A light ruling

The case discussed today is not a light case of patent infringement. Nor is it a case of light patent infringement. It is rather a case of patent infringement regarding light technology, namely LED-based lamps emitting light in multiple colors.

The litigation at stake pits Philips Light North America Corporation against France-based Commerce Spectacle Industrie (CSI).

This is a multifaceted dispute, but the prong of the litigation of interest to us today is Philips’ infringement claim against CSI based on the French part of European patent No. EP 1016062, and CSI’s counterclaim for revocation.

As a one sentence summary, the Paris Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) held that the patent was valid but that infringement was not sufficiently proven.

For once, let’s start with the infringement part of the decision.

Claim 1 of the patent as maintained in amended form in opposition proceedings at the EPO reads as follows:

An illumination apparatus comprising:
– a plurality of light emitters of at least two different colours adapted to be coupled to a power circuit including a power source and a common potential reference;
– driver means for driving the plurality of light emitters, the driver means comprising at least two switches connected to the plurality of light emitters and said power circuit and corresponding to respective current paths of the at least two different colour light emitters;
– a controller for periodically and independently opening and closing the at least two switches, the controller having an alterable address assigned to itself such as to identify and respond to a respective portion of an input data stream assigned thereto, which data stream portion is assigned to that controller;
– each light emitter being an LED; and
– said controller being arranged to generate a plurality of PWM signals, the PWM signals having uniform frequency, each signal corresponding to a respective colour of the plurality of LEDs of different colours, each said PWM signal causing a respective one of the at least two switches to be opened and closed at the uniform frequency according to respective independent duty cycles, and wherein said data stream portion comprises data for determining the respective duty cycles of the at least two different colour LEDs.

An enlightening invention.

Philips’ case primarily relied on experimental tests conducted on the allegedly infringing lamps by an expert appointed by them.

CSI criticized the report drafted by the expert. One major criticism was that Philips’ expert had used an oscilloscope for the experimental tests, without following the procedure set out in the instruction manual for this apparatus. In particular, the expert’s report did not show that the oscilloscope had been preheated for 30 minutes as recommended in the manual, and that a proper calibration had been performed.

CSI added that there were a number of loopholes in Philips’ demonstration, namely that “the expert report does not mention a periodic opening and closing of the switches, that [Philips] does not show how the current paths are and does not establish the presence of respective current paths […], that they never show how a switch would be connected to the diodes“.

Did the court see the light, readers are probably wondering?

Of course the answer depends whose side you are on, but the court did find that CSI’s criticisms had merit:

For each product, [Philips] relies on measures made with an oscilloscope, the conditions of use of which are not specified in the expert report […], although it is true that the instruction manual [….] notably requires a preheating of at least 30 minutes and a calibration before each use so as to allow optimal measurements […]. These basic precautions were not taken, so that the measurements obtained are necessarily suspect. It cannot be understood how the absence of a calibration could have no impact on the shape or (supposedly uniform) frequency of the signals, nor how the absence of preheating would not affect the measurements. The [alleged] continuous use [of the oscilloscope] for all measurements after the first one, which cannot be determined in the absence of any timing information in the report, and which cannot be derived from the order of the annexes which does not necessarily reflect the order of the operations, is not proven and may not compensate for a possible original malfunction.

Frankly, I am not sure what to make of all this.

On the one hand, we all remember from our science classes that calibration is not just for window-dressing. Did the expert proceed according to accepted practice or not? If the report is silent on this, the defendant and the judges cannot know for sure.

But on the other hand, any experimental report can always, always, be criticized for some choices that were made in the setup, or some omissions in the report itself.

Therefore, wouldn’t it be reasonable to consider that, if one party has taken the trouble of conducting experimental trials to prove its case, and if the other party wants to challenge the results of the trials, this other party should also make the effort of conducting counter trials – instead of simply pointing to potential loopholes?

Well, at any rate it does not look like this is the approach followed in France. The infringement plaintiff has the burden of fully proving the existence of the infringement, and the burden does not shift to the defendant by providing evidence which is anything short of bullet-proof.

That said, it seems that in the present case the demonstration of infringement was incomplete anyway, irrespective of the credibility of the expert’s report. And this would have been by itself sufficient to throw out the infringement claim – although the judgment does not contain many details:

Assuming that these measurements were sufficient, they would demonstrate an independent command of colors, but not the existence of “respective current paths” […], i.e. paths related to each light source, since independence does not per se imply an exclusive assignment. And the diagrams supplied for each product only show one light source, which prohibits any appraisal of the “respective” character of the current paths. 

