Monday, 30 September 2019

T 2239/15 - Private not the same as confidential

The patent application in this case was refused for lack of novelty based on MPEG standards-related documentation cited in the search report. In response to a previous complaint, regarding similar citations against earlier PCT applications, the EPO informed the applicants that examiners had been instructed that MPEG input documents did not constitute prior art and were not to be cited in search reports. In a later communication, however, they were informed that new facts were available regarding the public availability of a particular citation and that the European search report should mention those documents available to the EPO at the time of drawing up the ESR.

The appellants argued that the citation of the documents in the present case constituted a breach of legitimate expectations and further maintained their position that the cited documents were confidential working documents submitted to the MPEG working group in elaboration of a new standard. They also argued that the established procedures of MPEG required members to treat input documents as private, which was to be construed as 'confidential'. 

The Board considered the issue of confidentiality and the public availability of the documents cited in the present case based on the procedures of MPEG and drew a different conclusion. These procedures require, for example, that documents may be shared only with the permission of the authors and that draft documents are made available to meeting participants on a password-protected dedicated MPEG server. The procedures also specifically allow for the discussion at meetings to include consulting other experts with more specific knowledge on the topics addressed, but who are not actually present at the meetings. 

The Board concluded that the MPEG procedures could not guarantee, nor even expect, confidentiality but seemed to be designed to guarantee a certain privacy of data, by controlling access and transmission, while being sufficiently flexible to allow such transmission with other parties. In the absence of strict limitations,the cited documents were deemed to be have been made publicly available.

On the subject of legitimate expectations, the Board ruled that this principle applies to disadvantageous consequences resulting from the omission of procedural steps. It has no bearing on substantive law and cannot render patentable what would otherwise not be.

The appeal was dismissed.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

T 1359/14 (and T 1914/12) - Does the Board have discretion to admit late arguments based on facts already in the proceedings?

A reader pointed me to this decision, in French. In reason 2.1, the Board indicates that a Board has no discretion as to the admissibility of late arguments based on facts already in the proceedings. The Board referred to and followed pararaph 7.2.3 of T 1914/12, also in French, which substantially decided that the lack of "arguments" in Art. 114(2) EPC allowed to file new arguments late, contrary to what Art. 12 RBPA said/says. In view of the tightening of what will be allowed and not with the revised RPBA that enters into force on 01.01.2020, it wil be interested whether a future Board will come to the same conclusion.
In any case, it appears that there should be a referral as this decision follows T 1914/12 which however distinguished from T 1621/09, and seems is a fundamental point of law.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

T 1503/12 - On technical and non-technical features, technical considerations, business methods and THE problem-solution approach

In this appeal against the examining division's decision to refuse a European patent application for lack of inventive step (Article 56 EPC), the appellant submitted that "there was a divergence in how computer-implemented inventions were examined at the EPO. If the application happened to be classified as a business method, the EPO would use the Comvik approach and dismiss features of the invention as non-technical. If, on the other hand, the application was classified in the field of telecommunications, it would be assessed using the "normal" problem-solution approach, and, irrespective of the underlying aim, features relating to data transmission would be treated as a technical telecommunications protocol. Applicants wanted consistency and certainty, especially in the field of computer-implemented inventions, which had become increasingly important." Applicants submitted that "The correct approach, in all fields, was the problem-solution approach." The appellants tried to argue that the claimed invention had a number of technical effects, which provided a basis for inventive step. The Board agreed that the correct approach, in all fields, was the problem-solution approach, but the Board did not agree that there is such divergence: "Comvik is rather a special application of the problem-solution approach to inventions that contain a mix of technical and non-technical features". The Board then applied the problem-solution approach, using Comvik, and concluded that the claimed invention was not inventive.