2 Jun 2020

T 1845/16 - Reformatio in peius

Key points
  • In this opposition appeal, only the opponent appeals against the decision to maintain the patent in amended form. The opponent raises as new issue that the claims as held allowable are not clear because of the added features. The Board agrees: the claims at issue are unclear. The patentee then submits amended claim deleting the unclear terms at issue from the claims. Art. 123(2) and (3) are complied with.
  • The opponent argues that the amendment violates the prohibition of reformatio in peius. The Board notes that the exceptions of G 1/99 concern amendments that are unallowable because of Art. 123(2), whereas in the present case the new objection in appeal is based on Art. 84. 
  • “Da sich die Entscheidung [G 1/99 ] ausdrücklich auf den Fall unzulässiger Änderungen im Sinne von Artikel 123 (2) EPÜ bezieht, ist sie für den vorliegenden Fall, bei dem das Patent als Folge eines Klarheitsmangels zu widerrufen wäre, nicht unmittelbar anwendbar.”
  • “Allerdings sind [...] dieselben Billigkeitsbetrachtungen, die zur Entscheidung G 1/99 geführt haben, auch über den Fall unzulässiger Änderungen hinaus anwendbar.”
  • The exceptions of G 1/99 are to be applied by analogy in the present case. In particular, the amendments are only allowable if there are no other amendments possible to resolve the clarity issue while affecting the opponent less.
  • “Somit ist im vorliegenden Fall eine Übertragung der in der G 1/99 getroffenen Ausnahmeregelung vom Verbot einer reformatio in peius angebracht. Unter Nr. 15 der Entscheidungsgründe mahnt die G 1/99 an, eine solche Ausnahmeregelung vom ansonsten verbindlichen Grundsatz des Verschlechterungsverbots aus Billigkeitserwägungen zwar zuzulassen, aber eng auszulegen. Sie fordert, dass die Streichung eines unzulässigen Merkmals nur dann vorgenommen werden darf, wenn es keine andere Möglichkeit der Änderung gibt, die die Einsprechende weniger schlechter stellt. Im vorliegenden Fall vermag die Kammer keine solche Möglichkeit zu erkennen und auch von der Beschwerdeführerin wurde diesbezüglich nichts vorgetragen. 
  • Folglich rechtfertigen im vorliegenden Fall die Änderungen in Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 eine Ausnahme vom Grundsatz des Verschlechterungsverbots und es ist der Patentinhaberin somit gestattet, die Klarheitsmängel des Hauptantrags wie im Hilfsantrag 1 beantragt auszuräumen.”




EPO T 1845/16 -  link


Der Schutzbereich der Ansprüche ist zudem gegenüber dem erteilten Patent eingeschränkt, so dass auch die Erfordernisse von Artikel 123 (3) EPÜ erfüllt sind.

2.3 Verschlechterungsverbot

2.3.1 Die aus dem Anspruch gestrichenen Begriffe "hohe" und "fest" besitzen, auch wenn sie nicht deutlich sind, im Kontext des Streitpatents eine technische Bedeutung. Die Streichung dieser Ausdrücke hebt deren Einschränkung auf und stellt daher eine Verbreiterung des Gegenstands und Schutzbereichs von Anspruch 1 gegenüber der Fassung dar, die der angefochtenen Entscheidung zugrunde lag, wodurch die Einsprechende und alleinige Beschwerdeführerin schlechter gestellt wird, als wenn sie keine Beschwerde eingelegt hätte.

2.3.2 Grundsätzlich ist ein solchermaßen geänderter Anspruch daher zurückzuweisen, weil er gegen das in der Rechtsprechung der Beschwerdekammern etablierte Verschlechterungsverbot verstößt (vgl. G 9/92, ABl. EPA 1994, 875).

2.3.3 Von diesem Grundsatz kann nach der Entscheidung G 1/99 (ABl. EPA 2001, 381, Entscheidungsformel) "jedoch ausnahmsweise abgewichen werden, um einen im Beschwerdeverfahren erhobenen Einwand auszuräumen, wenn andernfalls das in geändertem Umfang aufrechterhaltene Patent als unmittelbare Folge einer unzulässigen Änderung, die die Einspruchsabteilung in ihrer Zwischenentscheidung für gewährbar erachtet hatte, widerrufen werden müsste" (Hervorhebung durch die Kammer). Da sich die Entscheidung ausdrücklich auf den Fall unzulässiger Änderungen im Sinne von Artikel 123 (2) EPÜ bezieht, ist sie für den vorliegenden Fall, bei dem das Patent als Folge eines Klarheitsmangels zu widerrufen wäre, nicht unmittelbar anwendbar.

