Delta Patents

T 1153/12 - Lack of sufficiency in a mathematical claim

Delta Patents Patent Law -

Claim 1 of this Examination appeal describes on a high level the mathematical processing of an audio signal. The claim comprises, for example, the generation of output channels using a basic matrix or a post matrix. Said matrices are functionally defined and by their configuration elements which  'are acquired by using' a number of parameters. 
The Board does not consider this definition sufficient. The description does not help in further understanding what processing is actually performed. Technicality is  never an issue in this decision, even though all processing seems to be of a mathematical nature. Nevertheless, also in mathematics the invention needs to be explained fully.


Summary of Facts and Submissions
(...)
VII. Claim 1 of the appellant's request reads:
"1. A method for processing an audio signal comprising:
receiving an audio signal including a downmix signal generated by downmixing a multi-channel audio signal;
generating a fixed output channel, having multiple channels, using the downmix signal and configuration elements of a basic matrix; and
generating an arbitrary output channel using the fixed output channel and configuration elements of a post matrix,
wherein the configuration elements of the basic matrix are acquired by using basic data including channel level difference and inter-channel correlation, and fixed channel configuration information,
the configuration elements of the post matrix are acquired by using extension data including channel level difference and arbitrary channel configuration information,
a number of the multiple channels of the fixed output channel is greater than a number of channels of the downmix signal,
the post matrix is useable to extend the number of the multiple channels of the fixed output channel, and
the arbitrary channel configuration information indicates a presence or absence of a channel division using a division identifier and a non-division identifier."
(...)
Reasons for the Decision
1. Admissibility
The appeal is admissible.
2. Sufficiency of disclosure (Art. 83 EPC 1973)
2.1 In parallel case T 1155/12, objections similar to those raised in the present case, regarding sufficiency of disclosure under Art. 83 EPC 1973, were raised. In a letter of reply filed in said case, the appellant provided a copy of working draft standard ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29/WG 11 N7136 (text of Working Draft for Spatial Audio Coding (SAC)), as evidence of common general knowledge.
During the oral proceedings held for the present case, the Board decided not to introduce, ex officio, said document into the appeal proceedings for the following reasons.
Firstly, the appellant had not requested the introduction of said document into the present proceedings and had not even mentioned it in its submissions. Secondly, the public availability of said document at the priority date of the application appeared questionable in view of the nature of said document representing a "Working Draft". Thirdly, although possibly relevant, there were doubts as to whether the content of said document would have been conclusive for the issue to be decided.
2.2 Contrary to the appellant's view, the claims alone do not contain sufficient information to carry out the invention.
While it is acknowledged that the independent claims establish that the configuration elements may be obtained from parameters such as the Channel Level difference (CLD) and inter-channel correlation (ICC), the skilled person would still be at a loss to determine how said information contributes to the definition of each configuration element of both the basic matric and the post matrix.
If the notion of correlation suggests that a certain relationship would exist between two signals originating from different sources and might indeed be used to re-create a signal, it is not straightforward how a parameter reflecting the difference between signals of different channels could define the configuration elements of both matrices. The appellant submitted that "for each channel to be generated a configuration element may indicate which difference the levels of two of these channels have" (cf. statement of grounds, page 4, last two lines). In the Board's communication under Art. 15 RPBA, the appellant was invited to elaborate on this submission and to provide some more specific and concrete information in this respect. The appellant, however, did not react to the invitation of the Board.
The mere identification of the parameters which are taken into account for the definition of the configuration elements does not suffice to define said elements. Indeed, the output and arbitrary channels to be generated have a specific relationship to the input channels on the encoding side. Said relationship is described by the matrices and their configuration elements, the configuration elements permitting to retrieve for each of the various output and arbitrary channels the original input signals before the down-mixing operations. A prerequisite consists, in this respect, in defining the dimensions of the two matrices involved in the complete process. The application is, however, silent as to this aspect of the invention.
2.3 According to an alternative line of argumentation developed by the appellant, the information required to carry out the invention would derive from the description. It was stressed, in this respect, that the embodiment described with regard to Figures 2 and 3, as well as the embodiment of Figure 4, would constitute valuable sources of information allowing the skilled person to reproduce the claimed subject-matter.
2.3.1 This argumentation is rejected for the following reasons. It is doubtful whether the embodiment of Figures 2 and 3 would indeed fall under the definition of independent claims 1 and 8. In this respect, a discrepancy between this embodiment and the claimed subject-matter appears in the terminology used. Namely, no feature could be identified which could be equated with a "basic matrix" or a "post matrix".
2.3.2 Concerning the embodiment of Figure 4, the skilled person would, firstly, wonder about the necessity of a basic matrix followed by a post matrix since, from a purely mathematical point of view, one single matrix corresponding to the product of the two matrices m1*m2 would have been sufficient. Moreover, the presence of two matrices increases the number of configurations elements required as compared with one single matrix and, thus, the difficulty faced by the skilled person in order to define the various configuration elements.
2.4 In the Board's communication, the appellant was invited to expound on the whole process, starting from the encoding of multi-channel data to the final steps of generating fixed and arbitrary output channels, for the embodiment of Figure 4 or, alternatively, the embodiments of Figures 2 and 3. The appellant did not, however, make any submissions in this respect.
The submissions filed by the appellant with the statement of grounds do not extend beyond mere statements regarding the parameters intervening in the process of generating the output channels. As a matter of fact, neither the application nor the statement of grounds explain how said parameters effectively contribute to the elaboration of the output and arbitrary channels.
Moreover, the appellant did not comment on the fact that the examining division did not consider document A2 as evidence of common general knowledge. As the assessment of A2 made by the examining division appears to be correct, there is no reason to reverse said findings.
Hence, in the absence of evidence regarding the existence of common knowledge which might have compensated for the missing information in the application, the skilled person would not be in a position to carry out the claimed invention.
2.5 In conclusion, the application does not meet the requirements of Art. 83 EPC 1973.
3. Reimbursement of the appeal fee (R. 103(2)(a) EPC)
Partial refund of the appeal fee was requested under R. 103(2)(a) EPC.
R. 103(2)(a) EPC specifies that "The appeal fee shall be reimbursed at 50% if the appeal is withdrawn after expiry of the period under paragraph 1(b), provided withdrawal occurs:
(a) if a date for oral proceedings has been set, at least four weeks before that date".
By submissions of 20 April 2017, the Board was informed of the appellant's intention not to attend oral proceedings scheduled for 5 May 2017.
The appeal, however, was not withdrawn.
For this reason, the appellant's request for partial refund of the appeal fee is devoid of any legal basis.
Order
For these reasons it is decided that:
The appeal is dismissed.

This decision T 1153/12 (pdfhas European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T115312.20170512Photo via PixaBay  by Taken under a CC0 license (no changes were made). 

J 13/14 - On divisionals and translations...

Delta Patents Patent Law -

Translating prohibited?

The present European patent application was filed in English as a divisional application from a parent application which was as an international application filed in German and also published in German. On entry of the parent application before the EPO, a translation into English was filed.

However, filing the divisional application in English turned out to be fatal mistake. 

According to Rule 36(2), a divisional application shall be filed in the language of the proceedings for the earlier application, while providing for an exception in case the latter was not filed in an official language of the European Patent Office, in which case the divisional application may be filed in the (non-official) language of the earlier application while having to provide a translation.

Filing the English translation did not change the language of proceedings of the parent application (which remained German). German is an official language of the EPO, so the exception of Rule 36(2) does not appear to apply. However, one cannot fault the appellant for exploring all legal remedies.

Catchwords: 

1. For the purposes of Article 76(1), first sentence, and Rule 36(2), first sentence, EPC, a European divisional application of an earlier European patent application which was filed in an EPO official language must also be filed in the EPO official language of the earlier application. Otherwise, it is filed in an inadmissible language. In this case a correction of the language deficiency by means of a translation into the language of the proceedings for the earlier application is neither required under Rule 36(2), second sentence, EPC nor is it even admissible in view of the wording of that provision and the Enlarged Board's decision G 4/08. Nor is it possible for the applicant to remedy the language deficiency in its divisional application by means of a correction under Rule 139, first sentence, EPC or by means of an amendment under Article 123(2) EPC.

2. In accordance with the established jurisprudence of the boards of appeal, a European divisional application which was filed in an inadmissible language cannot be treated as a valid divisional application by analogous application of Article 90(2) EPC.

Reasons for the Decision
Admissibility of the appeal

1. The appeal is admissible.

Allowability of the appeal

2. The first question in this appeal case is whether the present application fulfils the EPC language requirements for divisional applications.

3. Applicable EPC provisions

3.1 It is established jurisprudence of the boards of appeal that a divisional application is a new application which is separate from and independent of the earlier application. Therefore, divisional applications are to be treated in the same manner as ordinary applications and are subject to the same requirements, unless specific provisions of the EPC require something different (see G 1/05, OJ EPO 2008, 271, points 3.1, 8.1, 9.1 of the Reasons).

3.2 The present application was filed on 1 October 2010, i.e. after entry into force of the revised European Patent Convention (EPC) on 13 December 2007. Thus, on the latter date, the present application was not pending. Therefore the transitional provisions do not apply in accordance with Article 7(1), second sentence, of the Revision Act of 29 November 2000 and the decisions of the Administrative Council of 28 June 2001 (Special edition No. 1, OJ EPO 2007, 197) and 7 December 2006 (Special edition No. 1, OJ EPO 2007, 89). However, said transitional provisions do apply to the parent application, which was pending at the time the revised EPC entered into force.

3.3 Since the present application was filed as a divisional application on 1 October 2010, the applicable provisions are those of Rule 36(2) EPC, as amended by the Decision of the Administrative Council CA/D 2/09 of 25 March 2009 (OJ EPO 2009, 296), which entered into force on 1 April 2010 (cf. Article 1, point 1, and Article 2, points 1 and 2, of said decision). The respective version of this provision is of relevance because Rule 36(2) EPC as in force before 1 April 2010 allowed the filing of a divisional application only in the language of the proceedings for the earlier application, irrespective of whether the language of filing of the earlier application was an EPO official language or not.

