Late stage partial waiver of a patent: No appropriate ways to deal with them?!

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Case No. 4A_420/2019 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 13 May 2020 on appeal against O2016_001 | Decision of 27 June 2019

We had reported about the decision of the FPC on this Blog here.

In brief, Harcane had sued Comadur essentially to the effect that CH’572 be declared invalid (based on Art. 26(1) lit. a PatA, not lit. d); or, alternatively, if CH’572 was held valid, that it be transfered to Harcane. See Swissreg for further bibliographic information on CH’572; an automated translation can be found here.

Comadur partially waived CH’572 with the rejoinder; Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA. The FPC had dismissed Harcane’s requests and maintained CH’572 in partially waived form.

Harcane’s appeal has now been dismissed by the Supreme Court.

On a formal issue, I have learned from the Supreme Court decision that deletion of dependent claims 7-10 in the conclusions of the FPC decision (p. 41-42) happened by accident. A rectified decision has apparently been issued ex officio on 13 November 2019 (unpublished):

On appeal, Harcane challenged admissibility of the partial waiver, for various reasons: In first place, the amended claims were not directed to the same invention (contrary to Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA); alternatively, the claimed subject-matter was obvious (contrary to Art. 1(2) PatA) and not applicable in industry (contrary to Art. 1(1) PatA). The Supreme Court held that these objections have apparently not been raised before the FPC — but they could and should have been raised there:

L’argumentation ci-mentionnée est nouvelle et elle ne s’impose pas en raison des motifs du jugement attaqué. La demanderesse ne paraît pas avoir été empêchée de la soulever déjà devant le Tribunal fédéral des brevets, notamment au stade des débats principaux; elle a simplement omis de le faire.

The Supreme Court thus held that the appeal was inadmissible to the extent nullity / allowability of the partial waiver is concerned.

Still, there is an interesting sidenote on late stage partial waiver in general, and the procedural issues they cause. The Supreme Court did not mince matters (loose translation):

The partial waiver obviously introduced a very important change in the subject matter of the dispute. Neither the CPC nor the PatCA explicitly provides for a procedure appropriate to this situation. Usually, however, a partial surrender is suitable to allow a simplification of the proceedings ([…]). At first glance, it would have been appropriate to issue an interim decision in accordance with Art. 237 CPC on the partial waiver requested by the Respondent and then to invite the Claimant to refocus their arguments. This could have been done in the context of Art. 125 CPC, since this provision does not exhaustively list measures to simplify the proceedings ([…]).

Here is the original wording in French:

In my understanding, compliance of a partial waiver with Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA has to be examined ex officio. Accordingly, the Supreme Court notes that the court must examine (“[…] doit […] vérifier […]”) whether the newly formulated claims validly reduce the scope of the patent in suit; ¶3. By the way, the FPC did so (even though very briefly):

Frankly, I am not fully convinced that an interim decision would really simplify the proceedings. On the contrary, I feel it would rather lengthen the proceedings, except for clear cut cases of non-compliance with Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA — which I understand was not the case here, in the FPC’s view; and Harcane did apparently not argue that in first instance proceedings, either.

In my perception, the current practice of the FPC to instead invite the counterparty to comment on new factual allegations in the rejoinder within a time period fixed by the court is fit for purpose. The partial waiver clearly is a new factual allegation, and the counterparty actually is already provided with a possibility to refocus their arguments.

On the other hand, in a situation where the FPC considers that a partical waiver is non-compliant with Art. 24(1) lit. c PatA but both parties remained silent on this issue, the parties could be invited to complete their pleadings on this issue in any event, with or without a subsequent interim decision in this respect; Art. 56 CPC.

A further aspect of the decision relates to the value in dispute. The parties had proposed widely differing values, i.e. kCHF 80 and kCHF 660, respectively. The FPC had fixed the value in dispute to kCHF 500, in view of the hard fight of the parties before the various courts and the considerable economic value of the subject-matter of the patent. The Supreme Court held that the FPC has some discretion in fixing the value in dispute, and that there was no apparent abuse of this discretion. In particular the Supreme Court held (¶5, loose translation):

Contrary to the plaintiff’s opinion, the outcome of the litigation cannot influence the estimate of the value in dispute and it is therefore irrelevant whether the patent will eventually be deemed invalid.

With respect to the cost issue, the appeal was thus held admissible, but ill-founded.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. 4A_420/2019 (Supreme Court) | Decision of 13 May 2020 on appeal against O2016_001 | Decision of 27 June 2019

Harcane Sàrl (Appellant / Plaintiff)
./.
Comadur SA (Respondent / Defendant)

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Christina KISS
      • Dr. Martha NIQUILLE
      • Marie-Chantal MAY CANELLAS

Court Clerk:

    • Antoine THÉLIN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Jean-Claude SCHWEIZER (SLB)

Representative(s) of Defendant:

DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT (II)
→ appeal against FPC decision dismissed
Case no.: 4A_420/2019
Decision of: 13 May 2020

DECISION OF THE FPC
→ patent maintained / partially surrendered; plaintiff’s claims dismissed
Case no.: O2016_001
Decision of: 27 June 2019

DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT (I)
in a related matter, referred to in ¶13 of the FPC decision and Section B of the later Supreme Court decision 4A_420/2019
Case nos.: 4A_584/2017
4A_590/2017
Decision of: 9 January 2019

PATENT IN SUIT

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Be specific!

Reading time: 9 minutes

Case No. O2016_001 | Decision of 27 June 2019

We had reported about the main hearing in this matter on this Blog here.

Comadur logo

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.

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.

novelty and inventive step

The plaintiff alleged that CH’572 was not novel over US 5,266,264, several PhD theses (Juan M. Adames, 2007; S. Kowalski, 2005; C. Quinard, 2008) and a prior use, i.e. the sale of a certain feedstock to Comadur.

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.

Costs

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.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_001 | Decision of 27 June 2019

Harcane Sàrl
./.
Comadur SA

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Dr. Michael STÖRZBBACH
    • Dr. Regula RÜEDI
    • Dr. Thomas LEGLER

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Agnieszka TABERSKA

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Jean-Claude SCHWEIZER (SLB)

Representative(s) of Defendant:

    • Dr. Nathalie TISSOT (Tissot)
    • Marie TISSOT (Tissot)
    • Thierry RAVENEL (ICB), assisting in patent matters

DECISION OF THE FPC
→ patent maintained / partially surrendered; plaintiff’s claims dismissed
Case no.: O2016_001
Decision of: 27 June 2019
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DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
→ referred to in ¶13 of the FPC decision
Case nos.: 4A_584/2017
4A_590/2017
Decision of: 9 January 2019
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PATENT IN SUIT

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Hard materials, hard times …

Case No. O2016_001 ¦ Main Hearing of 3 May 2018

comadur.com

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.

Reported by Ingo LUMMER and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_001 ¦ Main Hearing of 3 May 2018

Harcane Sàrl

./.

Comadur SA

Judges:

    • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Dr. Michael STÖRZBBACH
    • Dr. Regula RÜEDI
    • Dr. Thomas LEGLER

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Agnieszka TABERSKA

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Jean-Claude SCHWEIZER (SLB)

Representative(s) of Defendant:

    • Dr. Nathalie TISSOT (Tissot)

ANNOUNCEMENT

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PATENT IN SUIT

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