Tuesday, 28 October 2014

T 0405/12 - The lost request



This opposition appeal remits the case to the first instance together with a reimbursement of the appeal fee. The appeal board could not find out about which claims the opposition devision made its decision. Although the patent proprietor claims that the opposition devision maintained the patent as granted several alternative main requests appear to have been filed and/or considered.

The following catchword is provided

Das Erfordernis der Entscheidungsbegründung gemäß Regel 111 (2) Satz 1 EPÜ ist nicht erfüllt, wenn aus der angefochtenen Entscheidung, ggf. unter Heranziehung anderer Bestandteile der Akte, nicht klar und unmissverständlich (d. h. nicht eindeutig) hervorgeht, auf der Grundlage welchen Antrags bzw. welcher Anträge (einschließlich der ggf. dazugehörigen Unterlagen wie Ansprüche, Beschreibungsseiten und Zeichnungen) diese Entscheidung ergangen ist. Siehe Entscheidungsgründe 6 bis 16.


Below is my attempt at an English translation.

The requirement that a decision in accordance with Rule 111 (2) is reasoned is not satisfied, if it cannot be determined clearly and unmistakably (i.e., unambiguous) from the contested decision, if necessary by reference to other parts of the file, on the basis of which request or requests (including possible corresponding documents such as claims, description and drawings) this decision was taken. See the decision the reasons 6 to 16.

Reasons for the Decision

(...)
6. Das Erfordernis der Entscheidungsbegründung ist nach Ansicht der Kammer nicht erfüllt, wenn aus der angefochtenen Entscheidung, ggf. unter Heranziehung anderer Bestandteile der Akte, nicht klar und unmissverständlich (d. h. nicht eindeutig) hervorgeht, auf der Grundlage welchen Antrags bzw. welcher Anträge (einschließlich der ggf. dazugehörigen Unterlagen wie Ansprüche, Beschreibungsseiten und Zeichnungen) diese Entscheidung ergangen ist.

7. Die Beschwerdegegnerin behauptet, dass es sich bei den Ansprüchen des in der mündlichen Verhandlung vom 12. Dezember 2011 eingereichten Hauptantrags um sämtliche Ansprüche des Streitpatents wie erteilt gehandelt habe. Aus der angefochtenen Entscheidung und aus der Niederschrift sowie aus den im Verfahren eingereichten Schriftsätzen der Beteiligten geht jedoch nicht eindeutig hervor, über welchen Antrag die Einspruchsabteilung in ihrer Entscheidung entschieden hat, da es mehrere Unklarheiten und Widersprüchlichkeiten in den Aktenunterlagen gibt.

8. In der angefochtenen Entscheidung ist unter Punkt "I.3 Anträge" in den Entscheidungsgründen angegeben, welche Anträge die Patentinhaberin im Laufe des Verfahrens vor der Einspruchsabteilung gestellt bzw. eingereicht hat (Punkt XI a) oben).

Es ist zunächst festzustellen, dass die Patentinhaberin nicht, wie in der angefochtenen Entscheidung angegeben, mit Schreiben vom 28. Oktober 2010, sondern mit Schreiben vom 22. Dezember 2010 zu dem Einspruch Stellung genommen und beantragt hat, den Einspruch zurückzuweisen und das Patent wie erteilt aufrechtzuerhalten.

Danach hat die Patentinhaberin, wie dem Punkt "I.3 Anträge" zu entnehmen ist, am 8. Dezember 2011 einen "neuen Hauptantrag und vier Hilfsanträge" eingereicht, sowie zu Beginn der mündlichen Verhandlung am 12. Dezember 2011 einen "anderen" Hauptantrag sowie neun Hilfsanträge.

Der Textpassage unter Punkt "I.3 Anträge" ist jedoch nicht zu entnehmen, wie viele Ansprüche der "neue" Hauptantrag und die vier Hilfsanträge hatten, die am 8. Dezember 2011 eingereicht wurden. Das gleiche gilt für die zu Beginn der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichten neun Hilfsanträge. Nur zum "anderen" Hauptantrag, der auch zu Beginn der mündlichen Verhandlung vor der Einspruchsabteilung eingereicht wurde, ist angegeben "Hauptantrag (entsprechend dem Anspruch 1 des erteilten Patents, wie ursprünglich beantragt)". Aus dieser Angabe geht nach Ansicht der Kammer eindeutig nur hervor, dass der "andere" Hauptantrag einen Anspruch 1 hat, der "entsprechend" dem Anspruch 1 des erteilten Patents ist. Diese Angabe lässt jedoch weder den Schluss zu, dass der Anspruch 1 des "anderen" Hauptantrags identisch mit dem erteilten Anspruch 1 ist (d.h. es könnte ein sich vom erteilten Anspruch 1 unterscheidender Wortlaut gewählt worden sein), noch dass dieser Hauptantrag noch weitere Ansprüche oder gar sämtliche erteilten Ansprüche aufweist. Es kann aus dieser Angabe somit nicht gefolgert werden, dass mit diesem "anderen" Hauptantrag wieder, wie schon vor Einreichung des "neuen" und des "anderen" Hauptantrags, beantragt wurde, das Patent wie erteilt aufrechtzuerhalten, d.h. den Einspruch zurückzuweisen.

In Abschnitt "III. Wortlaut des erteilten Hauptanspruches" der Entscheidungsgründe (Punkt XI b) oben) wird der Wortlaut des Anspruchs 1 des erteilten Patents zitiert und unter dem Abschnitt "IV. Mündliche Verhandlung" (Punkt XI c) oben) wird die Auffassung der Einsprechenden, dass der "Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 des Streitpatents" durch die Dokumente E1 und E7 nahegelegt sei, zusammengefasst und die Gründe angegeben, warum die Einspruchsabteilung diese Auffassung nicht teilt, sondern wie die Patentinhaberin "den Gegenstand des Streitpatents" für erfinderisch hält.

In diesen Abschnitten III. und IV werden der "erteilte Hauptanspruch", der "Anspruch 1 des erteilten Patents", der "Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 des Streitpatents" und der "Gegenstand des Streitpatents" genannt. Der "andere" Hauptantrag wird überhaupt nicht erwähnt oder mit dem Streitpatent in Bezug gesetzt. Nach Ansicht der Kammer geht daher aus diesen Abschnitten nicht eindeutig hervor, dass es darin um den "anderen" Hauptantrag bzw. dessen Anspruch 1 geht.

In den Entscheidungsgründen ist darüber hinaus kein Anhaltspunkt zu finden, ob der "andere" Hauptantrag" außer dem Anspruch 1 noch weitere Ansprüche hat.

9. Da aus den oben zitierten Textstellen der Entscheidungsgründe sich nicht erkennen lässt, welche Ansprüche der "andere" Hauptantrag aufwies und damit die Antragslage nicht eindeutig zu entnehmen ist, ist die Niederschrift heranzuziehen, zumal der "andere" Hauptantrag in der mündlichen Verhandlung vor der Einspruchsabteilung eingereicht wurde. Auf Seite 1 der Niederschrift (siehe VI a) oben) ist zu den Anträgen angegeben, dass die Patentinhaberin in der mündlichen Verhandlung den am 8. Dezember 2011 eingereichten Hauptantrag zurückzog und "einen neuen Hauptantrag" stellte, "wobei der Anspruch 1 unverändert wie erteilt formuliert ist." Daraus folgert die Kammer zum einen, dass der in der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichte Hauptantrag in der Niederschrift als "neuer" Hauptantrag bezeichnet wird und in den Entscheidungsgründen als "anderer" Hauptantrag. Zum anderen, dass der Anspruch 1 dieses Hauptantrages mit dem erteilten Anspruch 1 identisch ist. Obgleich der Niederschrift keine Kopien der in der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichten Anträge beigefügt sind, wurde dies durch die von der Beschwerdeführerin mit Schreiben vom 20. Mai 2014 eingereichten Kopie eines einzigen Anspruchs gemäß Hauptantrag, den die Beschwerdegegnerin unbestritten in der erstinstanzlichen mündlichen Verhandlung vorgelegt hat, bestätigt. Aus dieser Kopie geht klar hervor, dass dieser Hauptantrag nur diesen einzigen Anspruch 1 und keine weiteren Ansprüche hatte.

