27 Jan 2020

T 0603/14 - Novelty attack to inventive step attack

Key points
  • In this opposition appeal, the opponent had used D1 and D3 up to the oral proceedings before the Board only to support objections of lack of novelty of claim 1 and claim 25. During the oral proceedings, the Board concludes that the claims are novel and the opponent raises an objection of lack of inventive step based on the same documents. 
  • The Board does not admit the new attack.  "At least the allegation that [these documents] led, in combination, to a lack of inventive step is to the Board a new fact." 
  • As a comment, the particular approach of calling attacks 'facts'  is due to T1914/12.
  • The Board: " the [opponent] did not give any reason for presenting that attack only towards the end of the oral proceedings rather than at such a time before the oral proceedings as to allow the Board and the respondent to appropriately address it. The annex to the summons stated clearly that any further comments, documents or requests should be at the disposal of the Board and the other party one month before the oral proceedings at the latest and should not surprise the other party and the Board. The [patentee] indicated that he would need an appropriate amount of time to react to the objection. Admittance of the objection at this late stage would therefore not have respected the required procedural efficiency. Rather it might even have borne the risk of having to adjourn the oral proceedings." 
  • As a comment, "the purpose of the communication of a board of appeal pursuant to Article 15(1) RPBA is to prepare for the oral proceedings and it is not an invitation to the parties to make further submissions or to file further requests" (T0799/17). So the annex to the summons is not an invitation to make further submissions but the deadline given therein is still a deadline.

EPO T 0603/14 -  link



7. Admissibility of a late-filed inventive step objection
7.1 The Board exercised their discretion not to consider the late filed objection of lack of inventive step in view of D1 and D3.
7.2 The appellant raised this objection for the first time in the oral proceedings before the Board. The documents form part of the appeal proceedings.
7.3 The objection represents an amendment to the appellant's case and may as such, pursuant to Article 13(1) RPBA, be admitted and considered at the Board's discretion. Document D1 and D3 had up to that point only been used to support objections of lack of novelty of claim 1 and claim 25. At least the allegation that they led, in combination, to a lack of inventive step is to the Board a new fact.
7.4 The appellant did not present a convincing justification for the late submission of this alleged new fact. The Board's preliminary opinion on the disclosure of D1 did not introduce any new aspects into the discussion. It merely did not follow the appellant's conclusions. Even accepting arguendo that it did prompt the new objection, the appellant did not give any reason for presenting that attack only towards the end of the oral proceedings rather than at such a time before the oral proceedings as to allow the Board and the respondent to appropriately address it. The annex to the summons stated clearly that any further comments, documents or requests should be at the disposal of the Board and the other party one month before the oral proceedings at the latest and should not surprise the other party and the Board. The respondent indicated that he would need an appropriate amount of time to react to the objection. Admittance of the objection at this late stage would therefore not have respected the required procedural efficiency. Rather it might even have borne the risk of having to adjourn the oral proceedings. Even if one accepted that D1, having been cited to support an objection of lack of novelty, could have been expected to be used as a starting point for an objection of lack of inventive step, the other party cannot be expected to anticipate any arbitrary combination of D1 with other documents on file, such as D3, to be introduced into the proceedings. Furthermore, a document useful for assessing novelty is not necessarily a legitimate choice as closest prior art, see also T0181/17, reasons 7.4.
8. For the above reasons, the Board accedes to the respondent's main request and rejects the appellant's request.
Order
For these reasons it is decided that:
The appeal is dismissed.

24 Jan 2020

T 1906/17 - Rule 79(1)

Key points

  • The Board considers the main request (claims as granted) to be not novel over D1 and does not admit the new auxiliary requests in this opposition appeal.
  • The Board: “Die Kammer stellt fest, dass die [patentee] im Einspruchsverfahren mit der Mitteilung gemäß Regel 79 (1) EPÜ die Möglichkeit bekommen hat, geänderte Unterlagen einzureichen und dass sie diese Möglichkeit nicht genutzt hat, obwohl ihr zu diesem Zeitpunkt die vorläufige Meinung der Einspruchsabteilung nicht bekannt war.”
  • The Board notes that the arguments of the opponent concerning the lack of novelty over D1 were the same throughout the opposition and appeal proceedings. 
  • The Board: “Die Kammer ist daher der Meinung, dass die Hilfsanträge bereits am Anfang des Einspruchsverfahrens in Reaktion auf die Einspruchsbegründung hätten vorgebracht werden können und müssen. Das Zulassen der Hilfsanträge ins Verfahren liegt dementsprechend im Ermessen der Kammer im Sinne von Artikel 12 (4) VOBK.” (emphasis added).
  • The Board furthermore notes that the respondent in opposition appeal, having won before the OD, can not wait until the preliminary opinion of the Board with filing auxiliary requests.
  • The Board: “Dass eine Partei bewusst die vorläufige Stellungnahme der Kammer abwartet, bevor sie auf einen im Verfahren, das mit dem Erlass der angefochtenen Entscheidung endete, längst vorgebrachten Einwand der anderen Partei reagiert, widerspricht der eigentlichen auf die Überprüfung der angefochtenen Entscheidung gerichteten Funktion des Beschwerdeverfahrens und dem Prinzip des frühzeitigen und vollständigen Vorbringens der Parteien” 