4. Language of the proceedings

4.1 Present application

The present application was filed in English, which is one of the EPO official languages pursuant to Article 14(1) EPC. Article 14(3) EPC stipulates that the EPO official language in which the European patent application is filed must be used as the language of the proceedings in all proceedings before the EPO. Accordingly, the language of the proceedings in the present case is English. This means that, in written proceedings on the present application, EPO departments cannot use an EPO official language other than English (see also G 4/08, OJ EPO 2010, 572, Headnote, Question 2, and section 4 of the Reasons).

4.2 Parent application

The parent application was filed and published as an international patent application under the PCT in German, which is one of the EPO official languages pursuant to Article 14(1) EPC 1973. Therefore, a translation of the international application was not to be filed under Article 22(1) PCT and Article 158(2) in conjunction with Rule 107(1)(a) EPC 1973. Accordingly, German is the language of the proceedings for the parent application.

5. Language regime with respect to the filing of a divisional application

5.1 Article 76(1), first sentence, EPC provides that a European divisional application must be filed directly with the EPO "in accordance with the Implementing Regulations".

The language regime for divisional applications is laid down in the first and second sentences of Rule 36(2) EPC, which read:

"A divisional application shall be filed in the language of the proceedings for the earlier application. If the latter was not in an official language of the European Patent Office, the divisional application may be filed in the language of the earlier application; a translation into the language of the proceedings for the earlier application shall then be filed within two months of the filing of the divisional application."

5.2 The first sentence of Rule 36(2) EPC lays down the principle that a divisional application must be filed in the language of the proceedings for the earlier application. However, there is an exception to this strict legal obligation if the earlier application was not filed in an EPO official language. In this case, the second sentence of Rule 36(2) EPC foresees the additional possibility of filing a divisional application in the non-EPO language of the earlier application, provided a translation into the language of the proceedings for the earlier application (which is one of the EPO official languages) is then filed within two months of the filing of the divisional application.

5.3 The first and second sentences of Rule 36(2) EPC clearly deal with two different factual situations and their wording is unequivocal on the language in which a divisional application must be filed in each respective situation. This wording also shows that only the first sentence of Rule 36(2) EPC applies in the present case, where the parent application was filed in German, thus in an EPO official language. It follows clearly from the foregoing that the present application should have been filed in no other language than German in order to meet the requirements of Article 76(1), first sentence, and Rule 36(2), first sentence, EPC. Therefore, the present application was filed in an inadmissible language.

6. Allowability of filing a translation of the present application into the correct EPO official language

6.1 The appellant essentially argued that, even in a case where the earlier application was filed in an EPO official language, it was still possible under Rule 36(2) EPC to use a language other than this EPO official language for the divisional application and to file the translation into the EPO official language of the earlier application at a later point in time.

6.2 The board notes that, first of all, it follows from the above that the unambiguous wording of the second sentence of Rule 36(2) EPC excludes the appellant's interpretation that this provision also applies where the earlier application was filed in an EPO official language. The second sentence of Rule 36(2) EPC requires a translation only if a divisional application is filed in the original non-EPO language of the earlier application. However, that is not the case here.

6.3 The appellant's interpretation is furthermore not supported by the explanatory remarks to the amendment of Rule 36(2) EPC which entered into force in 2010

(CA/145/08, page 8). The relevant part concerning the language of divisional applications reads:

"The text of Rule 36(2) in force since December 2007 says that a divisional application must be written in the language of the proceedings for the earlier application in order to simplify and streamline the procedure. In practice, divisional applications have virtually always been filed in the language of the proceedings for the parent application, even though EPC 1973 allowed them to be filed in the original language of the parent application, for instance Spanish or Dutch.

However, the option of using any language for filing European patent applications could have increased demand for divisional applications in the original language of the parent application, given that Article 14(2), second sentence, EPC allows the translation of an application to be adapted to the original text at any stage of the grant procedure. But Rule 36(2) EPC as currently worded has eliminated the possibility of adapting the divisional application, which has to be filed in the language of the proceedings for the parent application, to the latter's original text, which of course forms the basis for the wording of the divisional application. Moreover in the case of divisional applications filed under Rule 40(2) and (3) EPC with a reference to the earlier European application in a non-EPO language, it is fundamentally unsatisfactory to have to refer not to the original text of the earlier application but to its translation into the language of the proceedings. It is therefore proposed that Rule 36(2) EPC be amended to enable divisional applications to be filed in the language of the proceedings or the original language of the parent application."

The text does not explicitly say that the "original language of the parent application" must have been a non-EPO language. However, Spanish and Dutch, the two languages given as examples of the "original language of the parent application", are not EPO official languages. Moreover, the text refers to Article 14(2), second sentence, EPC, which "allows the translation of an application to be adapted to the original text at any stage of the grant procedure".

However, the second sentence of Article 14(2) EPC has to be read together with its first sentence. Article 14(2), first sentence, EPC, stipulates that "[a] European patent application shall be filed in one of the EPO official languages, or, if filed in any other language, translated into one of the EPO official languages in accordance with the Implementing Regulations." Thus a translation only has to be filed if the "original language" of an application is not one of the EPO official languages. Finally, the text of the explanatory remarks clearly distinguishes between the language of the proceedings for the earlier application and its original language; see for example the very last sentence of the explanatory remarks. If, however, the earlier application is filed in one of the EPO official languages, then, pursuant to Article 14(3) EPC, this language must be used as the language of the proceedings in all proceedings before the EPO. That means that, in such cases, there is no difference between the language in which the earlier application was filed and the language of the proceedings for it. The only case in which the (non-EPO) language in which the earlier application was filed differs from the language of the proceedings for it under Article 14(3) EPC is where the application has to be translated into one of the EPO official languages in accordance with Article 14(2) EPC.

6.4 In the light of the foregoing, the board cannot share the appellant's view that Rule 36(2) EPC provides for the alternative option to file a divisional application in an EPO official language other than the EPO official language in which the earlier application was filed (i.e. the language of the proceedings for the earlier application) and then to file a translation into the language of the proceedings for the earlier application at a later time.

6.5 The appellant's interpretation of Rule 36(2) EPC would also go against the ruling of the Enlarged Board of Appeal on the language of the proceedings.

In its decision G 4/08, the Enlarged Board ruled that if an international application has been filed and published under the PCT in an official language of the EPO, it is not possible, on entry into the European phase, to file a translation of the application into one of the other two EPO official languages, and it clarified that EPO departments cannot use, in written proceedings on a European patent application or an international application in the regional phase, an EPO official language other than the language of the proceedings used for the application under Article 14(3) EPC (G 4/08, Headnote, Questions 1 and 2, points 2 to 4 of the Reasons).

It is true that, in decision G 4/08, the primary question was whether, for an international application which was filed and published in an EPO official language, the applicant can, on entry into the European phase, choose another EPO official language by filing a translation of the international application in a different official language (see point 2, in particular, point 2.2 of the Reasons). However, the Enlarged Board noted that the basis for answering this question was Article 14(3) EPC 1973 and that this provision assumed "a language of filing that has already been defined and will be the language of the subsequent proceedings" (points 2.1 and 2.2 of the Reasons). In point 2.4 of the Reasons, the Enlarged Board referred to the principle of equivalence between European applications and international ones for which the EPO acts as designated or elected Office, which was expressly laid down in Article 150(3) EPC 1973 and implemented in particular by Article 158 EPC 1973, and held: "Under Article 150(3) EPC 1973, an international application for which the EPO acts as designated or elected Office is deemed to be a European application. Allowing a change of language when a Euro-PCT application published in an EPO official language enters the regional phase would mean supposedly identical applications being treated differently depending on whether they are international or direct European filings." The Enlarged Board also analysed the provisions of "EPC 2000" (G 4/08, point 3 of the Reasons) and concluded in point 3.11 of the Reasons that the EPC 2000 could not be interpreted "as allowing, on entry into the European phase, a Euro-PCT application published in an EPO official language to be replaced by its translation into another such language".

For the sake of completeness, it should also be mentioned that the Enlarged Board referred to some decisions by EPO boards of appeal which had allowed the language of the proceedings to be changed. However, the Enlarged Board held that the abolition of Rule 3(1) EPC 1973, which entered into force on 1 June 1991, removed all legal basis for the previous practice and that the texts in force left no room for a free interpretation which would be tantamount to restoring Rule 3 EPC 1973 (G 4/08, point 4 of the Reasons, in particular, points 4.5 and 4.10).

Finally, the board refers to G 4/08, point 2.4 of the Reasons, where it is held: "Language is not a mere procedural matter, after all; it goes to the heart of the patent's substance. Translations are - legitimately - suspect; that justifies precautions, exemplified by the way in which the original application remains the point of reference in case of translation (Article 14(2) EPC) and by Rule 46.3 PCT governing the language of amendments." In the board's view, these considerations apply equally to the translation of an application filed as a divisional application. This is clearly reflected in the provisions of Rule 36(2) EPC. In case of a translation under Rule 36(2), second sentence, EPC the original parent and the original divisional application also remain the point of reference (see Article 70(2) EPC).

6.6 The board accordingly concludes from the above interpretation and explanation by the Enlarged Board of the relevant EPC provisions that, if a direct European patent application has been filed in an EPO official language, which is then the language of the proceedings, it is not possible to change this language in the subsequent proceedings by translating the application into another EPO official language. In the board's view, the same applies to a direct European patent application filed as a divisional application and, therefore, the appellant's interpretation of Rule 36(2), second sentence, EPC must fail.

6.7 The board now turns to the appellant's argument on Rule 4 EPC 1973. This provision likewise concerns the language of a European divisional application, but under the EPC 1973, and reads:

"European divisional applications or, in the case referred to in Article 14, paragraph 2, the translations thereof, must be filed in the language of the proceedings for the earlier European patent application."

The board takes the view that there is no difference in substance between the term "must" in Rule 4 EPC 1973 and the term "shall" in Rule 36(2) EPC. This also follows clearly from the other two language versions of the latter provision, where the terms "ist ... einzureichen" and "doit être déposée" are used. Moreover, in the revised EPC the term "must" in the provisions of EPC 1973 has been replaced by the term "shall" without any change in substance according to the respective travaux préparatoires (see for example Articles 76(1) and 83 EPC). It is also clear from the reference to Article 14(2) EPC 1973 in Rule 4 EPC 1973 that the translation of European divisional applications which were filed in an admissible non-EPO language in accordance with Article 14(2) EPC 1973 had to be filed in the language of the proceedings for the earlier European patent application. Quite apart from that, Rule 4 EPC 1973 is not applicable to the present case (see point 3.2 above).

