Thursday, 14 May 2020

BREAKING NEWS: G 3/19 - Plants and animals exclusively obtained by essentially biological processes are not patentable, but no retroactive effect

Today, the EPO issued a Press Communiqué concerning opinion G 3/19 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. (link)

The Press Communiqué is cited in full below (with emphasis added).

The full decision can be found here (G 3/19). Further references are given at the end of the Press Communiqué.

The headnote of the decision reads:

Taking into account developments after decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal, the exception to patentability of essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals in Article 53(b) EPC has a negative effect on the allowability of product claims and product-by-process claims directed to plants, plant material or animals, if the claimed product is exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process or if the claimed process features define an essentially biological process. This negative effect does not apply to European patents granted before 1 July 2017 and European patent applications which were filed before that date and are still pending.

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[start of citation of Press Communiqué]

Press Communiqué of 14 May 2020 concerning opinion G 3/19 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal


The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office issued opinion G 3/19 (Pepper) today and concluded that plants and animals exclusively obtained by essentially biological processes are not patentable.
The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office adopted a dynamic interpretation of the exception to patentability under Article 53(b) of the European Patent Convention (EPC) and held that the non-patentability of essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals also extends to plant or animal products that are exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process.

Background

The Enlarged Board of Appeal is the highest judicial authority under the EPC, which provides for an autonomous legal system that is separate from the European Union. The Enlarged Board's main task is to ensure the uniform application of the EPC.
Under Article 53(b) EPC, European patents shall not be granted in respect of plant or animal varieties or essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals. Rule 28(2) EPC provides that under Article 53(b) EPC, European patents shall not be granted in respect of plants or animals exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process. Rule 28(2) EPC was introduced by decision of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation and came into force on 1 July 2017.
In 2015, the Enlarged Board had concluded in its decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13 within the then applicable legal framework, i.e. before the introduction of Rule 28(2) EPC, that the non‑patentability of essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals under Article 53(b) EPC did not extend to products that are exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process.
In 2018, a Technical Board of Appeal held in decision T 1063/18 that new Rule 28(2) EPC had no impact on the interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC, and followed the Enlarged Board's earlier decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13.
In 2019, the President of the European Patent Office referred a point of law to the Enlarged Board of Appeal under Article 112(1)(b) EPC concerning the interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC in view of legal and other developments occurring after decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13, and in particular in view of new Rule 28(2) EPC.

Key considerations

In its opinion issued today, the Enlarged Board of Appeal held the referral by the President of the European Patent Office to be admissible within the terms of a re‑phrased question. On the merits of the referral, the Enlarged Board endorsed its earlier findings on the scope of Article 53(b) EPC, which were based on the classical (i.e. the grammatical, systematic, teleological and historical) methods of interpretation. However, the Enlarged Board found that a particular interpretation which has been given to a legal provision can never be taken as carved in stone, because the meaning of the provision may change or evolve over time. This meant that decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13 did not settle the meaning of Article 53(b) EPC once and for all.
Taking account of the Administrative Council's decision to introduce Rule 28(2) EPC, the preparatory work on this provision and the circumstances of its adoption, as well as legislative developments in the EPC contracting states, the Enlarged Board concluded that new Rule 28(2) EPC allowed and indeed called for a dynamic interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC.
In adopting this dynamic interpretation, the Enlarged Board abandoned its earlier interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC in decisions G 2/12 and G 2/13. It held that, after the introduction of new Rule 28(2) EPC, Article 53(b) EPC was to be interpreted to exclude from patentability plants, plant material or animals, if the claimed product is exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process or if the claimed process features define an essentially biological process.
In order to ensure legal certainty and to protect the legitimate interests of patent proprietors and applicants, the Enlarged Board ruled that the new interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC given in G 3/19 had no retroactive effect on European patents containing such claims which were granted before 1 July 2017, or on pending European patent applications seeking protection for such claims which were filed before that date.

Contact

Nikolaus Obrovski
Spokesperson of the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office
BOA-PRESS@epo.org
This press release is a non-binding document for media use.