Die Beschwerdegegnerin bestreitet nicht, dass sie diesen Hauptantrag mit nur einem einzigen Anspruch gemäß Kopie in der erstinstanzlichen mündlichen Verhandlung vorgelegt hat. Sie ist jedoch der Ansicht, dass in Zusammenhang mit diesem Hauptantrag auch der Satz "Ferner beantragt die Patentinhaberin, den Einspruch aufgrund Artikel 102 (2) EPÜ zurückzuweisen und das erteilte Patent in vollem Umfang aufrechtzuerhalten." auf Seite 1 der Niederschrift (siehe VI a) oben) gelesen werden müsse. "Ferner" bedeute in diesem Satz "außerdem" bzw. "zusätzlich". Der Antrag in diesem Satz könne deshalb nur so verstanden werden, dass der Hauptantrag, auch wenn er in der mündlichen Verhandlung mit nur einem Anspruch eingereicht worden sei, den bestehenden Anspruch 1 des Streitpatents sowie als abhängige Ansprüche die bestehenden abhängigen Ansprüche des Streitpatents umfasse. Diese Auslegung werde auch in dem zweiten Teil des Satzes "...und das erteilte Patent in vollem Umfang aufrechtzuerhalten" bestätigt.

Die Kammer kann der Beschwerdegegnerin insoweit folgen, dass man den betreffenden Abschnitt der Niederschrift so wie sie interpretieren könnte (wobei die Kammer davon ausgeht, dass als Rechtsgrundlage für die Zurückweisung des Einspruchs nicht der genannte "Artikel 102 (2) EPÜ", sondern der zum Zeitpunkt der Entscheidung anzuwendende Artikel 101 (2) EPÜ heranzuziehen wäre). Die Kammer kann jedoch der Beschwerdegegnerin nicht zustimmen, dass ihre Auslegung die einzig mögliche ist. Wie im Folgenden dargelegt, ist durchaus auch eine andere mögliche Interpretation des betreffenden Abschnitts in der Niederschrift gerechtfertigt.

Unmittelbar auf den Satz "... und stellt einen neuen Hauptantrag, wobei der Anspruch 1 unverändert wie erteilt formuliert ist." folgt der Satz "Des Weiteren werden die Hilfsanträge 1 bis 9 eingereicht.". Erst danach schließt sich der besagte Satz an, der mit "Ferner beantragt ..." beginnt. Der Antrag in diesem "Ferner" - Satz ist deshalb nicht zweifellos dem Hauptantrag zuzuordnen. Hinzu kommt, dass in der Niederschrift nach den Anträgen der Pateninhaberin steht: "Die Einspruchsabteilung entspricht dem Antrag den neuen Hauptantrag zuzulassen [,] da dieser auf die ursprüngliche Version des Anspruchs 1 zurückgreift." Die Kammer sieht in diesem Satz durch den Bezug "auf die ursprüngliche Version des Anspruchs 1" bestätigt, dass der "neue" Hauptantrag den erteilten Anspruch 1 als Anspruch 1 hatte. Allerdings ist auch aus diesem Satz nicht zweifellos und eindeutig zu entnehmen, dass der neue Hauptantrag, wie von der Beschwerdegegnerin dargelegt, sämtliche Ansprüche des erteilten Streitpatents umfasste. Es stellt sich vielmehr die Frage, wenn der Hauptantrag den kompletten Anspruchssatz des erteilten Patents umfasst hätte, hätte dann in diesem Satz nicht die ursprüngliche Version des gesamten Streitpatents genannt werden müssen? Auch die von der Beschwerdeführerin aufgeworfene Frage ist durchaus berechtigt: warum reichte die Patentinhaberin in der mündlichen Verhandlung einen neuen Hauptantrag mit nur einem einzigen Anspruch ein, wenn es ihr beim Hauptantrag angeblich um das Streitpatent wie erteilt gegangen ist? Wenn die Patentinhaberin wieder auf ihr erteiltes Patent in vollem Umfang zurückgreifen wollte, dann hätte es doch genügt, wieder ihren früheren Antrag zu stellen, d.h. den Antrag auf Zurückweisung des Einspruchs. Oder sie hätte eine Kopie der 13 Ansprüche der Patentschrift einreichen können.

Einen weiteren Anhaltspunkt für die (auch mögliche) Auslegung, dass der neue Hauptantrag nur einen Anspruch umfasste, sieht die Kammer darin, dass in der mündlichen Verhandlung nur diskutiert wurde, ob der Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 des neuen Hauptantrags im Hinblick auf die Dokumente E1 bis E7 erfinderisch ist (siehe Seiten 1 und 2 der Niederschrift). In der Niederschrift ist zu weiteren abhängigen Ansprüchen nichts erwähnt.

Die Kammer hält es deshalb auch für gerechtfertigt, dass der Satz "Ferner beantragt die Patentinhaberin, den Einspruch aufgrund Artikel 102 (2) EPÜ zurückzuweisen und das erteilte Patent in vollem Umfang aufrechtzuerhalten." als ein weiterer Antrag ausgelegt werden könnte. Mit diesem weiteren Antrag, wie auch mit den in der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichten neun Hilfsanträgen, hätte sich die Einspruchsabteilung in der mündlichen Verhandlung nicht mehr befassen müssen, da sie, wie der Seite 3 der Niederschrift zu entnehmen ist, in der Beratung zu dem Ergebnis kam, dass das europäische Patent gemäß des Hauptantrags aufrechtzuerhalten sei (siehe VI d) oben).

Wie oben dargelegt, sind zwei unterschiedliche, sich erheblich voneinander unterscheidende Interpretationsmöglichkeiten des besagten "Ferner" -Satzes und des betreffenden Abschnitts der Niederschrift möglich und jede der beiden Interpretationen ist durchaus vertretbar. Deshalb kann nach Ansicht der Kammer keine dieser beiden Interpretationsmöglichkeiten als die zweifellos richtige oder wahrscheinliche Interpretation angesehen werden.

10. Aus den oben genannten Gründen ist aus den erörterten Textstellen in den Entscheidungsgründen und der Niederschrift eindeutig nur zu entnehmen, dass der in der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichte Hauptantrag einen Anspruch 1 hat, der identisch mit dem Anspruch 1 des erteilten Streitpatents ist. Jedoch kann anhand dieser Textstellen nicht zweifelsfrei festgestellt werden, ob dieser Hauptantrag weitere Ansprüche hatte oder nicht. Insbesondere ist nicht eindeutig festzustellen, ob der verbeschiedene Hauptantrag sämtliche Unteransprüche des erteilten Patents hatte.

11. Auch unter Heranziehung der Entscheidungsformeln ergibt sich für die Kammer kein eindeutiges Bild, welcher Antrag von der Einspruchsabteilung verbeschieden wurde. Vor allem sind die Entscheidungsformeln im vorliegenden Fall widersprüchlich, selbst wenn man den Ablauf der mündlichen Verhandlung und die Entscheidungsbegründung mitberücksichtigt.

12. In der mündlichen Verhandlung verkündete der Vorsitzende nach der Beratung der Einspruchsabteilung folgenden Beschluss: "Das Europäische Patent wird in vollem Umfang, gemäß des Hauptantrages, aufrecht erhalten [,] da es den Erfordernissen des EPÜ genügt." (Seite 3 der Niederschrift, siehe VI d) oben)). Diese Entscheidungsformel entspricht in ihrer Begründung ("da es den Erfordernissen des EPÜ genügt") dem Wortlaut des Artikels 101 (3) a) EPÜ, der die Aufrechterhaltung des Patents in geänderter Fassung regelt. Wie oben dargelegt, ist nicht eindeutig anhand der Entscheidungsgründe und der Niederschrift festzustellen, welche Ansprüche der Hauptantrag, der in der ersten Instanz verbeschieden wurde, aufwies. Deshalb ist es nicht auszuschließen, dass mit dieser Entscheidungsformel tatsächlich das Streitpatent in geänderter Fassung mit nur einem Anspruch 1, der mit dem erteilten Anspruch 1 identisch ist, aufrechterhalten wurde.