6.8 Regarding the appellant's submissions on the correctness of the Guidelines A-IV, 1.3.3 and A-VIII, 1.3, the board first notes that it is not bound by the Guidelines. Apart from that, the appellant cited a version of the Guidelines which reflects the provisions of Rule 36(2) EPC as in force before 1 April 2010, which allowed the filing of a divisional application only in the language of the proceedings for the earlier application, irrespective of whether the language of filing of the earlier application was a non-EPO language.

The respective parts of the Guidelines for Examination in the European Patent Office (status April 2010) obviously took into account Rule 36(2) EPC as in force on 1 April 2010. They read:

"Language requirements

As indicated in VIII, 1.3, a divisional application must be filed in the language of the proceedings of the parent application. Alternatively, if the earlier (parent) application was filed in a language other than an official language of the European Patent Office, the divisional application may be filed in that language. In this case a translation into the language of the proceedings for the earlier application shall then be filed within two months of the filing of the divisional application (see III, 14)." (A-IV, 1.3.3), and

"Any European divisional application must be filed in the language of the proceedings of the earlier application from which it is divided. Alternatively, if the earlier (parent) application was not in an official language of the European Patent Office, the divisional application may be filed in the language of the earlier application. In this case a translation into the language of the proceedings for the earlier application shall then be filed within two months of the filing of the divisional application (see A-III, 14)." (A-VIII, 1.3)

6.9 It follows from the above that it is not correct to say that a translation of the present application into the language of the proceedings for the parent application is required under Rule 36(2), second sentence, EPC. Nor is such translation admissible in view of the wording of Rule 36(2) EPC and the Enlarged Board's decision G 4/08.

7. Remedy of the language deficiency by means of a correction or an amendment under the EPC

Since the present application was filed in English and thus not in an admissible language as explained above, it contains a deficiency with regard to the language. The appellant argued that this deficiency could be remedied by means of a correction or an amendment, and based its view on different lines of argument (see point XII, (b), (i)-(iii) above). However, the board does not share the appellant's view for the reasons set out below.

7.1 Correction in reply to an invitation from the EPO under Rule 58 EPC in conjunction with Rule 57(a) EPC

Article 90(4) EPC stipulates that, where the EPO in carrying out the examination under Article 90(1) or Article 90(3) EPC notes that there are deficiencies which may be corrected, it must give the applicant the opportunity to correct them. Hence, Article 90(4) EPC concerns correctable deficiencies which were noted during the examination under Article 90(1) or (3) EPC.

If the European patent application has been accorded a date of filing, the EPO must examine, in accordance with Article 90(3) EPC, whether a translation of the application required under Rule 36(2), second sentence, EPC has been filed in time (Rule 57(a) EPC). Where the EPO notes that this requirement of Rule 57(a) EPC has not been complied with, it informs the applicant accordingly and invites him to correct this deficiency within two months (Rule 58, first sentence, EPC).

In the board's view, a correction of the language deficiency in the present application under Rule 58 in conjunction with Rule 57(a) EPC is not possible since these provisions do not apply. The reason for this is that a correction of the language deficiency in the present application by a translation into the language of the proceedings for the parent application is neither required under Rule 36(2), second sentence, EPC nor admissible for the reasons explained under point 6 above. Thus the language deficiency in the present application cannot be corrected. Consequently, there is no legal basis in the EPC upon which the EPO could have invited the applicant to correct this deficiency.

7.2 Nor is a correction under Rule 139 EPC or an amendment under Article 123(2) EPC possible. In the board's view, the Enlarged Board's interpretation and explanation of the relevant EPC provisions in its decision G 4/08 apply mutatis mutandis where an applicant wishes to change the language of the proceedings by means of a correction under Rule 139, first sentence, EPC or by means of an amendment under Article 123(2) EPC. Therefore, the "Right to Amend" in decision G 1/05 does not exist with regard to the language of the proceedings.

Moreover, in the present case, the conditions would not be met for a correction of a "linguistic error" under Rule 139 EPC or for an amendment according to Article 123(2) EPC.

As to Rule 139 EPC, choosing the "wrong" language for a document to be filed with the EPO cannot be equated with a "linguistic error" for the purposes of Rule 139, first sentence, EPC (see also T 642/12, point 28 of the Reasons). The same must apply if the intended correction concerns the description, claims or drawings (Rule 139, second sentence, EPC).

According to Article 123(2) EPC, the European patent application may be amended. It may still be amended during examination proceedings so as to comply with the requirements of Article 76(1) EPC, provided, however, that the amendment complies with the other requirements of the EPC (see G 1/05, point 7 of the Reasons). Such a requirement is laid down in Rule 3(2) EPC, which stipulates that amendments to a European patent application have to be filed in the language of the proceedings. The board concludes from this that the language of the proceedings cannot be changed by means of an amendment under Article 123(2) EPC.

8. Legitimate expectations

The issue of legitimate expectations was addressed in the decision under appeal (see points 11 to 12 of the Reasons). The appellant has provided no arguments as to why this finding was wrong and even confirmed during the oral proceedings before the board that it was not relying on this procedural principle. Thus there is no reason for the board to deal with this issue in its decision.

9. Legal consequences of non-compliance with the language requirements

9.1 The board understands from the appellant's submissions that it objects to the finding in the decision under appeal that "[s]evere formal deficiencies in a divisional application may entail as consequence that the application is invalid, i.e. has no legal effect and accordingly it is not treated as valid divisional application by analogous application of Article 90(2) EPC (cf. G 1/05, op. cit., at 2.4; J 18/04, OJ EPO 2006, 560, at 39)." The appellant argued that no legal consequence was specified in Rule 36(2) EPC in the event that the divisional application was, for example, filed in an EPO official language other than the EPO official language in which the earlier application was filed. It also submitted that decision J 2/01 did not refer to language requirements. Rather, a correction of the deficiency in respect of the language requirements was possible according to decision G 1/05 (in particular, points 3.2 to 3.4 of the Reasons).

9.2 Under Article 90(1) EPC, the EPO is responsible for examining whether, on filing, a European patent application satisfies the requirements for the accordance of a date of filing. These requirements for a filing date are laid down in Article 80 EPC and the related provisions of the Implementing Regulations. However, since the present application was filed as a divisional application, it must first and foremost comply with the specific requirements of Article 76(1), first sentence, EPC and the related provisions of the Implementing Regulations, which contain conditions within the meaning of Article 4G(2), second sentence, Paris Convention. It is established EPO jurisprudence that if these specific requirements are not fulfilled, this situation is comparable to the case dealt with in Article 90(2) EPC, so that an analogous application of that provision is justified, with the legal consequence that the application at issue is not to be dealt with as a divisional application (see J 2/01 and J 18/04, point 39 of the Reasons, referring to J 11/91, point 4.2 of the Reasons; this last decision has been followed in later decisions such as J 26/10 and J 4/11).

9.3 As far as decision G 1/05 is concerned, it has to be noted that one of the questions the Enlarged Board ruled upon was whether it would indeed follow from accepting the "invalidity" of a divisional application containing added matter that such an application could not be made valid by a later amendment removing the added matter with retroactive effect (emphasis added). The passages cited by the appellant concern this issue and, indeed, it was decided that a divisional application which at its date of receipt contains subject-matter extending beyond the content of any earlier application as filed can be amended later in order that its subject-matter no longer so extends, even at a time when the earlier application is no longer pending.

However, the Enlarged Board acknowledged that severe formal deficiencies in an application as filed may thus, even if only in the extreme case and if so provided in the EPC, entail as a consequence that the application has no legal effect (G 1/05, points 2.3 and 2.4 of the Reasons). Moreover, as explained above, under the EPC provisions and in the light of decision G 4/08, amending the language of the proceedings for the present application is not possible.

9.4 The appellant further argued that EPO Form 1044, which was used for the EPO communication dated 28 January 2011 (see point IV above), contained a pre-printed exhaustive list of reasons for not processing an application as a divisional application and that, therefore, a further reason for such non-processing could not be added. The board notes that it is the EPC that provides the law governing the processing of European patent applications, and not any form that the EPO may have created, including EPO Form 1044. The contents of any such form must be properly based on the EPC. Apart from that, the board does not share the appellant's view that EPO Form 1044 entitled "Noting of loss of rights pursuant to Rule 112(1) EPC" contains an exhaustive list of reasons which justify not processing an application as a divisional. There is no indication of an exhaustive list in that form. Although one could argue that the sentence added to it does not refer to the relevant EPC provision, i.e. Rule 36(2) EPC, the information as such must have been clear and unambiguous for the applicant, as can be seen from its reply dated 7 April 2011. Moreover, there is nothing in the form issued to the applicant which might have justified a different interpretation of the text of the EPO form in accordance with the principle of the protection of legitimate expectations. Therefore, the present case differs from that underlying decision J 17/04, in which the pre-printed text in the EPO form at issue (EPO Form 1001) was ambiguous and could be misinterpreted.

9.5 For the above reasons and in accordance with the above-cited established jurisprudence, the present application cannot be treated as a valid divisional application by analogous application of Article 90(2) EPC because it does not fulfil the requirements of Article 76(1), first sentence, and Rule 36(2), first sentence, EPC.

10. Request for referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal

10.1 The appellant requested that certain questions be referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal (see point X above). The appellant based its request for a referral on the argument that an important point of law was concerned since the legal consequence of non-compliance of a divisional application with Rule 36(2) EPC was not regulated in the EPC, and that the matter touched on the possibility for the applicant to correct the language deficiency in its application, which was filed as a divisional application.

10.2 According to Article 112(1)(a) EPC, a board may, either of its own motion or following a request from a party, refer any question of law to the Enlarged Board of Appeal if it considers that a decision is required in order to ensure uniform application of the law, or if an important point of law arises.

10.3 An "important point of law" within the meaning of Article 112(1)(a) EPC 1973 arises if that point is of fundamental importance in that it is relevant to a substantial number of similar cases and is therefore of great interest not only to the parties to the appeal in hand but also to the public at large (see e.g. T 271/85, OJ EPO 1988, 341; G 1/12, OJ EPO 2014, A114, Reasons, point 11). However, even in such a situation, the board should make a referral only if it considers that a decision by the Enlarged Board is required. A question regarded as an important point of law does not need to be referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal if the question can be answered beyond all doubt by the board itself (see for example J 5/81, OJ EPO 1982, 155; T 198/88, OJ EPO 1991, 254; J 22/95, OJ EPO 1998, 569).

