Of course I am in shape: Round is a shape …

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Case No. O2017_002 | Decision of 8 May 2020 » | ‘Freiform-Schneidverfahren’

We have reported about the main hearing on this Blog here ». From the pleadings at the hearing, I had expected a pretty straight-forward outcome. But when I had downloaded the decision, I panicked: 110 pages(!), a decision of epic length. When will I ever find time to read all this? But in the end it was not half as bad: One can thumb through more than half of the decision without missing much: It takes essentially the first 65(!) pages to recite the various requests of the parties during the proceedings.

The mountain in labour

Against the background of the pleadings at the main hearing, the conclusions of the decision indeed do not come as a big surprise anymore: EP(CH) 864 » is declared null and void; Bystronic’s further requests are dismissed, as well as Tomologic’s counterclaim for infringement. Appeal proceedings are currently pending at the Supreme Court.

Besides EP(CH) 864 », the further members of this patent family in other jurisdictions had also been at stake: Bystronic had requested assignment to co-ownership. Yet another patent family was at stake with respect to co-ownership, i.e WO 2012/136262 A1; grant of a European patent had already been intended, but proceedings at the EPO have been stayed in view of the entitlement proceedings at the FPC.

Now that the outcome is essentially in line with what we had learned in the main hearing », let’s have a look at some procedural aspects, and some issues of potentially more general interest.

Competency of the FPC

Competency of the FPC to hear all aspects of the case was not a given, since e.g. Bystronic had requested that foreign members of the patent families were assigned to co-ownership. It was only due to a Service Agreement between the parties, i.e. a choice of forum clause contained therein, that the FPC’s competency was acknowledged in toto.

based on a choice of forum agreement between the parties.
the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion

Parties sometimes feel that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion should have dealt with yet further aspects of the case: Why didn’t he/she take a deep(er) dive? The decision holds that the parties do not have the right to have all the questions which might arise and which concern technical issues be dealt with in a specialised judge’s opinion; see ¶ 32. This is even more so in cases like the present one when more than 20 auxiliary requests are pending (which ultimately all failed for clarity issues and insufficiency of disclosure of a feature that was contained in all requests). It is at the judge-rapporteur’s discretion to make a reasonable choice of aspects to be dealt with in the expert opinion:

Do the examples have to be covered by the claim?

In general terms with respect to claim construction, the decision holds in ¶ 43 that a claim shall be read in such a way that the embodiments disclosed in the patent are literally covered. Applying this to the case at hand, the decision holds in ¶ 46, that one has to arrive at a certain conclusion since the embodiments disclosed in the specification must be covered (literally):

I have stumbled over the same wording several times in recent decisions of the FPC — and I am still not really comfy with it. My experience as a patent attorney is different: It frequently happens during prosecution that claims are amended in such a way that specific examples (only some or even all) disclosed in the specification are not covered anymore by the amended claim. Clearly, both the attorney and the examiner should spot and remove such inconsistencies before grant. But it just doesn’t happen, quite often.

By way of example, if a claim is amended during prosecution by specifying that a certain element is circular, and the patent as granted contains various embodiments of circular shape and still an embodiment where that element is rectangular, there is no way in my perception that circular in the claim should be construed such that it covers a rectangle.

On the other a hand, when the claim says round and the embodiments disclose only various polygons, chances are that polygons might well read on round(?). Subject to discussion, of course. But I feel that it is in no way a universal truth that a claim has to be construed in a way that it literally covers the disclosed embodiments, no matter what. Rather, it depends.

Accordingly, the German Supreme Court has held several times that the correct claim construction may well lead to a situation where only some or, in exceptional cases, even no embodiment at all is covered by the claim (see e.g.  X ZR 43/13Rotorblätter (¶ 16) and X ZR 35/11Zugriffsrechte (¶ 26)):

Eine Auslegung des Patentanspruchs, die zur Folge hätte, dass keines der […] geschilderten Ausführungsbeispiele vom Gegenstand des Patents erfasst würde, kommt […] nur in Betracht, wenn andere Auslegungsmöglichkeiten, die zumindest zur Einbeziehung eines Teils der Ausführungsbeispiele führen, zwingend ausscheiden oder wenn sich aus dem Patentanspruch hinreichend deutliche Anhaltspunkte dafür entnehmen lassen, dass tatsächlich etwas beansprucht wird, das so weitgehend von der Beschreibung abweicht.

