Monday, 20 April 2015

Purposive use of Information Modelling may be Patentable

The decision T 0049/99 relates to a patent application relating to a method for modelling a physical system in a computer. Inputs are various data describing the physical system and the output is an object-oriented model thereof.

The question arose under which conditions such kind of information modelling may contribute to the technical character of the invention and consequently be accounted for when assessing the inventive step.

Here is the catchword of the decision:
Information modelling is an intellectual activity and should be treated like any other human activity in a non-technical field, which is, as such, not an invention for the purposes of Article 52(1) EPC. Only the purposive use of information modelling in the context of a solution to a technical problem may contribute to the technical character of an invention.
While the first sentence is not very surprising, the second sentence might be a pointer to what could have been patentable if properly claimed.

The applicants/appellants had apparently argued that the link to the tangible application of power systems lends some technical character to the features. The BoA responds as follows:

The claimed invention, however, is not restricted to power systems; as expressly indicated in the description the invention may be applied to various types of systems, "large, complex systems" including manufacturing plants and other physical systems (see description, page 30, lines 10 ff.). Claim 1 uses the generic expression "physical system", which is actually a term including any real world system, even business and administrative organisations. 
In the light of the broad meaning of the expression "physical system", information modelling in terms of the first part of claim 1 has to be construed as an abstract non-technical activity using abstract constructs like objects, types, attributes, and relationships.

Eventually, a more specific definition of the purposive use would have helped to classify the feature as a technical one.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Self-sealed mailer patent comes unstuck

Everseal Stationery Products Ltd v Document Management Solutions Ltd & Others [2015] EWHC 842 (IPEC) is a decision of Judge Hacon in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, England and Wales, dating back to the beginning of this month.

Everseal had a patent for a product which still has some currency, even in the age of the internet: this product was a "mailer", this being a business communication which was folded, sealed by an adhesive around its periphery and sent through the terrestrial post. Claim 1 of Everseal's patent disclosed a mailer including an adhesive which self-sealed irreversibly under "finger pressure" namely pressure of 500 kPa or less. Claim 7 disclosed a mailer in which the adhesive was a natural rubber latex adhesive stabilised with ammonia.

DMS developed mailers which were referred to in the judgment as Mailer 1, Mailer 2 and Mailer 3. Everseal sued DMS for infringement of its patent; DMS counterclaimed for invalidity. The court had to decide whether (i) DMS's mailers fell within claims 1 and 7, and in particular whether DMS's adhesives sealed "irreversibly" and (ii) whether the patent was invalid for lack of novelty or inventive step over three pieces of prior art (Viking mailer, Faltin, and Johnsen).

Judge Hacon held for DMS. In his view:

* an adhesive self-sealed "irreversibly" if the recipient, receiving the mailer, could tell from both the adhesive structure and the appearance of the base material that it had previously been opened. If the fact that it had previously been opened was not betrayed by each of those criteria taken separately, the adhesive did not self-seal irreversibly when the mailer was first closed.

 * it could be assumed that anyone who had previously opened the mailer without permission would have taken some limited effort to hide the fact that he had done so.

* the seals on Mailer 1 were irreversible within that meaning; mailer 1 infringed claim 1 of the patent.

* infringement of claim 7 would have required Everseal to show that the adhesive used for Mailer 1 was a natural rubber adhesive stabilised with ammonia, but there was no evidence to that effect.

* experiments carried out by DMS did not enable the court to reach any conclusion as to whether opening Mailers 2 or 3 resulted in the disruption in the mailer's base material so as to demonstrate that their adhesives sealed irreversibly, and Everseal had chosen not to conduct its own experiments.

* the burden rested on Everseal to prove infringement, but it had not done so regarding Mailers 2 and 3.

* turning now to the counterclaim, claim 1 of the patent lacked novelty over the Viking mailer which had an irreversible seal and had self-sealed under finger pressure. Claim 7 did not however lack novelty over the Viking mailer.

* where lack of novelty turned on whether an alleged prior use had particular features, it was sufficient to adduce evidence which proved, on the balance of probabilities, facts establishing that the prior use had those features. In contrast, where the court was invited to infer that prior use had one or more features on the basis of primary facts proved, the invention would lack novelty only if the inference was inevitable.  Here the evidence -- that it was likely that the adhesive in the Viking mailer was a natural rubber latex stabilised with ammonia -- was not enough to establish lack of novelty regarding claim 7.

* the patent did not lack novelty over Faltin or Johnsen, since neither of them explicitly disclosed an irreversible seal.

