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. 188.8.131.52 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
The plaintiff argued that the invention had been made by Frédéric Garinaud, an independent inventor who had applied for a European patent for this invention. The application has then been assigned to the plaintiff and a patent was granted; EP 2 479 648 B1, see Swissreg and European Patent Register for further bibliographic details.
Defendant countersued and requested that EP’648 be declared invalid, or assigned to the defendant. Interestingly, defendant argues that the invention had been made by Frédéric Garinaud when he had been working for the defendant. (Note, however, that Mr Garinaud is not mentioned as an inventor on CH’790.)
This product has some amazing mechanics; see yourself:
Even more amazing is the price tag of $105,000 (as reported by Bloomberg and others).
The hearing will be in French language, and it will be a real ‘town hall’ meeting: The venue this time is not the Federal Administrative Court in St. Gallen, but rather the Hôtel de Ville de Neuchâtel.
Reported by Martin WILMING
Case No. O2015_018 ¦ Main hearing of 13 March 2018
The present decision pertains to some interim measures. Inter alia, the plaintiff had requested that an order be issued to the defendant to not dispose of the applications in suit in any way, or to let them lapse. Main proceedings to actually sort out the right in the invention are still pending; O2017_026. See the full complaint below.
The plaintiff had initially been named as an inventor and is still listed on the title page of the PCT application as published, but has later been deleted on request of the applicant while still in the international phase.
The plaintiff essentially relied on an SMS and MMS that he had submitted to the defendant on 6 November 2013:
Bei der PCT-Anmeldung […] handelt es sich um die dargestellte Erfindung des Klägers, die dieser […] am 6. November 2013 D. bzw. der Beklagten mitgeteilt hat; es liegt technische Übereinstimmung vor. Weitere Ausführungen im Bestreitungsfalle bleiben vorbehalten.
The decision holds that this is obviously not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of entitlement to a patent application of 13 pages, 17 figures and 13 claims. The (then) President notes that the plaintiff failed to show that the three necessary elements (in particular the last one) are met, i.e.
that he actually made the invention (what exactly, when, where and how);
how the defendant has been made aware of this invention; and
how the subject-matter claimed by the defendant actually corresponds to this invention.
For the sake of completeness, the decision also recites two features from claim 1 of the PCT application which cannot be derived from the MMS and SMS. The plaintiff thus failed to show by prima facie evidence that he has any right in the invention at stake.
Further, there was no indication of any urgency on file, i.e. that the defendant might actually undertake any of the actions that were sought to be forbidden. The requested interim measures were denied also for this reason.
Upon intervention of plaintiff’s counsel, I have deliberately redacted plaintiff’s private address and the signatures of plaintiff’s counsel from the complaint, without acknowledging any legal obligation to do so. The writ is freely available in unredacted form in the European Patent Register since 29 December 2017.
As noted in the Register, both cases have been stayed now; EP’864 in opposition proceedings, EP’241 shortly before grant:
The EPO file wrapper are telling. Bystronic Laser AG joined the pending opposition proceedings re EP’864 in accordance with Art. 105(1) lit. b EPC, based on the requested declaratory judgment of non-infringement which has been requested in O2017_002 besides assignment to co-ownership. Exhaustive arguments and evidence have been submitted. It’s hard to sort this out; the file wrapper is a mess. If you consider downloading it yourself, beware: The docket is huge (about 5’000 pages, 1.1 Gb), unsorted and documentary evidence is unfortunately not marked with identifiers. Good luck.
UPDATE July 4, 2017, further to the above parapraph:
If you are not afraid of big data, I strongly encourage you to do your own research in the online docket. Note that parties to EPO proceedings are not obliged to mark-up documentary evidence with identifiers. The online file wrapper of the EPO is beyond control of the parties.
