Friday, 19 December 2014

T 1458/11 - You talk too much






During the oral proceedings before the opposition division the proprietor had most of its case represented by a trainee. This appears to violate the requirements that the board of appeal had set out G 4/95. The opponent now asks a reimbursement of the appeal fee because of a substantial procedural violation.

The board doesn't go along; the opponent should have complained during the oral proceedings. The following keywords were provided:

Oral submissions by an accompanying person in opposition proceedings (yes allowable - in conformity with G 4/95)
Requirements of G 4/95 to be met throughout the oral proceedings (yes - duty of the opposition division to ensure)
Party's obligation to inform the opposition division that requirements of G4/95 are not met (yes - as
soon as it becomes aware thereof)


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Summary of Facts and Submissions
(...)
III. The opposition division held that the patent as amended according to the auxiliary request filed during the oral proceedings before the opposition division met the requirements of the EPC.
In particular, it found that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the patent as granted was novel over D1 and D2, but lacked an inventive step in view of D2 alone, and that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the auxiliary request involved an inventive step in view of D2 as the closest prior art and D1.

At the oral proceedings before the opposition division, appellant 2 was represented by a professional representative, Mr Chivarov, accompanied by Mr Huber, who was said to be a trainee in the law firm of Mr Chivarov. Appellant 2 requested that Mr Huber be allowed to speak "on selected issues during the oral proceedings under his (Mr Chivarov's) supervision and responsibility". Appellant 1 agreed to this with the proviso that Mr Huber would "not make the complete case". The opposition division allowed Mr Huber to speak "on selected issues under Mr Chivarov's responsibility". After the impugned decision was pronounced, appellant 1 submitted that, according to its observations, Mr Huber had spoken "for more than 50% of the time" and that this was not what had been agreed at the beginning of the oral proceedings.

(...)

Mr Huber, the accompanying person of the representative of the proprietor (now appellant 2) within the meaning of G4/95 at the oral proceedings before the opposition division, had not been previously announced. The opposition division agreed that Mr Huber could talk upon specific points under the responsibility of the professional representative Mr Chivarov. Under these circumstances, appellant 1 had no other option than to continue to attend the oral proceedings or to withdraw therefrom. Appellant 1 could not have foreseen whether Mr Huber would indeed only talk about specific points in order to support the otherwise exhaustive submissions by the professional representative or whether he would take the floor for a longer time.

However, during the oral proceedings the professional representative, Mr Chivarov, did not speak more than two sentences in the period up until the lunch break. After the break, the professional representative intervened a few times but did not present the entire case. This was in fact done by Mr Huber. As a result, Mr Huber took the floor for presenting the vast majority of the submissions by appellant 2.

Since in the morning of the day of the oral proceedings, Mr Chivarov did not speak for more than two minutes in total, Mr Huber did not make submissions relating only to specific points as agreed at the beginning of the oral proceedings. The criteria developed by the Enlarged Board of Appeal concerning the authorisation of an accompanying person had been violated. This amounted to a substantial procedural violation.
 (...)

Reasons for the Decision

(...)

8. Appellant 1's request for reimbursement of the appeal fee and to remit the case to the opposition division

8.1 According to Rule 103(1)(a) EPC, "the appeal fee shall be reimbursed... where the Board of Appeal deems an appeal to be allowable, if such reimbursement is equitable by reason of a substantial procedural violation...".

8.2 The board is of the opinion that no substantial procedural violation occurred in the proceedings leading to the impugned decision. The reasons therefor are as follows.

8.2.1 In G4/95 the Enlarged Board of Appeal held that "an accompanying person is not excluded from making oral submissions in relation to either legal or technical issues on behalf of a party to the proceedings, under the control of the professional representative, and in addition to the complete presentation of the party's case by the professional representative" (reasons 8(a), last paragraph). If "a request for an accompanying person to present oral submissions is made either shortly before the date appointed for oral proceedings, or at the oral proceedings, such a request should in the absence of exceptional circumstances be refused by the EPO unless each opposing party agrees to the making of the oral submissions requested" (reasons 10, last paragraph).

8.2.2 In the case at hand, it is undisputed that the person (Mr Huber) accompanying the professional representative (Mr Chivarov) had not been announced prior to the oral proceedings before the opposition division.

According to the minutes of the oral proceedings before the opposition division, at the beginning of the oral proceedings, Mr Chivarov requested that Mr Huber be allowed to speak "on selected issues during the oral proceedings under his (Mr Chivarov's) supervision and responsibility". This request, therefore, amounted to a request for oral submissions by the accompanying person in addition to the complete presentation of appellant 2's case by the professional representative.

