Useless drawings

If anyone still had a doubt that French courts have gotten really tough on extension of subject-matter, despite previous indications to this effect (here, here, here and there), the present post may come as a final confirmation.

The patent which was revoked this time is EP 1215336, in the name of Paper Machinery Technology Italia SpA (or PMT Italia) – as first reported on this French blog. As the name of the company suggests, the patent relates to a machine for manufacturing paper.

PMT Italia sued French Alps-based ABK Machinery for infringement of the patent in February 2012. The defendant lodged a nullity counterclaim which was successful, according to a judgment from the Paris Tribunal de grande instance dated May 7, 2014.

PMT Italia appealed. The appeal proceedings were suspended between January 2015 and June 2016, as ABK Machinery went bankrupt, before resuming in the presence of the court-appointed liquidator. On October 7, 2016, the Cour d’appel confirmed the first instance judgment.

Claim 1 of the patent as granted reads as follows:

A counterblade assembly (10) for a wet section (1) of a paper machine, comprising a fixed structure (13) fixed to a frame (5) of the machine; a counterblade (9) connected to said fixed structure (13) and movable, with respect to it, by actuating means (25) to exert pressure on two wires (2, 3) travelling between said counterblade (9) and a guide surface (8) along a substantially horizontal traveling path (P); and connecting means (22) interposed between said counterblade (9) and said fixed structure (13), characterized in that said connecting means (22) are articulated-parallelogram type connecting means and include a plurality of articulated rod elements (16) hinged to said fixed structure (13) and to said counterblade (9) about respective horizontal axes (A, B) perpendicular to said travelling path (P).

In the above paragraph, expressions in bold are those which were added relative to claim 1 as filed.

This modification was introduced by the applicant in response to the sole communication from the examining division during examination proceedings. Here is what the representative wrote in the letter to the EPO regarding compliance with Art. 123(2) EPC:

The added feature in the claim is at least implicitly disclosed in the description as originally filed (page 5, second paragraph) and clearly and unambiguously disclosed in the drawings (figs. 2 and 4). Therefore, the amendment does not contravene art. 123(2) EPC. However, an explicit support has been added in amended sheet 5 of the description.

[…]

Amended drawings 1 and 2 are also filed, with added reference signs for axes A, B and added reference signs P1, P2 in fig. 1.

Therefore, although an implicit support for claim 1 was supposed to be present in the application as filed, it appeared necessary to modify the description and drawings to make the support more explicit.

Clearly, the court was not very fond of this approach.

The judges started by looking at the modified paragraph of the description, which reads as follows:

More specifically, each connecting assembly 22 comprises two pairs of elements 16 located on opposite sides of post 15 and bar 21, and each defined by two parallel elements 16 extending in a substantially horizontal direction. Each element has one end 16a hinged to post 15, and one end 16b hinged to bar 21 about respective horizontal axes A, B that are perpendicular to the traveling path P of wires 2, 3.

Again, the underlined phrase corresponds to the addition relative to the application as filed.

Says the court:

The respondent rightly notes that, in the original application, nothing taught the skilled person […] about the orientation that the articulation axes should have, namely a position perpendicular to the direction of travel of the wires, for implementing the invention as recited in the claim as amended during examination proceedings. 

Indeed, the paragraph relied upon […] does not contain nor suggest any information on this orientation which was precisely set at 90° during examination proceedings, and the appellant wrongly claims that it is implicitly disclosed. 

Quite frankly, I have not fully studied the application, but the above assessment seems to make a lot of sense. The original paragraph at stake was simply silent on the orientation of the articulation axes.

The next step in the court’s reasoning is probably more controversial, though. Indeed, the court stated that Figures 2 and 4 of the original application as filed could not possibly be relied upon

insofar as the implicit disclosure from the above-mentioned second paragraph on page 5 cannot be acknowledged; the drawings are optional, they are meant to supplement the description which is the only one which is mandatory, since it is not possible to protect something which is claimed without being described (so as to interpret it), and not the other way around.