EPO T 1906/17 - link

3. Zulassung der Hilfsanträge 1 bis 4
3.1 Die Beschwerdegegnerin hat mit Schriftsatz vom 25. Juli 2019 in Reaktion zur Kammermitteilung gemäß Artikel 15 (1) VOBK die Hilfsanträge 1 bis 4 eingereicht, deren Zulassung ins Beschwerdeverfahren die Beschwerdeführerin unter Hinweis auf die Entscheidung T1126/97 wegen Verspätung sowie deswegen widerspricht, weil alle Hilfsanträge Kombinationen von Merkmalen aus den Unteransprüchen und aus der Beschreibung enthielten, die zu weiteren Einwände führten.
3.2 Die seitens der Beschwerdegegnerin zur Rechtfertigung der späten Einreichung der Hilfsanträge vorgetragenen Argumente überzeugen nicht.
Diese beziehen sich im Kern darauf, dass nach Einschätzung der Beschwerdegegnerin die Hilfsanträge deshalb zugelassen werden sollten, um ihr die Möglichkeit zur Verteidigung des Streitpatents zu geben. Im Einspruch habe nämlich keine Veranlassung bestanden, Hilfsanträge einzureichen, und dies wäre aus ökonomischen Gründen auch nicht sinnvoll gewesen, weil mehrere Einwände seitens der Beschwerdeführerin vorgebracht worden wären. Weil die Auffassung der Prüfungsabteilung und der Einspruchsabteilung positiv für die Beschwerdegegnerin gewesen wären, sei nun die Entwicklung im Beschwerdeverfahren für sie unerwartet.
Die Kammer stellt fest, dass die Beschwerdegegnerin im Einspruchsverfahren mit der Mitteilung gemäß Regel 79 (1) EPÜ die Möglichkeit bekommen hat, geänderte Unterlagen einzureichen und dass sie diese Möglichkeit nicht genutzt hat, obwohl ihr zu diesem Zeitpunkt die vorläufige Meinung der Einspruchsabteilung nicht bekannt war.