10.4 The present board considers that cases in which the issue is a correction of an inadmissible language in which a divisional application has been filed will occur only extremely infrequently, so that the number of cases which might be negatively affected provides no reason for a referral. Moreover, the board dealt with the issues of whether Article 90(4) EPC or Rule 58 EPC in conjunction with Rule 57(a) EPC apply in the present case and whether a correction under Rule 139 EPC was possible (see section 7 above). The board was able to reach its conclusions on the basis of the wording of the provisions of the EPC and the existing EPO jurisprudence and to decide on these issues free from any doubt. Hence, no important point of law arises or needs to be clarified by the Enlarged Board of Appeal.

10.5 For the above reasons, the appellant's request for a referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal must be refused.

11. Conclusion on the allowability of the appeal

In view of the above, the appellant's request that the case be remitted to the Receiving Section for treatment of the application as a divisional application is unallowable and, consequently, its appeal must be dismissed.

Request for reimbursement of the appeal fee

12. Pursuant to Rule 103(1)(a) EPC, a prerequisite for reimbursement of the appeal fee is that the appeal is deemed to be allowable. Since the appeal must be dismissed (see previous point 11), the appellant's request for reimbursement of the appeal fee is to be refused.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

1. The request for referral to the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the questions filed during the oral proceedings before the Legal Board is refused.

2. The appeal is dismissed.

3. The request for reimbursement of the appeal fee is refused.

This decision J 13/14 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2016:J001314.20161213. Photo "Translation Prohibited" by Jacob Bøtter obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).

T 1138/12 - Creative opposition issues

Delta Patents Patent Law -


In this appeal in opposition several issues came up. The patent proprietor filed a very creative (second) auxiliary request which basically amounted to "Opposition division, tell me which claims (of the first auxiliary request) are allowable". The patent proprietor was also unhappy about the short time it took the opposition division to reach a decision while allegedly not all members were present at the same time. (please note that the decision is 33 pages, so the following is a brief summary!).



Sachverhalt und Anträge

I. Gegen das Europäische Patent mit der Nummer 1 818 505 hat die Einsprechende, Alstom Technology Ltd, 5400 Baden, Schweiz, Einspruch eingelegt.
 
II. Mit der Zwischenentscheidung vom 20. März 2012 hat die Einspruchsabteilung entschieden, dass das Patent in geänderter Fassung den Erfordernissen des Übereinkommens genügt.

III. Gegen diese Entscheidung richtet sich die Beschwerde der Beschwerdeführerin (Patentinhaberin).
 
IV. Mit der Beschwerdebegründung verfolgte die Beschwerdeführerin die Aufrechterhaltung des Patents in der erteilten Fassung und reichte als Hilfsanträge mehrere Sätze geänderter Ansprüche ein. Sie beantragte weiter die Rückzahlung der Beschwerdegebühr wegen eines von der Einspruchsabteilung in der mündlichen Verhandlung begangenen wesentlichen Verfahrensfehlers und legte zur Stützung ihres Vortrags eine Seite einer Mitschrift einer Begleitperson des Vertreters der Patentinhaberin über die mündliche Verhandlung vor. Sie bot die Einvernahme dieser Person und des Vertreters als Zeuge an.


V. In einer Mitteilung zur Vorbereitung einer mündlichen Verhandlung informierte die Beschwerdekammer die Parteien über ihre vorläufige Beurteilung der Sache.

VI. Eine Namens- und Rechtsformänderung der Einsprechenden und Beschwerdegegnerin in "General Electric Technology GmbH" wurde dem Europäischen Patentamt mit Schreiben vom 9. März 2017 mitgeteilt und die Umschreibung im Europäischen Patentregister beantragt. Als Anlage war dem Schreiben ein Handelsregisterauszug beigefügt.

VII. Mit Schreiben datiert auf den 7. April 2017 reichte die Beschwerdeführerin geänderte Anspruchssätze gemäß Hilfsanträgen I und III bis VII ein, wobei Hilfsantrag VII der Fassung des Patents entspricht, die in der Zwischenentscheidung der Einspruchsabteilung für gewährbar befunden wurde.

VIII. Am 9. Mai 2017 fand die mündliche Verhandlung vor der Beschwerdekammer statt.

IX. Die Beschwerdeführerin (Patentinhaberin) beantragte, die angefochtene Entscheidung aufzuheben und das Patent in der erteilten Fassung aufrecht zu erhalten (Hauptantrag), hilfsweise das Patent in geänderter Fassung auf der Grundlage eines der mit Schreiben vom 7. April 2017 eingereichten Hilfsanträge I, III bis VI aufrecht zu erhalten, oder "im Umfang derjenigen als Hilfsantrag I eingereichten Patentansprüche aufrechtzuerhalten, die als gewährbar angesehen werden" (Hilfsantrag II).

Zudem wurde die Rückzahlung der Beschwerdegebühr und eine Überprüfung der Berechtigung der Einsprechenden beantragt.

X. Die Beschwerdegegnerin (Einsprechende) beantragte, die Beschwerde zurückzuweisen.

XI. Folgender Stand der Technik ist für die vorliegende Entscheidung relevant:

D3: US-A-5 329 810

XII. Der erteilte Anspruch 1 des Streitpatents hat folgenden Wortlaut:

"Verfahren zum Herstellen einer Beschichtungsprobe zur Untersuchung von Beschichtungsparametern einer auf eine bestimmte Bauteilsorte aufzubringenden Beschichtung mit den Schritten:
- Aufbringen wenigstens eines Materialstreifens (11a bis 11d) auf wenigstens eine bestimmte Oberflächenstelle eines Bauteils (1) der zu beschichtenden Bauteilsorte, welches ein Trägerbauteil bildet, wobei das Material des Materialstreifens (11a bis 11d) derart gewählt ist [sic] dass der Beschichtungsvorgang auf dem Materialstreifen (11a bis 11d) dem des Materials, aus dem das Bauteil (1) hergestellt ist, zumindest im Hinblick auf die zu untersuchenden Beschichtungsparameter entspricht;
- Beschichten des Trägerbauteils (1) mit dem wenigstens einen darauf aufgebrachten Materialstreifen;
- Entfernen des Materialstreifens (11a bis 11d) zur Verwendung als Beschichtungsprobe."

XIII. Hilfsantrag I enthält fünf unabhängige Ansprüche 1, 2, 4, 6 und 7 und zwei abhängige Ansprüche 3 und 5. Die unabhängigen Ansprüche beruhen auf dem erteilten unabhängigen Anspruch, in dem jeweils am Ende eines der folgenden Merkmale einzugefügt wurde:

[...]

XVIII. Die Argumente der Beschwerdeführerin können wie folgt zusammengefasst werden.

Einsprechendenstellung

Die Übertragung der Einsprechendenstellung sei nach G 2/04 nur im Falle einer Gesamtrechtsnachfolge der Einsprechenden oder bei Übertragung eines einschlägigen Teils des Geschäftsbetriebs der Einsprechenden möglich. Aus dem vorgelegten Handelsregisterauszug sei eine solche Übertragung nicht mit der gebotenen Sicherheit nachvollziehbar. Offenbar seien nämlich Teile des Unternehmens abgespalten worden und es sei eine Fusion, eine Umwandlung sowie eine Vermögensübertragung im Zusammenhang mit weiteren Unternehmen erfolgt.

Hauptantrag

Der Gegenstand von Anspruch 1 sei neu gegenüber D3, da das Material der Teststreifen in D3 hinsichtlich der Parameter des Beschichtungsprozesses festgelegt sei und nicht, wie in Anspruch 1 als Verfahrensschritt definiert, im Hinblick auf den zu untersuchenden Parameter der Beschichtung in Abhängigkeit vom Material des Bauteils ausgewählt. Darüber hinaus impliziere der Ausdruck "Aufbringen ... auf" in Anspruch 1 einen direkten Kontakt zwischen Materialstreifen und Oberfläche, was in dem Verfahren nach D3 ebenfalls nicht ausgeführt werde.

[...]

Hilfsantrag II

Der Antrag sei als bedingter Antrag zulässig, da er nur an Bedingungen geknüpft sei, die im Verfahren bestimmbar seien. Die Zulässigkeit eines solchen Antrags entspreche allgemeinen Grundsätzen des Verfahrensrechts der Mitgliedstaaten. Der Antrag sei auch verfahrensökonomisch, da andernfalls die Ansprüche in einer Vielzahl von Permutationen in einzelnen Anträgen hätten formuliert werden müssen.

Hilfsantrag III


[...]

Rückzahlung der Beschwerdegebühr

Die Einspruchsabteilung habe in der mündlichen Verhandlung nicht ordentlich über die Gewährbarkeit des Hauptantrags beraten. Zu keinem Zeitpunkt der Beratungspause im Anschluss an die Diskussion über den Gegenstand von Anspruch 1 seien alle drei Mitglieder der Abteilung zur Beratung gemeinsam anwesend gewesen. Eine diesbezüglich bereits in der mündlichen Verhandlung erhobene Rüge sei in der Niederschrift unvollständig erwähnt.

XIX. Die Beschwerdegegnerin trat dem Vorbringen der Beschwerdeführerin mit folgenden Argumenten entgegen:


[...]


Entscheidungsgründe

Einsprechendenstellung

1. Mit Schreiben vom 9. März 2017 hat die Beschwerdegegnerin dem Europäischen Patentamt eine Änderung des Namens und der Gesellschaftsform der Einsprechenden, vormals "Alstom Technology Ltd" in "General Electric Technology GmbH" angezeigt und die Umschreibung im Register beantragt.

Mit dem gleichzeitig vorgelegten Handelsregisterauszug wurde eine Rechtsformänderung nachgewiesen, die als solche keinen Wechsel des zugrundeliegenden Rechtssubjekts mit sich bringt. Da die Person der Einsprechenden somit gleich geblieben ist und kein anderes Rechtssubjekt die Stellung als Einsprechende beansprucht, bestehen für die Kammer keine Anhaltspunkte, die Berechtigung der Einsprechenden, die nunmehr lediglich in einer geänderten Rechtsform auftritt, in Frage zu stellen.