13. Blatt 2/1 des vom Protokollführer und vom Vorsitzenden unterschriebenen und der Niederschrift beigefügten Formblatts "EPA Form 2309.2 12.07.TRI" enthält hingegen die Entscheidung: "Der Einspruch wird zurückgewiesen." Der Wortlaut dieser Entscheidungsformel entspricht der Rechtsfolge nach Artikel 101 (2) Satz 2 EPÜ, der die Zurückweisung des Einspruchs vorsieht, wenn kein Einspruchsgrund der Aufrechterhaltung des erteilten Patents entgegensteht. Die Entscheidung, den Einspruch nach Artikel 101 (2) EPÜ zurückzuweisen, ist ebenso enthalten in dem von allen drei Mitgliedern der Einspruchsabteilung unterschriebenen Formblatt "EPA Form 2339 (Blatt 1) 12.07TRI" (siehe VIII oben), dem Deckblatt der Entscheidung (siehe X oben), Formblatt "EPA Form 2330 12.07.TRI") und im Abschnitt "V. Entscheidung" der Entscheidungsgründe (siehe XI e) oben). Danach könnte man davon ausgehen, dass das Patent wie erteilt, d.h. in unveränderter Fassung, aufrechterhalten wurde. Dies ist jedoch fraglich, da wie oben dargelegt, die der Entscheidung zugrunde gelegene Antragslage nicht eindeutig ist.

14. Die Beschwerdegegnerin vertrat die Auffassung, dass aus den Entscheidungsformeln in der Niederschrift und in der angefochtenen Entscheidung (einschließlich der jeweiligen Formblätter) klar hervorgehe, dass es bei dem in der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichten Hauptantrag um das gesamte Streitpatent gehe, da nur auf die Entscheidungsformeln abzustellen sei. Selbst wenn es für die Frage der Antragslage nur auf die Entscheidungsformeln ankäme, dann lassen aus den oben dargestellten Gründen auch die einzelnen Entscheidungsformeln in Zusammenschau den Rückschluss auf eine eindeutige Antragslage nicht zu.

15. Die Beschwerdegegnerin sah auch in der Beschwerdebegründung eine Bestätigung dafür, dass nur das erteilte Streitpatent Gegenstand des Hauptantrags war, da die Beschwerdeführerin die Antragslage nicht in Frage stellte und sich mit sämtlichen Ansprüchen des Streitpatents auseinandersetzte. Die Kammer kann auch daraus nicht den Schluss auf eine eindeutige Antragslage ziehen. Es ist nicht davon auszugehen, dass die beschwerdeführende Einsprechende sich nur mit dem Anspruch 1 des Hauptantrags in ihrer Beschwerdebegründung auseinander gesetzt hätte, wenn der Hauptantrag nur den einen Anspruch und keine abhängigen Ansprüche gehabt hätte. Ebenso wenig ist der Schluss zu ziehen, dass die Ansprüche des Hauptantrags identisch mit denjenigen des erteilten Patents sein mussten, da die Beschwerdeführerin zu sämtlichen Ansprüchen des Streitpatents Stellung genommen hat.

16. Aus den oben genannten Gründen ist die Kammer zu der Auffassung gelangt, dass aus der angefochtenen Entscheidung und aus der Niederschrift sowie aus den im Verfahren eingereichten Schriftsätzen der Beteiligten nicht eindeutig hervor geht, aus welchen Ansprüchen der der angefochtenen Entscheidung zugrundeliegende Hauptantrag bestand. Damit ist nicht eindeutig, über welchen Antrag die Einspruchsabteilung in ihrer Entscheidung entschieden hat. Somit ist es der Kammer nicht möglich, die angegriffene Entscheidung zu überprüfen, und allein deshalb weist das erstinstanzliche Verfahren einen wesentlichen Mangel im Sinne von Artikel 11 VOBK auf, der die Aufhebung der angefochtenen Entscheidung rechtfertigt.

(...)

This decision has European Case Law Identifier:  ECLI:EP:BA:2014:T040512.20140605. The whole decision can be found here. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo by Kiran Foster obtained via Flickr (cropped from original).

Friday, 24 October 2014

T 0718/08 - Defining 'optimal chewability'

No need for brushing your dogs teeth anymore? The present case provides a chewable product for the dental care of pets. In the claims, the chewable product is not defined directly in terms of composition, but rather in reference to a particular property, namely to the minimum force required to penetrate the product by chewing.

According to GL F-IV, 4.11, where the invention relates to a product, it may be defined in a claim exceptionally by its parameters, namely only in those cases where the invention cannot be adequately defined in any other way. A necessary condition is that those parameters can be clearly and reliably determined either by indications in the description or by objective procedures usual in the art (T 94/82). 

According to GL F-IV, 4.18, where a claim contains an ill-defined ("unclear", "ambiguous") parameter, and the skilled person is not able, on the basis of the disclosure as a whole and using his common general knowledge, to identify (without undue burden) the technical measures necessary to solve the problem underlying the application at issue, an objection under Art. 83 should be raised.

The present case illustrates the above, in that the Board concludes that the skilled person is unable to reliably measure penetration force and thus reproduce the claimed invention.

Reasons for the Decision
1. The appeal is admissible.

2. Sufficiency of Disclosure

2.1 The invention is concerned with a chewable product for the dental care of pets comprising continuous and discontinuous phases, with claims to the product itself, its method of manufacture and its use in a method for reducing tartar. The main idea of the invention is to take into account the biting force of the pet in the design of the product (specification paragraph [0016]). To this end the independent claims require the phases to be in a proportion such that a force of at least 100 N is required to penetrate the product's surface. This is greater than the anticipated bite force of the pet (paragraph [0019]) ensuring optimum chewability and improved cleaning action in particular of molars and premolars, (paragraphs [0009], [0054]).

2.2 The product (and its method of manufacture and use) is not defined directly in terms of composition, but is characterized rather in reference to a particular property, namely the minimum force required to penetrate the product. Where a product is so defined in terms of a parameter, the disclosure will normally also need to provide sufficient information as to how to reliably and objectively measure the value of the parameter in question (unless, for example, this is known to the skilled person from his common general knowledge). This requirement ensures not only that the claimed subject-matter is clearly and unambiguously defined, but also that the skilled person, using that information to supplement his common general knowledge, is able to reproduce the invention without undue burden. Without such information he or she would not be able to successfully carry out the invention, and the invention would be insufficiently disclosed. Cf. Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 5th Edition, 2006 (CLBA), II.A.6.1, first paragraph, and the decisions cited therein.

2.3 Information regarding the method for measuring penetration force can be found in paragraphs [0059] and [0088]. These refer to a "specially constructed "model tooth"" (paragraph [0059], line 59) and an analysis system "designed to simulate the biting action of a dog's teeth"(paragraph [0088], lines 12 to 13). The teeth in question are the premolars and molars (paragraph [0009]). To this end the system, identified as a TA XT2I Texture analyser from Rheo Ltd, uses "a specially designed cone-shaped penetrometry probe of length 12mm" pushed into the product "at a rate of 2mm/s" (paragraph [0088], lines 13 to 14). The skilled person learns from these passages read in context that he is to use a cone-shaped probe of 12mm length as a model of a dog's tooth to simulate biting action under given conditions. The description, figures and claims however do not specify the particular cone angle of this specially designed probe. As stands to reason the penetration force depends significantly on this angle : a sharp cone (small angle) will penetrate the product with greater ease than a blunt one (large angle). This is borne out clearly by the results of the tests summarized in figures 3, 6 and 8 of D2 and the tables on page 14 of D12, which show a variation in the order of 1000 over the measurement range (10° to 140°). The fact that cone angle is critical to measurement of the penetration force is undisputed, as is the fact that the disclosure fails to expressly mention any value for the cone angle.

2.4 The Appellant argues that the missing cone angle can be inferred from the probe's stated function as model dog tooth, and the fact that the product is aimed mainly at better cleaning of molars and premolars. This would instruct the skilled person, using his background knowledge of premolar and molar dimensions as reflected in D19 and condensed in D20, to choose that tooth having the same height as the probe, and, equating its width to the diameter of the conical probe's base, to so arrive at the value of its cone angle.