It seems that the court introduced a hierarchy between the description and drawings (because the presence of a description is mandatory whereas drawings can very well be omitted). According to this hierarchy, the drawings could not be used as the sole support for a claim amendment.

There can certainly be valuable arguments for this approach, but it is contrary to the case law of the Boards of appeal, per which drawings are “to be treated on an equal footing with the other parts of the application” (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office, 8th edition, July 2016, section II.E.1.12.1, p.453).

It is in fact also contradictory with earlier case law from the Cour d’appel itself. Indeed, at least in a judgment Knauf Insulation v. Saint-Gobain Isover dated May 16, 2014, the court accepted that a certain claimed feature could be derived from the drawing figures of the application as filed.

In the present case, the stricter standard applied made all the difference, because it seems that the perpendicular orientation of the axes recited in claim 1 of the granted patent with respect to the traveling path P was indeed visible on the drawings.

This does not imply that the amendment was necessarily allowable by the Boards of Appeal’s standards, though. Indeed, according to the latter, “the EPC does not prohibit the amendment of claims to include features from drawings, provided the structure and the function of such features were clearly, unmistakably and fully derivable from the drawings by the skilled person and not at odds with the other parts of the disclosure. Nor could any element be dropped” (Ibid.). A thorough analysis would thus be necessary to come to a conclusion -which was not performed by the court.

Sometimes drawings are the crux of a patent
Sometimes drawings are the crux of a patent

There are two different ways of looking at this, a pessimistic one and an optimistic one.

The pessimistic view is that the court made an error of law by conflating support of the claims in the description and extension of subject-matter, or in other terms Art. 84 EPC and Art. 123(2) EPC. Indeed, Art. 84 EPC, which was explicitly cited in the decision, provides that the claims “shall be clear and concise and be supported by the description“. Note: “by the description“, the law says, and not “by the description and/or the drawings“.

But non-compliance with Art. 84 EPC is not a ground for revocation of a granted patent. Only non-compliance with Art. 123(2) EPC is (see Art. 138(1)(c) EPC). And the latter broadly makes reference to “the content of the application as filed“, without distinguishing between the original description, claims and drawings. In summary, according to this pessimistic view, the court had it all wrong.

But there is a more optimistic view, which is that the court in fact made a thorough assessment of the application as filed, and came to the conclusion that, in this particular case, the amendment could not possibly be justified by the drawings.

The reasoning is not sufficiently explicit to definitively exclude one of these two views, but the optimistic one can be supported by the following statements in the judgment.

First, the court noted that the description makes it clear that variations can be made relative to what is depicted in the drawings. If my understanding is correct, the added feature was therefore considered by the judges as a non-essential, or even unimportant one, in view of the original disclosure, so that the skilled person would not have isolated it from the disclosure to include it in the main claim.

Second, the court emphasized that the applicant heavily relied on the added feature during examination proceedings in support of inventive step. For the court, “the new claim brings a technical contribution to the invention, it does not merely correspond to a reformulation of the technical problem and of its solution which could be deduced from the overall content of the application as filed“.

Again, trying to translate what is meant there, the point is the added feature completely changes the problem at stake and its solution. As this change was not derivable from the original application, the addition is unallowable.

In summary, if the optimistic view is correct, the analysis made by the French judges may not be that different from the analysis that a Board could have made, after all.

Anyway, claim 1 was held invalid. The same applied to dependent claims 2-7, quite easily so as the patentee did not develop any specific argumentation to defend these claims.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5 chambre 2, October 7, 2016, Paper Machinery Technology Italia SpA v. SA ABK Machinery, RG No. 14/16544.

In the patentee’s shoes

It is not always easy to be in the patentee’s shoes – as today’s decision will confirm again. In fact, patent proprietors and alleged infringers are not on a equal footing, since the latter need only prevail on one defense, while the former must thwart all possible challenges in order to win the case. And this is all the more difficult when the patent gets off on the wrong foot at the examination stage.

As readers may have guessed based on the lexical field of the first paragraph of this post, today’s decision is concerned with the footwear industry.