In English:

A claim construction which would have the consequence that none of the described embodiments would be covered by the patent is only possible if other ways of claim construction which lead to the coverage of at least some of the embodiments are definitely ruled out or if there are sufficiently clear indications from the patent claim that something is actually claimed which deviates so widely from the description.

Co-inventorship

What’s the threshold for someone’s contribution to be considered relevant enough to give rise to co-inventorship?

The decision holds in ¶ 62 that a co-inventor is someone who has participated creatively in the development of the invention. Mere workmanship is not sufficient to be a co-inventor, but it is not required that the contribution in itself is inventive or even that it fulfils the conditions for patentability in itself.

mere constructional conribution does not suffice.

In the case at hand, the decision holds that mere evaluation of an invention-in-progress is not a creative / substantial input to the invention per se:

is not a creative / substantial contribution to the invention per se.

This example appears straight-forward to me. On the other side of the threshold, an input that is more than standard workmanship (or which is substantial; see ¶ 69) but not yet inventive in itself is sufficient for someone to be a co-inventor. Again, there may well be clear cases, e.g. when a car is claimed and the invention is all about an engine for the car, and someone only contributes to the subject-matter of the claim that the car has wheels (guess what!). But most cases won’t be this easy to decide.

On a sidenote, the decision also holds that the inventor has to be a human. Well, that is the current mainstream approach, see e.g. the EPO’s DABUS decisions and a recent report from the Five IP Offices:

ManMachine

But there are certainly AI-generated inventions around; see e.g. The Artificial Inventor Project, and it is a pity that the law — at least as it stands and as it is currently interpreted by the offices and courts(?) — deprives AI-generated inventions from patent protection. But the discussion about this and further AI-related aspects has only just begun.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_002 | Decision of 8 May 2020 » | ‘Freiform-Schneidverfahren’

Bystronic Laser AG
./.
Tomologic AB

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Thomas LEGLER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Christoph MÜLLER
    • Christophe SAAM
    • Dr. Rudolf RENTSCH

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Markus FRICK (Walder Wyss)
    • Manuel BIGLER (Walder Wyss)
    • Dr. Peter WALSER (Frei), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Markus MÜLLER (Frei), assisting in patent matters

Former representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Catherine WEISSER
    • Paul ROSENICH (PPR), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant / Counterclaimant:

    • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
    • Martin TOLETI (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Christoph ENGELBRECHT (Blum), assisting in patent matters

DECISION

PATENT IN SUIT

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A dossier that has risen like yeast dough

Reading time: 7 minutes

Case No. O2017_002 | Hearing of 5 February 2020

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).

Tomologic logo

In first place, Tomologic‘s EP 2 485 864 B1 (see EPO Register) is at stake. Bystronic requested that EP(CH) 864 be declared null and void, or that it be assigned to co-ownership as an auxiliary measure. Some further patents or patent applications are concerned in addition, in particular national parts of WO 2012/136262 A1 such as e.g. EP 2 694 241; see EPO Register).

Tomologic has countersued for infringement of EP 864 by Bystronic’s software product Bysoft 7 with the implemented function to create cutting plans:

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.

Clunky mike

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. ¶ [0052] of EP 864 in this respect:

Faszination Blech

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:

by the FPC, indicating the case number (O2017_002) and the subject-matter of the complaint, i.e. request for declaratory judgement of non-infringement.

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.

Reported by Jolanda MINDER and Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2017_002 | Hearing of 5 February 2020

Bystronic Laser AG
./.
Tomologic AB

Panel of Judges:

    • Dr. Thomas LEGLER
    • Dr. Tobias BREMI
    • Christoph MÜLLER
    • Christophe SAAM
    • Dr. Rudolf RENTSCH

Judge-rapporteur:

    • Dr. Tobias BREMI

Court Clerk:

    • Susanne ANDERHALDEN

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Dr. Markus FRICK (Walder Wyss)
    • Manuel BIGLER (Walder Wyss)
    • Dr. Peter WALSER (Frei), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Markus MÜLLER (Frei), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Michael BERGER (Bystronic), assisting in patent matters

Former representative(s) of Plaintiff:

    • Catherine WEISSER
    • Paul ROSENICH (PPR), assisting in patent matters

Representative(s) of Defendant / Counterclaimant:

    • Dr. Simon HOLZER (MLL)
    • Martin TOLETI (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Dr. Christoph ENGELBRECHT (Blum), assisting in patent matters
    • Henrik HÄGGLÖF (Zacco), assisting in patent matters

ANNOUNCEMENT

 

PATENT IN SUIT

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