Further information

06.07.1998
EU Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions;
16.06.1999
Decision CA/D 10/99 of the Administrative Council, insertion of new Chapter VI "Biotechnological inventions" in Implementing Regulations to the EPC;
09.12.2010
G 2/07 (Broccoli I), Decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal;
G 1/08 (Tomatoes I), Decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal;
25.03. 2015
G 2/12 (Tomatoes II), Decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal;
G 2/13 (Broccoli II), Decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal;
01.07.2017
Rule 28(2) EPC (entry into force), see Decision CA/D 6/17 of the Administrative Council;
05.12.2018
T 1063/18, Decision of Technical Board of Appeal 3.3.04;
decision text (not published in OJ EPO)
05.04.2019
Referral of a point of law by the President of the EPO;
14.05.2020
G 3/19 (Pepper), Opinion of the Enlarged Board of Appeal;
opinion text (not yet published in OJ EPO)
Amicus curiae briefs
[end of citation of Press Communiqué]
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Tuesday, 12 May 2020

T 487/16 - Can a document admitted by the opposition division and upon which the decision was based be excluded from appeal proceedings?


In the present case, an appeal was filed by the appellant (patent proprietor) against the decision of the opposition division revoking his patent due to lack of novelty  w.r.t. D1 and lack of inventive step w.r.t. D3 in combination with late-filed document D7. D7 was admitted by the Opposition Division as prima facie relevant (page 5 of the decision). Arguments of the proprietor before the Opposition Division, that D7 belongs to a remote technical field were not of any avail. In his grounds of appeal, the appellant submitted that "D7 was late filed before the opposition division which then erred in admitting the document despite its content relating to a remote technical field and not being of prima facie relevance to the claimed subject-matter. D7 should thus not have been admitted into the proceedings." Was the Board convinced? Did the Board allow D7 to be used? Did the Board agree with D7 being from an unrelated or remote technical field and did that have any effect on its admissibility or otherwise?

Monday, 11 May 2020

T 509/18 - Lack of sufficiency in a machine learning application



This examination appeal concerns a driver alertness detection system. Based on imaging of the driver's head and eyes the driver's attention state is determined. Determining the attention state uses a machine learning system. 

The description has a few sections in which the machine learning aspects are explained. Apparently, a matrix of inter-point metrics is used for a look-up-table classification. In principle classification systems are well known, and this suggests some kind of nearest neighbor classification, so I didn't think anything of it.  But the board probes deeper and finds the description insufficient. On closer reading it is indeed unclear what exactly is happening. I'm convinced that one could make a system like this work in many ways; but perhaps not while literally following the description. 

The applicant had argued that the skilled person would know how to enable this based on his common general knowledge; the applicant cited multiple documents in support of this argument. Moreover, in first instance the application was refused for lack of novelty not for lack of sufficiency.  The reasons of the appeal decision do not refer to the common general knowledge though.

In any case, it is a useful reminder not to be too succinct in your description. 


Monday, 27 April 2020

T 1969/17 Lack of reasoning in a decision doesn't make it overtunrnable




This case stems from an opposition that was originally based on the grounds of insufficient disclosure and lack of novelty. During the oral hearing, the ground of Art. 100(c) was raised, but was not admitted into the proceedings.  The opposition was subsequently rejected. In appeal, the opponent maintained the ground of insufficient disclosure and lack of novelty, and further submitted evidence of lack of inventiveness, although inventiveness had never been raised as a ground of opposition. 

The opponent also argued that the ground under Art. 100(c) should have been admitted as being prima facie relevant to the maintenance of the patent. The argumentation seems to have relied on the fact that the impugned decision did not contain any reasoning with respect to relevance.  The Board acknowledged the deficiency in the written decision and even expressed dismay at the Opposition Division's brevity on the subject.

However, the minutes of the oral proceedings showed that the issue had been discussed and that both parties had been given sufficient opportunity to respond. The Board further concluded that the claimed subject matter did not extend beyond the content of the application as filed, and that the Opposition Division had correctly exercised its discretion not to admit the late-filed ground.  