French company Exten.S owns European patent No. EP 1383402 directed to a sole for a shoe. Together with its exclusive licensee Eram (a well-known shoe distributor), Exten.S sued a Spanish company called Calzados Hergar for infringement of the patent in France.

On November 25, 2008, the Paris Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) revoked claims 1 to 4 of the French part of the European patent – as requested in the defendant’s counterclaim. The judgment was confirmed by the Cour d’appel on October 27, 2010. An appeal on a point a law was submitted to the Cour de cassation, and on January 31, 2012 the court set aside the appeal judgment. The patentee waited almost two years before reinstating the case in front of the Cour d’appel, which finally leads us to the judgment discussed today, which is dated April 8, 2016.

So this is a long story which could probably have been much shorter. Indeed:

  • The TGI originally revoked claims 1 to 4 due to extension of subject-matter.
  • The Cour d’appel fully agreed in 2010.
  • The Cour d’appel still fully agreed in 2016.

In the meantime, Exten.S and Eram regained hope with the 2012 ruling of the Cour de cassation. However, the first appeal judgment was set aside on purely procedural grounds. It turns out that some exhibits filed by the claimants had been discarded by the court (because they were in a foreign language), although they should not have, said the supreme court, because partial translations were in fact provided. So, the supreme court did not look at the merits of the case, which is why it was relatively straightforward for the Cour d’appel to copy and paste its first judgment upon remittal…

Let’s now examine why the subject-matter of the patent was found to have been extended in an unallowable manner relative to the contents of the application as filed.

According to the introduction of the patent, the invention relates to a sole of a shoe making it possible for different foot widths to be fitted easily. Usually shoes are manufactured with a width chosen by the manufacturer, which does not vary as a function of the width of the wearer’s foot. It is also known how to adapt to several foot widths by manufacturing an upper part in elastic material, but without being able to enlarge the lower part in contact with the sole. The purpose of the invention was to remedy these disadvantages.

Claims 1 and 2 of the (PCT) application as filed accordingly read as follows:

1. Extensible sole for shoes of the type where the rigid sole base is glued onto the edges of the upper, characterized in that said base is glued or molded on an insert, which is transversally mounted in an extensible manner, between the gluing zones of said base and said upper.

2. Extensible shoe according to claim 1, characterized in that it comprises at least one insert provided with protrusions in its lower surface, produced by molding a shape memory extensible material glued or injection welded on a rigid sole base, the forepart of which is provided with openings wherein protrusions are embedded, in a sealed way.

One half shoe, one quarter fur coat and one quarter Peruvian hat make a great invention.

One half shoe, one quarter fur coat and one quarter Peruvian hat make a great invention.

Claim 1 as granted was more or less obtained by combining original claims 1 and 2 – the important part of the sentence being of course “more or less“:

1. Extensible sole for shoes of the type where the rigid sole base is glued onto the edges of the upper, characterized in that said base comprises an insert, transversally extensible and provided with one or several protrusions in its lower surface, said insert being produced by molding a shape memory material and being glued or injection welded on said base, the forepart of said base being provided with one or several openings, wherein the protrusion or protrusions are embedded, in a sealed way.

The original wording of openings (plural) and protrusions (plural) was replaced by a broader language encompassing also a single opening and a single protrusion. Sadly for Exten.S, the court deemed that there was no support in the application as filed for such a broadening:

In the description of the PCT application […] it is recited, in relation with the base of the sole, “openings” (p.1 l.25), “the openings” (p.2 l.29 and 36 and p.3 l.1) and “openings” in claim 2. […] Claim 2 […] teaches the presence of openings in which the protrusions are embedded in a sealed way. Figures 1, 3 and 4 of this PCT application show several openings (reference 4), actually five, on the base of the sole, which match the number of protrusions. 

There was only one hint at a single opening in the text but it was considered to relate to a different embodiment:

[…] Although according to p.1 l.24 to p.2 l.1, “the deformable part of the forepart can be obtained by producing one or several longitudinal openings”, this passage relates to “other embodiments”, which is not challenged. Therefore, neither the description nor the claims or drawings of the PCT application mention the presence of a single opening in the base of the sole. 

