21 May 2019

T 1437/15 - Admissibility attack

Key points

  • In this opposition appeal, the patentee submits that the attack of the opponent under Article 123(2) EPC against the first auxiliary request should not be admitted, because it is a new objection that was not made earlier.
  • The patentee cites G9/19, r. 19: "In order to avoid any misunderstanding, it should finally be confirmed that in case of amendments of the claims or other parts of a patent in the course of opposition or appeal proceedings, such amendments are to be fully examined as to their compatibility with the requirements of the EPC (e.g. with regard to the provisions of Article 123(2) and (3) EPC)." 
  • The patentee submits that this means that in the appeal stage, only amendments made during the appeal stage can be examined. The Board states that this argument is incorrect because r.19 says  "opposition or appeal proceedings".
  • The Board notes that it is not a question of a new ground of opposition in appeal, because the attack concerns the lack of basis of the amendment. Further, the prohibition of reformatio in peius applies to the legal effect of a decision, which is given in the order of the decision. It does not apply to attacks.




EPO T 1437/15 -  link


3. Änderungen - Hilfsantrag 1
3.1 Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 beruht auf dem ursprünglich eingereichten Anspruch 1, wobei die Formulierung "mindestens eine gasphasenreduzierende Substanz" im Merkmal a) durch "Aktivkohle als eine gasphasenreduzierende Substanz" ersetzt wurde. Außerdem wurde die Formulierung "die gasphasenreduzierenden Substanzen" im Merkmal c) durch "die Aktivkohle" ersetzt. Damit entspricht dieser Anspruch unbestritten dem Anspruch 1 des im Einspruchsverfahren vorgelegten Hilfsantrags 1.
3.2 Die Patentinhaberin bestreitet (siehe ihr Schreiben vom 4 Februar 2019, Seite 8, erster Absatz), dass die während des Einspruchsverfahrens vorgenommenen Änderungen in Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 im Beschwerdeverfahren nach Artikel 123(2) EPÜ überprüft werden dürfen, da während des Einspruchsverfahrens keiner der Einsprechenden einen solchen Einwand gegen diesen Anspruch erhoben habe. Dazu verweist sie auf die Stellungnahme G 9/91 der Großen Beschwerdekammer, und insbesondere auf Punkt 19 der Entscheidungsgründe.
Die Kammer sieht das anders:

20 May 2019

T 1551/14 - Witness Declaration admissible

Key points

  • In this opposition appeal, the opponent filed a declaration about a prior use. The Board has to decide on the admissibility of the declaration.
  • From the headnote, in translation: A legitimate reaction on a change of the subject of the proceedings (here the filing of a new declaration under oath after the filing of a new auxiliary request) is as a general rule admissible. The objection, that that reaction is inconsistent with a previous submission, can as a rule not lead to the non-admission. 
  • The OD had heard four witnesses in a first hearing. The OD had then announced that it considered the public prior use to be proven. The procedure was continued in writing. The patentee filed a new auxiliary request. Second oral proceedings were summoned. The opponent then filed a new witness declaration on the prior use and offered the witness for a further hearing. The OD did not hear the witness and held the declaration to be inadmissible.
  • The Board can not agree with this course of proceedings. The declaration engaged with how the public prior use disclosed the feature added by patentee in the new request, which feature only became relevant with the filing of the new request. The declaration was hence also timely filed. Since the OD admitted the new request, it should have also admitted the declaration of the opponent. By deciding otherwise, the OD violated the right to be heard of the opponent.
  • Furthermore, even if the declaration is inconsistent, this is not a ground for holding the declaration inadmissible, because doing so would violate the right to be heard of the opponent.
  • However, in order to decide on the case, the witness declaration is not sufficient evidence. The Board finds the declarations to be not very credible because they follow the language of the claim of the patent closely.  
  • " Es ist auch denkbar, dass Herr Deckert eine nicht von ihm selbst verfasste Erklärung unterzeichnet hat, was auch dafür sprechen würde, dass sie nicht genau den Inhalt seiner mündlichen Ausführungen widerspiegelt." 
  • Therefore, the case is remitted for a hearing of the witness. The Board expressly points to the possibility to have the witness heard under oath by a national court (Rule 120 EPC).