The ground of Art. 100(c) therefore constituted a fresh ground of opposition and was not admitted into the appeal proceedings. The ground of lack of inventiveness was not admitted either, for the same reason. 








Monday, 20 April 2020

A short break


The most recent publication on the Recently Published decisions webpage of the Boards of Appeal took place on 7 April, two weeks ago.

Further, the news message of 17 April  indicated that oral proceedings will not be held in the premises of the Boards of Appeal until 15 May 2020, thereby extending the practice in force since 16 March 2020 (news messages from 1 April, 20 March and 15 March). Consequently, many proceedings will be on hold.

Although the news message also indicated that "The Boards of Appeal will continue to issue written decisions, communications and summonses to oral proceedings", no new decisions were made available since 7 April.

In the absence of new decisions, we will reduce our blog activities for the time being.


Photo "Social distance" by Laura-Del obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

T 482/16 - Last-minute additional searches during the oral proceedings to make up for the poor search carried out earlier


In the present case, the applicant was confronted with two new documents, D2 and D3, introduced by the Examining Division during the oral proceedings for the first time. The applicant's request for postponement of the oral proceedings in view of this introduction of D2 and D3 was denied. Upon filing amendments trying to take the disclosure of D2 and D3 into account, the applicant was confronted with two further new documents, D4 and D5, also introduced by the Examining Division during the oral proceedings. No time was given to the appellant to consider these new documents. Rather, the appellant's request for postponement was rejected and the application refused. The applicant appealed the refusal. In the appeal, the Board concluded that: "[Therefore,] the appellant was confronted with new objections based on new evidence during the oral proceedings. Although it is possible for an examining division to introduce new evidence even at a late stage of proceedings, in the present case the course of the examination proceedings suggests that the examining division tried to make up for the poor search carried out when the application was filed by performing last-minute additional searches, in an attempt to find documents more relevant than D1 for the claimed subject-matter", as the Board noted that "According to the impugned decision, these new documents had been found by carrying out an additional search on the day of the oral proceedings, just before their start. This means that the introduction of D2 and D3 was not motivated by the new claim requests filed by the appellant to overcome the lack-of-clarity objection raised during the oral proceedings". "The Board concludes that, by rejecting the appellant's request for postponement of the oral proceedings, the examining division did not provide the appellant with the appropriate opportunity to present its comments on the objection of lack of novelty over D3 in the light of D4 and D5. The appellant's right to be heard on the examining division's novelty objection has thus been violated by the examining division's refusal of its request for adjournment of the oral proceedings, contrary to the requirement of Article 113(1) EPC. This amounts to a procedural violation."

Friday, 13 March 2020

R 0001/19 - Your surprise at a Board's decision doesn't necessarily render it surprising



The decision by the Board, which led to the present petition for review, was to revoke the patent for lack of inventive step, as the claimed effect was not achieved over the full scope of the claim. The Board's reasoning was based on a new document D46 that was admitted into the appeal proceedings, to further substantiate the case already made during opposition. The proprietor was surprised that the Board had placed so much reliance on D46 and had not received the impression during the oral hearing that D46 was considered to be highly relevant. The proprietor felt that the Board's decision was based on ex-officio argumentation on which it had not received the opportunity to respond, violating its right to be heard.

The Enlarged Board took a different view. During the written phase, the proprietor did not address the substantive issues raised by the opponent based on D46 because it had not expected D46 to be admitted into the proceedings. The admission of D46 was discussed at the oral hearing and the Board decided to allow it in. The Enlarged Board remarked that this could reasonably be interpreted as meaning that the document was thought to be important. D46 was discussed at a rather late stage in the hearing, but it was discussed and the proprietor limited itself to commenting on the oral submissions of the opponent.

The Board did not direct the proprietor to address the issues raised in the grounds of appeal, but in the interests of impartiality,it is generally recognized that a Board is under no obligation to inform a party that it deems a particular argument relevant. The Enlarged Board concluded that the proprietor had been given several opportunities to address the arguments on which the Appeal decision was based but, for a reason not attributable to an omission by the Board, decided not to do so. Consequently, there was no violation of its right to be heard.

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