2.3.4 Allerdings sind in Übereinstimmung mit der Rechtsprechung der Beschwerdekammern des Europäischen Patentamts (9. Auflage 2019, V.A.3.1.6 und 3.1.8; T 1843/09, ABl. EPA 2013, 508, Leitsatz, zweiter Absatz) dieselben Billigkeitsbetrachtungen, die zur Entscheidung G 1/99 geführt haben, auch über den Fall unzulässiger Änderungen hinaus anwendbar.

Insbesondere wäre es generell, wie unter Nr. 12 der Entscheidungsgründe der G 1/99 ausgeführt, unbillig, "dem Einsprechenden/Beschwerdeführer oder der Kammer [im Beschwerdeverfahren] neue Angriffe zu erlauben, während man dem Patentinhaber/Beschwerdegegner eine Verteidigungsmöglichkeit vorenthält". Zwar ist der Patentinhaber gemäß der Entscheidung G 9/92 "primär darauf beschränkt, das Patent in der Fassung zu verteidigen, die die Einspruchsabteilung für gewährbar erachtet hatte", doch "insbesondere wenn der Aufrechterhaltung des Patents Gründe entgegenstehen, die in der ersten Instanz nicht vorgebracht wurden, verdient der nicht beschwerdeführende Patentinhaber aus Gründen der Billigkeit Schutz" (G 1/99, Entscheidungsgründe, Nr. 12). Diese Erwägungen gelten in allgemeiner Weise und sind nicht auf den Fall einer unzulässigen Änderung begrenzt.

Den Entscheidungsgründen der mit der vorliegenden Beschwerde angefochtenen Entscheidung sowie der Niederschrift über die mündliche Verhandlung im Einspruch ist zu entnehmen, dass gegenüber dem erst in der mündlichen Verhandlung eingereichten Hilfsantrag, der der Zwischenentscheidung zugrunde lag, keine Einwände unter Artikel 84 EPÜ erhoben, und dessen Erfordernisse nicht überprüft wurden. Da die Patentinhaberin daher erst mit der Beschwerdebegründung auf mögliche Probleme mit den Begriffen "hoch" und "fest" aufmerksam gemacht wurde, liegt im vorliegenden Fall eine mit der G 1/99 vergleichbare Situation vor.

2.3.5 Somit ist im vorliegenden Fall eine Übertragung der in der G 1/99 getroffenen Ausnahmeregelung vom Verbot einer reformatio in peius angebracht.

2.3.6 Unter Nr. 15 der Entscheidungsgründe mahnt die G 1/99 an, eine solche Ausnahmeregelung vom ansonsten verbindlichen Grundsatz des Verschlechterungsverbots aus Billigkeitserwägungen zwar zuzulassen, aber eng auszulegen. Sie fordert, dass die Streichung eines unzulässigen Merkmals nur dann vorgenommen werden darf, wenn es keine andere Möglichkeit der Änderung gibt, die die Einsprechende weniger schlechter stellt. Im vorliegenden Fall vermag die Kammer keine solche Möglichkeit zu erkennen und auch von der Beschwerdeführerin wurde diesbezüglich nichts vorgetragen.

2.3.7 Folglich rechtfertigen im vorliegenden Fall die Änderungen in Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 eine Ausnahme vom Grundsatz des Verschlechterungsverbots und es ist der Patentinhaberin somit gestattet, die Klarheitsmängel des Hauptantrags wie im Hilfsantrag 1 beantragt auszuräumen.