EPO T 1551/14 -  link

EPO Headnote
Legitime Reaktionen auf die Änderung der Verfahrenslage (hier: Einreichung einer eidesstattlichen Erklärung nach Einreichung eines neuen Hilfsantrags) sind grundsätzlich zuzulassen. Der Einwand, dass sie zum bisherigen Vortrag im Widerspruch stehen, kann eine Nichtzulassung in der Regel nicht rechtfertigen (siehe Punkt 3.2 der Gründe).
Zurückverweisung mit der Auflage, die Zeugeneinvernahme fortzusetzen, ggf. unter Eid vor einem nationalen Gericht (siehe Punkte 8.5 und 9 der Gründe).


Entscheidungsgründe
1. Anzuwendendes Recht
Die Anmeldung, auf deren Grundlage das Patent erteilt wurde, war am 3. Juli 2004 eingereicht worden. Deshalb sind im vorliegenden Fall in Anwendung von Artikel 7 der Akte zur Revision des EPÜ vom 29. November 2000 (ABl. EPA 2007, Sonderausgabe Nr. 4, 217) und des Beschlusses des Verwaltungsrats vom 28. Juni 2001 über die Übergangsbestimmungen nach Artikel 7 der Akte zur Revision des EPÜ vom 29. November 2000 (ABl. EPA 2007, Sonderausgabe Nr. 4, 219) die Artikel 54, 56, 84 und 111 EPÜ 1973 sowie Artikel 117 und 123 EPÜ [2000] anzuwenden. Da die Regel 120 EPÜ [2000] dem Artikel 117 EPÜ zugeordnet ist, ist sie in Analogie zur Entscheidung J 10/07 der Juristischen Beschwerdekammer vom 31. März 2008 im vorliegenden Fall ebenfalls anwendbar.
2. Einführende Bemerkungen
Von besonderer Bedeutung in diesem Fall ist eine angebliche offenkundige Vorbenutzung, die im Folgenden kurz beschrieben wird.
Die Firma Unicor hat im Januar 2004 jeweils ein Paar von Muffenformbacken (cuff mould blocks) an die Firma Politejo verkauft (siehe Rechnung D2.3). Diese Muffenformbacken wurden noch im Januar 2004 versandt, ausgeliefert und bezahlt (siehe Versandauftrag D2.5, Bestätigung D2.7 und Belege für die Bezahlung D2.11) und somit der Öffentlichkeit zugänglich gemacht. Der Aufbau der gelieferten Muffenformbacken ist aus den Zeichnungen D2.1 und D2.2 ersichtlich. Durch die Lieferung der Muffenbacken sind die Informationen zu ihrem Aufbau in den Besitz der Firma Politejo (und somit der Öffentlichkeit) übergegangen, und zwar unabhängig davon, ob die Zeichnungen D2.1 und D2.2 der Firma Politejo übergeben wurden.

17 May 2019

T 2291/15 - Essential features

Key points

  • This examination appeal is about the requirement of "support" of Article 84 EPC.
  • " It is established case law of the Boards of Appeal that the requirement under Article 84 EPC  as to clarity of the claims implies that all the essential features of the invention have to be indicated in an independent claim. The essential features are those features which are necessary for solving the technical problem with which the application is concerned" 
  • The question is: what is " the technical problem with which the application is concerned"? Is it the objective technical problem - which is always defined in view of one prior art document? Or is it the "subjective technical problem" as is apparent from the description only? 
  • Still in connection with Article 84, the Board states: " In the present case, the board agrees with the appel­lant in that the technical problem of the application cannot be considered the prevention of the presence of hydrogen in the oxide layer. Such a formulation­ con­tains a pointer to the solution of the invention, which should be avoided as it results in an inadmissible ex post facto approach when assessing inventive step." 
  • This means that the "problem" under Article 84 needs to be formulated according to the same rules as the objective technical problem for inventive step? (although I understand the Board's point).
  • The Board: " The description of the invention starts by outlining the relevant state of the art, in particular the use of sili­con nitride layers in semi­conductor devices in or­der to improve their electronic properties and to pro­vide an environmental barrier. However, when chemi­cal vapour deposition (CVD) is used to form such nitride layers, they tend to contain hydrogen due to the use of silane (SiH4) or ammonia (NH3) as pre­cursors in the CVD schemes. The hydrogen may [...] degrade device performance of semi­con­duc­tor devices made of Group III nitrides or silicon carbide [...] . These are thus considered the tech­nical problems with which the application is concerned." (emphasis added).
  • As a comment, for inventive step, the provision is an alternative can be sufficient. Hence, for inventive step, the applicant is not required to put in the claim all (or any) the features mentioned in the description as solving some problem. Under Article 84 EPC it seems that the Examiner can require so even though the subject matter is otherwise patentable. 