2.5 This line of reasoning is unconvincing. It assumes firstly a particular correlation between conical shape of the model and actual teeth size and shape, in this case buccal (cheek-side) height and width, for which the Board is unable to find any basis in the patent. It is also decidedly not part of the skilled person's common general knowledge to simply equate height and base diameter of a conical model tooth to buccal height and width of a given tooth. Premolars and molars have complex non-conical shapes that vary from tooth to tooth, as the photographs 105 to 110 and 405 to 411 of D11 (boxer premolars/molars taken from different angles), or also figure 1 (top) or figure 3 of D19 (side views of beagle teeth) clearly illustrate. Such a variety of complex shapes does not lend itself to simple modelling. Thus, even if a simple cone model is adopted, it is neither immediately apparent nor obvious how to determine the cone shape and size from the wide variety of actual teeth shapes and sizes, let alone that its dimensions should be based on buccal width and height of a single tooth.

The Board can also not subscribe to the further underlying assumption that the information provided in D19 belongs to common general knowledge. D19 is a scientific paper, published in a specialist journal, the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, in 2002, two years after priority, which presents the results of a study of buccal (cheek side) surface dimensions of beagle teeth in comparison to those of cats and humans. The narrow scope of this study, its select readership (veterinary dentists), not to mention the fact that it was made public after priority, can but lead to the conclusion that D19 and the information therein does not belong to the skilled person's common knowledge. That person is a pet food engineer specializing in dental care products, whose background knowledge of animal teeth will have been drawn from dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and textbooks and handbooks on the subject (cf. T 890/02 (OJ EPO 2005, 97) cited in CLBA, I.C.1.5, first paragraph).

2.6 In the Board's view the skilled person is much more likely to try and find the missing cone angle amongst actual teeth angles. If his background knowledge as defined above offers a particular value (or very limited range of values) that he would immediately consider both as suitable and representative than the invention can be regarded as sufficiently disclosed. The photographs of D11 and declaration D19, however, show that no such particular value, or even a very narrow range of values, exists. As noted, the subject teeth, premolars and molars have various highly complex shapes. The different angle views in photographs 105 to 110 and 405 to 411 of D11, for example, show the premolar/molar surfaces of a boxer to have a varying number of rounded projections with different angles depending on the point of view (front or side). Thus even for premolars/molars the angles are spread widely, between say 30° to 140°, and there is no single value that is prevalent. This observation is confirmed by expert declaration D21, see section 5.3, which also mentions angle variation between breeds (section 4.2, 4.3).

At best a range can be identified where observed angles occur more frequently. D21 in section 5.3 gives some examples. The Appellant has previously suggested 30° to 90°, or an even narrower range, 30° to 50° (see the table in D20). In these progressively narrower ranges variation is still by a factor of 3 to 4 and 1.6 to 1.8 respectively (cf. D2, figures 6,8; D12, page 14, Rancho). This is still to an extent so as to preclude reliable measurement of the penetration force.

2.7 As for reverse-engineering the cone angle from table 3 and the specific examples described in the preceding paragraphs, the Board is of the firm conviction that this would place an undue burden on the skilled person.

Firstly, various factors and parameters of the manufacturing process that influence the material properties are left open in the patent. Besides duration of the various stages, this includes the nature and quality of the raw materials, the particular extruder used as well as the specific mechanical energy (SME) applied during extrusion. Table 1 on page 8 of the Respondent's submission of 14 November 2008, for example, demonstrates the significance of SME for penetration force.

Secondly, the extent of testing required to unambiguously determine which cone angle was used to produce the table values would far exceed routine experimental work. For each composition it would require producing a multitude of samples for different process parameters and subjecting each to flexion tests and repeated measurements of penetration force with different cone angles until the table values are returned.

2.8 In the light of the above the Board concludes that the skilled person is unable to determine the missing cone angle on the basis of the patent and his common general knowledge. Failing a specific value of the cone angle he will be unable to reliably measure penetration force and thus reproduce the claimed invention. The invention according to the claims of the main request is thus insufficiently disclosed (Articles 83, 100(b) EPC).

2.9 The specific value of the penetration force is central to the invention as it attempts to give expression to the underlying qualitative idea (see above) in objectively verifiable terms. As it fails herein, the invention is inherently deficient and any attempt to formulate the invention more precisely must fail. The auxiliary requests are thus also not allowable for the above reason.


Order
For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.
This decision has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2009:T071808.20090911. The whole decision can be found here. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo from www.freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

T1454/08 - Going up and down in a single document



In this appeal the patent proprietor was able to convince the board that a disclosure of several different aspects in a single prior art document does not always mean that all aspects are disclosed in relation to a single embodiment, or elevator system in this case. Where certain features may be discussed as part of other prior art, it may be that such features are not automatically linked to the central system of the document and may therefore not become novelty-destroying.
The board does not say anything about inventive step, since the Opposition Division never discussed inventive step. It may very well be that inventive step will be denied by the OD, but that remains to be seen...