1 Jun 2020

T 2112/16 - Filing Request 1A kills ARs 2, 3 and 5-14

Key points

  • In this opposition appeal, the Board considers the claims of the Main Request to be not novel and the claims of AR-1 to lack basis in the application as filed. AR-1a was filed after the Statement of grounds and is not admitted because “prima facie the requirement of Article 123(2) EPC is still not fulfilled and the appellant did not provide any reason why these requests were submitted at this late stage of the proceedings”. The same applies for AR-4.
  • The Board then arrives at the admissibility of AR-2, filed with the Statement of grounds. The Board does not admit the request: “the sequence of the auxiliary requests has been changed during the course of the appeal proceedings at least due to the introduction of auxiliary request 1A [after the Statement of grounds], this involving a material change in focus of the claimed invention and thus resulting in an amendment of the case which the Board and the respondents had to deal with.”
  • “The selected sequence of the auxiliary requests leads to an evident broadening and lack of convergency in the requests. The feature "X", which is present in auxiliary request 1A, is not present in claim 1 of any of the lower ranking auxiliary requests 2, 3 and 5 to 14 filed with the grounds of appeal. This has the effect of the Board and parties having to consider subject-matter broader than that included in the higher ranking auxiliary request 1A. Such a change made after a party has presented its complete case does not meet the requirement for procedural economy as set out in Article 13(1) RPBA 2020.”
  • The Board exercises its discretion under Article 13(1) RPBA 2020 not to admit the auxiliary requests 2, 3 and 5 to 14 into the proceedings.



EPO T 2112/16 - link

Reasons for the Decision


7. Auxiliary requests 2, 3 and 5 to 14


7.1 Auxiliary requests 2, 3 and 5 to 14 were filed with the grounds of appeal. Although the numbering of these requests has not been altered, the sequence of the auxiliary requests has been changed during the course of the appeal proceedings at least due to the introduction of auxiliary request 1A, this involving a material change in focus of the claimed invention and thus resulting in an amendment of the case which the Board and the respondents had to deal with.


7.2 The Board had already alerted the appellant in its preliminary opinion (see point 5.1) that the filing of auxiliary request 1A had the effect of changing its complete case, particularly in respect of all lower ranking requests. Since the appellant has not presented any further arguments regarding this point, the Board sees no reason to change its opinion in this regard.


7.3 The selected sequence of the auxiliary requests leads to an evident broadening and lack of convergency in the requests. The feature "an exhaust inlet and an exhaust outlet of the dispersion chamber are coplanar", which is present in auxiliary request 1A, is not present in claim 1 of any of the lower ranking auxiliary requests 2, 3 and 5 to 14 filed with the grounds of appeal. This has the effect of the Board and parties having to consider subject-matter broader than that included in the higher ranking auxiliary request 1A. Such a change made after a party has presented its complete case does not meet the requirement for procedural economy as set out in Article 13(1) RPBA 2020.


7.4 Accordingly, the Board exercised its discretion under Article 13(1) RPBA 2020 not to admit the auxiliary requests 2, 3 and 5 to 14 into the proceedings.


8. In the absence of any request in the proceedings on the basis of which the patent can be maintained, the impugned decision cannot be set aside and the appeal must be dismissed.
Order
For these reasons it is decided that:
The appeal is dismissed.

29 May 2020

G 0003/19 - Unpatentable plants (Pepper)

