass Kläger mit anderen am Patent berechtigt sei, https://t.co/KiLKlwqipv