It would probably have been useful to explain in the reasons for the decision why the context of this sentence was different from the context of granted claim 1, so that no generalization to one or several openings could be allowed – beyond the note on the wording “other embodiments” which can mean several things.

When briefly reviewing the PCT application, it did not immediately strike me why there should be an incompatibility between the option of the single opening and the other features of claim 1 as granted. But a more thorough review could lead to a different conclusion.

Another interesting line of defense based on implicit disclosure was brought up by the patentee and the licensee, also to no avail:

The appellants cannot claim that, since the protrusions cooperate with the openings, a single opening in the forepart of the base of the sole is implicitly disclosed, in view of a single passage of the description of the PCT application (p.1 l.19) per which “this extensible insert is flat on the upper face and provided with one or several protrusions on the lower face. These protrusions are intended to be set countersunk in the base of the sole”. Indeed, as already stated, the PCT application only discloses the presence of several openings and anyway the respondent rightly notes that the presence of a single protrusion in the insert does not necessarily imply the presence of a single opening in the base of the sole. 

This is tough, but very much in line with the criterion of direct and unambiguous disclosure applied at the EPO. If one protrusion does not necessarily equate with one opening, then there is insufficient support in the original PCT application for claim 1 as granted. Even though it might be obvious for the skilled person to come up with the idea of “one opening“, obviousness or equivalents should not come into play in this analysis.

Finally, another ground of extension of subject-matter was entertained by the court, which I have to say is more difficult to understand:

It should additionally be noted that, according to claim 1 of the PCT application, the base of the sole is glued or molded on an insert, but this feature cannot be found in claim 1 of the patent in suit as granted […] according to which, to the contrary, “said insert […] is glued or injection welded on said base” and the insert “is […] mounted between the gluing zones of said base and said upper”.

Basically this is a case of impermissible deletion of an essential feature. But it is stated in a confusing way in the ruling. My two cents is that the deletion of the term “glued or molded” is not really objectionable as claim 1 still requires that the insert be glued or injection welded on the base. And in fact this wording is from original claim 2 and thus seems to correspond to a particular embodiment of the “glued or molded” general statement in original claim 1.

On the other hand, there may indeed be an issue because the feature “mounted between the gluing zones of said base and said upper” no longer appears in claim 1 as granted – although, again, the ruling is not crystal clear in this respect.

All in all, the present decision, which fully confirms two previous similar decisions on the same patent, comes as a further reminder (if needed) that French courts tend to be very strict nowadays in their appraisal of extension of subject-matter: see other examples here, here and there.

The EPO has had the reputation of being the toughest forum for the appraisal of added matter, but there now seems to be some competition in France.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5, chambre 2, April 8, 2016, Exten.S & Eram v. Calzados Hergar, RG. No. 14/00580.

Longitudinal vs. roughly longitudinal: same difference?

The third and last one of the series of posts on how French courts seem to have gotten stricter on extension of subject-matter is dedicated to a dispute between two French truck manufacturers, Chéreau and Frappa. The former sued the latter for infringement of two European patents concerning buffers mounted at the rear end of the vehicle chassis.

Once again, both patents (one of which had gone through and survived opposition proceedings at the EPO) were revoked by the Paris TGI for extension of subject-matter.

Of these two revocations, one was based on a relatively typical reasoning of intermediate generalization: some features were taken from the description and imported into claim 1, and the court decided that it was not allowable to isolate these features from the others with which it was originally disclosed in combination.

The other revocation is more remarkable. The file wrapper of the patent can be found here. Claim 1 as filed related to a vehicle chassis comprising, inter alia, a thrust element. Claim 2 as filed specified that the thrust element was a thrust arm with roughly longitudinal mobility relative to the chassis. In claim 1 as granted, the thrust element was restricted to a thrust arm with longitudinal mobility relative to the chassis. In case you have not noticed, the term “roughly” disappeared in the process, and this turned out to bring about the demise of the patent.

At first sight, the amendment may look like pretty innocuous. In fact, examiners often protest against the presence of vague adverbs such as “roughly”, “approximately” and the like in patent claims, and they regularly request that the applicant should get rid of them before grant. This is hardly ever seen as an issue at all from the added matter standpoint.