Key points

  • “The Enlarged Board [] abandons the interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC given in decision G 2/12 [sic, G 2/13 is not mentioned]  and, in the light of Rule 28(2) EPC, holds that the term “essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals” in Article 53(b) EPC is to be understood and applied as extending to products exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process or if the claimed process feature defines an essentially biological process” (r.26.8). Therefore, such products are not patentable under Article 53(b) EPC (see below for transitional provisions). 
  • This leads to the headnote:
    • “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.”
  • I note that the alternative ground of exclusion from patentability due to process features (recited in a product-by-process claim)  defining an essentially biological process is not expressly specified in R.28(2) and reverses G 2/13 hn.2(a). The (only public) underlying document for R.28(2), CA/56/17 appears to be silent about process features. 
  • The Enlarged Board also extends the prohibition to "plant material" in the headnote, unlike R.28(2) (see the comparison below). The interested reader is referred to CA/56/17, paras. 48, 50 and 64 for the reason why R.28(2) does not mention 'plant material'. The Enlarged Board does not mention that (not patentable) 'plant material' is restricted to propagation material. So perhaps the exception extends to claims directed to a harvested tomato and to tomato paste and tomato juice. Plant material 'such as fruit' is mentioned in G2/12 hn.1.
  • Before arriving at its decision to overturn  G2/12 (and G2/13), “the Enlarged Board concludes that, in view of the clear legislative intent of the Contracting States as represented in the Administrative Council and having regard to Article 31(4) Vienna Convention ["a special meaning shall be given to a term if it is established that the parties so intended"], the introduction of Rule 28(2) EPC allows and indeed calls for a dynamic interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC.”
  • The Enlarged Board, however, begins its analysis by rephrasing the questions referred by the President of the Office. The first question is rephrased because the “wording of question 1 is too general and unspecific in that it broaches an institutional topic which reaches well beyond the ultimate object of the referral”.
  • The Enlarged Board considers the rephrased question to be admissible: “there are different decisions of two Boards of Appeal on the question whether an amendment to the Implementing Regulations can have an impact on the interpretation of an Article of the EPC” (namely, T 1063/18 implying that such amendment can't have such an impact and T 315/03, r.7.3 stating that “that Article 53(a) EPC contains nothing which precludes or limits its own subsequent interpretation [] by (secondary) legislation”). 
  • The Enlarged Board decision has the advantage that it avoids a clash with the Contracting States (wisely, in my view). At the same time, the Enlarged Board appears to leave open the question of whether Rule 28(2) EPC is binding on the Enlarged Board. 
  • “[A]lthough neither the Contracting States, in accordance with Article 172 EPC, nor the Administrative Council, in accordance with Article 33(1)(b) EPC, has formally amended Article 53(b) EPC to extend the scope of the process exclusion to animals, plants and plant material obtained by essentially biological processes, when now interpreting Article 53(b) EPC, the Enlarged Board cannot ignore the Administrative Council’s decision to introduce a new paragraph 2 in Rule 28 EPC”. The phrase ‘cannot ignore’ seems to have a different meaning than ‘is bound by’. Indeed the headnote shows that R.28(2) does not preclude the Enlarged Board from declaring more subject-matter non-patentable. 
  • “As the content of Rule 28(2) EPC does not stand in contradiction to the new interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC given in this opinion, there is no conflict between these provisions.” (emphasis added)
  • As to the transitional provision: “For applications, the relevant date is their date of filing or, if priority has been claimed, their priority date.”
  • Also interesting is the statement that “[i]rrespective of [the legal status of the Commission's Notice under EU law], as an independent international organisation with its own autonomous legal order, the EPOrg is not directly bound by Union law. It is therefore all the more true that a legally non-binding Notice on the interpretation of the EU Biotech Directive issued by the EU Commission in reaction to decisions of the Enlarged Board on the interpretation of a provision of the EPC, i.e. Article 53(b) EPC, does not form part of EPC law.”

  • On the general question of whether exceptions are to be interpreted in a narrow or a broad way: “the Enlarged Board also confirms [...] that the object and purpose of the exception to patentability under Article 53(b) EPC is not sufficiently obvious to answer the question whether or not the clause is to be construed in a narrow or broad way.”

  • One Board member of the panel in G3/19 was also a member of the (combined) panel in G 2/12 and G2/13. This member was interestingly enough also the rapporteur in all three cases  (link). 

  • The decision recites  “the claimed process features”, but I think that features are not strictly speaking claimed. Subject-matter is claimed, features are recited in a claim. Possibly the headnote should be read as “if the process features of the product-by-process claim define an essentially biological process” (cf. G2/13, hn.2(a)).
  • The decision recites “or if the claimed process feature define” (sic) in r.3.3, 'features' in the plural in the headnote and "the claimed process feature defines" r.26.8 but I don't think this any relevance for the substance of the holding.


EPO Headnote
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.

Comparison G 3/19 vs. Rule 28(2)
Headnote: "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"
Rule 28(2): "plants or animals exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process"


EPO G 0003/19 - link
G 3/19 G3/19


SUMMARY OF THE PROCEEDINGS
The referred questions

I. By letter dated 4 April and received on 8 April 2019, the President of the European Patent Office (hereinafter the EPO President) referred the following questions to the Enlarged Board of Appeal (hereinafter the Enlarged Board) under Article 112(1)(b) EPC:

