Oxycodone / Naloxone II, III, … and counting(?)

Reading time: 7 minutes

Case No. O2017_009 | Decision of 7 November 2019 | ‘Oxycodon und Naloxon II und III’

The patents at stake in this nullity case are MundiPharma‘s EP 2 425 821 B1 (see EPO Register and Swissreg) and EP 2 425 824 B1 (see EPO Register and Swissreg). The same parties have already litigated over EP 2 425 825 B9 in separate proceedings O2016_016; see this Blog here — and so did yet another plaintiff in O2016_017; see this Blog here.

Wondering about the color code? It is adopted from the decision itself (¶ 16), to help getting the ducks (pardon me, divisional applications) in line:

Patents in suit: EP’821 and EP’824

Yet again, it’s all about a combination of oxycodone hydrochloride and naloxone hydrochloride, in a weight ratio of 2:1.

This combination is an analgesic drug that is available as modified-release tablets under the trade name Targin® by MundiPharma.

Develco sought annulment of both EP(CH)’821 and EP(CH)’824 inter alia for undue extension of subject-matter, in violation of Art. 76 and Art. 123 EPC. Note that both patents had been filed as divisional applications, without any claims in first place. However, the claims of WO’520 had been recited in the specification in ¶ [0127] of EP 821 A1 and ¶ [0131] of EP 824 A1, respectively.

As to EP 824, the decision holds that claim 1 as granted does not comply with Art. 76 and Art. 123 EPC; see the following mark-up over the first claim-like clause  in ¶ [0131] of EP 824 A1:

EP 824 as granted; mark-up over ¶ [0131] of EP 824 A1
Likewise, the first auxiliary request (AR 1) — wherein only feature 1.7 had been amended over the claims as granted — failed  for essentially the same reasons:

AR 1, mark-up over the claims as granted

Both claim 1 as granted and claim 1 of the AR 1 had also been held by an Opposition Division of the EPO to not comply with Art. 123 EPC; see the decision of 11 September 2019, ¶¶ 2.4-2.9, 6 and 8.

Finally, also AR 2 failed for essentially (some of) the same reasons as the claims as granted, and in line with the ratio decidendi of the EPO’s Opposition Division:

AR 2, mark-up over the claims as granted

As to EP 821, the decision is pretty straight forward because the specification is the same as in EP 824. Claim 1 as granted does not comply with Art. 123 EPC:

EP 821 as granted; mark-up over ¶ [0127] of EP 821 A1
The FPC comes to the same conclusion for claim 1 of AR 1:

AR 1, mark-up over the claims as granted

This finding of the FPC is in line with the decision of an Opposition Division in parallel proceedings at the EPO; see the decision of 11 September 2019 (AR 1 corresponds to AR IX in EPO opposition proceedings).

On the merits, I feel that this case is nothing out of the ordinary in terms of assessment of undue extension of subject-matter. Still, there are two statements that I find noteworthy.

First, the decision holds in ¶ 25 that, as a rule, when reading a patent application or a patent, the person skilled in the art assumes that features, if they are expressly mentioned in an independent claim, are important and not just superfluous — unless there are clear indications to the contrary. Thus, for a feature to be omitted, it is therefore not sufficient to show that it is not highlighted anywhere as important. Rather, it must be shown that the skilled person recognizes that the feature does not make a technical contribution or can be omitted. It must therefore be established that the skilled person, using common general knowledge, would regard the claimed subject-matter even without the specific feature  as — explicitly or implicitly — directly and unambiguously disclosed in the application as filed.

Grundsätzlich geht der Fachmann beim Lesen einer Patentanmeldung oder einer Patentschrift a priori zunächst einmal davon aus, dass Merkmale, wenn sie ausdrücklich in unabhängigen Patentansprüchen genannt werden, auch wichtig und nicht einfach überflüssig sind, sofern es nicht klare Hinweise für das Gegenteil gibt.

Damit ein Merkmal weggelassen werden kann, genügt es also nicht, zu zeigen, dass es nirgends als wichtig hervorgehoben wird, sondern es muss gezeigt werden, dass für den Fachmann zweifelsfrei erkennbar ist, dass das Merkmal keinen technischen Beitrag leistet oder auch weggelassen werden kann. Mithin muss gezeigt werden, dass der Fachmann unter Heranziehung des allgemeinen Fachwissens den beanspruchten Gegenstand auch ohne das Merkmal als – explizit oder implizit – unmittelbar und eindeutig in der ursprünglichen Fassung der Anmeldung offenbart ansehen würde.

In my perception, this is essentially the approach of the EPO, even though the decision does not make any reference to the EPO Guidelines or case-law of the Boards of Appeal in this respect.