Dass daneben auch eine Abspaltung stattfand ist nicht relevant, da keine Anhaltspunkte bestehen, dass mit der Abspaltung auch eine Übertragung des konkreten Einspruchs vereinbart wurde. Zudem ist zu berücksichtigen, dass das abgespaltene Unternehmen nicht die Stellung als Einsprechende für sich beansprucht, sodass sich im Hinblick auf die von der Beschwerdeführerin genannte Entscheidung G 4/88 auch nicht die Frage stellt, ob jener Unternehmensbereich, auf den sich der Einspruch bezieht, auf das abgespaltene Unternehmen übertragen wurde.
Es bestehen im vorliegenden Verfahren daher keine Anhaltspunkte, die dem Parteiwillen, nämlich den Einspruch fortzusetzen, entgegenstehen.
Der Vollständigkeit halber ist im Hinblick auf die von der Beschwerdeführerin zudem erwähnte Unternehmensverschmelzung (Fusion) zu bemerken, dass hierzu weder ein substantiierter Vortrag besteht noch für die Kammer ein Grund ersichtlich ist, weshalb dieser Umstand zu einem Wechsel des Rechtssubjekts der Einsprechenden hätte führen können.
Es bestehen daher keine Gründe, die Einsprechendenstellung der "General Electric Technology GmbH" und damit ihre Stellung als Beteiligte im vorliegenden Beschwerdeverfahren in Zweifel zu ziehen (Artikel 107 EPÜ 1973).

Hauptantrag

2. Der Hauptantrag der Beschwerdeführerin ist unbegründet, da der Gegenstand des erteilten Anspruchs 1 nicht neu gegenüber D3 ist (Artikel 54 (1) und (2) EPÜ 1973).

[...]

2.3 Die Kammer findet also, dass alle Merkmale des erteilten Anspruchs 1 aus D3 bekannt sind, so dass sein Gegenstand nicht neu im Sinne von Artikel 54 (1) und (2) EPÜ 1973 ist. Das Patent kann folglich in dieser Fassung nicht aufrechterhalten werden.

Hilfsantrag 1

[...]

4. Die Kammer kommt folglich zu dem Ergebnis, dass der Gegenstand von Anspruch 2 nicht neu im Sinne von Artikel 54 (1) und (2) EPÜ 1973 ist. Zumindest für einen der fünf unabhängigen Ansprüche dieses Hilfsantrags sind die Erfordernisse des EPÜ nicht erfüllt, so dass das Patent mit diesem Anspruchssatz nicht aufrechterhalten werden kann.

Hilfsantrag II

5. Die Beschwerdeführerin beantragt mit diesem Hilfsantrag "das Patent im Umfang derjenigen als Hilfsantrag I eingereichten Patentansprüche aufrechtzuerhalten, die als gewährbar angesehen werden".

5.1 Die Kammer hatte in ihrer Mitteilung zur Vorbereitung der mündlichen Verhandlung dargelegt, dass dieser Antrag unbestimmt sei und damit als unzulässig zurückzuweisen wäre. Zu dieser vorläufigen Meinung kam die Kammer aus folgendem Grund.

5.1.1 Nach Artikel 113 (2) EPÜ 1973 ist die Beschwerdekammer nämlich bei der Prüfung des Patents und bei Entscheidungen darüber an die vom Patentinhaber vorgelegte Fassung (des Patents) gebunden. Nach Artikel 101 (3) EPÜ ist auf Grundlage der vom Patentinhaber vorgeschlagenen Änderungen zu prüfen und zu entscheiden, ob das Patent in geänderter Fassung die Erfordernisse des Übereinkommens erfüllt oder nicht.

5.1.2 Schlägt der Patentinhaber wie hier mit dem höherrangigen Hilfsantrag I eine Änderung vor, beantragt damit also die Aufrechterhaltung des Patents in dieser Fassung, und ist dabei irgendein Erfordernis des EPÜ für irgendeinen Anspruch des Anspruchssatzes nicht erfüllt, gibt es keine Grundlage im EPÜ, eine weitere Prüfung der Patentierbarkeit der anderen Ansprüche dieses Anspruchssatzes durchzuführen, da das Patent in der Fassung dieses Antrags sowieso nicht aufrechterhalten werden kann.

In Ermangelung einer rechtlichen Grundlage für eine weitergehende Prüfung kann die nach Hilfsantrag II formulierte Bedingung (d.h. dass die Kammer die gewährbaren Ansprüche des Hilfsantrags I nach einer entsprechenden Prüfung ermittelt hat) zur Bestimmung seines Gegenstands, d.h. eines konkreten Anspruchsatzes, auf dessen Grundlage das Patent aufrecht erhalten werden kann, nicht eintreten. Das Argument der Beschwerdeführerin, dass eine Bedingung, die von innerprozessualen Umständen abhängt, zulässig sei, greift somit jedenfalls im vorliegenden Fall nicht, da die Kammer im Rahmen ihrer Prüfung weder zu einem gewährbaren Anspruch gelangte noch eine rechtliche Verpflichtung besteht, die Prüfung einzelner Ansprüche des Anspruchssatzes des ersten Hilfsantrags so lange fortzusetzen, bis sich ein gewährbarer Anspruch findet, der dann als Grundlage für einen konkreten - jedoch noch auszuformulierenden - Anspruchssatz eines Hilfsantrags II von der Beschwerdeführerin verwendet werden könnte. 

5.1.3 Die Behauptung der Beschwerdeführerin, dass ein in den Mitgliedstaaten allgemein anerkannter Rechtsgrundsatz bestehe, wonach eine Bedingung, die von innerprozessualen Umständen abhängt, zulässig sei, war mangels Entscheidungsrelevanz daher nicht weiter zu untersuchen.

5.2 Die Beschwerdeführerin hat zudem argumentiert, dass - sofern ein entsprechender Antrag nicht als zulässig erachtet würde - dies nachteilige Konsequenzen für eine ökonomische Verfahrensführung hätte, da dann eine große Anzahl von Hilfsanträgen mit permutierten Anspruchssätzen einzureichen wären. Dieses Argument ist allerdings für die Bestimmung des konkreten Gegenstands von Hilfsantrag II irrelevant und somit für die Frage der Zulässigkeit desselben nicht entscheidungswesentlich. Dennoch möchte die Kammer hierzu bemerken, dass die Frage der Zulässigkeit dieser "großen Anzahl von Hilfsanträgen" dann jedoch insbesondere unter den Gesichtspunkten der Verfahrensökonomie und der Konvergenz zu prüfen wäre.

5.3 Auch die in T 937/00 getroffene Aussage, wonach die Einspruchsabteilung zum Zwecke eines ökonomischen Verfahrens bei Vorliegen von mehreren unabhängigen Ansprüchen so viele wie vernünftig möglich behandeln sollte, kann hier zu keiner anderen Beurteilung führen. Im Gegensatz zum Einspruchsverfahren schließt sich an das Beschwerdeverfahren kein anderes Verfahren an, bei dem eine sachliche Überprüfung der durch die Beschwerdekammer jeweils getroffenen Entscheidung hinsichtlich der Erfüllung der Erfordernisse des EPÜ einzelner unabhängiger Ansprüche vorgesehen wäre. Demnach kann das von der Kammer in T 937/00 angenommene Szenario, wonach es bei einer großen Anzahl von unabhängigen Ansprüchen zu einem unendlichen Hin und Her der Sache zwischen Einspruchsabteilung und Beschwerdekammer kommen könnte, wenn die Abteilung ihre Entscheidung jeweils nur hinsichtlich eines einzigen unabhängigen Anspruchs begründet, hier gar nicht eintreten.

5.4 Die Kammer hatte daher keine Veranlassung, von ihrer vorläufigen Beurteilung abzuweichen. Der Hilfsantrag II wurde daher nicht ins Verfahren zugelassen.

Hilfsantrag III

[...]

6.6 Die Kammer findet daher keinen Grund, ihre vorläufige Meinung zu ändern und bestätigt diese hiermit. Der Gegenstand des unabhängigen Anspruchs 5 beruht nicht auf erfinderischer Tätigkeit, Artikel 56 EPÜ 1973.

Hilfsantrag IV

7. Dieser Hilfsantrag wurde in Reaktion auf die Mitteilung der Kammer eingereicht und stellt nach Artikel 13 (1) der Verfahrensordnung der Beschwerdekammern (VOBK) eine Änderung des Vorbringens der Beschwerdeführerin dar.

Die Zulassung des Antrags in das Verfahren liegt demnach im Ermessen der Kammer. Bei der Ausübung ihres Ermessens berücksichtigt die Kammer neben dem Verfahrensstand und der Komplexität des neuen Vorbringens auch die gebotene Verfahrensökonomie.

7.1 Der Gegenstand der unabhängigen Ansprüche 1 und 4 entspricht dem der Ansprüche 3 und 4 aus Hilfsantrag I bzw. 2 und 3 aus Hilfsantrag III.

7.2 Allerdings enthält der jetzt vorliegende Anspruchsatz in den abhängigen Ansprüchen Gegenstände, d.h. Merkmalskombinationen, die mit den Hilfsanträgen I und III nicht weiter verfolgt wurden. Zum Beispiel ist der vorliegende abhängige Anspruch 2 auf eine Kombination des erteilten Verfahrensanspruchs mit den Merkmalen "lösbar", "Punktschweißen" und "Basismaterial" gerichtet, die in Hilfsantrag I nicht vorhanden war. Ebenso lag für den durch das Fixieren mittels "Punktschweißverfahrens" eingeschränkten unabhängigen Anspruch 2 aus Hilfsantrag III nur ein weiterer abhängiger Anspruch vor, der das "Reinigung"-Merkmal definierte, wohingegen jetzt Ansprüche 2 ("Basismaterial") und 3 ("Legierung") von dem entsprechenden Anspruch 1 abhängig sind.

7.3 Diese Änderungen stellen keine angemessene und notwendige Reaktion auf die in der Kammermitteilung mitgeteilte vorläufige Meinung dar.