So, in the present case, if there was support in the original disclosure for “roughly” longitudinal mobility, why wasn’t there any support for longitudinal mobility as such? In order to understand this, one needs to have a closer look at the application as filed, which contained only one detailed embodiment of the displacement of the thrust arm.

According to this embodiment, the thrust arm rotates around an axis by a few degrees, and this is said to be tantamount to a longitudinal displacement. This comment is quite understandable because, if you zoom in on a portion of a circle, it looks pretty much like a straight line (if my math memories are correct, this is what they call a first order approximation).

In the light of the description, the term “roughly longitudinal” in original claim 2 was therefore interpreted by the court as actually referring to a pivotal movement. By deleting the adverb “roughly”, this was changed to a truly longitudinal movement, but such change was not properly supported by the application as filed.

Quoting from the judgment:

“By omitting the adverb ‘roughly’, Chéreau can argue that claim 1 covers any longitudinal displacement and no longer only a rotation displacement of the thrust arms.

Departing from the roughly longitudinal displacement corresponding to a rotation of a few degrees mentioned in the description, claim 1 covers the longitudinal mobility of the thrust arms by the deletion of the adverb ‘roughly’”.

So, paradoxically, by specifying that the displacement is longitudinal and not just “roughly longitudinal“, the applicant had shifted the scope of protection to claim an aliud. The innocuous-looking amendment was therefore not so innocuous after all.

An example of a pivotal arm having a roughly longitudinal displacement.
An example of a pivotal arm having a roughly longitudinal displacement.

Now, having reporting on this third recent example of added matter ruling, I would certainly be interested in knowing what readers think about this general approach which to me is very reminiscent of EPO practice. Is such harmonization to be welcome? Or are French judges being more Catholic than the pope?


CASE REFERENCE: Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 3ème chambre, 4ème section, SAS Jean Chéreau v. SAS Frappa, November 6, 2014, RG No. 12/10879.

Art.123(2) EPC – what else?

As a second installment in the story of how French courts seem to have gotten tougher on extension of subject-matter, I would like to say a few words on our local share of the much commented upon Nespresso IP saga (see e.g. here).

Of the two European patents of the same family that the patentee Nestec and its licensee Nespresso France asserted against several defendants, one (let’s call it the divisional patent) was revoked by a Board of appeal of the EPO, for… well, extension of subject-matter. The other one, namely the parent patent (EP 1646305), went unopposed. But the patent proprietor filed a request for national limitation at the French patent office – in parallel to the ongoing infringement suit. It is therefore the patent as limited in France that was held invalid by the court.

Claims 1 to 9 of the patent as limited are directed to a device for the extraction of a capsule provided with a collar. Claim 10 is directed to the device of claim 6 and a capsule in combination, and it further specifies that the capsule is frustoconical and is asymmetric with respect to the plane of the collar.

The court found that the subject-matter of the EP’305 patent as limited unallowably extends beyond the contents of the application as filed for three different reasons.

How coffee was made before Mr. Clooney
How coffee was made before Mr. Clooney got involved

The first one is the feature of the capsule being provided with a collar. The application as filed does disclose a coffee capsule provided with a collar but, said the court, only specific capsules of this kind, namely those described in a prior art document EP 0512148, as opposed to any capsule with a collar. The capsules disclosed in EP’148 are asymmetric, frustoconical, and the collar is situated on the larger end of the cone.

If it is true that the capsules in question are not directly described in this application, it remains that the reference that it contains to the ‘148 patent must be taken into account so as to understand which capsules are meant.

As the defendants rightly point out, this ‘148 patent discloses capsules, made of a soft material, of a frustoconical […] shape, with the collar present on the larger end of the frustum.

Now, the patent as limited does not reproduce these specifications in its claim 1, since it simply describes a capsule with a collar, without mentioning its shape nor the position of this collar.