8.2.3 Further according to the minutes, appellant 1 "objected against Mr Huber being the only speaker but agreed on Mr Huber contributing submissions under Mr Chivarov's responsibility and with the provisio (sic) that he would not make the complete case".

Appellant 1 thus agreed to the accompanying person making oral submissions under the control of the professional representative, and in addition to the complete presentation of appellant 1's case by the professional representative as foreseen in G4/95. Whether appellant 1 had the subjective impression that it had no choice but to agree is in this context of no relevance. In fact, appellant 1 could have refused its agreement and, if the opposition division had decided to allow the accompanying person to make oral submissions despite the missing consent of appellant 1, could still have challenged this decision during the appeal proceedings.

Therefore, the opposition division's decision that "Mr Huber was allowed to speak on selected issues under Mr Chivarov's responsibility" was in line with G4/95 and, therefore, cannot be said to amount to a procedural violation.

8.2.4 According to G4/95 (reasons 11), "the EPO should always be satisfied that oral submissions by an accompanying person are made under the continuing responsibility and control of the professional representative". Thus, when conducting oral proceedings, the opposition division has the duty to ensure that the oral submissions made by an accompanying person satisfy the above conditions, i.e. that they are made in addition to the complete presentation of the party's case by its professional representative and under the continuing responsibility and control of the professional representative.

8.2.5 In the case at hand, the minutes of the oral proceedings, up to the pronouncement of the decision, do not state who made the submissions on behalf of appellant 2. It is only after the pronouncement of the decision that the minutes state that "the opponent mentioned that according to his observation, Mr Huber had spoken for more than 50% of the time and that this was not what was agreed on at the beginning of the proceedings".

Also, appellant 1 submitted in its statement of grounds of appeal that the professional representative, Mr Chivarov, did not speak more than two sentences during the oral proceedings in the period up until the lunch break. After the break, the professional representative intervened a few times but did not present the entire case. This was in fact done by Mr Huber, his assistant. As a result, Mr Huber spoke in the vast majority of the submissions by appellant 2. Hence, according to appellant 1, the submissions made by Mr Huber did not comply with the conditions set forth in G4/95, i.e. were not in addition to the complete presentation of appellant 2's case by the professional representative, Mr Chivarov.

8.2.6 Conversely, appellant 2 in its statement of grounds of appeal contested the submissions by appellant 1. It was apparent from the minutes of the oral proceedings that the opposition division had been satisfied that the submissions by the accompanying person were made under the continuing responsibility of appellant 2's professional representative.

8.2.7 The board considered the submissions of the parties and the content of the minutes of the oral proceedings before the opposition division. It is not possible to establish, on an objective basis, whether the submissions made by the accompanying person were in addition to the complete presentation of the professional representative or whether they went beyond that or even amounted to a presentation of substantially the complete case of the party.

8.2.8 The board is, however, of the opinion that it was incumbent on appellant 1 to inform the opposition division of any alleged negligence of the opposition division's duty to ensure that the oral submissions by Mr Huber be made under the aforementioned conditions as soon as it became aware of it. This immediate reaction is required since a party to the proceedings must take an active part and must on its own initiative submit in due time whatever will support its position (cf. R 2/08, reasons 8.5).

In the case at hand, appellant 1 should and could have informed the opposition division accordingly at the latest before the lunch break since, according to its submissions, at that point in time the professional representative had only made a few submissions, i.e. the accompanying person's oral submissions were apparently not only in addition to the complete presentation of appellant 2's case by the professional representative. Appellant 1 failed to inform the opposition division accordingly.

8.2.9 Furthermore, the conditions elaborated in G 4/95 are intended to ensure that during oral proceedings, one party does not present oral submissions which take an opposing party by surprise and for which such opposing party is not prepared (G 4/95, reasons 10, second paragraph).
In the case at hand, there is nothing that would indicate that appellant 1 was taken by surprise or that it was not prepared, or at least could not have been prepared, for the oral submissions made by the accompanying person. The board notes that the accompanying person had been presented as a trainee (see item 1, first paragraph of the minutes) and that appellant 1 did not argue that it had been taken by surprise by the presentation of the accompanying person.

8.3 In summary, the board fails to see that a procedural violation, let alone a substantial one, occurred during the proceedings before the opposition division.

8.4 The request to reimburse the appeal fee and to remit the case to the opposition division is therefore not allowed.

 

This decision has European Case Law Identifier:  ECLI:EP:BA:2014:T145811.20141023. The whole decision can be found here. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo "SING" by Angela Meißner obtained via 500px, under the CC-By 3.0 license.


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