EPO T 2291/15 -   link



Reasons for the Decision
1. Clarity
1.1 The independent claims of the main and first auxiliary request correspond - apart from minor clari­fications and a spelling correction - to the respective indepen­dent claims of the main and first auxiliary requests underlying the decision under appeal.
In the contested decision the examining division held that the feature that the sputtered nitride layers were hydrogen-free was essential for solving the problem of preventing the presence of hydrogen in the oxide layer. Since the independent claims of the main and first aux­il­iary requests pending at the time did not con­tain this feature they were unclear (see points 22 and 23 of the Reasons).
1.2 It is established case law of the Boards of Appeal that the requirement under Article 84 EPC 1971 [sic!] as to clarity of the claims implies that all the essential features of the invention have to be indicated in an independent claim. The essential features are those features which are necessary for solving the technical problem with which the application is concerned (see Case law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO, 8th edition 2016, section II.A.3.2).
1.3 In the present case, the board agrees with the appel­lant in that the technical problem of the application cannot be considered the prevention of the presence of hydrogen in the oxide layer. Such a formulation­ con­tains a pointer to the solution of the invention, which should be avoided as it results in an inadmissible ex post facto approach when assessing inventive step.

The description of the invention starts by outlining the relevant state of the art, in particular the use of sili­con nitride layers in semi­conductor devices in or­der to improve their electronic properties and to pro­vide an environmental barrier. However, when chemi­cal vapour deposition (CVD) is used to form such nitride layers, they tend to contain hydrogen due to the use of silane (SiH4) or ammonia (NH3) as pre­cursors in the CVD schemes. The hydrogen may lead to parasitic capaci­tan­ces or de­graded ohmic contact characteristics and thus limit or degrade device performance of semi­con­duc­tor devices made of Group III nitrides or silicon carbide (see paragraphs [0006] to [0012] of the descrip­tion of the applica­tion). These are thus considered the tech­nical problems with which the application is concerned. 
1.4 According to the invention the nitride layers are de­posited using sputtering rather than chemical vapour deposition. In this manner the nitride layers are sub­stantially hydrogen-free thereby overcoming the above problems (see e. g. paragraphs [0034] and [0039] of the descrip­tion of the applica­tion).
In the decision the examining division was of the opin­ion that the sputtering technique would not auto­mat­ic­ally result in a hydrogen-free nitride layer, because other process parameters such as hydrogen contamination in the process chamber could lead to the presence of hydrogen in the nitride layer (see point 22.3 of the Reasons).
The board notes that sputtering is conven­tion­ally per­formed using a noble gas such as argon or kryp­ton as the sputtering gas filling the sputtering chamber in or­­der to avoid reactions with the target source mate­ri­al. Only when such reactions are intended in reactive sput­ter­ing schemes the gas may also comprise the de­sired par­ticles. Accordingly, in the present case of sputter de­positing nitride layers the gas comprises argon and nitro­gen (see e. g. paragraph [0053] of the description of the application). Hence, the board con­siders that under realistic conditions there is no hydro­gen present when nitride layers are sputter de­posited.
Consequently, the features related to the sputter de­posited nitride layers and the corresponding deposition steps as claimed in the independent claims of the main request and first auxiliary request (see features (a)-(c) and (d)-(e), respectively) overcome the tech­nical problems stated above thereby leading to improved de­vice per­for­mance.
The independent claims of the main request and of the first auxiliary request are thus considered to contain all the essential features of the invention.
1.5 In the independent claims of the second auxiliary re­quest it is explicitly specified that the sputtered nitride layers are hydrogen-free. Hence, the above issue concerning lack of clarity due to the absence of precisely this feature as an essential feature does not arise for these claims.
1.6 In view of the above the board is of the opinion that the claims of the main request and of the first and second auxil­iary requests meet the requirements of the EPC as to clarity of the claims (Article 84 EPC 1973 in combi­na­tion with Rule 29 EPC 1973).
2. Further procedure
In the decision under appeal only the requirement of the EPC as to clarity of the claims (Article 84 EPC 1973 in combi­na­tion with Rule 29 EPC 1973) was dealt with. The other requirements of the Conven­tion were not dis­cussed. In order to allow for the examination of these requirements in two instances, remittal of the case to the department of first in­stance under Article 111(1) EPC 1973 - as requested by the appellant - is deemed appro­priate.
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.