23 Jan 2020

T 0043/16 - OD should have admitted requests

Key points

  • The OD had not admitted Auxiliary Request 1. The Board considers that the OD did so according to the wrong principles (G7/93). Oral proceedings before the OD were held on 13.10.2015. The Board notes that AR-1 was filed with letter of 18.12.2014. This letter was after the expiry of the period of Rule 79(1) EPC (The Rule 79(1) Communication was dated 21.02.2014. A first extension with 2 months was granted, i.e. until 21.08.2014. A second extension was denied. The Patentee's response was filed only in December 2014. 
  • The Board: "Auch wenn sie [Auxiliary Request 1] formal nach Ablauf der nach Regel 79 (1) EPÜ gesetzten Frist eingegangen sind, sind sie Gegenstand sowohl der in der Ladung zur mündlichen Verhandlung geäußerten vorläufigen Meinung der Einspruchsabteilung, als auch der Eingabe der Einsprechenden vom 23. Juli 2015. Daher mussten sie als faktisch in das Einspruchsverfahren zugelassen gelten."
  • As a first comment, I note that the Board appears to acknowledge that auxiliary requests filed after the expiry of the Rule 79(1) period are in principle late-filed. However, I find it rather weird that a late-filed request becomes admissible because the opponent comments in substance on it. The opponent can hardly be expected to restrict itself to only contesting admissibility, in view of the risk that the OD could admit the request. If I understand the present Board, if you wile a substantive rebuttal as an opponent, patentee's late-filed auxiliary requests automatically become admissible. What is the opponent supposed to do, then? Has the Rule 79(1) period any meaning, except for being a delay until the OD can issue summons?
  • The OD had also decided to not admit Auxiliary Requests 3 to 6, filed after the Rule 116(2) date. The Board: Die Kammer stellt fest, dass die Nichtzulassung der Hilfsanträge 3 bis 6 lediglich damit begründet wurde, dass der Antrag nach Regel 116(2) EPÜ verspätet eingereicht worden war. [in particular: “Durch die Eingabe der Einsprechenden vom 23. Juli 2015 habe sich der Sachverhalt geändert, da die Einsprechende neue Einwände, zusätzliche Argumente und weitere Druckschriften eingereicht habe.”] Die Einspruchsabteilung berücksichtigte nicht, dass der Antrag durch eine Änderung des Streitstoffs veranlasst war, [...] . Hinsichtlich der Hilfsanträge 4 bis 6 setzte sie sich inhaltlich nicht erkennbar mit den geänderten Ansprüchen auseinander, bevor sie die Hilfsanträge 3 bis 6 als nicht zulässig verwarf. Die Einspruchsabteilung hat ihr Ermessen daher rein formalistisch ausgeübt.
  • As a comment, I tend to agree that if the opponent submits new attacks and documents shortly before the Rule 116(2) date (and these are admitted), then the patentee must be given an opportunity to reply, with auxiliary requests if desired, under Article 113. Rule 116(2) indeed only applies if the proprietor “has been notified” of the grounds prejudicing the maintenance of the patent and invitation to submit amended claims has accordingly been issued. The Rule 116(2) date applies only for amended claims that are responsive to those objections notified in that invitation. 
  • The OD had also decided to not admit the new Main Request, filed two weeks before the oral proceedings, which were the claims as granted (with the reply of 18.12.2014, the Main Request was amended claims). According to the Board, two weeks was sufficient for the opponent to consider this new request, because the claims as granted were already the subject of the Notice of opposition. "Somit war der Einsprechenden durchaus zuzumuten, sich etwa zwei Wochen vor dem Termin der mündlichen Verhandlung erneut mit den erteilten Ansprüchen und mit ihrer eigenen Argumentation auseinanderzusetzen, an der sich angesichts der erteilten Ansprüche nichts geändert haben sollte." 



EPO T 0043/16 -  link


Entscheidungsgründe
1. Die Beschwerde ist zulässig.
2. Die Beschwerdeführerin reichte zusammen mit ihrer Beschwerdebegründung erneut ihren Hauptantrag betreffend die erteilten Ansprüche, sowie die Hilfsanträge 1 bis 6 ein, die von der Einspruchsabteilung unter Verweis auf Regel 116 (2) EPÜ in das Einspruchsverfahren nicht zugelassen worden waren.
2.1 Daher hat die Kammer zu überprüfen, ob einzelne oder alle diese Anträge in das Beschwerdeverfahren zuzulassen sind. Gemäß Artikel 12(4) der Verfahrensordnung der Beschwerdekammern (VOBK) kann eine Kammer das Vorbringen eines Beteiligten in das Beschwerdeverfahren zulassen, auch wenn es von der ersten Instanz als verspätet nicht zugelassen wurde. Soweit nach Artikel 12 (4) VOBK im Beschwerdeverfahren über die Zulassung von Vorbringen zu entscheiden ist, das bereits im erstinstanzlichen Verfahren nicht zu gelassen wurde, entspricht dies einer Überprüfung der auf Regel 116 EPÜ gestützten Ermessensentscheidung der Einspruchsabteilung.
2.2 Nach ständiger Rechtsprechung der Beschwerdekammern ist bei der Überprüfung einer Ermessensentscheidung des erstinstanzlichen Organs zu beurteilen, ob es sein Ermessen nach Maßgabe der falschen Kriterien, unter Nichtbeachtung der richtigen Kriterien oder in willkürlicher Weise ausgeübt hat (siehe G 7/93, ABl. EPA 1994, 775, Entscheidungsgründe Punkt 2.6; T 640/91, ABl. EPA 1994, 918, Entscheidungsgründe Punkt 6.3; T 109/08, Entscheidungsgründe Punkt 4.1).
2.3 Daher wird die Kammer im Folgenden untersuchen, ob die Nichtzulassung der erneut im Beschwerdeverfahren vorgelegten Anträge von der Einspruchsabteilung nach Ausübung pflichtgemäßen Ermessens erfolgte, oder ob die Einspruchsabteilung ihr Ermessen fehlerhaft ausgeübt hat.
3. Hauptantrag
3.1 Die Beschwerdeführerin hat mit ihrer ersten Eingabe im Einspruchsverfahren geänderte Ansprüche eingereicht. Erst mit ihrer zweiten Eingabe im Einspruchsverfahren, mit dem Schriftsatz vom 28. September 2015, legte sie als Hauptantrag die erteilten Ansprüche vor, die sie auch im Beschwerdeverfahren als Hauptantrag weiterverfolgt.