We did quite some digging in the dockets, and interesting insight may be gained from prior correspondence between the parties’ counsel. Apparently, there have been intense discussions prior to litigation:
A first decision in this matter was issued on 31 January 2017; see this Blog here for a review of the subject matter at stake. In brief, a register ban had been ordered ex parte to avoid withdrawal / abandonment and to suspend further prosecution of a patent application which is the subject of an ownership dispute.
UPDATE May 31, 2017:
The patent application at stake has been published today. It’s CH 711 847 A2, see Swissreg. Registered applicant expectedly is Oréade Manufacture de boîtes SA.
A hearing had initially been scheduled for 29 March 2017, but it need not take place: Defendant (1) did not object to the ex parte interim measures. The register ban will thus be maintained pending main proceedings O2017_003.
Apparently, defendants (2) and (3) participated in financing defendant (1). Towards this end, defendant (1) had assigned the patent application to defendant (2) on 8 July 2016. Later, the transfer has been reversed again — by verbal agreement in first place, and on 20/22 February 2017 in writing. Note that the transfer of a patent application by legal act is valid only if evidenced in writing; see Art. 33(2bis) PatA. It is beyond dispute that the current holder of the patent application is defendant (1). The plaintiff only disagrees with the retroactive effect of the re-assignment. However, defendant (2) has no standing to be sued anymore. Defendant (3) has never been the holder of the patent application and has no standing to be sued, either. The FPC thus dismissed plaintiff’s requests targeted at defendants (2) and (3).
The value in dispute is another interesting aspect of this case. The initial assignment of the patent application had been linked with a payment of CHF 594’000,–. On request of the FPC, the plaintiff thus initially submitted that the value in dispute is CHF 600’000,–. Defendants (2) and (3) submitted that CHF 594’000,– must not be considered as the actual value of the patent application. Rather, the amount had been fixed at that time in order to consolidate the financial situation of defendant (1). The plaintiff thus requested that the value in dispute shall be fixed to only CHF 50’000,–. The FPC did not re-adjust the value in dispute but rather sticked to the facts of the agreement of 8 July 2016 which at the face of it is a value determined by independent parties in an arms-length transaction.
The background of this case is a cooperation with an unhappy ending, at least concerning the resulting IP. The plaintiff (A) and one of the defendants (B) had signed a confidentiality agreement on 12 July 2015 for the purpose of a joint development. Two employees of A had then worked on this project and exchanged their respective results by Email. These results were then shared with B in working meetings later on, and a specific solution was sent to B by Email on 10 September 2015. B then filed a Swiss patent application on its own on 25 November 2015. That would be enough to blow most cooperations, but it even got worse: B informed A on 11 October 2016 that the patent application had been assigned to D. And on 29 November 2016, A was informed that the patent application had been assigned to C.
A was not amused and requested that a register ban be ordered ex parte to avoid withdrawal / abandonment and to suspend further prosecution; and that B, C and D be ordered to abstain from any actions towards this end. These requests were indeed granted inasmuch as the Swiss patent application is concerned. On the contrary, the request was held inadmissible with respect to related applications unspecifically referred to in the requests. Likewise, a request for a register ban at the EPO was held inadmissible; this has to be effected in accordance with Art. 61 and R. 14 EPC.
The decision (again) outlines the essential criteria to be dealt with in patent (application) ownership disputes:
Who actually has invented the disputed technology?
How has the plaintiff obtained the right to be granted a patent for this technology?
How has the defendant / patent applicant been informed about this technology?
How is the technology reflected in the patent application at stake?
The decision holds that these criteria have been met by prima facie evidence: The plaintiff (1.) had identified the inventors; (2.) how he obtained the right to be granted a patent (i.e. by virtue of Art. 332 CO as employer); (3.) how this information had been conveyed to B (see timeline above); and (4.) how this is reflected in the patent application under dispute: Apparently, Fig. 1 of the patent application reflects all the essential elements which also corresponds to the wording of claim 1.