16 May 2019

T 2029/13 - Unity of invention and old Rule 164

Key points

  • In this examination appeal, the claim requests were not admitted by the ED under Rule 137(5) EPC because "their differentiating subject-matter with respect to the main request related to unsearched subject-matter associated with the second invention identified during the supplementary European search".
  • When drawing up the supplementary European search report, the EPO found the claims to lack unity of invention and to relate to three different inventions. The SESR was drawn up for the first-mentioned invention. No invitation to pay additional search fees was issued. 
  • "In accordance with Rule 164(1) EPC (in the version which entered into force on 1 April 2010; see Decision of the Administrative Council of 27 October 2009 amending the Implementing Regulations to the European Patent Convention, OJ EPO 2009, 582 (CA/D 20/09)), the SESR was drawn up  those parts of the application which related to the invention, or the groups of inventions within the meaning of Article 82 EPC, first mentioned in the claims, i.e. in the present case only claims 1 to 6".  This was a particularly harsh version of Rule 164 EPC (see e.g. T 1981/12 where "the Board can accept that the position in which the appellant finds itself was apparently not taken into account when R 164 was implemented and that it operates in a way which was probably not foreseen and may be thought to be unfair"; see also E.A. Kennington in epi Information 1/2009. Whether or not using Rule 137(5) EPC as the legal basis for the refusal, rather than G 2/92 (see here) was appropriate is an interesting question though obsolete since it concerns a now abolished version of Rule 164 EPC. 
  • However, the board is of the view that claims 1 to 13 do not lack unity of invention (Article 82 and Rule 44 EPC). [...] claims 7 to 13 contain all the features of claim 1 and, hence, also the STF identified with respect to that claim 1, i.e. the horizon adjustment control.
  • "Consequently, the search division should also have searched claims 7 to 13 of the SESR, including the features in those claims relating to the mounting mechanism, and the examining division should not have raised an objection under Rule 137(5) EPC against the second and third auxiliary requests underlying the decision under appeal on the grounds that claim 1 of those requests comprised unsearched features relating to the mounting mechanism."
  • The Board remits the case. 





EPO T 2029/13 - link


Reasons for the Decision
1. The appeal is admissible.
Main and first auxiliary requests
2. The claims of the main and first auxiliary requests are respectively based on the claims of the second and third auxiliary requests underlying the decision under appeal, from which they differ only by the following amendments in claim 1 (additions are underlined, deletions are [deleted: struck-through]):
"... and the lens (26) and the image sensor (18) having an orientation that is adjustable with respect to the housing plane (20);
... to rotate the lens (26) and the image sensor (18) which [deleted: is ]are supported in rotational congruence with..."
3. The examining division did not admit the claims of the second and third auxiliary requests underlying the decision under appeal into the proceedings under Rule 137(5) EPC because "their differentiating subject-matter with respect to the main request related to unsearched subject-matter associated with the second invention identified during the supplementary European search" (see point 1.8 of the "Summary of facts and submissions" and the minutes of the oral proceedings).
4. Since the appellant's present main request and first auxiliary request are based on the second and third auxiliary requests underlying the decision under appeal, the board must review whether the examining division's decision not to admit the second and third auxiliary requests underlying the decision under appeal into the proceedings under Rule 137(5) EPC was correct.
5. In the present case, the version of Rule 137(5) EPC that entered into force on 1 April 2010 applies to the present application, because the supplementary European search report (hereinafter "SESR") under Article 153(7) EPC was drawn up on 22 December 2010, i.e. after 1 April 2010 (see Article 1(7) and Article 2(2) of the Decision of the Administrative Council of 25 March 2009 amending the Implementing Regulations to the European Patent Convention (CA/D 3/09), OJ EPO 2009, 299).