1. Having regard to Article 164(2) EPC, can the meaning and scope of Article 53 EPC be clarified in the Implementing Regulations to the EPC without this clarification being a priori limited by the interpretation of said Article given in an earlier decision of the Boards of Appeal or the Enlarged Board of Appeal?
2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, is the exclusion from patentability of plants and animals exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process pursuant to Rule 28(2) EPC in conformity with Article 53(b) EPC which neither explicitly excludes nor explicitly allows said subject-matter?
REASONS FOR THE OPINION

The relevant legal provisions

I. Specific reference will be made to the following:

Article 112(1)(b) EPC Decision or opinion of the Enlarged Board of Appeal;
Article 53(b) EPC Exceptions to patentability;
Rule 26(1) and (5) EPC General and definitions, corresponding to Rule 23b(1) and (5) EPC 1973, which was inserted in the Implementing Regulations by decision of the Administrative Council of 16 June 1999 and entered into force on 1 September 1999 (OJ EPO 1999, 437);
Rule 27(b) EPC Patentable biotechnological inventions, as amended by decision of the Administrative Council CA/D 6/17 of 29 June 2017 (OJ EPO 2017, A56) and in force from 1 July 2017;
Rule 28(2) EPC – Exceptions to patentability, introduced by decision of the Administrative Council CA/D 6/17 of 29 June 2017 (OJ EPO 2017, A56) and in force from 1 July 2017;
Articles 31 and 32 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 23 May 1969 (Vienna Convention);
Articles 1 to 4 Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 1998 on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions (EU Biotech Directive, OJ EU 1998 L 213/13; OJ EPO 1999, 101).


[Article 31  General rule of interpretation

1. A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.

2. The context for the purpose of the interpretation of a treaty shall comprise, in addition to the text, including its preamble and annexes:
(a) any agreement relating to the treaty which was made between all the parties in connexion with the conclusion of the treaty; (b) any instrument which was made by one or more parties in connexion with the conclusion of the treaty and accepted by the other parties as an instrument related to the treaty.

3. There shall be taken into account, together with the context:
(a) any subsequent agreement between the parties regarding the interpretation of the treaty or the application of its provisions; (b) any subsequent practice in the application of the treaty which establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation; (c) any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties.


4. A special meaning shall be given to a term if it is established that the parties so intended.

Article 32 Supplementary means of interpretation

Recourse may be had to supplementary means of interpretation, including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion, in order to confirm the meaning resulting from the application of article 31, or to determine the meaning when the interpretation according to article 31:
(a) leaves the meaning ambiguous or obscure; or (b) leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable.]

Scope and focus of the referral

II. As an initial matter, before the admissibility and substantive issues of the referral are addressed, it is necessary to analyse the scope and focus of the referred questions and the supporting reasoning. Formally speaking, the present referral addresses two issues: first, the scope of the Administrative Council’s power to adopt or amend Rules of the Implementing Regulations to give effect to an interpretation of an Article of the EPC which differs from that given in an earlier decision of the Boards of Appeal or the Enlarged Board of Appeal (question 1); secondly, the proper interpretation of Article 53(b) EPC following the adoption of Rule 28(2) EPC, which excludes from patentability plants and animals exclusively obtained by means of an essentially biological process (question 2).

28 May 2020

T 0275/15 - Let's continue the ping-pong

Key points

  • The OD considered the claims to be not novel over E12 (a US patent). The Board considers the claims novel. The Board has to decide whether to remit the case for a discussion of inventive step.
  • “Article 11 RPBA 2020 provides that the Board shall not remit a case to the department whose decision was appealed for further prosecution, unless special reasons present themselves for doing so. However, this provision has to be read in conjunction with Article 12(2) RPBA 2020, which provides that it is the primary object of the appeal proceedings to review the decision under appeal in a judicial manner [...]. This principle would not be respected if the Board were to conduct a complete examination of the application. Consequently, in the present case, Article 11 RPBA 2020 does not entail that the Board should carry out a full examination of the application for compliance with the requirements of Article 56 EPC for which no decision of the first instance exists yet.”
  • As a comment, this reasoning of the Board is perfectly generic in my view and can be copy/pasted any time the Board would possibly have to deal with a new ground or objection in opposition (new in the sense of: not discussed in the impugned decision).
  • I note that the procedure is unusual in that the opponent as respondent did not file any comments in appeal. It's not so clear to me if the opponent can submit inventive step attacks still after remittal, or if he has waived such attacks by not maintaining the attacks in its Statement or response in appeal. So, perhaps, the Board is actually friendly to the opponent by remitting the case.
  • In the present case, the application was filed in 2001 and the patent was granted in 2011. Opposition filed in 2012. Appeal filed in 2015. Five years later, the Board remits the case. Quite possibly, after remittal and a further appeal, the opposition will end well after the expiry of the patent term. 