Philips’ solace was that the patent was found to be valid. CSI had only raised lack of inventive step as a ground of nullity.

As a confirmation of a now well-established trend, the court followed the problem and solution approach for assessing inventive step – primarily because the parties themselves used this reasoning.

Here is the court’s summary of the appraisal to be conducted:

Since the parties, at least primarily, apply the non-mandatory “problem/solution” approach, it will be adopted […] by the court. It requires, in order to allow an objective examination of the inventive step without hindsight: 

– objectively identifying the closest prior art, i.e. a prior art reference which discloses subject-matter developed for the same purpose or having the same goal as the claimed invention and essentially having similar technical features requiring few structural modifications, 

– assessing the technical results achieved by the claimed invention relative to this prior art, 

– defining the technical problem which the invention purports to solve by obtaining these technical results, 

– examining whether, in view of the closest prior art, the skilled in the art would or would not [have been] suggested with the claimed technical features to achieve the results obtained by the claimed invention. 

In brief, this quite closely matches the EPO’s beloved reasoning.

In the present case, the parties seemed to agree that there were two partial problems at stake. Here, again, the court relied on the EPO practice, even making reference to the Guidelines for examination:

As set out in section G-VII, 7 of the Guidelines for examination at the EPO, if the claimed invention is in principle considered as a whole, which excludes that the inventive step of a combination of features be appraised for each feature taken in isolation, such a separate appraisal is necessary if the claim is made of a juxtaposition of features, and not of their combination which implies that the functional interaction between them produces its own technical effect exceeding the sum of the technical effects that they individually produce, namely a synergy effect. 

Applying these principles to the EP’062 patent, the court focused on the first partial problem only, and found that some of the claimed features were in fact neither disclosed in the closest prior art, nor in the suggested secondary reference. Therefore, it was simply impossible to arrive at a conclusion of lack of inventive step. Besides, the rationale offered by CSI for combining the documents together did not take into account the technical problem at stake in the patent. And the respective prior art documents contained contradictory teaching.

All in all, there were thus several reasons to find the claim inventive, without even having to look at the second partial problem.


CASE REFERENCE: Tribunal de grande instance de Paris, 3ème chambre, 1ère section, November 16, 2017, Philips Lighting North America Corporation v. SAS Commerce Spectacle Industrie, RG No. 15/09326.

Weaker together?

Best wishes to all readers of this blog!

I am sure most of them have made their list of new year’s resolutions. Among those, there might be the resolution of keeping up to date with SPC case law. And this is one which can just as easily be dropped by the end of January as the resolution of going to the gym three times a week.

Luckily, Patent My French! is happy to oblige, courtesy of Lionel Vial. He reports below on an interesting recent decision illustrating one further way in which an SPC application can be derailed.

The appeal decision we discuss today was rendered by the Paris Cour d’appel on December 19, 2017 in a case of rejection of a supplementary protection certificate (SPC) application by the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI).

Was this decision an advance Christmas present for the appellant or rather a late visit from the Père Fouettard (aka Father Whipper)? This is what we are going to see.

Good old Indy – the best approximation of Père Fouettard that can be found in a patent.

French SPC application No. 14C0081, in the name of Medivir AB (bear in mind the name of the holder, it is important in the present case!), was filed on November 14, 2014, on the basis of European patent EP 1713823 and of marketing authorization (MA) No. EU/1/14/924. The MA is held by Janssen-Cilag International N.V. and is for simeprevir (Olysio®), a medicinal product indicated for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.

According to the decision (online file inspection is not available for this SPC), during the examination procedure, Medivir AB received a communication from the INPI, probably stating that it contemplated rejecting the application in view of co-pending SPC application No. 14C0076.

French SPC application No. 14C0076, held by Medivir AB and Janssen Sciences Ireland UC (here again, mind the name of the holders), was filed on October 7, 2014, on the basis of European patent EP 1912999 and of the same MA for the same product (i.e. simeprevir).

In response to the communication, Medivir AB requested a stay in the examination procedure of SPC application No. 14C0081 until a decision was rendered for co-pending SPC application No. 14C0076.