22 Jan 2020

T 0834/14 - Requests not admitted by OD

Key points

  • The OD considers claim 1 of the main request to include a feature that lacks basis in the application as filed, as submitted by the opponent in the Notice of opposition. The OD had refused to admit auxiliary requests filed during the oral proceedings. The Board does not consider this to form a substantial procedural violation.
  • "As mentioned by the Opposition Division in its decision (point 11.2), the opponent had already objected to the feature [x] in the notice of opposition (point II), and the [proprietor] had not reacted by amending claim 1 to overcome that objection [prior to the oral proceedings]. In the Board's opinion, the [proprietor] could have filed an amended version of the claims to address this objection together with its reply to the notice of opposition, or at the latest before the oral proceedings. Therefore, for that reason alone, the Board does not see any substantial procedural violation in forbidding the appellant to file additional requests during the oral proceedings. "
  • For not admitting the new requests, it does not matter that the OD had also raised new objections during the oral proceedings.
  • "the fact that there was one objection which had been in the file right from the start of the opposition proceedings and which could and should have been addressed earlier seems enough to justify the refusal to file new requests. Such a decision by the Opposition Division might be considered severe, but in the present situation it does not constitute a substantial procedural violation."



EPO T 0834/14 - link


6. Substantial procedural violation
In its statement of grounds, the appellant considered that given the objections raised for the first time during the oral proceedings and introduced into the proceedings by the Opposition Division, the appellant should have been given an opportunity to file amended requests. Moreover, since in the annex to the summons to the oral proceedings the Opposition Division did not comment on the feature "valve actuation flow path", the appellant considered that the Opposition Division did not see any problem with it, which was an additional reason to allow the filing of auxiliary requests. It also requested that in case of a remittal the composition of the Opposition Division be changed for reasons of equity.

21 Jan 2020

T 1871/14 - Rule 137(5) and single general inventive concept

Key points

  • The Board, about Art. 83 of the Main Request in this examination appeal: "[t]he only passage describing an embodiment of the invention on pages 47 to 58 of the 175 page A2-publication is completely silent about the contested claim feature of an area of the 1931 CIE chromaticity diagram. It also contains no indication as to whether the embodiment provides the claimed difference in correlated colour temperatures. The remaining 164 pages are nothing more than copies of claim wording and repetitions." The Board considers the invention to be insufficiently disclosed.
  • Turning to AR-2, the Board notes that "[w]ith this request, filed with the statement of grounds of appeal, this technical concept [about a ratio of first and second power lines] has been claimed for the first time during the European phase of the application. Thus, this concept is not covered by the supplementary European search. Moreover, this concept does not combine with the invention as originally claimed in claims 1 to 15 as filed upon entry into the European phase to form a single general inventive concept, which like the claims of the present main and first auxiliary requests were characterised by properties of the light emitted by the device, such as correlated colour temperatures [...]. Therefore, the subject-matter of the second auxiliary request constitutes an inadmissible amendment in the sense of Rule 137(5) EPC. Should the appellant have wished to pursue subject-matter of this nature, they should have filed corresponding claims upon entry into the European phase of the application." 
  • The Board however then combines this holding about Rule 137(5) with Article 12(4) RPBA: “In that context, with respect to Article 12(4) RPBA, because the second auxiliary request relates to a different invention not covered by the supplementary European search, it clearly could and should have been filed before the department of first instance. [] Consequently, the board exercised its power under Article 12(4) RPBA to hold inadmissible the second auxiliary request.”
  • As a comment, I see no advantage in adding Article 12(4) RPBA for holding a request inadmissible that is already inadmissible under Rule 137(5) EPC. 
  • On the other hand, I like how the  Board states that the two cumulative requirements of Rule 137(5) are met: “this concept is not covered by the supplementary European search. Moreover, this concept does not combine with the invention as originally claimed in claims 1 to 15 as filed upon entry into the European phase to form a single general inventive concept” (emphasis added). 


