Usual readers of this blog will certainly get the impression that the author sometimes repeats himself. And they will be right.
On a number of occasions, I expressed the view that French courts have gotten very strict on added matter (i.e. extension of subject-matter beyond the content of the application as filed) over the past few years. I mean “strict” as in “EPO strict“. And this trend seems to be further confirmed based on two recent decisions by the Paris Cour d’appel.
First of all, in a previous post, I reported on a first instance judgment in Jean Chéreau v. Frappa, in which two European patents were revoked for added matter. One patent fell because of a number of intermediate generalizations. The other one fell because the term “roughly longitudinally movable” was replaced by “longitudinally movable” – which was interpreted as having a fundamentally different technical meaning.
The patent proprietor appealed, but to no avail, as the initial judgment was confirmed on appeal, in a ruling dated February 28, 2017.
Second of all, another patent was revoked by the Paris Cour d’appel on the same ground of nullity on January 24, 2017.
Here are the basic facts of the case. Mr. Damour owns a French patent No. FR 2943699 filed on March 31, 2009, directed to a fire resistant sandwiched panel for doors. An exclusive license was granted to the Compagnie de Fabrication Industrielle de Menuiserie (COFIM).
On July 31, 2012, Mr. Damour and COFIM sued a French woodworking company called Breheret for infringement of the patent. However, in a judgment dated December 4, 2014, the Paris Tribunal de grande instance revoked all claims asserted against the defendant, for lack of inventive step.
The plaintiffs appealed and filed a request for limitation of the patent in parallel, which was granted by the INPI (French patent and trademark office) on July 22, 2015.
The Cour d’appel reviewed the limited claims, and came to the conclusion that they were invalid, but this time due to extension of subject-matter.
Here is a working translation of claim 1, with revision marks relative to claim 1 as granted:
A fire-resistant sandwich panel, [in particular] for the production of doors integrated into fire-block units or facades of fire-resistant technical ducts or for the production of fire hatch covers, said panel consisting of at least one core (1) having a density greater than 400 kg/m3, sandwiched between two wood fiber-based facings (2) having a thickness comprised between 1.5 and 50 mm, both facings being assembled to said core (1) by means of a binder preferably by gluing, characterized in combination:
– in that the core (1) extends up to the edge of the panel so that there is no need for the use of bands, and a reliable stability of the fixation means is obtained,
– in that the core (1) consists of a fiber reinforced silicate material having a density greater than 700 kg/m3,
– and in that said core has a thickness comprised between 6 and 30 mm.
Ironically, among these various changes, the court focused on the recitation that the core extends up to the edge of the panel and concluded that this represented… an extension of subject-matter.
Here is the relevant part of the ruling:
According to lines 20-24 on page 5 of the patent application as filed, which disclose an example of panel of the invention: “the mechanical features of the core 1 and the facings 2 make it possible to avoid the provision of bands. The core 1, which is made of a hard material, provides strength up to the periphery of the panel, which is sufficient to obtain a good hardness of the edges and a reliable stability of the fixation means (such as hinges, espagnoles, brackets or the like)”. These lines, the drafting of which is ambiguous, must be read in the light of the description of the invention presented from line 14 on page 2 to line 5 on page 3, from which it can be derived that it is the use of the core, the material of which is chosen for its high fire resistance, sandwiched between two wood fiber facings, and not the fact that it extends to the edge taken as such, which makes it possible, on the one hand to obtain a hard edge which is not friable over time, and on the other hand to provide the panel with mechanical resistance qualities which are sufficient to afford a good stability of the fixation elements.
Claim 1 as limited thus adds a technical effect which extends the scope of the patent in that it indicates that it is the fact that the core extends to the edge which affords a better fixation of the ironwork.
On page 4, lines 7-9 of the application as filed, it is specified that “the drawing shows that the core 1 extends up to the edge 3, therefore illustrating that the use of bands is unnecessary”. This relates to figure 1 showing an embodiment of the invention, and only makes a connection with the fact that the core extends to the edge and that bands are unnecessary.
It results from the above that claim 1 as limited must be revoked as extending beyond the content of the patent application as filed.
To put it otherwise, when looking closely at the application, it seems that the patent proprietor mixed language from two passages of the application. In the first passage it is mentioned that the core extends up to the edge and that the use of bands is unnecessary. In the second passage, it is mentioned that the mechanical features of the core and facings make it possible to avoid the use of bands; and that the core, made of a hard material, provides strength to the periphery and thus a reliable stability of the fixation means.
What neither passage explicitly mentions is that the extension of the core up to the edge results in a reliable stability of the fixation means. This technical effect seems to be rather related to the nature of the core material.
The gold standard applied at the EPO for appraising the allowability of an amendment is whether the amendment can be directly and unambiguously derived from the application as filed as a whole. Here, the court noted that the drafting was “ambiguous“. Therefore, the outcome seems to be in keeping with the doctrine of the Boards of appeal.
It should also come as a warning for patent proprietors who limit their claims in an attempt to overcome first instance revocation grounds. This is a very common strategy, but also one which may sometimes lead them somewhere between Scylla and Charybdis.
CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5 chambre 1, January 24, 2017, COFIM & Vincent Damour v. Breheret, RG No. 15/03652.