15 May 2019

T 0352/16 - Filing request one month before

Key points

  • In this appeal of the patentee in an opposition case, the Board reject the new main request as inadmissible. The request was filed one month before the oral proceedings.
  • " In addition, no valid reason was given by the appellant [patentee] why the operative main request was filed only one month prior to the oral proceedings, [while] the Board's communication had been sent about 5 months before the date of the oral proceedings. " 
  • A further issue is that the opponent had filed a response ("rejoinder") to the patentee's statement of grounds. The opponent had raised a new clarity objection in his response. The Board points out that this is not a reason to wait with filing a Main Request which addresses this clarity issue only shortly before the oral proceedings. 
  • " The appellant argued that the main request was also submitted as an attempt to overcome the objection pursuant to Article 84 EPC put forward by the respondent in its rejoinder to the statement of grounds of appeal" 
  • " However, the filing of a new request at such a late stage in a case where a relevant objection (here pursuant to clarity) was known from the beginning of the appeal proceedings does not satisfy the requirements of due process and the need for economy of the proceedings. In that respect, it makes no doubt that the appellant [patentee] could have replied to that objection earlier, e.g. in direct reply to the respondent's rejoinder to the statement of grounds of appeal, after having received the summons to oral proceedings or, at the latest, in direct reply to the Board's communication, which was sent about 5 months before the date of the oral proceedings." 


EPO T 0352/16 - link

Reasons for the Decision
1. Admittance of the main request
1.1 Since the main request was filed after the parties had been summoned to oral proceedings, its admittance into the proceedings is subject to the Board's discretion pursuant to Article 13(1) RPBA and underlies the additional stipulations of Article 13(3) RPBA.
[...]

In addition, no valid reason was given by the appellant [patentee] why the operative main request was filed only one month prior to the oral proceedings, whereby the Board's communication had been sent about 5 months before the date of the oral proceedings. In doing so, the appellant did not leave much time to the respondent to prepare properly its case, in particular in view of the issue indicated in section 1.2.2 above.

For these reasons, the appellant's argument according to which the operative main request constituted a direct reply to the Board's communication does not justify the filing of that request only one month before the date of the oral proceedings.
1.2.4 The appellant argued that the main request was also submitted as an attempt to overcome the objection pursuant to Article 84 EPC put forward by the respondent in its rejoinder to the statement of grounds of appeal and identified in the Board's communication as relevant for the main request filed with the statement of grounds of appeal.
However, the filing of a new request at such a late stage in a case where a relevant objection (here pursuant to clarity) was known from the beginning of the appeal proceedings does not satisfy the requirements of due process and the need for economy of the proceedings. In that respect, it makes no doubt that the appellant could have replied to that objection earlier, e.g. in direct reply to the respondent's rejoinder to the statement of grounds of appeal, after having received the summons to oral proceedings or, at the latest, in direct reply to the Board's communication, which was sent about 5 months before the date of the oral proceedings. Under such circumstances, also the objection pursuant to Article 84 EPC raised against the main request filed with the statement of grounds of appeal cannot justify the filing of the operative main request only one month before the oral proceedings before the Board.
1.3 In view of the above, the Board finds it appropriate, in the circumstances of the present case, to exercise its discretion under Article 13(1) RPBA and its power under Article 13(3) RPBA by not admitting into the proceedings the operative main request.

14 May 2019

T 2556/16 - Inadmissible appeal

Key points

  • The Board rejects the appeal of the opponent as inadmissible because it is not sufficiently substantiated under Rule 99(2) EPC, in particular for the finding of the OD that claim 1 was novel.
  •  " In the statement of grounds of appeal, the appellant-opponent did not challenge the legal basis given in the appealed decision, nor did it provide any evidence based arguments relating to the common general knowledge of the skilled person, which could serve as a basis for overturning the Opposition Division's decision on this point. This would have been even more important as the Opposition Division explicitly held that the opponent had not provided, "...convincing corresponding evidence, i.e. basic textbooks, representing common general knowledge and disclosing features p and q in combination" 
  • " The Board is rather faced with a bald, unsupported statement from the appellant-opponent, ("Eine entsprechende Anordnung gehört jedoch zum allgemeinen Grundwissen des Fachmannes ...".). Such a statement does not go beyond merely stating that the Opposition Division was incorrect". The Board refers to T 395/12; T 1581/08 and T 213/85." 