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appellant (patent proprietor) filed an appeal against the opposition division's decision revoking European patent No. 0 970 911 on the basis that the subject matter of claim 1 of the patent was found to lack novelty with respect to:
D1: JP-A-05278962, including English translation.
II. The respondent (opponent) requested dismissal of the appeal.
III. Subsequent to summoning the parties to oral proceedings, the Board issued a communication stating its provisional opinion that certain features of claim 1 appeared indeed to be novel with respect to D1. The Board also stated that if the subject matter of claim 1 was found to be novel over D1, the case might be remitted back to the department of first instance for continued examination of the opposition.
(...)
VI. Claim 1 reads as follows, whereby lettering (a) to (m) has been inserted before each feature in accordance with the lettering system used in the decision under appeal:
"1.
(a) An elevator system, comprising:
(b) a plurality of elevators (1 - 4) each having a car moveable within a related hoistway for transporting passengers vertically between floors of a building;
(c) a controller (82, 88)
(d) for receiving service messages initiated by passengers requesting elevator service from an origin floor to a destination floor,
(e) for providing hall call commands to said elevators to cause a selected elevator to provide service in response to related ones of said service messages,
(f) and for providing car call commands to said elevators to cause each said selected elevator to stop at a corresponding destination floor;
(g) a plurality of remote control devices (100) to be borne and used by passengers requesting elevator service,
(h) each said remote control device having a transmitter for transmitting electromagnetic call messages for requesting elevator service at the origin floor to a receiver for transfer to said controller, wherein
(i) each call message transmitted by said device includes a component identifying the particular device that transmitted the message;
(j) and said remote control devices each has a passenger activated means for initiating transmission of a call cancellation message;
(k) said receiver (39-41) for receiving the electromagnetic messages transmitted in proximity therewith and for providing said call messages to said controller;
(l) said call cancellation message including a component identifying the particular device that transmitted the cancellation message;
(m) and said call messages including a component identifying the destination floor designated by said passenger activated means."
VII. The appellant's arguments may be summarised as follows:
The subject matter of claim 1 was novel with respect to D1 in respect of features (b), (i), (j) and (l).
As to feature (b), paragraph [0002] of D1 disclosed a plurality of elevator cars but only in the discussion of prior art and not with respect to the device disclosed in the invention of D1. The references to the invention of D1 were to singular entities of "the elevator" and "the elevator shaft". In the written submissions the appellant had made reference continually to a singular elevator in D1, never to a plurality of elevators but this had simply not been emphasised in the appeal grounds, since other features were also clearly novel over D1.
As regards features (i) and (l), D1 disclosed a two-way communication, but this did not imply identification of the "particular" device in any message signal; D1 would merely send and receive information to and from any remote on a specific floor. The system essentially allowed the functions conventionally on a fixed operation panel next to a lift opening on each floor to be placed instead on a remote control device, together with some additional door operating functions. This might sometimes result in disadvantages, but did not imply that a message component identifying the particular device should be used to solve such disadvantages. The problems envisaged by the respondent concerning e.g. a door-close command from a different floor were misleading, since the indicators 91 to 95 with transceivers were floor-specific and no disclosure existed that these could react to remote control devices used from a location on a different floor. Also, merely because a telephone was installed on each remote control device was irrelevant to the content of a call or call cancellation message as claimed, as the telephone could be a separate operating system in the device.
Call cancellation as in feature (j) was also not disclosed in D1; instead, paragraph [0010] disclosed that there was a "clear" button and this could simply be a clearing only of the destination information which had been incorrectly entered rather than a cancellation message of the call itself, even if "registration" was mentioned; it was thus not disclosed that a call was cancelled in the sense of the claim.
The respondent's arguments on implicit disclosure in D1 were hindsight-based, relating to perceived problems and their solutions as found in light of the patented invention's advantages.
VIII. The arguments of the respondent may be summarised as follows:
The subject matter of claim 1 lacked novelty over D1. The features of claim 1 which were disputed were either explicitly or implicitly known from D1. It was further not necessary that a feature be "required" in the system of D1 for it to be implicitly disclosed as had been suggested by the Board; the legal standard was whether it was immediately apparent to a skilled person that the feature was present in the prior art.
The appellant had not argued in its appeal grounds that feature (b) was novel compared to D1. Paragraph [0002] clearly referred to multiple elevator cars in a conventional system and the problems of the invention in paragraph [0003] related to those in such a conventional system. Furthermore, paragraph [0004] stated that the invention "was devised in consideration of the points described above", which meant that a multiple-elevator system was the context in which the invention in D1 had to be understood; it was only the preferred example which related to a single elevator. Even the opposed patent itself made only a single reference to a multiple-elevator system, since this was implicitly understood to be present in the patent in the same way as a skilled reader would understand this to be present in D1.
A skilled person in the art of elevator systems would also understand D1 in such a way that it would be immediately apparent that features (i) and (l) were disclosed, i.e. that the individual remote controls were identified by a component of the call message and the call cancellation message. Several factors demonstrated this. First, proper and safe operation of the elevator system required identification of the particular remote control device. For example, the lights 12c or 12d which were lit upon call registration being responded to by control panel 5, were turned off on elements 12a and 12b on the remote control which had made the call when the lift arrived at the appropriate floor, and not on other remote controls on different floors. If the lights were extinguished on other remote controls, possibly on the same floor, the disadvantage of such a system would be immediately apparent, so that a skilled person immediately understood that remote control device identification in the transmitted message was a necessary part of the D1 system. As regards safety, if e.g. a door-close command was sent by a remote control device on a different floor to the one where the elevator car was positioned with an open door, this could obviously endanger someone entering the lift at that time. A skilled person would understand that the system had to exclude such a danger, and thus would only accept door-close commands from the remote control device which called the elevator car to that floor; this was thus inevitably part of the disclosure of D1, and was only possible if the particular remote control device could be identified. Even if the system operated such that only the remote control device on a particular floor was in contact with its own hall transceiver to transmit a call to the control panel 5, the fact that this message could be identified as coming from a specific floor already meant that the call message or call cancellation message included an information component identifying the particular device used, since it was identified as being the remote device on a particular floor that transmitted the message to that particular transceiver. Further, paragraphs [0011] and [0013] disclosed a telephone on each remote control device used for making private calls between the remote control user and someone in the elevator car; this required specific identification of the remote control device from which the call was made. This worked in the same way as the elevator call message system. Even the word "telephone" made the skilled reader immediately understand that private calls were being made, even if this was not explicitly stated, so it was self-evident that the device making the call had to include a signal component identifying the specific device used to make the call, otherwise the telephones would not operate as intended. The appellant's reference to a separate telephone system was contrary to the disclosure in D1; the telephone disclosed in D1 used the same control circuitry.
The call cancellation activation means of feature (j) was disclosed by the clear button in D1, because its operation caused registration of the call signal to be cancelled, and registration occurred in the control panel 5.
Reasons for the Decision
1. Novelty of claim 1
1.1 The four features of claim 1 which the appellant submitted were novel with respect to the disclosure in D1 are features (b), (i), (j) and (l) as identified above.
1.2 Considering feature (b) first, this states:
"a plurality of elevators each having a car moveable within a related hoistway for transporting passengers vertically between floors of a building".
1.2.1 D1 discloses a plurality of elevators in paragraph [0002] when referring to the prior art. Paragraph [0003] relates to problems to be solved by the invention and notes a problem with "such a conventional system", which includes, by this reference, a plurality of elevators. However, the "objective" given in paragraph [0004] and the solution to this in paragraph [0005] are not concerned with a multiple-elevator system, but instead relate merely to use of "an elevator" rather than a system of multiple elevators. In particular, even though paragraph [0004] includes the statement "This invention was devised in consideration of the points described above", the previously mentioned points, understood as being the problems mentioned, relate to those faced by a passenger (who wants to use the elevator) having to directly operate a hall button. No context of a multiple-elevator system is thereby implied. Also, the objective is explained as providing an elevator operating device in relation to "the hall call button", "the car" and "knowledge of the elevator car movement", i.e. always mentioning these in the singular. The abstract of D1 on page 1 of the translation also refers to "the elevator car". The embodiment ("Application example") in paragraph [0007] et seq also describes, consistently throughout, only "the elevator" and not a plurality of elevators. Notably, the elevator shown in Fig. 1 and described in paragraph [0007] "shows the relationship between the elevator provided with this invented operating device and the building". No mention is made of a plurality of elevators in the building, nor any system which should take account of a plurality of elevators in that or any other building.
1.2.2 Thus, whilst D1 has a prior art portion mentioning multiple elevator cars, nothing in the disclosure of the invention of D1 (which is the portion of D1 which contains the features of claim 1 of the opposed patent relating to a system including a plurality of remote control devices), makes any reference to multiple elevators, nor is this implied in any way by technical means or otherwise that are disclosed. In particular, whilst paragraph [0002] of D1 explains how a passenger calls a car in a multiple-elevator system, this does not imply that the description following that (which is concerned with a problem which is itself unrelated to multiple-elevator systems) must be read in a multiple-elevator context.