Second, the decision makes a clear distinction in ¶ 44, with extensive reference to case-law of the Boards of Appeal, between mere deletion of some elements from lists of a certain length on the one hand (which may well be admissible), and so-called singling out of specific elements from a lists (which is typically not permissible).

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_009 | Decision of 7 November 2019 | ‘Oxycodon und Naloxon II und III’

Develco Pharma Schweiz AG
./.
MundiPharma Medical Company

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Daniel M. ALDER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Dr. Hannes SPILLMANN

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Develco:

    • Andrea MONDINI (TIMES)
    • Dr. Cornelia HOFFMANN (SBMP), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Mundipharma:

    • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
    • Renato BUCHER (MLL)
    • Dr. Dirk BÜHLER (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Andreas LEDL (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters

DECISION IN FULL

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Déjà vu? Indeed! Mundipharma’s EP’825 declared invalid for the second time

Reading time: 2 minutes

Case No. O2016_017 | Decision of 21 June 2019

The patent at stake is, again, MundiPharma‘s EP 2 425 825 B9; see EPO Register and Swissreg. Besides Acino Pharma AG, the plaintiff in the present proceedings, Develco had also successfully sought annulment of the very same patent in parallel proceedings O2016_016; see this Blog here.

Both Acino Pharma and Develco had raised essentially the same arguments with respect to undue extension of subject-matter. Unsurprisingly, the FPC came to the same conclusion: The patent is invalid, the counterclaim for infringement has been dismissed accordingly. Thus, I cannot add much on the merits over what I have already discussed on this Blog here.

On the more procedural side, I would assume that these two cases could pretty efficiently be dealt with by the FPC: Same panel of judges, same judge-rapporteur, same patent, essentially the same arguments. Actually, the expert-opinion of the judge-rapporteur had been issued on the same day, and the judgments are literally identical to large extent. Still, the court fee has been set to kCHF 60, i.e. well according to the regular tariff. Given the circumstances, I wonder whether the court fees could (should?) have been significantly reduced?

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_017 | Decision of 21 June 2019

Acino Pharma AG
./.
MundiPharma Medical Company

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Daniel M. ALDER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Hannes SPILLMANN

Judge-rapporteur:

  • n/a

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Acino:

Representative(s) of Mundipharma:

  • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
  • Renato BUCHER (MLL)
  • Dr. Dirk BÜHLER (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters
  • Dr. Andreas LEDL (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters

DECISION IN FULL

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A Swiss approach to the EPO’s gold standard

Reading time: 5 minutes

Case No. O2016_016 | Decision of 6 June 2019

The patent at stake is MundiPharma‘s EP 2 425 825 B9; see EPO Register and Swissreg. EP’825 pertains to a combination of oxycodone hydrochloride (in an amount of 10 to 150g) and naloxone hydrochloride (in an amount of 1 to 50g), in a weight ratio of 2:1.

This combination is an analgesic drug that is available as modified-release tablets under the trade name Targin® by MundiPharma.

Develco’s logo

Develco sought annulment of EP(CH)’825 for various reasons, i.e. undue extension of subject-matter, non-enablement and invalidity of the priority claim. Please see this Blog here for a brief summary of the main hearing in this matter, and some relevant prior art Develco has asserted against patentability of the claimed subject-matter.

MundiPharma’s logo

Defendant / patentee MundiPharma countersued for infringement. MundiPharma not only countersued the plaintiff, but rather also attempted to involve the German branch of Develco as well as Konapharma. This attempt failed.

It was evident from the pleadings at the main hearing that the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur had held that the patent was invalid for undue extension of subject-matter. Thus, it does not come as a big surprise in the decision that EP(CH)’825 is held invalid for undue extension of subject-matter. Consequently, the decision does not address the other grounds of invalidity asserted by Develco; and the counterclaim for infringement is moot, too.

In my perception, the detailed assessment of undue extension of subject-matter is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s all about the EPO’s ‘gold standard’ (G 2/10 in ¶4.3, with reference to G 3/89 and G 11/91), i.e.

[…] any amendment […] can […] only be made within the limits of what a skilled person would derive directly and unambiguously, using common general knowledge, and seen objectively and relative to the date of filing, from the whole of [the application as filed].

What is interesting, though, is how the decision addresses the so-called essentiallity-test (‘Wesentlichkeits-Test’), in particular how this test fits with the ‘gold standard’. In brief, in T 331/87 the Board held that the replacement or removal of a feature from a claim may (referred to in the Case Law of the Boards of Appeal as a ‘might’) not be in breach of Art. 123(2) EPC if the skilled person would directly and unambiguously recognise that

  1. the feature was not explained as essential in the disclosure;
  2. it was not, as such, indispensable for the function of the invention in the light of the technical problem it served to solve; and
  3. the replacement or removal required no real modification of other features to compensate for the change.