EPO T 0275/15 - link




V. The respondent did not file a reply to the statement of grounds of appeal.

VI. By a communication under Rule 100(2) EPC dated 28 November 2019 the parties were informed that the Board intends to set aside the decision and to remit the case to the department of first instance.

VII. The respondent did not file any observations in reply to this communication within the set time period of two months.

VIII. On 3 April 2020 the registrar of the Board contacted the representative of the respondent who confirmed that no reply to the above communication had been delivered to a recognised postal service provider in due time before expiry of the period. Hence, there are no requests of the respondent on file.

[...]
3. Novelty in view of E12

3.1 The present analysis is based on the wording of claim 1 according to the text annexed to the communication under Rule 71(3) EPC. The published version contained several mistakes.

[...]

3.9 Consequently, the subject-matter of claim 1 is novel over E12 [E12: US 5 035 704].


4. Remittal to the department of first instance

4.1 As said before, the subject-matter of present claim 1 is novel. However, the claims of the main request have not been examined with regard to inventive step by the Opposition Division.

4.2 Under Article 111(1) EPC, the Board may in the present case either proceed further with the examination of the application, in particular with respect to Article 56 EPC, or remit the case to the examining division for further prosecution. Since the present appeal was pending on 1 January 2020, the revised version of the RPBA applies (OJ EPO 2019, A63), subject to the transitional provisions set out in Article 25 of said RPBA. In particular Article 11 RPBA 2020 is applicable.

4.3 Article 11 RPBA 2020 provides that the Board shall not remit a case to the department whose decision was appealed for further prosecution, unless special reasons present themselves for doing so. However, this provision has to be read in conjunction with Article 12(2) RPBA 2020, which provides that it is the primary object of the appeal proceedings to review the decision under appeal in a judicial manner (see also T 1966/16 from 20 January 2020, point 2.2 of the reasons and T 0547/14 from 29 January 2020, point 7.1 and 7.2 of the reasons).

4.4 This principle would not be respected if the Board were to conduct a complete examination of the application. Consequently, in the present case, Article 11 RPBA 2020 does not entail that the Board should carry out a full examination of the application for compliance with the requirements of Article 56 EPC for which no decision of the first instance exists yet.

4.5 Consequently, the Board considers it appropriate to exercise its discretion under Article 111(1) EPC to remit the case to the department of first instance for further prosecution.

5. Request for republication of the patent specification

The request for republication of the patent specification must be considered once the definitive version of claim 1 is established.
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.

27 May 2020

T 2676/16 - Broad but clear

Key points

  • The Board recalls that the clarity requirement of Article 84 EPC does not mean that claims can be refused in examination simply because they are broad.
  • “The mere fact that a feature may be implemented in various ways does not necessarily render this feature unclear”.



T 2676/16 -  link


The board further notes with respect to point 2.4 of the reasons of the appealed decision [of the Examining Division] that the mere fact that a feature may be implemented in various ways does not necessarily render this feature unclear.



2.5 Hence, claim 1 of the main request is clear (Article 84 EPC). The same applies mutatis mutandis to independent apparatus claim 7 and the computer-readable memory claim 16. As a consequence, the board is satisfied that claims 1, 7 and 16 of the main request comply with the requirements of Article 84 EPC.

2.6 Furthermore, in view of the above findings, the board is also satisfied that the claimed invention according to the present main request is disclosed in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art (Article 83 EPC), contrary to the obiter dicta statement in point 5 of the reasons of the decision under appeal.

