Monday, 14 January 2019

T 2707/16 - waiting, waiting and still waiting

This examination appeal was lodged after exceptionally lengthy examination proceedings. 
The patent application in suit was filed on 30 November 2001 with a priority date of 30 November 2000. The European search report was transmitted to the applicant almost 5,5 years after the priority date. After timely filing the request of examination, the applicant receives the first communication of the Examining Division on 7 April 2008 to which he timely replies in August 2008. After more than 7 years, on 7 January 2016, the applicant receives the second communication (summons to Oral Proceedings) from the Examining Division! In the Oral Proceedings the Examining Division refuses the application for lack of inventive step (Art. 56, EPC).  
In the grounds of appeal the appellant requested that the application be granted  on the basis of a sole request and that the appeal fee be reimbursed.
At the end of oral appeal proceedings held on 25 April 2018, the BoA remits the case to the department of first instance for further prosecution.
In order to establish whether the appeal fee could be reimbursed under Rule 103(1), EPC, the BoA extensively argues (see reasons 16 to 34 of the decision), even by making reference, in line with the appellant, to the case law of the European Court of the Human Rights (ECHR), on whether the delay in the first-instance proceedings amounts to a substantial procedural violation according to Rule 103(1), EPC. The BoA concludes that indeed such a delay can be considered a substantial procedural violation (in line with T 823/11 but deviating from T 1824/15). However, the BoA considers the reimbursement of the appeal fee in view of the unreasonable delay not equitable because the applicant did not make clear by any action that he did not tacitly agree with the stagnation of the proceedings (see reasons 35 and 36).
Thus the BoA refuses the request of the appellant for the reimbursement of the appeal fee.

To date the proceedings are still pending and the applicant is requested to pay renewal fees for the 18th year to the EPO! 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

T 384/15 - Intervention another company from the same group as the opponent: admissible?

Opposition appeal proceedings were pending with a single opponent, Santarelli SA. Early during the appeal proceedings, a first intervention was filed by a first assumed infringer, Bose Gmbh. At a later moment during ther appeal proceedings, a second intervention was filed by a second assumed infringer, Bose Limited. The proprietor objected to the interventions by Bose Gmbh and Bose Limited as both belong to the same group as Santarelli SA, and submitted that these two intervenors were not third parties and that the filed interventions were abuse of law, as a consequence of which the interventions (as well as the opposition) should be considered inadmissible. The Board did not agree. The Board and that the interveners are "third parties", and also that the invoking Article 105 EPC had not been an attempt by the opponent and/or interveners to circumvent the law by abuse of process. The Board held the opposition and both interventions admissible.

Friday, 28 December 2018

T 1058/15 - Probably relevant...decidedly late

What happens when in opposition appeal the opponent-appellant – who in appeal had initially merely raised grounds in view of lack of inventive step – shortly before oral proceedings files a new document D8 allegedly destroying novelty of the claims?

Regarding this fresh ground of appeal (i.e., novelty), it is established case law that, exceptionally, in appeal proceedings a fresh ground may be admitted if the patentee agrees that such a ground be considered and if it is deemed by the Board to be prima facie highly relevant (G 9/91, Reason 18).

In view of late-filed document D8, in principle the Boards of Appeal have the discretion, under Article 114 (2) EPC, not to allow such late-filed evidence. This applies in particular to evidence filed after the statement of grounds of appeal or the reply (Article 13 (1) RPBA) or after the oral hearing has been served (Article 13 (3) RPBA). The criteria to be used in the exercise of this discretion vary according to the state of the proceedings in which the evidence is submitted.

In the present case, the appellant filed document D8 only after the hearing had been scheduled and only a few weeks before the hearing. At such a late stage of the appeal process, general legal principles such as procedural economy, legal certainty and equal treatment of the parties are becoming increasingly important.

The Board found that the possible relevance of an easily retrievable document such as D8 should already have become apparent from its title, figures and IPC class. The opponent-appellant had failed to substantiate any reasons which would excuse overlooking D8 and its omitted submission in the first-instance proceedings.

The novelty objection based on D8 in the present appeal proceedings could not be considered a completely new ground for opposition as in the present case novelty had already been objected to in opposition proceedings on the basis of another document (D1). Regardless, the Board found that in the spirit of G 9/91, the patentee should not have to expect that a further ground for opposition will come into play during the appeal proceedings and complicate the procedure.