It is true that, as noted by Nespresso, claim 10 expressly recites that the capsule comprises a collar and an extraction face, and that it is frustoconical. However, this claim does absolutely not mention the position of the collar, and there is no indication that it is located on the larger end of the frustum, whereas it can also be located elsewhere, for instance on the smaller end or also in the middle of the capsule. This omission, which causes the patent as limited to protect a collar which is less specific than the one deriving from the reference made in the patent as filed to the ‘148 patent, is such that it has a scope of protection which is more extended than the initial protection.

This is an extension beyond the application, which as a consequence invalidates claims 1 and 10 of the patent in suit.

Although the expression is not used here, this is a finding of intermediate generalization: during examination proceedings and post-grant limitation, the patentee isolated some features relating to the capsule that is to be used with the device of the invention, without taking the full picture of said capsule. But what is more original here is that the omitted features were not expressly recited in the application as filed. In fact, this is an intermediate generalization relative to the contents of a prior art document cited in the application – in other words a prior art document which the court has considered as being incorporated by reference in the application.

I will skip the second reason for invalidating the patent, which is probably less interesting in the context of this post, and instead I will then turn to the third reason.

As mentioned above, claim 10 relates to a device for the extraction of a capsule plus the capsule itself, in combination. So, this looks like a kit claim. The original set of claims did not contain any such kit claim, but only device claims. The defendants argued that the addition of the kit claim conferred an undue advantage to the patentee and offended legal certainty for third parties, while the patentee’s case was that the application as filed contained a detailed description of how the device interacts with the capsule, so that third parties reading this application should have expected that a kit claim could be later added. Again, the court sided with the defendants:

However, when carefully reading the application as originally filed, it is obvious that this was then only a device patent, describing and protecting “a device for extracting a capsule, as well as the machine comprising this device”, wherein the capsule appeared only in a minimal way, so as to state how it was arranged and how it was extracted, but it was never, as mentioned above, really described for what it was, the only details that were provided being that the capsule was “asymmetric with respect to its collar” and that it could be “of any type”.

[…]

Thus, this is again obviously an extension beyond the application purporting to protect capsules which were not protected before, and the fact that the interaction between the device and the capsules was described did not have the effect at that time to protect these capsules as much as they have been since the grant and even more so since the limitation.

As rightly put by the defendants, this extension cannot be portrayed as insignificant, since it is precisely what makes it possible for the plaintiffs to sue them for infringement today, blaming them for marketing such capsules.

This is an interesting situation because, to some extent, it could be argued that the notion of “combination” between a device and a capsule did not add any new technical information relative to a thorough description of how the device interacts with the capsule. Nevertheless, the court found that the combination claim dramatically altered the subject-matter of the patent, and its potential use against third parties, by making the capsules themselves part of the invention.

In its “limiting feature” decision G1/93, the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO held that:

With regard to Article 123(2) EPC, the underlying idea is clearly that an applicant shall not be allowed to improve his position by adding subject-matter not disclosed in the application as filed, which would give him an unwarranted advantage and could be damaging to the legal security of third parties relying on the content of the original application.

It seems that the TGI took the same view that legal security of third parties is a paramount concern when examining compliance of a patent with Article 123(2) EPC. As bitter as that coffee may be for some, going back to the raison d’être of this rule (which is undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of the European patent system) before applying it to the facts of the case does make a lot of sense.


CASE REFERENCE: Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 3ème chambre, 2ème section, Nestec et al. v. Cafés Folliet et al., October 3, 2014, RG No. 10/10179.

Gumming up a patent

Based on a number of judgments issued in France over the last couple of years, it seems that there has been a new trend towards the invalidation of patents due to extension of subject-matter. I have a feeling that, not so long ago, this used to be a ground of revocation that no one really took seriously outside of the EPO. And especially so in France, where there has been a long standing tradition of judges looking more closely at the description of a patent than at its claims, and coming up with their own definition of what the invention really is about, notwithstanding the exact wording used in the claims.

But as a famous singer once said, the times they are a-changin’, which brings us to the invalidation proceedings initiated by Normandy-based company Nexira against the British and Japanese owners of European patent EP 1611159. The patent relates to a modified gum arabic from Acacia senegal (that’s the scientific name of the tree from which the gum is collected). This gum can notably be used as an emulsifier in food products.