* Claim 1 did however lack inventive step over Faltin and Johnsen, and over the Viking mailer if it did not anticipate the invention. Everseal had suggested no technical prejudice which would have deterred a skilled team, working prior to the claimed invention, from using an adhesive which self-sealed under finger pressure to create an irreversible seal.

* Claim 7 also lacked inventive step, the evidence being that a skilled person would have been expected to find a suitable formulation without difficulty.

This is a curious case, in that the litigation over this patent was commenced in the Patents County Court (PCC) in February 2010, before that court's rules were radically overhauled with effect from 1 October. The PCC then gave separate rulings on two preliminary points; the ownership of the patent was disputed; there were also a Tomlin Order, allegations of unlawful threats and two separate applications to amend the patent before the infringement action was finally heard by the IPEC.   One might be tempted to wonder whether the sequential segmenting of issues is always more efficient than trying to hear as many things as possible all in one go.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mere Disagreement with Reasons of a Decison is not a Sufficent Ground of Appeal

The appeal in the case T 0972/13 has been held inadmissible because the grounds were considered insufficiently substantiated.

The appellant had filed grounds of appeal merely stating "We disagree with the OD [Opposition Division] in that ..... " followed by a repetition of the reasons of the decision given by the Opposition Division. No whatsoever reasons for the disagreement were given. The board concluded that the statement of the grounds of appeal did not comply with Rule 99(2) EPC because no reasons (other than plain disagreement) why the decision should be set aside were given.

After the decision reported here, the decision T 0972/13 puts further emphasizes the importance of discussing the reasons given the decision impugned in detail and not to merely re-iterate one's own arguments from the first instance or  state one's dissatisfaction with the reasons.

A further interesting point in this decision is that an order on apportionment of costs was issued, which is a fairly rare event. The appellant had indicated that it would not be represented in the oral proceedings without withdrawing its request to hold oral proceedings. This left open whether the appellant would attend to the oral proceedings without being represented by a representative or whether the appellant would not attend at all such that the defendants had to prepare and attend to the oral proceedings as a matter of due diligence. The board found that this justified an order that the appellant had to bear the costs for the defendant's preparation and attendance to the oral proceedinsg for reasons of equity (Art. 104(1) EPC).

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Plants or Plant Material are Neither Process nor Plant Variety

The Enlarged Board of Appeal has written a new chapter in the Tomato- Broccoli Saga and confirmed the narrow interpretation of Art. 53(b) EPC.

The following is a quote from the EPO-website:
In the referral cases G 2/12 and G 2/13, which were considered in consolidated proceedings, the Enlarged Board of Appeal has decided that the exclusion of essentially biological processes for the production of plants in Article 53(b) EPC does not have a negative effect on the allowability of a product claim directed to plants or plant material such as a fruit or plant parts. This applies even if the only method available at the filing date for generating the claimed plants or plant material is an essentially biological process for the production of plants, and also if the claimed product is defined in terms of such a process (product-by-process claim). In this context it is of no relevance that the protection conferred by the product claim encompasses the generation of the claimed product by means of an essentially biological process for the production of plants. Product claims or product-by-process claims directed to plants or plant material other than a plant variety thus are not excluded from patentability under Article 53(b) EPC and are allowable if they fulfil the formal and substantive requirements of the EPC (emphasis added).
The term 'plant variety' is defined in R. 26(4) EPC in the same way as in Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions, namely as "any plant grouping within a single botanical taxon of the lowest known rank, which grouping, irrespective of whether the conditions for the grant of a plant variety are fully met, can be:
  • (a) defined by the expression of the characteristics that results from a given genotype or combination of genotypes,
  • (b) distinguished from any other plant grouping by the expression of at least one of the said characteristics, and
  • (c) considered as a unit with regard to its suitability for being propagated unchanged.
Importantly, this definition excludes hybrid seed or plants lacking stability in some trait or generation as well as plant cells which can be nowadays cultured like bacteria and yeasts.

The full text of the decisions can be found here and here.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Parallel proceedings in the UK courts and the EPO: a new article

"Parallel patent proceedings between the European Patent Office and UK courts" is the title of a recent article by Paul England (Taylor Wessing) in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (2015). The print version is not yet out but you can access it online via the JIPLP website. Subscribers to the online edition can access it as part of their subscription, while non-subscribers can purchase limited-time access from the same site.

 According to the abstract
In the European patent system, proceedings concerning patent validity can run concurrently in both the European Patent Office (EPO) and a number of national courts. In the UK, a number of cases have addressed the details of how the relationship should be managed between the courts and the EPO when such parallel proceedings are on foot.

Until recently, this had appeared to be settled by rules and guidelines that were logical, if not ideal in all their implications. However, a series of recent cases concerning the revocation and amendment of patents in the EPO have now posed difficult questions for judges at first instance and on appeal.