Die Kammer hatte sich in ihrer Mitteilung kritisch zur Neuheit des erteilten Anspruchs 1 und des unabhängigen Anspruchs 2 des mit der Beschwerdebegründung eingereichten Hilfsantrags I, sowie kritisch zu den Erfordernissen der Artikel 123 (2) und 56 EPÜ hinsichtlich der unabhängigen Ansprüche der Hilfsanträge III und IV geäußert.

Die Einführung weiterer abhängiger Ansprüche kann die erwähnten Einwände nicht beheben. Auch die Tatsache, dass die abhängigen Ansprüche im erteilten Anspruchssatz vorhanden waren, stellt keinen Grund dar, die zwischenzeitlich mit Hilfsantrag I (der Beschwerdebegründung wie auch in der Form vom 7. April 2017) nicht weiter verfolgten abhängigen Ansprüche jetzt wieder einzuführen. Ein solches Verfahren steht einem ökonomisch geführten Verfahren entgegen, da prinzipiell der resultierende Gegenstand jedes abhängigen Anspruchs auch auf die Erfüllung der Erfordernisse des EPÜ, z. B. des Artikels 123 (2) EPÜ, zu prüfen wäre. Es kann nicht im Voraus ausgeschlossen werden, dass trotz des Bezugs auf die erteilten Ansprüche ein Gegenstand resultiert, der in den erteilten Ansprüchen (bzw. den ursprünglich eingereichten Anmeldungsunterlagen) nicht offenbart war.

7.4 Die Kammer hat daher ihr Ermessen nach Artikel 13 (1) VOBK dahingehend ausgeübt, den Hilfsantrag IV nicht in das Verfahren zuzulassen.

Hilfsantrag V

8. Dieser Hilfsantrag wurde ebenfalls nach Erlass der Mitteilung der Kammer vorgelegt und stellt daher ebenso eine Änderung dar, deren Zulassung in das Verfahren nach Artikel 13 (1) VOBK im Ermessen der Kammer liegt.

Im Hinblick auf die gemäß Artikel 13 (1) VOBK gebotene Verfahrensökonomie ist es für die Zulassung geänderter Ansprüche in das Verfahren erforderlich, dass diese wenigstens prima facie gewährbar sind, dass nämlich sofort erkennbar sein muss, dass die bestehenden Einwände eindeutig behoben werden ohne weitere hervorzurufen.

8.1 Mit Bezugnahme auf die Absätze 2, 23, 24, 33 bis 35, 39 und 42 bis 50 der dem Streitpatent zugrunde liegenden veröffentlichten Anmeldungsschrift hat die Beschwerdeführerin im erteilten Anspruch 1 das Bauteil weiter spezifiziert, nämlich dass es sich um ein thermisch hoch belastetes Gasturbinenbauteil handelt, und die Art der Beschichtung eingeschränkt.

8.2 Obwohl die eingefügten Merkmale in der Tat in Absatz 2 offenbart sind, beschäftigt sich dieser Absatz nur mit der Beschreibung der aus dem Stand der Technik bekannten beschichteten Bauteile und Folgen fehlerhafter Beschichtungen, wie auch die Beschwerdegegnerin vorgetragen hat, und nennt als Beispiel "Turbinenschaufeln". Die anderen von der Beschwerdeführerin zitierten Passagen, insbesondere die Absätze 23, 24, 33-35 und 42 bis 50 beziehen sich auf die spezifische Anwendung des Verfahrens bei Schaufeln; Absatz 39 erwähnt Hitzeschildelemente, die "ähnlich" wie Turbinenschaufeln beschichtet sein können, ohne sich aber auf das beanspruchte Verfahren, bzw. die jetzt in Anspruch 1 definierte Beschichtung zu beziehen.

8.3 Eine Offenbarung für ein Verfahren zur Herstellung einer Beschichtungsprobe an beliebigen thermisch hoch belasteten Gasturbinen­bau­teil­en mit den Beschichtungen nach Anspruch 1, ist daher in den genannten Passagen, einzeln oder zusammen betrachtet, nicht eindeutig und unmittelbar gegeben. Damit scheint prima facie zumindest das Erfordernis des Artikel 123 (2) EPÜ nicht erfüllt zu sein.

8.4 Die Kammer hat daher ihr Ermessen nach Artikel 13 (1) VOBK dahingehend ausgeübt, den Hilfsantrag V nicht in das Verfahren zuzulassen.

Hilfsantrag VI

[...]

Folglich ist der Antrag, das Patent mit den Ansprüchen nach Hilfsantrag VI aufrechtzuerhalten, wegen fehlender erfinderischen Tätigkeit des Gegenstandes des Anspruchs 1 ebenfalls nicht gewährbar.

10. Da keiner der Anträge der Beschwerdeführerin Erfolg hat, ist die Beschwerde zurückzuweisen.

Antrag auf Rückzahlung der Beschwerdegebühr

11. Nach Regel 103 (1) a) EPÜ wird die Beschwerdegebühr in voller Höhe zurückgezahlt, wenn der Beschwerde stattgegeben wird und die Rückzahlung wegen eines wesentlichen Verfahrensmangels der Billigkeit entspricht.

12. Da der Beschwerde aus oben dargelegten Gründen nicht stattgegeben wird, war der Antrag auf Rückzahlung allein aus diesem Grund zurückzuweisen.

13. Darüber hinaus kam eine Zurückverweisung der Angelegenheit nach Artikel 11 VOBK nicht zur Anwendung, da kein Verfahrensfehler vorliegt, wie im folgenden ausgeführt.

13.1 Nach dem Vortrag der Beschwerdeführerin besteht der schwerwiegende Verfahrensfehler offenbar darin, dass keine ordnungsgemäße Beratung der Einspruchsabteilung stattgefunden habe, bei der alle Mitglieder gleichzeitig anwesend gewesen wären.

13.2 In ihrer Mitteilung zur Vorbereitung der mündlichen Verhandlung hatte die Kammer bereits ausgeführt, dass sie in den behaupteten Umständen keinen wesentlichen Verfahrensfehler erkennt.
Es ist nämlich im EPÜ insbesondere nicht vorgeschrieben, wie lange eine Einspruchsabteilung beraten muss, um zu einer Entscheidung zu gelangen, was von der Beschwerdeführerin in ihrem Antwortschreiben und in der mündlichen Verhandlung vor der Kammer auch nicht weiter bestritten wurde.

Demnach ist z.B. denkbar, dass sich die Mitglieder der Einspruchsabteilung nach einer der mündlichen Verhandlung vorausgegangenen Vorbesprechung durch den Vortrag der Parteien in der mündlichen Verhandlung in ihrer vorläufigen Auffassung bestätigt sahen. Eine Verständigung hierüber könnte zum Beispiel mittels Augenkontakt/Kopfnicken am Ende der Erörterung mit den Parteien erfolgen.

Sowohl die Dauer als auch die Form der Beratung zwischen den Mitgliedern einer Einspruchsabteilung hängt vom Umfang und von der Komplexität der im konkreten Fall zu beratenden Themen ab. Hierbei spielt auch der Grad der Vereinbarkeit möglicherweise divergierender Auffassungen der Mitglieder der Abteilung eine wesentliche Rolle.

13.3 Die Beschwerdeführerin begründet die Notwendigkeit oder Pflicht einer ausführlichen Beratung der Einspruchsabteilung auf Grundlage der Richtlinien für die Prüfung E-II, 8.11 und des Artikels 19 (1) VOBK.

13.3.1 Letzterer findet Anwendung in den Verfahren vor der Beschwerdekammer und hat daher keine Wirkung auf das Verwaltungsverfahren vor der Einspruchsabteilung. Darüber hinaus regelt er hinsichtlich der Beratungen auch nichts, was die Argumentation der Beschwerdeführerin stützen könnte. Im Gegenteil, nach Satz 1 dieser Bestimmung sind Beratungen dann erforderlich, wenn sich nicht alle Mitglieder einig sind. Damit besteht vor der Beschwerdekammer grundsätzlich die Möglichkeit eine Entscheidung zu treffen, nachdem sich die Mitglieder der Kammer lediglich kurz darüber vergewissert haben, einer Meinung zu sein.

13.3.2 Auch unter Berücksichtigung des zitierten Abschnitts der Richtlinien, E-II, 8.11, kann die Kammer nicht erkennen, dass die Form oder Länge der Beratung einer Einspruchsabteilung in einer mündlichen Verhandlung festgeschrieben wäre. Dieser Abschnitt betrifft die Schließung der mündlichen Verhandlung. Obwohl sich darin kein entsprechender Hinweis findet, kann davon ausgegangen werden, dass die zu diesem Zeitpunkt des Verfahrens - nämlich nach Abschluss der Erörterungen mit den Parteien - "gegebenenfalls" durchzuführende Beratung, die also offenbar auch zu diesem Zeitpunkt der mündlichen Verhandlung nicht zwingend vorgeschrieben ist (was der Ausdruck "gegebenenfalls" nahelegt), auch für Zwischenergebnisse im Laufe der Verhandlung Anwendung findet und in der Regel auch so praktiziert wird. Verpflichtend einzuhaltende Vorschriften für Beratungen der Abteilungen ergeben sich daraus nach Auffassung der Kammer aber nicht.

13.4 Aber auch die behaupteten Umstände selbst lassen keinen schwerwiegenden Verfahrensfehler erkennen.

13.4.1 Grundlage für die Beurteilung der Kammer, ob im Hinblick auf die von der Beschwerdeführerin behaupteten Umstände ein Verfahrensfehler vorliegt, bildet die von der Einspruchsabteilung angefertigte Niederschrift über die mündliche Verhandlung. Da die Beschwerdeführerin vor der Einspruchsabteilung keine Protokollberichtigung beantragt hat, geht die Kammer davon aus, dass die Niederschrift den tatsächlichen Ablauf der Verhandlung wiedergibt. Da die Mitglieder der Kammer an der mündlichen Verhandlung vor der Einspruchsabteilung selbst nicht teilgenommen haben, kann die Kammer sowieso weder über die Richtigkeit der Niederschrift entscheiden, noch kann sie feststellen, ob wesentliche Erklärungen der Parteien in der Niederschrift fehlen.

Auch über eine Ergänzung der Niederschrift durch Aufnahme angeblich fehlender Parteienerklärungen kann die Beschwerdekammer daher nicht entscheiden.