The main claim of the patent reads as follows:

A water-soluble modified gum arabic from Acacia senegal, having a weight average molecular weight of not less than 0.9 million Da or an arabinogalactan protein content of not less than 17 weight %, and an RMS-radius of gyration of 42.3 to 138 nm, obtainable by heating unmodified gum arabic at 110°C for not less than 15 hours, wherein the weight average molecular weight, arabinogalactan protein content, and RMS-radius of gyration are obtained by processing the data obtained by subjecting the modified gum arabic to a GPC-MALLS using software ASTRA version 4.5 and wherein said data for the whole peaks in the chromatogram obtained using an RI detector are processed as two peaks, the two peaks being divided into the eluted fraction of high molecular weight components containing the arabinogalactan protein of the gum arabic which eluted first and the eluted fraction of low molecular weight components which eluted at a later time, wherein the arabinogalactan protein content corresponds to the obtained recovery ratio of the peak of the eluted fraction of high molecular weight components which eluted first.

The crux of the discussion was the feature of the radius of gyration. The range of 42.3 to 138 nm was not disclosed per se in the application as filed; but the end values of the range were disclosed in the context of two respective examples.

The judgment does not explicitly refer to the case law of the Boards of appeal of the EPO. But there can be little doubt that the court relied on it, since they called this situation a case of “intermediate generalization”, which is typical EPO parlance. What is more, the standard put forward by the court for determining whether the intermediate generalization is admissible or not closely matches the test routinely applied in Munich. Said the court:

It is possible to generalize a range of values from an example, but such intermediate generalization is only admissible under Art. 123(2) EPC if the skilled person can deduce without any doubt from the application as filed that these features are not closely linked to other features of the embodiment, but that they directly and unambiguously apply to the more general context.

In order for this intermediate generalization to be admissible, it must result from the non-ambiguous information that the skilled person would derive by reading the example and the content of the application as filed.

Taking into account the whole content of the application, determining whether features isolated from the examples are closely tied to other features or not, and using direct and unambiguous derivability as a threshold: all European patent attorneys are familiar with these principles, as they are cornerstones of the assessment of extension of subject-matter by the Boards of appeal.

In the Nexira case, the outcome of the Court’s appraisal was negative:

In the present case, the skilled person could not deduce, without any doubt, when reading the international application, that these features, taken from two embodiment examples based on gum arabic having particular dimensions and composition, are not closely linked to other features of these embodiment examples, and directly and unambiguously apply to the more general context.

As a result, the addition of this range of radius of gyration RMS in claim 1 of the EP’159 patent whereas it was not in claim 1 of the international application, shows an extension of its subject-matter beyond the initial application.

How do you write "gum" in Arabic?
How do you write “gum” in Arabic?

Strictly speaking, it would have been interesting to get more detailed explanations in the decision as to why the radius of gyration in the examples should be viewed as being specific to the samples in question. One can also wonder about the relationship between the range of the radius of gyration and the other parameters recited in the main claim, such as the molecular weight, the protein content and the product-by-process features.

The question of who primarily has the burden of proof in this respect (the plaintiff or the defendant-patent proprietor) is also an interesting one which is not clearly addressed in the judgment –  as there was probably no reason for addressing it.

Anyway, the outcome of the case should not come as a real surprise: it is a risky gamble indeed to take values from an example section of a patent application and insert them into a claim. If the patent at stake had been subjected to opposition proceedings, chances are it would probably have faced a hard Art. 100(c) EPC challenge. The patent proprietors were lucky enough not to be faced with an opposition; but not lucky enough to get their patent tried by a court insensitive to EPO traditional case law.

This situation stands in sharp contrast with other French cases previously discussed here and here, where major deviations from EPO case law were observed, in connection with the issue of patent eligibility.


CASE REFERENCE: Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 3ème chambre, 4ème section, Nexira v. San-Ei Gen FFI Inc. et al., May 28, 2015, RG No. 12/11963.