EPO T 2556/16 -  link


Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. The appeal of the appellant-opponent lies against the decision of the Opposition Division to reject its opposition against European patent No. 2 442 968.
II. The Opposition Division found that the patent as granted satisfied the requirements of sufficiency, novelty and inventive step (that is the heads of opposition under Articles 100(a) and (b) EPC were considered).
III. During the discussion of novelty under Article 100(a) EPC a key issue was whether document D1, read in the light of the common general knowledge of the skilled person, disclosed features "p)" and "q)" - see point 2.3.1 of the Opposition Division decision. The Opposition Division thought not. In particular, the Opposition Division found that the opponent had not provided, "...convincing corresponding evidence, i.e. basic textbooks, representing common general knowledge and disclosing features p and q in combination". This was also an issue in the discussion of inventive step.

IV. The Opposition Division further found that the generic disclosure of an "end switch" in document D1 did not take away the novelty of the more specific combination of features, "p)" and "q)" - see last paragraph, point 2.3.1 of the Opposition Division decision.
V. In its written statement of grounds of appeal, the appellant-opponent merely repeated its argument that features p and q were disclosed in document D1 in combination with the common general knowledge of the skilled person. No evidence on this common general knowledge, the absence of which had been a decisive issue before the Opposition Division, was provided by the appellant-opponent. Finally, the appellant-opponent referred to its written submissions in the proceedings before the Opposition Division.
VI. The respondent-patent proprietor replied to the statement of grounds of appeal in substance and requested the dismissal of the appeal.
VII. With communication dated 31 July 2018 pursuant to Rule 100(2) EPC the Board set out its preliminary opinion according to which the appeal appeared to be found inadmissible (Rule 101(1) EPC). The appellant-opponent did not file a response to this communication.
VIII. The appellant-opponent requested, that the patent be revoked.
Oral proceedings were not requested.
Reasons for the Decision
Remark
Since oral proceedings were not requested by the appellant-opponent the Board was in the position to take a final decision without arranging for oral proceedings.

13 May 2019

T 1727/14 - Industry journal and CGK

Key points

  • The Board does not admit an article from an industry journal (" Fachzeitschriften") because it would not be common general knowledge. The Board states that articles in industry journals can be common general knowledge, but that there is no rule that anything in industry journals is CGK.
  • " Dem Argument der Beschwerdeführerin, dass Fachzeitschriften besonders geeignet sind, als Nachweis für das einschlägige allgemeine Fachwissen zu dienen, kann nicht gefolgt werden. Das allgemeine Fachwissen im Sinne des Patentrechts entspricht dem Wissen, das dem Fachmann aufgrund seiner Ausbildung und seiner Berufserfahrung zur Verfügung steht. Fachzeitschriften hingegen versuchen in der Regel, dem Fachmann neue, für seine Tätigkeit relevante Inhalte zu vermitteln, also Dinge, die in der Regel noch nicht Teil des allgemeinen Fachwissens geworden sind, und es möglicherweise auch nie sein werden. Dies bedeutet nicht, dass Inhalte einer Fachzeitschrift nicht unter Umständen das Fachwissens belegen können, aber die bloße Tatsache, dass etwas in einer Fachzeitschrift veröffentlicht wurde, erlaubt nicht den Schluss, dass es Teil des Fachwissens ist." 
  • Just to cite the Guidelines G-VII 3.1. "In special cases, articles in technical journals can be representative of common general knowledge (see T 595/90). This applies in particular to articles providing a broad review or survey of a topic (see T 309/88)." The article D16 at issue is: " S. Seibel, "Vielfalt am laufenden Meter", Kunststoffe 12/2005, Seiten 38 bis 46".
  • As a second issue, the opponent (respondent) had also filed a declaration E1 by a Mr. Soeterbroek (after study of the file, I think that F&S III is incorrect where it states that the submission of 13 November 2018 were made by Patentee). The patentee contests admissibility arguing that Mr. Soeterbroek was bound by a secrecy agreement with the patentee. I note that E1 is indeed critical for denying technical effect (3.1.2) and lack of inventive step of the main request. 
  • The Board finds that the question of whether a secrecy agreement exists is reserved for national courts and can not be resolved by the Board. (Diese Fragen sind aber dem zuständigen nationalen Richter vorbehalten und können von der Kammer nicht geklärt werden."In case a breach of secrecy exists, this can be pursued by Patentee before the national courts. 
  • I don't think that this can be the correct approach - in manifest cases of breach of secrecy (e.g. by a national patent attorney breaching his professional secrecy obligation to his own client) the evidence must (in my view) be held inadmissible by the Board. Each court (forum) has (and must have) its own rules about when unlawful evidence is excluded (this depends also on the nature of the proceedings, e.g. between criminal and civil cases). If the existence of a secrecy agreement is invoked by a party, that party should proof (i) the relevant facts and (ii) any relevant national law (e.g. of the EPC contracting state at issue). National law is to be proven as a fact in EPC proceedings (e.g. by declarations by law professors). If the party requesting the non-admittance does not substantiate its case (e.g. lack of evidence regarding the relevant national law provisions), then the Board can reject the request for non-admittance on that ground. I think there is no legal basis for the argument that the existence of a secrecy agreement is reserved for national courts: in case of alleged secrecy of prior art, the EPO routinely decides on the matter. 
  • The Board may have been of the opinion that a simple breach of a contractual secrecy obligation, is never sufficient to hold the evidence inadmissible, as a matter of EPO procedural law. Such a rule could be based on a balancing of the general interest that there are no invalid patents, against the general interest that contracts are to be honoured. However, I am not sure if this rule is established EPO case law (the Board does not cite relevant case law). If such a rule exists, then the EPO indeed does not go into the question of proof of the existence of the alleged secrecy agreement - which is, however, something different from this question being "reserved" for the national courts.