French SPC No. 14C0076 was then granted on July 28, 2015 and SPC application No. 14C0081 was rejected on January 13, 2017 on the ground that EU regulations 469/2009 (the pharmaceutical SPC regulation) and 1610/96 (the phytosanitary SPC regulation) forbid that several SPCs be granted to a same holder (Medivir AB) in regard of a same product (simeprevir). The INPI stressed that Medivir AB did not justify why the fact that it was a co-holder of SPC n°14C0076 would warrant the grant of a further protection (for SPC application No. 14C0081).

Medivir AB appealed the rejection decision on April 12, 2017 and notably argued that the holder of a first SPC as sole proprietor is a different entity from the co-holders, taken as a whole, of a second SPC, because the rights of a co-holder are under the control of the other holders, and that it is of no importance in this regard that the sole proprietor of the first SPC is also a co-holder of the second SPC.

The INPI responded that a holder of several patents on the same product cannot have several SPCs granted for the same product.

The INPI stated that, according to the case law of the CJEU, several SPCs can be granted for a same product on the basis of several patents, provided the patent holders are different (see e.g. C-181/95 Biogen and C‑482/07 AHP). In the present case, Medivir AB having already been rewarded by the grant of SPC No. 14C0076, a second SPC cannot be granted to it.

The time has now come to open the Christmas present. Will it be a shiny SPC or a dreadful whip? Let’s see what the Court had to say:

Medivir has made the choice to team up with Janssen Ireland UC to commonly develop patent EP 1912999 and, even though Medivir knew of the difficulties associated with applying for two SPCs on the same products, it chose to favor the application based on patent EP 1912999, of which it is a co-holder, over the application based on patent EP 1713823.

Co-ownership of patent EP 1912999 does not prevent it from being worked by Medivir, pursuant to Article L. 613-29 of the Code de la propriété intellectuelle [on the co-ownership of patent applications and patents].

As such, in view of the choices made by Medivir, co-holder of patent EP 1912999 which forms the basis for a SPC, it cannot apply for another SPC for the same product on the basis of patent EP 1712823 of which it is the sole holder.

Accordingly, its appeal will be rejected.

Well, a whip it is then!

To sum up, the Court decided that when considering ownership of an SPC or SPC application, the different holders of a same SPC or SPC application should not be considered as a single entity but individually.

Although this decision may appear to be in line with recent case law of the CJEU stressing that a patent holder should not be afforded a compensation for the delay to the commercial exploitation of his invention by providing him with an additional period of exclusivity when he was already afforded one (see e.g. C‑443/12 Irbesartan, paragraph 40), it does not appear entirely coherent to us.

Indeed, as was noted by Medivir AB during the appeal proceedings, if the same reasoning was applied to a situation where the SPC No. 14C0081 had first been granted to Medivir AB alone, it would have probably led to the rejection of SPC application No. 14C0076, thereby depriving Janssen Sciences Ireland UC of the right to be compensated for the delay to the commercial exploitation of its invention.

That is, unless the Court would have considered that the situation was different and called for another appraisal because Janssen Sciences Ireland UC did not have the possibility to choose between two SPC applications.

In any case, considering that (i) Medivir AB and (ii) Medivir AB + Janssen Sciences Ireland UC are different patent holders appears to be a more coherent solution to conciliate the principles that SPC protection should be made available to different patent holders in regard of a same product on the one hand, and that SPC protection should not be made available more than once for a same patent holder in regard of a same product on the other hand.

It is to be noted that in the Netherlands both corresponding SPCs have been granted.

In the meantime, before the situation above eventually gets clarified in France, it is advised to avoid such ownership configurations.

In this regard, for the sake of a witty conclusion, a mechanism could be imagined whereby Medivir AB’s SPC application No. 14C0081 would have been assigned to a third party under an agreement granting an exclusive license to Medivir AB. Looking for such a third party, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe would appear to be just the right candidate to consider…

As always, thank you Lionel for this report.

I guess the other side of the coin is that, if the Cour d’appel had ruled in favor of Medivir, it might then have been possible to circumvent the prohibition of several SPCs to the same holder by putting together various co-ownership agreements.

Definitely a thorny issue then, which means that it will end up in front of the CJEU sooner or later.

By the way, did the CJEU also make some new year’s resolutions to make SPC law more simple and predictable for everyone? For sure, we will soon find out.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, Pôle 5 chambre 1, December 19, 2017, Medivir AB v. Directeur Général de l’Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle, RG No. 17/07741.