Die Behauptung der Beschwerdeführerin, dass die auf Seite 2 unter Punkt 3 des erstinstanzlichen Protokolls der mündlichen Verhandlung erwähnte Rüge der Einsprechenden unvollständig wiedergegeben worden sei, ist im Hinblick auf das Fehlen eines Antrags auf Protokollberichtigung vor der Einspruchsabteilung daher unbeachtlich. Es wurde zudem nicht vorgetragen, welche konkreten Elemente der Rüge im Protokoll nicht wiedergegeben wurden. Die Beschwerdekammer versteht den Vortrag der Einsprechenden im Beschwerdeverfahren in der Weise, dass der behauptete Umstand, dass die Mitglieder der Einspruchsabteilung während der Unterbrechung der Verhandlung zur Beratung nicht ständig alle gleichzeitig im Verhandlungssaal anwesend gewesen seien, als im Protokoll fehlend erachtet wird. Demnach wird die für eine angemessene Beratung zu geringe Dauer der gleichzeitigen Anwesenheit der Mitglieder der Einspruchsabteilung gerügt. Im Übrigen ist hierzu zu bemerken, dass eine Unterbrechung der Verhandlung für eine Beratung sowie die anschließende Fortsetzung der Verhandlung, im Sinne der für die Parteien erkennbaren Beendigung der Beratungspause, ohne eine Mindestdauer der Anwesenheit aller Mitglieder der Abteilung in der Praxis kaum vorstellbar ist und diesbezüglich jedenfalls ein detaillierter Tatsachenvortrag erforderlich gewesen wäre.

13.4.2 Gemäß Punkt 3 der Niederschrift wurde die Verhandlung von 10:05 bis 10:15 zur Beratung unterbrochen. Danach verkündete der Vorsitzende die Meinung der Einspruchsabteilung hinsichtlich der Neuheit von Anspruch 1. Im nächsten Absatz wird eine Rüge der Patentinhaberin wiedergegeben: "Der Patentinhaber unterstellte, daß man an der von der Einspruchsabteilung benötigten kurzen Pause erkennen könne, daß die Einspruchsabteilung bezüglich der mangelnden Neuheit des Hauptantrags eine vorgefaßte Meinung gehabt habe."

Daraus ergibt sich, dass offensichtlich eine Beratung der Einspruchsabteilung stattgefunden haben muss, da sich die Rüge auf die Dauer der Pause und nicht auf das komplette Fehlen einer Beratung bezieht.

Auch der weitere Vortrag der Beschwerdeführerin hinsichtlich der Abwesenheiten der Mitglieder während der Unterbrechung der mündlichen Verhandlung lässt keinen anderen Schluss zu, da selbst dadurch nicht ausgeschlossen wird, dass sich die Mitglieder anderweitig verständigt haben (siehe oben Punkt 13.2). Die Kammer erachtete aus diesem Grund die Einvernahme der angebotenen Zeugen als nicht erforderlich.

13.4.3 Darüber hinaus steht auch der Auszug der parteiseitigen Mitschrift im Einklang mit der amtsseitigen Niederschrift. In der Mitschrift der Beschwerdeführerin findet sich hierzu nämlich folgende Notiz:

[Handwritten minutes, see original file, page 30]

Auch hier ist vermerkt, dass die Patentinhaberin PI die "Beratung sehr kurz" beurteilte und deshalb die Vermutung über eine "vorgefasste Meinung" äußerte. Zudem kann den handschriftlichen Notizen auch nicht entnommen werden, dass die Mitglieder der Einspruchsabteilung zu keiner Zeit gleichzeitig im Verhandlungssaal anwesend gewesen sind. Aus dem behaupteten Umstand, dass die Mitglieder der Einspruchsabteilung - wie in der Mitschrift angedeutet - nacheinander den Raum verlassen haben, folgt auch nicht, dass diese zu keiner Zeit gemeinsam anwesend gewesen sind. Zudem, wie oben ausgeführt, kann auch eine relativ kurze Zeitspanne bereits genügen, um zu einer Entscheidungsfindung zu gelangen.

Beiden Zusammenfassungen der Ereignisse ist also in Übereinstimmung zu entnehmen, dass eine Beratung stattgefunden hat, diese aber in den Augen der beschwerdeführenden Patentinhaberin relativ kurz war.

13.4.4 Der Vollständigkeit halber sei angemerkt, dass aus einem Vergleich des schriftlichen Vortrags der beschwerdeführenden Patentinhaberin (Schreiben eingegangen am 25. Juli 2009 und datiert auf den 20. Mai 2009, sowie Schreiben eingegangen am 3. November 2011 und datiert auf den 26. Juli 2011) und dem Protokoll der mündlichen Verhandlung im Einspruchsverfahren auch nicht unmittelbar erkennbar ist, dass sich in der Verhandlung völlig neue Argumente/Sachverhalte ergeben hätten. Es kann daher nicht ausgeschlossen werden, dass keines der Mitglieder der Einspruchsabteilung eine weitere Beratung für notwendig gehalten hat und sie sich ihrer Übereinstimmung gegenseitig schnell versichert haben. Die Beschwerdeführerin hat diesbezüglich auch nicht vorgetragen, welche neuen Sachverhalte in der mündlichen Verhandlung behandelt worden wären, die von den Mitgliedern der Einspruchsabteilung vorher nicht hätten berücksichtigt werden können und eine längere Beratung erforderlich gemacht hätten. Die Beschwerdeführerin hat ebenfalls nicht behauptet, dass in der mündlichen Verhandlung vorgetragene Argumente in der Entscheidung nicht berücksichtigt worden seien.

13.5 Die Kammer hatte daher keine Veranlassung von ihrer vorläufigen Beurteilung der behaupteten Umstände, wie im Anhang zur Ladung zur mündlichen Verhandlung ausgeführt, abzuweichen. Es konnte demnach kein erstinstanzlicher Verfahrensfehler festgestellt werden. Demnach würde eine Rückzahlung der Beschwerde nicht der Billigkeit entsprechen (vgl. Regel 103 (1) a) EPÜ), sodass der Antrag im Rahmen der mündlichen Verhandlung vor der Beschwerdekammer auch aus diesem Grund zurückzuweisen war.

Entscheidungsformel

Aus diesen Gründen wird entschieden:

Die Beschwerde wird zurückgewiesen.

This decision T 1138/12 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T113812.20170509. The file wrapper can be found here. 
Photo "Pick your claims" by Romano Beitsma (c)2017.

T 2092/13 - Misleading communication

Delta Patents Patent Law -


In the statement of grounds of appeal against a decision from the Examining Division, the appellant also alleged a series of procedural violations in the first-instance proceedings and requested the reimbursement of the appeal fee. In particular, the appellant submitted that no intention to refuse the application was announced in the official communication preceding the refusal of the application. This argument was further developed by the appellant during the oral proceedings held before the board. The Board agreed with the applicant: "It is a general principle governing relations between the EPO and applicants that communications addressed to applicants must be clear and unambiguous so as to rule out misunderstandings on the part of a reasonable addressee, and that an applicant must not suffer a disadvantage as a result of having relied on a misleading communication. Therefore the board considered that, in the specific circumstances of the case, the examining division's communication created a realistic and reasonable expectation that any subsequent negative finding of the examination division on the issue of novelty and/or inventive step would then be communicated to the appellant before any adverse decision on any of these issues would be taken by the examining division. The appellant could therefore not expect that by closely following the examining division's suggestion [in the preceding communication] in respect of the original claims 1 and 2 a decision refusing the application on the grounds of lack of inventive step of these claims could then be immediately issued." 

Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. The appellant (applicant) lodged an appeal against the decision of the examining division refusing European patent application No. 09000629.7 filed as a divisional application of European patent application No. 00100472.0.

II. In its decision the examining division referred inter alia to documents D1, D2, D5 and held with respect to the main and the auxiliary requests then on file that

i) claim 1 of the main request did not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC) with regard to the disclosure of document D2, and

ii) the description of the auxiliary request did not satisfy the requirements of Article 76(1) EPC.

The examining division also expressed in an obiter dictum of the decision its view that

- claims 1 and 2 of the main request did not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC) with regard to the disclosure of each of documents D1 and D5,

- the description of the main request did not satisfy the requirements of Article 123(2) EPC, and

- claims 1 and 2 of the auxiliary request did not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC).

III. With the statement setting out the grounds of appeal the appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and a patent be granted on the basis of the set of claims of the main request or of the first auxiliary request underlying the decision under appeal, or on the basis of one of the sets of claims of two additional auxiliary requests filed with the statement of grounds of appeal.

In the statement of grounds of appeal the appellant also alleged a series of procedural violations in the first-instance proceedings and requested the reimbursement of the appeal fee.

IV. In a communication annexed to a summons to oral proceedings the board presented a preliminary assessment of the case on appeal.

V. In reply to the summons to oral proceedings the appellant filed with its letter dated 20 April 2017 an amended description comprising pages 1 to 11, and the following sets of claims:

- claims 1 and 2 labelled "Main Request",
[...]
- claim 1 labelled "Auxiliary request 6".

VI. Oral proceedings were held on 22 June 2017.

The appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of the set of claims of the main request filed with the letter dated 20 April 2017 or, as an auxiliary measure, on the basis of one of the sets of claims of auxiliary requests 1 to 6 filed with the letter dated 20 April 2017, together with pages 1 to 11 of the description filed with the letter dated 20 April 2017 and drawing sheets 1/4 to 4/4 as originally filed.

The appellant further requested the reimbursement of the appeal fee by reason of procedural violations.

During the discussion on the procedural violations alleged by the appellant, the appellant requested that the case be remitted to the department of first instance for further prosecution by reason of the alleged procedural violations.

At the end of the oral proceedings the board announced its decision.

VII. Claim 1 of the main request reads as follows:

"A method of [...]"

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal is admissible.

2. Article 11 RPBA

2.1 With the statement setting out the grounds of appeal the appellant submitted that the decision under appeal was tainted with a series of procedural violations. In particular, the appellant submitted that no intention to refuse the application was announced in the official communication preceding the refusal of the application, i.e. in the communication dated 7 December 2010. This argument was further developed by the appellant during the oral proceedings held before the board.