EPO T 1727/14 -  link




Entscheidungsgründe
1. Zulässigkeit der verspäteten Einreichungen
1.1 Druckschriften D16 bis D19
Die Druckschrift D16 ist eine veröffentlichte europäische Patentanmeldung, die Druckschrift D17 ein Artikel, der in einer Fachzeitschrift veröffentlicht wurde. Die Beschwerdeführerin hat diese Druckschriften zum Beleg des Fachwissens vorgelegt. Gemäß der Rechtsprechung der Beschwerdekammern sind solche Druckschriften in der Regel aber nicht geeignet, das Fachwissen des Fachmannes zu belegen.
Dem Argument der Beschwerdeführerin, dass Fachzeitschriften besonders geeignet sind, als Nachweis für das einschlägige allgemeine Fachwissen zu dienen, kann nicht gefolgt werden. Das allgemeine Fachwissen im Sinne des Patentrechts entspricht dem Wissen, das dem Fachmann aufgrund seiner Ausbildung und seiner Berufserfahrung zur Verfügung steht. Fachzeitschriften hingegen versuchen in der Regel, dem Fachmann neue, für seine Tätigkeit relevante Inhalte zu vermitteln, also Dinge, die in der Regel noch nicht Teil des allgemeinen Fachwissens geworden sind, und es möglicherweise auch nie sein werden. Dies bedeutet nicht, dass Inhalte einer Fachzeitschrift nicht unter Umständen das Fachwissens belegen können, aber die bloße Tatsache, dass etwas in einer Fachzeitschrift veröffentlicht wurde, erlaubt nicht den Schluss, dass es Teil des Fachwissens ist.
Die Druckschriften D18 und D19 hingegen sind unzweifelhaft geeignet, das Fachwissen im Bereich der Kautschuktechnologie nachzuweisen und sind daher zugelassen worden.
1.2 Erklärung E1
Die Beschwerdeführerin beantragte, die Erklärung E1 von Herrn Soeterbroek nicht zuzulassen, da dieser durch eine Geheimhaltungsverpflichtung gebunden und deshalb nicht befugt sei, Ausführungen zu den von ihm durchgeführten Versuchen zu machen.
Um diesem Antrag zu folgen, müsste die Kammer die Vereinbarung zwischen Herrn Soeterbroek und der Beschwerdeführerin auf ihren Inhalt und ihre Gültigkeit prüfen bzw. untersuchen, ob die einseitige Kündigung der Vereinbarung durch Herrn Soeterbroek wirksam war oder nicht. Diese Fragen sind aber dem zuständigen nationalen Richter vorbehalten und können von der Kammer nicht geklärt werden.
Falls tatsächlich ein Vertragsbruch durch Herr Soeterbroek vorliegen sollte, könnte ihn die Beschwerdeführerin vor den zuständigen nationalen Gerichten belangen und ggf. Schadenersatz fordern; für das Verfahren vor der Kammer ist das Vorliegen eines solchen Vertragsbruchs jedoch irrelevant.
Dem Antrag auf Nichtzulassung der Erklärung E1 kann somit nicht stattgegeben werden.