1.2.3 It is thus not unambiguously derivable from D1 that the remote control device operated system in D1 concerns a multiple elevator system. On the contrary, in relation to the features of granted claim 1, D1 only discloses a system having a single elevator and the arrangement and operation of this system using remote control units on several floors.
1.2.4 The respondent argued that the lack of a plurality of elevators was not a feature of claim 1 which the appellant had argued as being lacking from the disclosure in D1. However, the decision under appeal itself contains reasons for the finding on this point (see item 2.2) which were made in relation to paragraph [0002] of D1. The Board thus reconsidered this matter (see Article 114(1) EPC 1973) in relation to further passages in D1 and in light of other disputed features. It lacks relevance that the appellant did not provide individual arguments to this specific matter in its appeal grounds and the respondent was aware of the issue as this aspect was taken up specifically by the Board in its provisional opinion.
1.2.5 The respondent also argued that because the opposed patent itself made only a single reference to a multiple-elevator system before describing its operation, this would have an implication as to how the skilled person read D1. However, the Board finds such an argument unconvincing. Not only is the disclosure in D1 entirely separate to that of the opposed patent, but the entire opposed patent relates to a system having a plurality of elevators. The claims of the filed application and the patent are directed to this, and the patent depicts only elevator systems with a plurality of elevators, using an example of a four-car system (see e.g. Figs. 1 to 4).
1.2.6 It is also apparent in the system disclosed in D1 that no technical measures have been disclosed which would account for the use of multiple elevators, e.g. such as a car dispatcher arranged to operate with multiple cars in the remote control operating device system described in D1.
1.2.7 The respondent also argued that the correct legal standard to be used in determining whether an implicit disclosure is present is whether the feature in question is immediately apparent to a skilled person and not whether a feature is required.
However, whether a feature is required is simply one way of determining whether a feature is immediately apparent to a skilled person. If a particular feature were required to perform a stated function of the system, even if not mentioned explicitly, it would then normally be understood to be implicitly present. Merely by the respondent stating that a feature being immediately apparent to a skilled person is the standard to be used does not alter the analysis of feature (b), nor of any other contested feature of claim 1 when considering the disclosure in the prior art, since merely using a different definition provides no substance to the argument as to why a feature would be otherwise seen as immediately apparent. Indeed the respondent itself, in its written submissions (see e.g. item 3 of the 22 October 2010 submission) on this matter refers, in relation apparently to features (i) and (l), to the "necessity" of identifying distinct remote control units in D1, which the Board can only understand as being the same as a "requirement". Thus, none of the respondent's arguments in this regard alter the conclusions reached by the Board with regard to any of the contested features.
1.2.8 The Board thus finds that feature (b), as stated above, is not disclosed in D1 in connection with remote control operating devices as defined in claim 1, but only in the context of the prior art in D1. The subject matter of claim 1 is thus novel over D1 already for this reason.
1.2.9 Since a plurality of elevators, as in the claimed system, is not disclosed in D1, the Board also finds that the portions of features (e) and (f) of claim 1 relating to a plurality of elevators are also not disclosed in D1.
1.3 In regard to features (i) and (l), these state:
"(i) each call message transmitted by said device includes a component identifying the particular device that transmitted the message"
and
"(l) said call cancellation message including a component identifying the particular device that transmitted the cancellation message."
1.3.1 The aspect of features (i) and (l) which is not disclosed in D1 is that the messages include a component identifying the particular device that transmitted the message.
In D1, there is no explicit disclosure of a specific control device being identified. This was also not disputed by the respondent. Also, when considering the operation of the system, no disclosure of a specific control device being identified is thereby implied either. As stated in paragraph [0009] of D1, there are hall indicators 91 to 95 on respective floors 1F to 5F. It is also stated that each indicator is equipped with a transceiving part (which is later described as part 28) and that remote controllers 111 to 115 corresponding to each floor are carried by users or that these are installed corresponding to each floor. As depicted also in the Figures, and as described (see e.g. paragraphs [0015], [0022] and [0025]), the operation of the remote control device sends the control message via its own transceiver 26 to the transceiver 28 associated with one of the hall panels 91-95. Each of the hall panels containing its own transceiver is connected via a cable 10 to the control panel 5, which thereby acts as the central control unit.
Communication is thus made only from a remote control device on a specific floor with the hall panel on that same specific floor via transceivers. There is no disclosure that a remote control device on one floor may communicate via its transceiver with a hall panel transceiver on another floor as alleged by the respondent. Figure 1 also depicts by two-way arrows, a two-way communication between a single remote controller 115 on one floor with a single hall panel 95 on that floor. There is thus no implicit disclosure of a call message including a component identifying the particular device which transmitted the message. Since a single elevator is disclosed in D1 for use with remote control devices using a single specific transceiver for each specific floor hall panel (91 - 95), the system is able to function without such means, even if certain disadvantages might on occasion present themselves. Merely because disadvantages might exist does not mean that a skilled person automatically adopts a different solution; such would be hindsight.
1.3.2 The respondent argued that correct and safe functioning would not be possible if the specific remote controller which had sent the message could not be identified, for which reasons an implicit disclosure of features (i) and (l) should allegedly exist. The Board however finds this unconvincing.
Due to each floor having its own floor-specific transceiver in the hall panel 91 to 95 for each floor respectively, the control panel 5 need only operate by communication with the transceiver on a particular floor when providing a two-way communication (see paragraph [0016] referring to transmission of signals and response signals). When the elevator is called using a remote device e.g. remote device 115 on floor 5F, the lights 12c and 12d (see paragraph [0016]) are lit up and then later turned off when the car arrives at that floor. The remote control devices on other floors are not affected, because these use a different hall panel transceiver on their respective floors. The same applies to door commands (e.g. door close) sent from the remote control device; these only need affect the elevator when it arrives at that specific floor via that particular floor transceiver. No danger thus exists by alleged acceptance of a floor close command from a remote control on another floor, since acceptance of such a close-door command from another floor is not disclosed.
Thus, correct and safe operation of the system does not require the identification of the specific remote control device which transmitted the signal. The same applies to a call cancellation signal, since this is related to a call cancellation sent by a remote control device, and will only be transmitted to the control unit 5 by the transceiver on a specific floor.
It is true that if several remote control devices were used on any single floor simultaneously, this might lead to interference in some cases. However, D1 anyway does not disclose the use of more than one remote control device on any one floor at any one time, nor would such necessarily pose a problem in view of the specific floor communication between the different remote control devices and the hall panel on that floor, not least since only a single elevator is disclosed in D1. Thus there is no implicit disclosure in D1 that call messages or call cancellation messages can operate as intended by D1 only if the identification of the specific remote control device is transmitted as part of the message.
Merely because drawbacks might exist in some cases, does not of itself make a different solution, namely that defined in claim 1, necessary or in any other way immediately apparent to a skilled person.
1.3.3 The respondent also argued that an information component was anyway included in the message signal, because the remote control device would be identified from the message signal as being that particular remote control device on a specific floor with which the transceiver 28 in the respective hall panel had communicated.
However, the Board finds this argument unconvincing. According to claim 1, not only is it the call message transmitted by the device which must itself include the component identifying it, as opposed to D1 where only signals from the floor transceiver would be recognised by control panel 5 as coming from that floor, but no identification of the "particular" device is made at all, merely an indirect association to the effect that an unspecified remote control device on a specific floor has sent a message to the hall panel transceiver on that floor.
1.3.4 The respondent further argued that the presence of a telephone as described in e.g. paragraphs [0011] and [0013] would imply identification of the particular remote control device, in particular so that the calls can be personal. This is however also found unconvincing.
First, nothing is stated in D1 as to any similarities between components of call messages transmitted from a remote control and the operation of a telephone as described in D1. Merely because the telephone on the remote control device operates through codec 25 for coding and decoding audio signals (paragraph [0013]) on the same remote control device which is used for call messages via the use of different codec 23 for coding and decoding call messages, does not imply any similarity between the signals let alone the necessity for the identification, by means of an included signal component, of the particular device which sent a call message. Nor does the presence of the word "telephone" imply to a skilled person that private calls are being made between a person outside the lift and an individual inside the lift, particularly not in 1992 when D1 was filed; even paragraph [0011] refers to calls between the remote controller carrier "and passengers" in elevator car (3), rather than to some type of private conversation between only two individuals or individuals each communicating with each other via their own remote controller telephone unit.
(...)
As explained below however, the Board finds that feature (j) is known from D1.
(...)
1.5 The subject matter of claim 1 is thus novel with respect to D1, such that the decision under appeal must be set aside.
2. Remittal of the case (Article 111(1) EPC 1973)
Only novelty of claim 1 with respect to D1 had been decided by the opposition division. Since lack of novelty with respect to a further document was also alleged and since no decision has been issued on that objection or upon the opponent's inventive step objections, the Board in exercising its discretion in accordance with Article 111(1) EPC 1973 concludes that the case should be remitted back to the opposition division for continuation of the opposition proceedings.
Order
For these reasons it is decided that:
1. The decision under appeal is set aside.
2. The case is remitted to the opposition division for continuation of the opposition proceedings.
This decision has European Case Law Identifier ECLI:EP:BA:2010:T145408.20101124. The whole decision can be found here. The file wrapper can be found here

