The expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur is not the end of the line

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Case No. S2018_007 | Decision of 2 May 2019

Fein’s logo

The patent at stake is EP 3 027 362 B1 which is jointly owned by C&E Fein GmbH and Robert Bosch GmbH; see the EPO Register and Swissreg for further information.

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

The patent in suit

Bosch’s logo

The invention is about a tool which is intended to be used with a machine tool, in particular a hand guided machine tool. The machine tool has a rotational drive, e.g. an oscillating drive.

In simple terms, it’s all about a somewhat special attachment device that transfers a torque from the driving device to the machine tool. It’s a 3D fitting; see e.g. Fein’s various Starlock® tools:

Fein’s Starlock tools

Bosch has the same attachment system in place in the Professional Multitool series:

Bosch’s GOP 12 V-28 Professional Multitool

Plaintiffs referred to it as ‘Gugelhupf’ or ‘Napfkuchen’. The claim language is a bit more complicated and less culinary, though.

  • Claim 1 of EP'362

1.1 A tool device (1, 1b) which is suitable for use with a machine tool (22), and in particular suitable for use with a hand guided machine tool, which has a driving device moving around a driving axis, and in particular oscillating around the driving axis,
1.2 and which has an attachment device (12) by means of which it can be fastened to a machine tool (22) in such a manner that the driving axis and a tool axis of rotation (5) are substantially coincident,
1.3 wherein, for receiving a driving force, the attachment device (12) comprises at least two driving area regions (2, 2a, 2b) each having a plurality of surface points (3) and which are spaced from this tool axis of rotation (5),
1.4 characterized in that tangent planes (4) at these surface points (3) are inclined relative to an axial plane (7), which includes the tool axis of rotation (5),
1.5 wherein the tangent planes (4) are inclined relative to a radial plane (6), which extends perpendicular to the tool axis of rotation (5),
1.6 wherein the attachment device (12) comprises a side wall,
1.7 wherein the side wall extends spaced radially from the tool axis of rotation (5),
1.8 wherein the side wall extends between a first, upper boundary plane (8a) and a second, lower boundary plane (8b), and
1.9 wherein the side wall comprises the driving area regions (2, 2a, 2b),
1.10 wherein a substantially hollow conical section is formed in the region of the attachment device by means of the side wall, which section has a cross section with a variable spacing of the side wall to the tool axis of rotation in a plane orthogonal to the tool axis of rotation.

The alleged infringement

Coram’s logo

The plaintiffs asserted that EP’362 (more precisely, the independent claim 1 and dependent claims 2-9, 11, 13 and 14) is infringed by Coram’s saw blades ‘B-Cut’ with ‘Quick Fixture’, and requested interim injunctive relief.

And indeed, the attachment device of Coram’s saw blades appears somewhat ‘gugelhupfig’:

But infringement was not the major issue here. Apparently, it had not even been explicitly disputed.

The bone of contention was the validity of EP’362.

The expert opinion was not yet it

What …?!

It was clear from the pleadings at the main hearing that the judge-rapporteur’s expert opinion had held that EP’362 was valid.

Some still say that the expert-opinion of the judge-rapporteur is effectively the end of the line. And, indeed, the handwriting on the wall bodes poorly when the judge-rapporteur does not follow your arguments. But there are exceptions to the rule, and the present case apparently is a prime example.

Novelty / claim construction

The decision holds that EP’362 is invalid.

Even though novelty over DE 2 120 669 has been acknowledged (because the ‘Gugelhupf’ structure in Fig. 5 of DE'669 is not the attachment device of the tool towards the driving means, but rather only an inner part of the tool itself) , the decision holds that claim 1 is not novel over EP 0 596 831 A1:

Fig. 2 of EP’831 (annotations by the FPC to show the sidewalls, i.e. the cone-shaped surfaces 8c and 8d). Note that the figure is erroneously referred to as Fig. 4 in the decision.

The critical issue here was claim construction. The decision again expands on a key aspect of claim construction, as follows (r. 14):

Claims are to be construed functionally, i.e. a feature is to be construed in such a way that it can fulfil the intended purpose. The claim should be read in such a way that the embodiments disclosed in the patent are literally covered; on the other hand, the wording of the claim should not be restricted to the embodiments if it covers further embodiments. When case-law refers to ‘broadest interpretation’ of claim features, the feature must still be capable of fulfilling its purpose in the context of the invention. This means that the claim must not be interpreted under its wording, but also not in such a way that embodiments are covered which do not achieve the inventive effect.

It is the second time that this paragraph is verbatim included in a decision in a short time; r. 14 of the present decision corresponds literally to r. 25 of O2016_009 (see this Blog here). For the time being, it is pretty clear what to expect at the FPC when it comes to claim construction.

By the way, you would not notice from the decision itself that the expert opinion of the judge-rapporteur has been reversed. It is just noted that the judge-rapporteur had provided his opinion on 25 March 2019, but the decision is silent about its content. Some earlier decision of the FPC gave at least some indication in this respect (e.g. O2015_011, r. 4: “On the question of validity [the judge-rapporteur] gave his expert opinion. The panel agrees with this opinion, with certain additions, as will be explained below. ), but the more recent decisions don’t give this insight anymore. What a bummer.

With the independent claim 1 being held likely invalid, the whole patent was held to be likely invalid. Thus, the request for interim injunctive relief was dismissed.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. S2018_007 | Decision of 2 May 2019

(1) C&E Fein GmbH
(2) Robert Bosch GmbH
./.
Coram Tools GmbH

Panel of Judges:

  • Dr. Mark SCHWEIZER
  • Dr. Markus A. MÜLLER
  • Dr. Stefan KOHLER

Judge-rapporteur:

  • Dr. Markus A. MÜLLER

Court Clerk:

  • Agnieszka TABERSKA

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

  • Dr. Andri HESS (Homburger)
  • Hans Rudolf GACHNANG (Gachnang), assisting in patent matters

FULL TEXT DECISION 
Case no.: S2018_007
Decision of: 2 May 2019
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