EPO T 1871/14 -  link

Reasons for the Decision
1. Admissibility of the appeal
The appeal was filed in due time and form and sufficiently substantiated. Thus, the appeal is admissible.
2. Main request and first auxiliary request
Clarity (Article 84 EPC)
2.1 The independent claims 1 and 11 according to the main request as well as independent claims 1 and 10 according to the first auxiliary request define the claimed subject-matter merely by a result to be achieved.
2.2 The appellant's argument, that the examining division had never raised an objection under Article 84 EPC against claim 1 does not take into account point 2.6.5 on page 14 of the contested decision, where former claim 2, the features of which are contained in the independent claims of the present main request and auxiliary request, was found not to comply with the requirements of Article 84 EPC, because it lacked essential features. Besides that, the appellant's argument has no bearing on the decision because the board can, according to Article 111(1), 2nd sentence EPC, exercise any power within the competence of the department which was responsible for the decision appealed. Thus, in appeal proceedings concerning a decision of an examining division, the board may even raise new objections which did not form part of the contested decision at all.
2.3 The board is also not convinced by the appellant's substantive arguments with respect to Article 84 EPC.

20 Jan 2020

T 0430/17 - Remittal and withdrawal opposition

Key points


  • The proprietor appeals against the revocation of the patent by the OD on the ground of insufficient disclosure. The  Board finds the patent to be sufficiently disclosed.
  • The Board remits the case. However, as the only opposition was withdrawn during the appeal proceedings, the Board remits the case with the order for the OD whether to continue the procedure of own motion under Rule 84(2) s.2 EPC.



T 0430/17 -  link

2.5 In Anbetracht der obigen Ausführungen gelangt die Kammer zu dem Ergebnis, dass der Einspruchsgrund nach Artikel 100 b) EPÜ der Aufrechterhaltung des Streitpatents in der erteilten Fassung nicht entgegensteht.
Da die weiteren Einspruchsgründe von der Einspruchsabteilung noch nicht geprüft wurden und zwischenzeitlich der einzige Einspruch zurückgenommen wurde, wird die Angelegenheit an die Einspruchsabteilung zurückverwiesen zur weiteren Prüfung, ob sie das Verfahren von Amts wegen fortsetzt (Artikel 111 (1) EPÜ).
Entscheidungsformel
Aus diesen Gründen wird entschieden:
1. Die angefochtene Entscheidung wird aufgehoben.
2. Die Angelegenheit wird an die Einspruchsabteilung zurückverwiesen zur Ausübung ihres Ermessens nach Regel 84 (2), Satz 2 EPÜ.

17 Jan 2020

R 0007/17 - Petition for review

Key points

  • This petition for review was filed 14.09.2017. The written decision was issued 16.12.2019. The petition for review "is unanimously rejected as clearly unallowable".
  • To cite OJ 2007 SE 4 En p.130, “In the interest of a quick and effective screening of petitions for review which are clearly inadmissible or not allowable, special procedural provisions apply to the three-member panel []. The proceedings before this panel shall be as simple and short as possible.” “A quick screening procedure at the outset of review proceedings to sort out petitions which clearly cannot be successful is essential in order to avoid an inappropriate prolongation of legal uncertainty for third parties. It is also of great importance to counteract effectively intentional prolongation of proceedings by filing a petition for review.”
  • I leave it to the judgement of the readers whether a two years procedure is a "quick" screening procedure. Let me observe that the application was filed in 2010, so that the "lifetime" of the patent was increased by roughly 30% by the petition for review procedure (from 7 to 9 years). Calculated from the grant of the patent in 2012, the increase was 40%.
  • The decision contains a remark about the importance of the Technical Board asking for the parties' final requests: "When the chairman summarised the patent proprietor’s requests, not including auxiliary requests 5 to 8, he made clear that these requests did not form part of the appeal proceedings. The chairman then asked the parties if they had any further comments or requests. According to the minutes of the oral proceedings, there were none. At least at that time, the patent proprietor could have answered this question by filing additional auxiliary requests. It did not submit any." 

EPO R 0007/17 - link


Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. The petition for review concerns decision T 0360/15 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.2.01 of 17 May 2017 and despatched on 5 July 2017, revoking European patent No. 2298640.
II. The petition for review was filed by the patent proprietor (hereinafter “the petitioner”) on 14 September 2017. The corresponding fee was paid on the same day.
III. The petition is based on the grounds under Article 112a(2)(c) EPC that a fundamental violation of Article 113 EPC occurred in the appeal proceedings.
IV. In a communication accompanying the summons to oral proceedings dated 8 March 2019, the Enlarged Board expressed its provisional and non-binding opinion that no fundamental violation of the right to be heard occurred and that it intended to consider the petition for review at least in part clearly inadmissible and in any case clearly unallowable.
V. Oral proceedings were held on 13 June 2019.
...