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

T 1729/06 - Production of seedless water melons: plants or fruits?



This is an appeal against a decision from the examining division, which refused the present application for the sole reason that the claimed subject-matter was an essentially biological process for the production of plants for which pursuant to Article 53(b) EPC no patents shall be granted. The applicant contested the objection, arguing that the claims were, rather than to a method for the production of plants per se, directed to a process for the industrial production of seedless watermelon fruits for human consumption. 


Reasons for the Decision
[...]
Main request - Article 53(b) EPC
3. The examining division refused the present application for the sole reason that the claimed subject-matter (of both the main request and auxiliary request) was an essentially biological process for the production of plants for which pursuant to Article 53(b) EPC no patents shall be granted.
Context of the invention described in the application
4. The present invention is in the field of the production of watermelon fruit, in particular of seedless watermelons (see page 1, lines 5 to 8 of the application as filed).
5. From a botanical point of view the board notes that the watermelon is a monoecious plant and thus has separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The board notes furthermore that seedless watermelons have been produced and marketed for human consumption since the early 1950s (see e.g. WO00/70933, page 1, lines 21 to 25, referred to on page 2, line 11 of the application as filed).
6. Watermelon plants setting seedless fruits (see e.g. "Development of Seedless Watermelons", page 9, line 27 to page 11, line 13 of the application as filed) are produced by crossing a tetraploid (4n=44) inbred line as the female plant with a diploid (2n=22) inbred line as the male parent (note by the board: the reciprocal cross does not produce seeds). The resulting triploid (3n=33) seeds can be germinated and grown into a triploid watermelon plant bearing triploid male and female flowers. Characteristically for triploid organisms, however, these triploid plants are female and male sterile, i.e. they produce neither female nor male gametes. The reason for this sterility is that triploid plant cells have three sets of chromosomes and one of these sets will not have a matching (homologous) set to pair up with during synapsis of prophase 1 of meiosis. This failure of synapsis results in an improper meiosis and therefore in gametes that are not viable. Accordingly, because the triploid watermelon plant is female sterile, no fertilisation (i.e. union of female and male gametes) inside the female flower can take place and embryo-bearing seeds are not typically formed on triploid watermelon plants.
7. Triploid watermelon plants are also male sterile and hence self-pollination does not take place. However, in order for triploid watermelon plants to develop fruits (note by the board: i.e. such fruits being seedless watermelons which consist entirely of tissues of the triploid plant), pollination of the sterile female flowers is required (note by the board: for fruit development fertilisation is however not required). It is thus necessary to plant (diploid) watermelon polleniser plants in the watermelon production field to provide the necessary pollen to pollinate the triploid female flowers and thereby stimulate fruit development.
8. The present application is mainly concerned with the development and the use of particularly advantageous diploid enhanced polleniser plant lines, e.g. NO1F3203B (see "Development of Enhanced Pollenizer Diploid Watermelon", page 11, line 15 to page 15, line 29) and their use in the production of triploid watermelon fruits.
The claimed invention
9. It is in the context of the invention as described above that the claimed subject-matter (see section II, above) is to be assessed:
Independent claim 1 is directed to the use of a particular diploid watermelon plant as polleniser for triploid watermelon plants, in a process of producing triploid seedless water melon fruit. [Note: emphasis present in the decision - see the pdf version].
Independent claim 5 is directed to a method for producing triploid seedless water melon fruit which comprises the steps of planting triploid watermelon plants and a particular diploid watermelon plant and allowing the pollination of the triploid plants by the diploid plants to obtain the triploid seedless watermelon fruit.
Independent claims 6 and 7 are directed to methods for increasing the yield of triploid, seedless watermelon plants comprising the steps of planting particular diploid polleniser watermelon plants and allowing them to pollinate triploid watermelon plants to produce triploid, seedless watermelon fruit followed by the harvesting of this fruit. Claim 7 comprises the additional step of eliminating the unharvested fruits of the diploid watermelon plants.
10. The subject-matter of the claims is therefore directed to those steps in the production process of seedless watermelons which involve the (planting and) growing of the triploid and diploid watermelon plants, the pollination of the triploid female flowers by the diploid pollen and the development of the seedless watermelon fruit on the triploid plant.
The exclusion from patentability of "essentially biological processes for the production of plants" in the EPC
11. Article 53(b) EPC provides that: "European patents shall not be granted in respect of (b) ... essentially biological processes for the production of plants ...; this provision shall not apply to microbiological processes ...".
12. It has not been argued by the appellant that the claimed use and methods are equivalent to microbiological processes in the sense of the Article 53(b) EPC. The board also considers that these uses and methods are not microbiological processes within the meaning of Article 53(b) EPC. It therefore needs to be assessed by the board, whether or not the claimed use and methods constitute "essentially biological processes for the production of plants" within the meaning of Article 53(b) EPC.
Processes for the production of plants considered excluded from patentability by virtue of Article 53(b) EPC by the Enlarged Board of Appeal
13. The meaning and the scope of the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC were considered by the Enlarged Board of Appeal in decision G 1/98 (OJ EPO 2000, 111) and, recently, in great detail in the consolidated decisions G 2/07 and G 1/08 (OJ EPO 2012, 130 and 206).
14. In its decision G 1/98, supra, the question raised by this referring board (in a different composition) in its referring decision T 1054/96 (OJ EPO 1998, 511) of how to decide whether a process can be defined as an "essentially biological process" was, however, left unanswered by the Enlarged Board of Appeal (see decision G 1/98, supra, point 6 of the reasons). Decision G 1/98, supra, is therefore not of direct assistance in this matter.
15. The relevant questions raised by this board (in a different composition) in its referring decisions T 83/05 (OJ EPO 2007, 644) and T 1242/06 (OJ EPO 2008, 523) were, however, answered by the Enlarged Board of Appeal in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra.
16. In summary, after an analysis of the object and purpose of the process exclusion of Article 53(b) EPC, the Enlarged Board of Appeal came in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, to the conclusion that (emphasis added by the board) "[a] non-microbiological process for the production of plants which contains or consists of the steps of sexually crossing the whole genome of plants and of subsequently selecting plants [was] in principle excluded from patentability as being "essentially biological" within the meaning of Article 53(b) EPC" (see decision G 2/07, supra, Headnote, answer 1). These "processes were characterised by the fact that the traits of the plants resulting from the crossing were determined by the underlying natural phenomenon of meiosis. This phenomenon determined the genetic make-up of the plants produced, and the breeding result was achieved by the breeder's selection of plants having the desired traits" (see decision G 2/07, supra, point 6.4.2.3 of the reasons; the full paragraph on page 199). In the context of these, in principle, excluded processes, the Enlarged Board of Appeal added however the qualifications that "[s]uch a process does not escape the exclusion of Article 53(b) EPC merely because it contains, as a further step or as part of any of the steps of crossing and selection, a step of a technical nature which serves to enable or assist the performance of the steps of sexually crossing the whole genomes of plants or of subsequently selecting plants" (see decision G 2/07, supra, Headnote, answer 2) and that "[i]f, however, such a process contains within the steps of sexually crossing and selecting an additional step of a technical nature, which step by itself introduces a trait into the genome or modifies a trait in the genome of the plant produced, so that the introduction or modification of that trait is not the result of the mixing of the genes of the plants chosen for sexual crossing, then the process is not excluded from patentability under Article 53(b) EPC" (see decision G 2/07, supra, Headnote, answer 3).
17. In the case at hand, the claimed use and methods all concern the step of the pollination of triploid watermelon plants by pollen of a particular diploid polleniser watermelon plant and result in the development of triploid seedless watermelon fruit on the triploid watermelon plants (see point 10, above). They aim therefore in essence at the production of triploid seedless watermelon fruit on existing triploid watermelon plants and not at the creation of any genetic make-up of any plant produced as the result of meiosis. Indeed, as explained in points 5 and 6, above, the use and methods do not involve successful meiosis in the triploid plant flowers. Rather, they merely concern the pollination of the sterile female flowers of the triploid watermelon plant with pollen of the diploid polliniser plant. They do not concern sexually crossing two whole genomes of plants (implying meiosis and fertilisation) and the subsequent selection of plants.
18. The board is therefore satisfied that the use and methods as subject-matter of the claims are not such methods which the Enlarged Board of Appeal in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, considered to fall under the exclusion of "essentially biological processes for the production of plants" pursuant to Article 53(b) EPC.
Further considerations by this board on the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC in the light of observations by the Enlarged Board of Appeal in decisions G 2/07 and G 1/08
19. Although, on the one hand, the Enlarged Board of Appeal, in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, has given extensive guidance which processes for the production of plants are "in principle" excluded from patentability by virtue of the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC (see point 16, above), the board notes that, on the other hand, the Enlarged Board of Appeal has not, in these decisions, given a comprehensive and exhaustive definition of the subject-matter to which the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC applies in relation to plant inventions.