26 May 2020

T 1060/19 - Appeal fee

Key points

  • The appellant pays the appeal fee in January 2019 at the reduced rate with a debit order in Form 1038 by mistake, it is not an SME. The PDF letter and the remarks of the Form contain a statement that purports to be a debit order in case of underpayment.
  • To recap some relevant case law: T 3023/18 considered the underpayment to be no small amount lacking and held that the EPO has no duty to carry out any ex officio enquiry to determine an appellant's entitlement to pay the reduced appeal fee. The fact that the ‘SME declaration’ was missing in that case, did not change this. The Board in T 3023/18 that it is the practice of the Boards of Appeal to accept such declarations at any time during the appeal proceedings. See J8/18 about the EPO Notice OJ 2018, A5 which suggest a requirement for an SME declaration; the Legal Board recalled that “the Board is in no way bound by Notices from the EPO concerning the application or interpretation of legal provisions”. According to J8/19, debit orders can be corrected (see also T 1000/19). According to T2575/19, the validity of a debit order in the remark field of Form 1038E is not ruled out under the ADA in the version valid until 1 October 2019.
  • In my view, the present decision does not (expressly) contradict the above case law or departs from that case law. 
  • The present appellant argues that the remark in the PDF letter was a valid debit order, because the SME declaration was omitted. I note that the decision does not comment at all on the requirement in the ADA that “debit order must be filed in an electronically processable format (XML)” (point 5.1.2 ADA 2017)
  • The present Board undertakes an extensive investigation of whether "the authorisation given in the letter accompanying the notice of appeal, "In case of underpayment ... to debit the legally prescribed amount from our deposit account" had become effective before expiry of the appeal period". I think the Board is here perhaps implicitly applying the conclusion of T2575/19, that a debit order in the remarks tab of Form 1038 (filed before 01.10.2019) is not invalid merely because it is in the remarks tab. 
  • The Board: “This would have required the EPO to be in a position before the end of the appeal period to recognise the underpayment, i.e. the fact that the appellant was not eligible for the reduced appeal fee”. The appellant argued that this was the case, because it had not filed the SME declaration, pointing out that EPO Notice OJ 2018, A5 states that "the [SME Declaration] must be filed at the latest by the time of payment of the reduced fee for appeal".
  • The Board notes that: “points 3 and 4 of the Notice do not merely interpret decision CA/D 17/17 of the Administrative Council [OJ 2018, A4; i.e. amended Rfees2(1)11], but impose additional duties, i.e. in particular an express declaration (point 3) to be made by the date of payment at the latest (point 4). An assessment must be made therefore of whether legal concepts or legal provisions other than decision CA/D 17/17 provide a basis for these duties.” Implicitly the Board here appears to consider these additional requirements in the Notice to lack legal basis in amended Rfees2(1)11.
  • The Board then (immediately) turns to 'legitimate expectations' (which is in my view not legal basis per se) and concludes that this principle does not apply. However, the Board adds that “the board will nevertheless assume arguendo that the provisions of the Notice that are pertinent to the present case are binding.” However, the Board reasons that the provisions of the Notice, when properly interpreted, do not give basis for a legitimate expections as argued by the appellant.  The Board, in particular, notes that point 11 of that Notice allows for remedying a missing declaration until the expiration of the appeal period, such that the Notice does not actually require filing the SME declaration at the latest when paying the appeal fee, as argued by the appellant.
  • “The appellant's attempt to convert the EPO's correct response to the appellant's mistake into improper conduct, on the basis of certain provisions of the Notice (points 3 and 4) taken out of their context (point 11), must fail, regardless of the doubts as to their legal basis.
    • Note that this whole analysis is about a debit order in the 'Remarks Tab', which is in any case excluded in the ADA in force as of 01.10.2019.

  • The Board refuses the request for re-establishment. The representative had signed the Form 1038 himself (at least his signature is placed on it) and had made a mistake. Excessive workload (200 billable hours in one month; the attorney works at the Munich branch of a large USA patent firm; it is not said what he normally bills monthly) is no ground for RE. “Diligent representatives must make sure that the workload they accept is not excessive, i.e. does not go beyond their capacity to carry out the corresponding tasks properly. Otherwise they must bear the consequences of mistakes caused by an excessive workload.”


EPO T 1060/19 -  link

Summary of Facts and Submissions


I. The notice of appeal and the request for re-establishment of rights

[The following text has been taken verbatim from part A of the board's communication annexed to the summons to oral proceedings of 25 November 2019.]