It is important to note that even this Board apparently (in view of the conditional language used; see mark-up above) did not consider compliance with the above three criteria as a sufficient condition for compliance with Art.123(2) EPC in any given case. Accordingly, the present decision holds that the only thing that really matters is the ‘gold standard’ discussed above, which cannot be deviated from. With reference to the Swiss Supreme Court decision 4A_109/2011, 4A_111/2011 (¶4.3.1), however, the decision further holds that in a case where not even the criteria of the essentiallity test are fulfilled, it must be assumed that an undue extension of subject-matter occured.

What suprises me, though, is that the decision holds (¶31):

Otherwise this would again amount to a materiality test, which was expressly rejected in G 2/98.

Frankly, I don’t see that in G 2/98, at least not expressly (‘ausdrücklich’). One may well conclude from the gist of G 2/98, in particular ¶8.3, that it does not endorse a distinction of technical features which are related to the function and effect of the invention and technical features which are not. But there is no discussion of the essentiallity test at all in G 2/98. Else, if there was, the essentiallity test would surely not be referred to anymore in the most recent edition of the Case Law of the Boards of Appeal and the Guidelines.

But still, my personal take-away message from this decision is that the essentiallity test is of no avail in proceedings at the FPC (until someone comes along and proves me wrong).

The decision is not yet final / may still be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_016 | Decision of 6 June 2019

Develco Pharma Schweiz AG
./.
MundiPharma Medical Company

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Daniel M. ALDER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Hannes SPILLMANN

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Develco:

  • Andrea MONDINI (TIMES)
  • Dr. Cornelia HOFFMANN (SBMP), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Mundipharma:

  • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
  • Dr. Dirk BÜHLER (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters
  • Dr. Andreas LEDL (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters

DECISION

Don’t be misled by the patent no. on the bottom of the title page. EP 2 245 825 is a typo; this should read EP 2 425 825.
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What’s the point about pointer?

Reading time: 4 minutes

Case No. O2016_017 | Hearing of 3 June 2019

The patent at stake is MundiPharma‘s EP 2 425 825 B9; see EPO Register and Swissreg. Besides Acino Pharma AG, the plaintiff in the present proceedings, Develco is also fighting this patent in parallel proceedings; see this Blog here.

EP’825 pertains to a combination of oxycodone hydrochloride (in an amount of 10 to 150g) and naloxone hydrochloride (in an amount of 1 to 50g), in a weight ratio of 2:1.

This combination is an analgesic drug that is available as modified-release tablets under the trade name Targin® by MundiPharma. Oxycodone is an opioid that has pain-relieving effects. Naloxone opposes the effects of opioids but is poorly absorbed when given orally; it stays within the gastrointestinal tract and reduces the local side effects of oxycodone.

Acino’s logo

Acino seeks annulment of EP(CH)’825 for various reasons, i.e. undue extension of subject-matter, non-enablement and invalidity of the priority claim. On the merits, Acino argues that EP’825 is not novel over WO 01/58451 A1, and that it is obvious in view of WO 01/58447 A1 (if the claim to priority is invalid) or in view of WO 02/092060 A1. Further documents referred to by the plaintiff in the assessment of obviousness are US 3,966,940, US 3,773,955 (erroneously referred to as US 3,773,995 in the announcement) and a paper of Skarin (most likely this one).

MundiPharma’s logo

Defendant / patentee MundiPharma countersued for infringement.

It was evident from the pleadings that the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur had held that the patent was invalid for undue extension of subject-matter. Note that the first instance decision at the EPO (11 December 2018) came to the same conclusion, but an appeal is still pending at the EPO.

The hearing has again been thematically structured, similar to O2016_016. I could only attend until noon, and not even the most controversial issue of undue extension of subject-matter had been finished. Still, I believe that the major issues had already been raised at that time. Patentee had submitted that if the ‘pointer concept‘ in the assessment of whether or not sth is clearly and unambiguously disclosed in the application as filed would be properly used, no undue extension of subject-matter had occured. The ‘two lists concept‘ must not be used as an end in itself, but it is rather only the so-called gold standard that applies (clear and unambiguous disclosure in the application as filed, in the skilled persons understanding).

It will be very interesting to see how this will play out. Stay tuned.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2016_017 | Hearing of 3 June 2019

Acino Pharma AG
./.
MundiPharma Medical Company

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Daniel M. ALDER
  • Dr. Tobias BREMI
  • Dr. Hannes SPILLMANN

Judge-rapporteur:

  • n/a

Court Clerk:

  • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Acino:

Representative(s) of Mundipharma:

  • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
  • Dr. Dirk BÜHLER (Maiwald), assisting in patent matters

ANNOUNCEMENT

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