The solutions have required a significant shift in the UK and EPO relationship and raise awkward questions of their own about the possibility of patents being re-litigated between the same parties. This matters at another level, because the UK experience may inform the relationship between the Unified Patent Court (UPC) and the EPO in similar circumstances.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Belgians challenge national ratification of UPCA

PatLit has learned from an informed source that in Belgium the ratification statute for the Unified Patent Court Agreement seems to have been challenged in that country's Constitutional Court. This information can be found on the weblog of ESOMA, the European Software Manufacturers' Association, here

There would appear to be three bases for this challenge:
  • language discrimination against Dutch-speaking Belgian citizens, which is forbidden by the Belgian constitution, 
  • the Rules of Procedure for the UPC and possible future amendments can pass into law without being confirmed by the Belgian legislator 
  • the European Patent Office lacks judicial responsibility, in contradiction of the Rule of Law.
At least this third plea has a familiar ring to it ...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

USPTO Responds To Public Comments on PTAB AIA Trial Procedures

Responding to feedback from petitioners and patent owners, the USPTO disclosed a plan to revise the procedural rules governing post grant proceedings under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (“AIA”). USPTO Director Michelle K. Lee announced that although most modifications are still under consideration and will be implemented only after formal publication of proposed revised rules and a public comment period, the USPTO Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) will increase the page limits for some filings effective immediately.
The AIA created three new post-grant review proceedings that allow members of the public to challenge the validity of issued patents in trial-like proceedings. One of the review procedures, Inter Partes Review (“IPR”), has proven to be unexpectedly popular with challengers, with over 2,600 petitions filed through March 19, 2015. In response to the USPTO’s June, 2014 request for public input, attorneys representing both petitioners and patent owners provided comments on ways to improve the proceedings.  Director Lee responded to those comments in a March 27, 2015 USPTO blog posting by announcing new “quick-fix” improvements to the PTAB rules. The full post is available HERE.
Page Limits Increased Effective Immediately. Effective immediately, the PTAB will increase the allowed page limits for two important submissions:
  • The page limit for petitioner reply briefs will be increased to 25 pages. (The current rules limit petitioner reply briefs to 15 pages).
  • Briefs in support a patent owner’s motion to amend claims will be expanded to 25 pages, plus a claims appendix, with a “commensurate amount of additional pages” for the petitioner’s opposition to the motion to amend and the patent owner’s reply. (The current rules limit motions and opposition to 15 pages and limit replies to five pages).
Although formal modification of the page limits will require administrative rulemaking, Director Lee announced that PTAB “judges will begin implementing them through scheduling orders effective immediately.”
Additional Possible Modifications. In addition to the revised page limits, Director Lee announced that the USPTO is considering numerous other changes to the PTAB AIA trial procedures. Although the final form of these modifications is still under discussion, potential changes include:
  • A “single-judge pilot program” in which a single judge would determine whether to institute a trial. If a trial is initiated, two additional judges would be added to the panel hearing the case on the merits;
  • A significant amendment to rules governing motions to amend claims, which could “emphasize that a motion for a substitutionary amendment will always be allowed to come before the Board for consideration (i.e., be ‘entered’), and for the amendment to result in the issuance (‘patenting’) of amended claims, a patent owner will not be required to make a prior art representation as to the patentability of the narrowed amended claims beyond the art of record before the Office”;
  • Amended rules governing the evidence that a patent owner could offer in its preliminary response;
  • Adjustments to the scope of permitted additional discovery;
  • A revised rule clarifying the claim construction standard to be applied to proceedings involving on expired patents;
  • Rules to clarify how the PTAB will process multiple proceedings involving the same patent;
  • Rule amendments concerning the use of live testimony at trial. In addition, the PTAB Trial Practice Guide may be revised to promote the use of live testimony at oral hearings, when appropriate;
  • A potential rule requiring a Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 11-type certification for filings; and
  • Revised Trial Practice Guide guidelines to ensure that sufficient discovery is available for parties challenging petitions based on the absence of the real party in interest.
The modified page limits and other potential rule changes are a reminder of the changing landscape in this area, which will be impacted not only by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s updates, but also the Federal Circuit and possibly further Congressional reform. As the USPTO continues to fine-tune the procedures governing PTAB trials, it likely will attempt to balance relaxed restrictions with the goal of providing a streamlined, focused forum for validity challenges. As Director Lee observed in her blog post, the USPTO is “committed to fulfilling our Congressional mandate to provide a quick, inexpensive alternative to district court litigation and improve patent quality and to ensuring that the AIA trials are as effective and fair as possible.”