1. The notice of appeal of 28 January 2019

With a letter of 28 January 2019 the applicant gave notice of appeal against the decision by the examining division of 28 November 2018 refusing European patent application 12 855 099.3. The penultimate paragraph reads as follows:

The appeal fee in the amount of EUR 1,880.00 shall be debited from our deposit account no. ... . In case of underpayment and/or missing fees, the EPO is also authorized to debit the legally prescribed amount from our deposit account no. ... .

The EPO form entitled "Letter accompanying subsequently filed items", in its "Fees" box 15-1, was filled out as follows:
"11e Appeal fee for an appeal filed by a natural person or an entity referred to in Rule 6(4) and (5) EPC", together with the total "Amount to be paid" of "EUR 1 880.00".

At the bottom of the letter, under the heading "Annotations", the appellant has added the following statement:

Authorization in case of underpayment and/or missing fees([Name representative]; 27.01.2019)
1. Remark(Annotate)
In case of underpayment and/or missing fees, the EPO is authorized to debit the legally prescribed amount from our deposit account no. ... .

25 May 2020

T 2439/17 - No response from the respondent

Key points

  • In this opposition appeal, the Board allows the appeal and rejects the opposition, noting that the respondent [opponent] had not reacted in any way during the appeal.
  • “Die Beschwerdegegnerin hat im Beschwerdeverfahren weder Eingaben gemacht noch Anträge gestellt.”
  • As a comment, the online file does not even show an acknowledgement receipt that the respondent had received the Statement of grounds, which was the only document send to the respondent during the entire course of the appeal (besides the communication about the appeal number). This is quite surprising to me, in view of R7/09 (the first successful petition for review).
  • I'm surprised that the decision does not state that it was checked in any way that the respondent was aware of the appeal proceedings.
    • update 26.05.2020:  the online file now shows a letter dated 20.05.2020 about a missing advice of delivery from the opponent. 
  • The decision is also interesting in that the opponent was a shell company (a Hong Kong Limited, founded by a law firm and a ‘company service provider’. This does not affect the admissibility of the opposition. The extract from the Chamber of Commerce proving the existence of the Limited is enough).



EPO T 2439/17 -  link

Sachverhalt und Anträge

VI. [...] Die Beschwerdegegnerin hat im Beschwerdeverfahren weder Eingaben gemacht noch Anträge gestalt. 
Entscheidungsgründe


2. Die Beschwerde ist zulässig.


3. Zulässigkeit des Einspruchs (Regel 77(2) EPÜ)


Die Beschwerdeführerin hat die Zulässigkeit des Einspruchs bestritten. Die Existenz der Einsprechenden als juristische Person sei nicht nachgewiesen. Als Belege wurden von der Patentinhaberin im Einspruchsverfahren D12 und von der Einsprechenden D13 vorgelegt. Eine Nichtexistenz der Einsprechenden hätte nach Regel 77(2) EPÜ eine Nichtzulässigkeit des Einspruchs zur Folge.


Die Einspruchsabteilung kam zu dem Schluss, dass die Voraussetzungen der Identität der Einsprechenden unter Regel 76(2) i.V.m. Regel 41(2)(c) EPÜ erfüllt sind. Der Registerauszug D13 belege die Existenz der Firma. Sie stellte daher keine Mängel unter Regel 77(2) EPÜ fest und ließ den Einspruch zu.


Die Beschwerdeführerin hat im Beschwerdeverfahren keine weiteren Beweise vorgelegt, sondern argumentiert, die Einsprechende sei unbekannt, in keiner Weise geschäftlich aktiv und ihre Stellung als juristische Person nach Hong Konger Recht sei nicht belegt. Die Kammer kann dem nicht folgen. Der Registerauszug D13 belegt die Existenz der Firma. Die Beschwerdeführerin hat dies nicht glaubhaft anzweifeln können. Weder Bekanntheit noch nachweisliche (hier: im Internet) geschäftliche Aktivität sind im EPÜ geforderte Voraussetzungen für die Erlangung der Einsprechendenstellung.


Die Kammer sieht daher keine Veranlassung, in diesem Punkt von der Entscheidung der Einspruchsabteilung abzuweichen.


Hauptantrag: Patent wie erteilt


[...]
Entscheidungsformel
Aus diesen Gründen wird entschieden:
Die angefochtene Entscheidung wird aufgehoben.
Der Einspruch wird zurückgewiesen.