Accordingly, given that the patentee did not consent to the admission of new document D8, and in view of the inaccurate and very late presentation of this document and the very late revisitation of novelty which was not the subject of the appeal proceedings until then, the Board - notwithstanding relevance of the new document - decided to exercise its discretion under Article 13 (1) RPBA in order not to allow document D8 in the proceedings. The claims were found to be inventive and the appeal was rejected.

Friday, 21 December 2018

T 1648/17 - repeated non-attendance at oral proceedings

 Foto from Guddanti (Pixabay) unrelated to the case

This appeal was lodged against a decision of the examining division refusing the European patent application in suit on the ground that claim 1 and 8 lacked an inventive step (Art. 56 EPC).  

In the statements of the grounds of appeal, the appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of the claims of two new requests never presented during first instance examination proceedings. The two new requests were based on an additional feature derived from the description and not from the claims as originally filed. This would have meant that the BoA would have needed to remit the case to the Examining Division for a new search thereby going beyond the scope of appeal proceedings that are primarily concerned with examining the contested decision rather than to continue examination  (G 10/93). The applicant/appellant did not attend the Oral proceedings both during examination and during appeal proceedings reason for which the BoA believes that the applicant did not want to submit any new request from that point in examination. Therefore the BoA did not admit the requests in appeal (Art. 12(4) RPBA) and dismissed the appeal. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

T 1688/12 - Copyright notice and internet publication date

The present case relates to an opposition appeal by both parties against an interlocutory decision of the Opposition division. During the opposition, a document D1a was introduced into the proceedings, by the OD, which document destroyed the novelty of claim 1. D1a was a product data sheet bearing a copyright notice dated 05/2006. The document also mentioned that data sheet could be downloaded from the relevant company's website. In appeal, the main request of the proprietor was whether the D1a document was Art. 54(2) prior art against the patent in suit, filed in March 2008. The fact that the document would be novelty-destroying was not contested.

The patent proprietor argued that copyright notice date was not sufficient by itself to demonstrate that D1a had indeed been published before the patent filing date. The Board held that it was obvious that the product data sheet was intended for publication on the Internet, and that the question of whether publication actually took place before the filing date should be clarified in accordance with the principle of "free assessment of evidence". The fact that the copyright notice is dated 22 months earlier serves a first indication of a prior publication of D1a. The Board further held that it may, in principle, be presumed on the basis of normal commercial practice that publication has taken place shortly after the date of the copyright notice, unless there is an indication to the contrary.

The proprietor's main request was therefore denied. The final outcome of the appeal was that the interlocutory decision of the Opposition Division was upheld.

Friday, 14 December 2018

At the "User consultation conference Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal" in Munich on 5 December 2018, users of the system the opportunity to hear presentations by members of the Boards of Appeal on the revised draft, followed by panel discussions by members of the Boards of Appeal Committee, the Boards of Appeal and representatives of user associations.
A first public draft of the RPBA was subject to an online user consultation procedure in early 2018. In light of the responses received, the second version was drafted, including newly introduced provisions on case management. This revised draft of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal (RPBA) was agreed upon by Boards of Appeal Committee (BOAC) and the President of the Boards of Appeal, and formed the basis for the conference.
The revised draft shows major changes to case management issues as well as to Article 12 "Basis of appeal proceedings" and Article 13 "Amendment to a party's appeal case" of the RPBA, which may change the rules of the game (jn appeal and in first instance as well!) as of 2020.
Today, 14 December 2018, a report on the user consultation conference was posted on the website of the Boards of Appeal. The report can be found here and is shown in full below.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

T 2303/16 - refused for lack of two-part form, conciseness and reference numerals

Car towed because of a parking violation

The application was refused after a single office action on the grounds of lack of conciseness, two-part form and reference numerals. In appeal these are addressed but no interlocutory revision was given. 
After entering the regional phase at the EPO in 2006, the applicant received its first office action in 2014. The office action raised clarity issues and a few smaller problems, in particular lack of reference numerals. The international search report had complained earlier about lack of two-part form, and lack of conciseness due to too many independent claims (in addition of substantive problems). In it's reply, the applicant amended for the clarity issue, and addressed the patentability of the claims. The second communication in ten years was a refusal. 
The board did not see a problem with a refusal based on formal issues that were only identified in the ISR, but did rule that interlocutory revision should have been granted.