20. Indeed, both cases underlying the referring decisions in the cases G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, were concerned with processes in which the desired trait of the (resulting) plant was achieved by crossing and selection, i.e. they were breeding methods (for the production of plants). This fact was recognised and acknowledged by the Enlarged Board of Appeal when it stated that "[b]oth cases as they underlie the referring decisions are concerned with processes in which the desired trait of the plant is achieved by crossing and selection, i.e. they are breeding methods" (see decision G 2/07, supra, point 6.1.2 of the reasons). The Enlarged Board of Appeal considered subsequently, that "[h]ence, any potential difference in the meaning of the English wording of Article 53(b) EPC "method for the production" of plants as compared with its German and French texts ("Züchtungsverfahren", "procédé d'obtention") [did] not appear relevant for the referred issues" (see point 6.1.2 of the reasons).
21. A further indication that the Enlarged Board of Appeal in its decisions in fact did not give an exhaustive definition of the subject-matter to which the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC is applicable in relation to plant inventions can be found in point 6.4.2.3 (on page 199) of the reasons for decision G 2/07, supra. Here the Enlarged Board of Appeal stated that "[i]t must be concluded that the legislator's intention was to exclude from patentability the kind of plant breeding processes which were the conventional methods for the breeding of plant varieties of that time. These conventional methods included in particular those (relevant for the present referrals) based on the sexual crossing of plants (i.e. of their whole genomes) deemed suitable for the purpose pursued and on the subsequent selection of the plants having the desired trait(s)" (emphasis added by the board).
22. The board therefore considers that, notwithstanding the conclusion in point 18, above, it still needs to establish whether or not the claimed uses and methods of the present case are excluded from patentability by virtue of the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC for other reasons.
Biotechnological inventions are patentable under the EPC
23. Rule 26(2) EPC states that "biotechnological inventions are inventions which concern a product consisting of or containing biological material or a process by means of which biological material is produced, processed or used", whereby "biological material" is defined in Rule 26(3) EPC as any material containing genetic information and capable of reproducing itself or being reproduced in a biological system. Undoubtedly the presently claimed use and methods therefore concern "biotechnological inventions" and are therefore, in principle, patentable (Article 52(1) and Rule 27 EPC).
24. In this context, the Enlarged Board of Appeal, in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, established (see decision G 2/07, supra, point 6.4.2 of the reasons) that "biological forces and phenomena, to the extent that they are controllable, are considered to pertain to the area of technologies in which patentable inventions are possible. [...] For biotechnological inventions this is now explicitly enshrined in the EPC and in the Biotech Directive" (see point 23, above and decision G 2/07, supra, page 194, two middle paragraphs; emphasis added by the board). The Enlarged Board stated that "plants and their parts are a material substrate which can be processed by man to achieve a desired result by using natural forces" (see decision G 2/07, supra, page 194, third paragraph).
25. Hence, the board finds that the fruit resulting from the presently claimed uses and methods is "biological material" pursuant to Rule 26(2) EPC. Accordingly, the presently claimed subject-matter, is not explicitly and a priori excluded from being a patentable invention under the EPC.
The object and purpose of Article 53(b) EPC
26. As indicated in point 16, above, in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, the Enlarged Board of Appeal, has extensively analysed the object and purpose of the process exclusion in Article 53(b) EPC as derivable from the legislative history of the relevant provisions in the Strasbourg Patent Convention (SPC) and the EPC 1973 (see decision G 2/07, supra, points 6.4.2.2 and 6.4.2.3 of the reasons).
27. The Enlarged Board of Appeal established that earlier versions of the exclusion now found in Article 53(b) EPC were drafted against the background of the drafting of the UPOV convention (note by the board: concluded in 1961) and the so-called ban on dual protection contained therein.
27.1 The first Preliminary Draft Convention of the EC Working Group of 14 March 1961 contained an Article 12(2) providing an exclusion from patentability for "inventions relating to the production of or a process for producing a new plant variety or a new animal species", whereby this provision was not to apply to processes of a technical nature. It was explained in the comments on the Draft Convention that a process of a technical nature applicable to plants, e.g. processes for producing new plants by irradiation of the plant themselves or the seeds with isotopes, would still have to be granted (see decision G 2/07, supra, point 6.4.2.2, paragraph bridging pages 195 and 196, emphasis added by the board).
27.2 The historical documentation on the drafting of the SPC showed that an originally drafted (optional) exclusion from patentability of "purely biological, horticultural or agricultural (agronomic) processes" (note by the board: not limited to processes for the production of plants and also encompassing e.g. growing of plants) was later removed in the legislative process for being unjustified, as the exclusion of "horticultural or agricultural (agronomic) processes" was considered to exclude a whole "class" of inventions from patentability. Subsequently, the exclusion of "purely biological processes" was re-drafted to the final wording of the exclusion in Article 6 of the SPC which was later taken over, expressis verbis, in the EPC 1973 as Article 53(b) EPC (see decision G 2/07, supra, point 6.4.2.2, page 196, second paragraph to page 197, second paragraph of the reasons). The Enlarged Board of Appeal noted that, according to the explanations given for the final re-drafting, the notion "essentially biological processes for the production of plants and animals" should include those processes which may produce known varieties as well as those which may produce new ones, e.g. selection or hybridisation of known varieties. The new wording "essentially" biological (as opposed to "purely" biological) made it evident that the provision should be extended to cover processes which were fundamentally of this type even if technical devices were involved, e.g. use of a grafting instrument or of a special greenhouse for growing of a plant (see decision G 2/07, supra, point 6.4.2.2, paragraph bridging pages 196 and 197 of the reasons).
28. The board notes in this context that seedless watermelons have been produced and marketed since the early 1950s (see point 5, above). The board accordingly sees no indications in the analysis of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the object and purpose of Article 53(b) EPC that the legislator(s) intended to cover with the process exclusion such agricultural (agronomic) processes as now claimed in the present application. The board itself has also not been able to identify any such indications in the historical documentation.
More recent legislative developments concerning Article 53(b) EPC
29. The history of more recent legislative developments concerning Article 53(b) EPC have also been analysed in the decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, of the Enlarged Board of Appeal.
30. Rule 26(5) EPC was introduced in the EPC as Rule 23b(5) EPC 1973 and remained untouched in the revision of the Implementing Regulations to the EPC 2000. Rule 26(5) EPC states that "A process for the production of plants or animals is essentially biological if it consists entirely of natural phenomena such as crossing or selection".
31. The Enlarged Board of Appeal in its decisions judged that Rule 26(5) EPC, because of its ambiguous, if not contradictory, wording, did not give any useful guidance on how to interpret the term "essentially biological process for the production of plants" in Article 53(b) EPC. The board considers, nevertheless, that the Enlarged Board of Appeal's analysis of the legislative history of Rule 26(5) EPC (see decision G 2/07, supra, the whole point 4 of the reasons) contains no indications that the legislator intended to exclude from patentability such use and methods as now claimed in the present application.
Conclusion
32. The board concludes therefore that the legislator drafting Article 53(b) EPC did not have the intention to exclude from patentability a whole class of inventions, i.e. horticultural or agricultural (agronomic) processes, under which the now claimed use and methods undoubtedly fall. Furthermore, the board concludes that the EPC 1973 legislator (and hence the EPC 2000 legislator) only wished to exclude from patentability, in the context of the process aspect of the exclusion in relation to plant inventions, the - then conventional - processes applied by plant breeders in connection with new plant varieties for which a special property right was available under the UPOV Convention and processes which were fundamentally of this type.
33. Accordingly, in view of all the above considerations the board concludes that the use and methods as claimed in the present application are not such as the Enlarged Board of Appeal in its decisions G 2/07, supra, and G 1/08, supra, considered as being excluded from patentability. This is in view of the fact that the use and methods as claimed neither explicitly nor implicitly involve breeding (mixing of whole genomes) and that the use and methods as claimed are rather agricultural, with there being no intention by the legislator to exclude from patentability this "class" of inventions. The board found no indications in the legislative history of Article 53(b) EPC that the now claimed use and methods were intended to be covered by the article. The board therefore considers that, rather than being excluded from patentability by virtue of Article 53(b) EPC, the claimed uses and methods constitute a "technical process" for which the EPC foresees patentability pursuant to Rule 27(c) EPC.
34. The board therefore allows the appeal.
Order
For these reasons it is decided that:
1. The decision under appeal is set aside.
2. The case is remitted to the department of first instance for further prosecution on the basis of claims 1 to 8 of the main request filed under cover of a letter dated 7 April 2006.


This decision has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2014:T172906.20140917. The whole decision can be found here (pdf). The file wrapper can be found here. Photo "water melon" by Steve Johnson obtained via Flickr.

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