2.2 The facts of the first-instance proceedings relevant for the issues under consideration are the following:

a) The application as originally filed contained a set of claims 1 to 8. The subject-matter of claim 1 and dependent claim 2 was the same as the subject-matter of independent claim 23 and dependent claim 24 of the parent application as originally filed.

b) In the European Search Opinion based on the application as originally filed it was held that

- neither the subject-matter of independent claim 3 and dependent claims 6 to 8, nor the description of the application were in conformity with Article 76(1) EPC, and

- the subject-matter of independent claim 1 and dependent claim 2 was not new in view of document D1 and did not involve an inventive step over the disclosure of document D2.

c) With its letter dated 12 August 2009 the appellant submitted a new set of claims 1 to 8 and amended pages 2 and 2a of the description, independent claims 1 and 3 containing amendments with respect to independent claims 1 and 3 as originally filed. The letter included counter-arguments in response to the examining division's objections of lack of novelty and lack of inventive step.

d) In its communication dated 7 December 2010 the examining division reiterated its view that the application documents on file, and in particular the amended independent claim 3 and the amended pages of the description, did not comply with Article 76(1) EPC (point 1 of the communication, paragraphs (i) and (ii), and point 2), and indicated that a way of overcoming the objections under Article 76(1) EPC was seen "in using [...] claims 23 and 24 [of the parent application as originally filed] as the only basis for new claims" (point 1 of the communication, paragraph (iii)). This indication of the examining division was followed by the following statement in paragraph iv) of point 1 of the communication: "The examination of novelty and inventive step is deferred until the Article 76(1) problems are solved. It is further referred to the Novelty and Inventive Step objections raised in the European Search Opinion."

e) In reply to the communication, the appellant submitted with its letter dated 1 June 2011 a set of claims 1 and 2 and an amended description as a main request. Claims 1 and 2 of the main request corresponded, except for minor linguistic amendments, to claims 23 and 24 of the parent application as originally filed. In this letter of reply the appellant stated that the amended documents of the main request "correspond to the hints given by the Examiner under item 1(iii)" of the communication (point 1.1 of the letter) and submitted arguments in support of its view that the amended application documents complied with Articles 76(1) and 123(2) EPC.

f) Subsequently, the examining division issued the decision under appeal. According to the decision the main request was not considered allowable because the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request did not involve an inventive step over the disclosure of document D2 (cf. point II above).

g) Claims 1 and 2 of the present main request are identical to claims 1 and 2 of the main request underlying the decision under appeal.

2.3 It follows from these facts that in the official communication preceding the refusal of the application the examining division focused on the issue of the compliance of the application documents then on file with the requirements of Article 76(1) EPC and explicitly suggested to the appellant a way of overcoming the objections raised under Article 76(1) EPC by reinstating claims 23 and 24 of the parent application as originally filed (corresponding to claims 1 and 2 of the application as filed) as the sole claims, as the appellant subsequently did. The further statement by the examining division that the examination of novelty and inventive step was "deferred" until the objections raised under Article 76(1) EPC were appropriately overcome, while at the same time "referring" to the objections of lack of novelty and inventive step raised in the European search opinion, is ambiguous and, in its specific context, misleading. Indeed, such statement can, on the one hand, be interpreted in the sense that, in view of the objections raised under Article 76(1) EPC, no assessment of novelty and inventive step was carried out at that stage of the proceedings with respect to the claims then on file, and in particular with respect to the amended claims 1 and 2, but that, nonetheless, the objections of novelty and inventive step previously raised with respect to claims 1 and 2 as originally filed were expressly maintained in the event that these claims were reinstated. On the other hand, as submitted by the appellant during the oral proceedings before the board, the same statement can also be interpreted - as the appellant actually did - in the sense that the examining division considered premature to reassess the issues of novelty and inventive step of the claims, so that any consideration of these issues was postponed until a set of claims complying with Article 76(1) EPC was filed, and that the objections previously raised in the European search opinion were only formally "referred" to as the basis for a subsequent re-assessment of novelty and inventive step in view of the claims to be filed and of the arguments submitted by the appellant with its previous letter of reply.

In addition, the ambiguity of the examining division's statement mentioned above had also the effect that the statement "If the deficiencies indicated are not rectified the application may be refused pursuant to Article 97(2) EPC" in the text of form 2001 accompanying the mentioned communication was also ambiguous as to whether the "deficiencies" to be rectified only referred to the objections raised under Article 76(1) EPC, or also included - notwithstanding the examination on novelty and inventive step being "deferred", and in the event that the original claims 1 and 2 were subsequently reinstated in the proceedings - the objections of novelty and inventive step raised in the European Search Opinion.

2.4 It is a general principle governing relations between the EPO and applicants that communications addressed to applicants must be clear and unambiguous so as to rule out misunderstandings on the part of a reasonable addressee, and that an applicant must not suffer a disadvantage as a result of having relied on a misleading communication (see for instance decisions G 2/97 (OJ EPO 1999, 123), points 1, 4.1 and 5.1 of the Reasons, and J 3/87 (OJ EPO 1989, 3), Headnote, points I and II). The mentioned communication of the examining division contained, on the one hand, an explicit and clear suggestion to reinstate claims 1 and 2 as originally filed as the sole claims in order to overcome the objections under Article 76(1) EPC. On the other hand, however, the aforementioned statement made by the examining division (see point 2.2 above, paragraph d)) was ambiguous as to the possible procedural consequences of the reinstatement of original claims 1 and 2. In the board's view this ambiguity objectively misled the appellant to expect that, after reinstatement of claims 1 and 2 as originally filed as the sole claims as expressly suggested by the examining division, the deferred examination of the issues of novelty and inventive step would then be resumed taking into account the arguments previously submitted by the appellant, and that the appellant would then be informed of any subsequent negative finding in this respect.

Therefore, the board considers that, in the specific circumstances of the case, the examining division's communication created a realistic and reasonable expectation that any subsequent negative finding of the examination division on the issue of novelty and/or inventive step would then be communicated to the appellant before any adverse decision on any of these issues would be taken by the examining division. The appellant could therefore not expect that by closely following the examining division's suggestion in respect of the original claims 1 and 2 a decision refusing the application on the grounds of lack of inventive step of these claims could then be immediately issued. For these same reasons, the fact that the appellant saw at this stage of the proceedings no need to request oral proceedings as a precautionary measure was justified in the circumstances of the case.

2.5 In the board's opinion the refusal of the main request then on file for lack of inventive step immediately after resuming the deferred examination of this issue constituted, in the specific circumstances mentioned above, a fundamental deficiency in the first-instance proceedings within the meaning of Article 11 RPBA as it adversely affected the procedural rights of the appellant. According to Article 11 RPBA the board shall remit the case to the department of first instance if such a fundamental deficiency occurred in the first-instance proceedings, unless special reasons present themselves for doing otherwise. The overall length of the proceedings to date (priority date of 12 January 1999) may constitute such a special reason. However, the application is a divisional application, and this explains, at least in part, the length of the proceedings. In addition, this sole circumstance does not constitute in the present case a sufficient special reason for not considering the remittal of the case, especially in view of the procedural deficiency noted above affecting the whole proceedings, and also in view of the new issues raised under Articles 83 and 84 EPC 1973 on a preliminary basis in the board's communication annexed to the summons to oral proceedings which might require further consideration by the examining division.

The board concludes that, under these circumstances, the decision under appeal is to be set aside and the case remitted to the department of first instance for further prosecution (Article 11 RPBA).

3. Rule 103(1)(a) EPC

The appeal is allowable within the meaning of Rule 103(1)(a) EPC insofar as the decision under appeal is set aside (cf. point 2 above). In addition, the fundamental procedural deficiency considered in point 2 above and justifying the remittal of the case constitutes a substantial procedural violation that justifies the reimbursement of the appeal fee as requested by the appellant.

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.

3. The appeal fee is to be reimbursed.

This decision T 2092/13 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T209213.20170622. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo "WRONG DIRECTION! TURN AROUND!" by Mats Lindh obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).

Results D 2017 are out!

Delta Patents paper D -

The results are out and can be found here

Congratulations to all that passed!

The statistics for paper D (percentages of actual sitters):


D 2017
# sitters
1003
no show
41
pass
406
comp fail
140
pass + cf
546
fail
457
pass
40%
comp fail
14%
pass + cf
54%
fail
46%
average
46
max
81

In 2016, pass/ comp/ pass+comp / fail for paper D was 44%/ 11%/ 55% / 45%.
In 2015, pass/ comp/ pass+comp / fail for paper D was 55% / 11%/ 66% / 34%, an all-time high.
In 2014, pass/ comp/ pass+comp / fail for paper D was 39% / 9%/ 47% / 53%. 


The Examiner's reports are not yet available (30 June, 11:49).

No longer a European patent for plants or animals exclusively obtained by an essentially biological process

Delta Patents Patent Law -


As we discussed in our blog of 19 December 2016, there has been a long debate about patentability of plants/animals under the EPC. 
The final (?) chapter may now be closed: the Administrative Council took a decision to amend the relevant Regulations in order to exclude from patentability plants and animals exclusively obtained by an essentially biological breeding process.  This ends the option allowed by the Enlarged Board in G2/12 and G 2/13. The new rule enters in force almost immediately on 1 July 2017.

The full text of the press release of the EPO can be found here and is reproduced below.




On a proposal of the European Patent Office its Administrative Council took a decision to amend the relevant Regulations in order to exclude from patentability plants and animals exclusively obtained by an essentially biological breeding process.

The proposal from the EPO took account of a Notice of the European Commission from November 2016 related to certain articles in the EU Directive on biotechnological inventions (98/44/EC).

This Directive was implemented in the EPO's legal framework in 1999. The Directive excludes essentially biological processes from patentability but does not provide for a clear exclusion for plants or animals obtained from such processes. However, in its Notice the Commission clarified that it was the European legislator's intention to exclude not only processes but also products obtained by such processes.

The EPO's proposal adopted by its Administrative Council today almost unanimously safeguards uniformity in harmonised European patent law. It contains an important precision to patenting practice at the EPO, providing more clarity and legal certainty for users of the European patent system.

The new provisions will apply with immediate effect starting on 1 July 2017. Proceedings in examination and opposition cases concerning plants or animals obtained by an essentially biological process have been stayed since last November following the Commission's Notice. These cases will now be gradually resumed and be examined according to the clarified practice.
Further information

Photo "Broccoli" by Mike Mozart obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).
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