The multiple assignments underlined the risk of a not easily reparable harm for the plaintiff. On the contrary, the defendants are not substantially harmed by the ex parte order. As to the urgency of the matter, the decision holds that the plaintiff had acted with sufficient diligence on 18 January 2017 after having been notified of the (second) assignment on 29 November 2016, i.e. seven weeks ago. Summary proceedings can still be concluded earlier than potential main proceedings which typically take one year.
On the other hand, the diligence required for the ex parte order is less clear to me. The FPC held in an earlier case that seven weeks (what a coincidence!) were too long for a plaintiff to wait — rather, one should act ‘within one or two weeks in any event’; see this Blog here. The devil may be in the (yet unknown) detail.
As to the technology concerned, the bone of contention is a latch for a watch band with a folding clasp which can carry a biometric insert.
[…] fermoir pour bracelet de montre comportant une boucle déployante permettant de loger un insert biometrique […]
The Swiss patent application at stake has been filed only less than 18 months ago (25 November 2015); it is not yet published. We will learn more on or shortly after 25 May 2017.
And the parties? According to publicly available information, there are not too many companies in Switzerland working on exactly this topic. Actually, I could only spot a single fit I feel confident enough to share: Biowatch SA. See their promotional video from 36s onwards (embedded from Youtube):
Biowatch’s Matthias Vanoni said in an interview with welt.de on 24 February 2016 that they were developing a new latch for a watch band with a special fitting for the biometric module together with a cooperation partner, i.e. Oréade SA:
The hearing scheduled for March 29, 2017 will provide further insight, and the Swiss patent application will be published end of May 2017. Stay tuned!
UPDATE March 6, 2017:
The hearing scheduled for March 29, 2017 has just been canceled.
UPDATE May 31, 2017:
The patent application at stake has been published today. It’s CH 711 847 A2, see Swissreg. Registered applicant expectedly is Oréade Manufacture de boîtes SA.
UPDATE Oct 2, 2017:
The matter has apparently been settled by compromise; see Matthias Vanoni’s comment in the comments section below.
This decision provides very early insight into a litigation with an apparently rather complex setup. The plaintiff had initiated main proceedings on January 11, 2017, inter alia alleging co-ownership of two patent families currently held by the defendant. Only two days later, the plaintiff requested ex parte interim measures, i.e. that the defendant be ordered to preserve the status quo of the patent families in suit (with respect to ownership, licenses, etc.), and that a ban be noted in the Swiss patent register to prevent any changes to the Swiss part of the already granted European patent.
Allegedly, an employee of the Swiss plaintiff has largely contributed to the subject invention(s), in a joint development together with the CEO of the defendant (a company domiciled in Sweden). Two patent families are at stake, with an already granted European patent in the first family. EPO prosecution is still pending in the second family, while patents have already been granted in the U.S., Japan and Russia.
First, the President holds that the FPC only has territorial jurisdiction for the Swiss part of the European patent at stake; Art. 1(2) IPRA, Art. 31 LugC, Art. 10 lit. b IPRA. Note that the patentee / defendant is domiciled in Sweden! The request has thus not been considered at all as far as it concerned foreign patent rights.
What remains is the Swiss part of the already granted European patent. Swiss law is applicable in this respect; Art. 110(1) IPRA. In general terms, the requested injunction and the order to a register authority would be possible in accordance with Art. 262 lit. a and c CPC. However, the President held that the plaintiff failed to show the three necessary elements, i.e.
that the employee of the plaintiff has contributed to or made this invention (what exactly, when, where and how);
how the defendant has been made aware of this invention (or parts thereof); and
how the subject-matter claimed by the defendant actually corresponds to this invention.
The plaintiff apparently did not discuss how the contribution of its employee is reflected in the claims; see item iii, above. Co-ownership was thus held to be not established for this reason alone.
Moreover, the President notes that the plaintiff failed to show an actual risk that any of the acts to be prohibited might materialize. The request also failed for this reason.
The routine exercise: Who are the parties?
Admittedly, that’s been a tricky puzzle this time. The decision is anonymized beyond recognition. Almost. We could spot a single perfect fit: