Delta Patents

T 2456/12 & T 0059/13 - Interpretation by the skilled persion

Delta Patents Patent Law -

In two recent decisions in opposition appeal, the Board addressed how the skilled person interprets the claims. In interpreting the claims for assessing novelty and inventive step, the Board refers to established case law and emphasizes that "the patent must be construed by a mind willing to understand, not a mind desirous of misunderstanding" and that "the skilled person should try with synthetical propensity, to arrive at an interpretation which is technically sensible and takes into account the whole of the disclosure of a patent". 
T 2456/12 

Summary of Facts and Submissions

[...]

VIII. The appellant argued essentially as follows:

The invention as set out in independent claims 1 and 19 concerned a temperature-sensing field device comprising a wireless communication module and an energy conversion module. The energy conversion module converted thermal energy into electricity to power the field device. The field device provided a temperature indication based on the amount or quantity of electrical power converted, as set out in the description of the embodiment of figure 5B of the patent.

The opposition division considered the expression "the amount of electrical power" in the characterising part of claim 1 as not being unequivocally related to a measured value, and thus interpreted it as meaning the electricity itself, so that D4 (DE20107112) anticipated all of the features of claim 1.

This expression had however to be interpreted to mean a value, level, or quantity. This interpretation was evident from the claims, description and figures of the patent.

Furthermore, the pre-characterising part of claim 1 made use of the word "electricity" in the phrase "to convert thermal potential energy into electricity to power circuitry", while the characterising part of claim 1 used the words "electrical power" in the phrase "amount of electrical power converted is used to provide a temperature indication". The term "electricity" in the pre-characterizing part was indicative of a phenomenon whereas "electrical power" in the characterizing part indicated a measurable quantity. Both expressions "amount of" and "electrical power" in the characterising part of claim 1 related to a measure or quantification of the electricity, so that the claim had to be interpreted such that "amount of electrical power" referred to an amount or value, rather than the electricity itself.

The interpretation of claim 1 used by the opposition division was not in line with the invention as set out in the embodiment of the invention, as shown in figure 5B.

It was clear from figure 5A that separate energy converter and temperature sensor were present, because of the presence of the two items at the end of the thermowell 54 in figure 5A, each having separate reference numbers, and each having separate lines for connection to the electronics compartment of the field device.

It was however immediately apparent from figure 5B that only one device 72 was present at the end of the thermowell, and this device had only two lines providing signal and power (signal + power in the figure) to the electronics compartment 52 of the field device 70. From paragraphs [0013] and [0025] it was known that the device 70 was a temperature-sensing field device but with no separate temperature sensor. Given that the device 72 generated electricity related to the temperature to which it was exposed, the device 72 had to use some measure or assessment of the amount of electricity generated to provide the temperature indication. This was precisely the invention of claim 1.

The opposition division considered that claim 1 lacked novelty based on figure 1 of D4.

D4 disclosed a field device comprising a wireless communication module, an energy conversion module and a temperature sensor. The energy conversion module converted thermal energy into electrical energy to power a sensor and the wireless communication module.

D4 did not disclose or suggest that the "amount" (or numerical value, quantity) of electrical power converted by the energy conversion module was used to provide a temperature indication related to the thermal source. Using the correct interpretation of claim 1, wherein no sensor was required because the "temperature" related to the thermal source was derived from the value of the electrical power harvested, claim 1 was novel and inventive over D4.


Independent method claim 19 was correspondingly novel and inventive.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal is admissible.

2. Novelty (Article 54 EPC)

2.1 The opposition division considered the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request to be known from D4.

2.1.1 The first embodiment shown in figure 1 of document D4 is a field device reporting the temperature of a medium 3 flowing in a tube 2. It makes use of a temperature sensor 13 separate from the energy conversion module 14 (see D4, page 3, lines 17 to 19 and 29 to 32, and figure 1). Since the field device of the first embodiment of D4 does not carry out any operation other than reporting the temperature, the division concluded that the amount of energy converted by the conversion module, i.e. the thermo-elements 141, 142, could be seen as being totally provided to and used by the field device 1 to provide a temperature indication related to the thermal source.

2.1.2 Nevertheless, the board understands D4 as disclosing that the field device is provided with an energy storage element 15 constituted by either an accumulator or a high value, low loss capacitor (see D4, page 4, lines 22 to 26). The energy delivered by the thermo-elements 141-142 is first accumulated in the storage element 15 and then delivered to the field device.

The temperature reporting field device does not continuously report the temperature. The temperature is reported periodically. The energy used to power the field device at the instants during which the temperature needs be reported is provided by the storage element 15, which is able to deliver a higher amount of energy than the thermo-couple could deliver in the same given period of time (see D4, page 4, lines 28 to 31).

2.1.3 At point 12. v) of the grounds for decision, the opposition division, discussing the features of claim 1, referred to "the electrical connections in figure 1 (of D4), where the whole amount of converted thermopower from the thermoelements 141 and 142 is harvested" and considered therefore that the feature "the amount of electrical power converted by the energy conversion module is used to provide a temperature indication related to the thermal source" was known from D4.

Referring to D4, the opposition division also expressed the opinion that the amount of electrical power - either part of it or in its entirety - could be used to power the temperature sensor part of the field device and thus be used to provide the temperature indication (see last paragraph of item 12 of the grounds for decision).

2.1.4 The board understands on the other hand that in D4 the converted thermopower is not sufficient to power or supply the temperature sensor part of the field device, only the storage is able to deliver the necessary level of power. The expression of the opposition division "the whole amount of converted thermopower from the thermoelements 141 and 142 is harvested" should have therefore read: the whole amount of converted thermoenergy from the thermoelements 141 and 142 is harvested. Indeed the whole amount of energy delivered by the thermoelements of D4 is harvested to supply the field device of D4, which is the only device connected to the thermoelements 141, 142.

2.1.5 Thus, in order to reach its conclusion concerning lack of novelty, the opposition division interpreted the feature "an amount of electrical power" as meaning or being equivalent to "an amount of energy" or "an amount of electricity" to reuse the expression of the appellant.

2.1.6 However, in accordance with the established case law of the boards of appeal, when interpreting the claims, the person skilled in the art "should however try, with synthetical propensity, i.e. building up rather than tearing down, to arrive at an interpretation of the claim which is technically sensible and takes into account the whole disclosure of the patent. The patent must be construed by a mind willing to understand, not a mind desirous of misunderstanding" (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 8th edition 2016, Chapter II.A.6.1, page 287).

2.1.7 Thus, in the view of the board, and for the reasons mentioned by the appellant, a person skilled in the art would have immediately understood from the application as a whole that the expression "the amount of electricity" used in original claim 17 implied that the indicated temperature was a function of the amount of electrical power converted, and not that a part of the electrical power was used to supply a temperature sensor or indicator. The person skilled in the art would also not have interpreted the expression "amount of electricity" as an "amount of energy" since an energy is a power value measured and integrated over a certain time, while a temperature value is an instantaneous value like an electrical power value. The original expression "the amount of electricity" was consequently modified and introduced in granted claims 1 and 19 in the correct form: "the amount of electrical power".

2.1.8 Hence, the board concludes that the only possible interpretation of the contested features of the characterising portions of granted claims 1 and 19, is that a temperature indication is provided on the basis of the amount or quantity of electrical power converted by the energy conversion module 38.

2.1.9 This feature is not known from D4 and therefore the subject-matter of claims 1 and 19 of the main request is novel having regard to D4 (Article 54 EPC).


[...]

T 59/13

Summary of Facts and Submissions

[...]

VII. The respondent argues as follows:

The connection part defined in claim 1 should be interpreted as mainly having a structural function. Therefore the section depicted in figure 1 of E3 with a decreasing chord near the blade's root is not a connection part in the sense of claim 1, and thus the vortex generator is not provided in such a part. These vortex generators are furthermore attached on the suction side, and thus cannot hint to provide aerodynamic features on the pressure side as required in claim 1. None of the documents used to combine with E3, in particular E7, teaches to provide improvements to structural parts of a wind turbine blade. The gurney flaps disclosed therein are always located on aerodynamic profiles, and the skilled person does not learn that such a type of rib would increase the wind yield by providing it on a structural part.


In respect of the auxiliary request II the respondent argues that there was no occasion to file a further request, as the Board's communication did not raise any particular issues beyond those discussed in the previous proceedings. The discussion shed new light on the subject-matter and this was unexpected. The communication of the Board highlighted a different issue. The claim now makes it clearer that the rib is on the tube part of the connection part.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal is admissible.

2. Subject-matter of the invention, interpretation of claim 1

2.1 The patent seeks to increase the output of a wind turbine blade without prohibitively increasing costs and without decreasing the blade's strength. It does so by the provision of an angled rib on the pressure side of the blade in the connection part of that wind turbine blade, specification paragraphs [0005] and [0006].

In claim 1 as granted the connection part is defined as being provided at one end with connection means, for connection to the shaft/hub of a wind turbine and delimited at the other end by a wind-energy-absorbing profile which is optimized for the wind flow. Furthermore that connection part is provided with a member comprising a rib which is defined to project from the connection part and arranged at an angle from the pressure side as recited in the characterising portion.

2.2 According to established jurisprudence on claim interpretation, the skilled person should try with synthetical propensity, to arrive at an interpretation which is technically sensible and takes into account the whole of the disclosure of a patent (Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 8th edition, 2016, (CLBA) II.A.6.1). In this case the skilled person understands the "other end" of the connection part to be the one where the rotor blade starts to exhibit a substantially pure airfoil profile optimised for wind energy absorption. The particular shape and structure of the connection part is left undefined, and the skilled person knows that this may include various shapes ranging from a pure tubular part with a flange to a fully profiled shaped root. Therefore as interpreted from the claim's wording the connecting part merely represents the transition between the purely aerodynamic profile to an attachment ring or flange.

This otherwise clear interpretation on the basis of the wording of claim 1 or 9 itself is also supported by the description that specifies the term connection part in column 1, lines 50 to column 2, line 3, as meaning "that part of a blade that is optimized for the structure, and not so much optimized for the absorption of wind energy" and "compris[ing] the part beyond the maximum chord, in other words the part with decreasing or invariable chord". From the expression "not so much optimized" the skilled person infers that this connection part still can absorb wind energy to a certain degree. The connection part therefore comprises a transition area with mixed aerodynamic and structural properties.

Contrary to the respondent's opinion a limitation of the connection part to be one with a structural function only is neither inferred from the claim wording itself in the skilled person's understanding thereof, nor is it supported by what he gleans from the rest of the patent, in particular the above cited passage of the description.

2.3 In claims 1 and 9 the rib is defined with respect to that connection part as follows: " the connection part being provided with a member..., which member comprises a rib that projects from the connection part... said rib is arranged in a plane that forms an angle, which on the pressure side lies between 45° and 135° to the chordal plane of said wind-energy-absorbing profile."

Following established case law concerning the meaning of terms (CLBA, II.A.6.2) the fact that the connection part is "provided with" a member which "comprises" a rib does not exclude that this member or rib may also extend to another portion than the connection part of the same blade. This is indeed supported by the figures: Figure 1 shows a rib extending from a tubular portion on a trailing edge of an increasing chord portion; in Figure 3 shows the rib is provided on the tubular portion only, while in Figure 5, the rib extends on the whole length of the turbine blade, including the connection part.

3. Inventive step


3.1 The document E3 concerns a wind turbine blade with aerodynamic improving features in the form of vortex generators seeking to solve a similar technical problem and therefore represents a suitable starting point for the assessment of inventive step. Figure 1 of E3 depicts a wind turbine blade with vortex generators 3 and a connection portion. With the above understanding this connection portion includes the portion from the root referenced 12 in figure 4 to the aerodynamic portion in the region of the maximum chord as depicted in figure 1. It therefore includes the two lower vortex generators shown in figure 1 located in the transition portion from maximum chord, which indisputably must have a purely aerodynamic profile, to the lower end, where there will be no or little aerodynamic profile and which is most likely substantially cylindrical.

[...]

3.6 The respondent submits that the vortex generator depicted near the root portion of the rotor blade of E3 with decreasing chord are not provided on a connection part in the sense of claim 1 (or 9). Moreover these vortex generators are not located on the pressure side as defined in claim 1 but instead on the suction side of the blade. E7 teaches only to provide aerodynamic devices such as gurney flaps e on aerodynamic sections of a blade.

In the Board's opinion the connection part defined in claims 1 and 9 is not limited to merely having a structural function, see above. The area of the wind turbine blade with decreasing chord shown in figure 1 of E3, which has mixed aerodynamic and structural properties, is seen to be a connection part in the sense of claim 1. This connection part starts from the free end at the root and extends up to a portion located at or near the largest chord, in other words beyond the section in which the lower vortex generator is provided.


3.7 From the above it follows that the blade of a wind turbine of claim 1 and the corresponding method for producing a blade of claim 9 lack an inventive step in view of E3 in combination with the teaching of E7. Since the main request must fail on this sole ground, the Board does not need to decide on the other arguments put forward in respect of novelty or inventive step raised in respect of claims 1 and 9 of the main request.

[,...]

Decision T 2456/12 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T245612.20170602 . The file wrapper can be found here.  
Decision T 59/13 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T005913.20170428 . The file wrapper can be found here. 
Photo "mystery object 7 - all the frames overlaid on each other" by David DeHetre obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).

T 519/12 Technical standard similar to common general knowledge?

Delta Patents Patent Law -

Using common general knowledge as a secondary document in the problem-solution approach usually requires a bit less argumentation compared to using a normal publication, e.g. it needs hardly to be argued why such content would be consulted. In this decision, the Board seems to take a similar approach for a technical standard (in this case on credit cards). 

Catchwords: It is expected from the skilled person that he would exercise his skills in the framework of technical Standards in force in his field of activity. No inventive activity can thus be derived from a feature that simply reflects the content of such a technical prescription (cf. point 3.5).


Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The examining division refused European patent application No. 08 165 790.

In its decision, the examining division held that the subject-matter of independent claims 1 and 13 of the main request then pending was not inventive in the sense of Art. 56 EPC 1973 in view of document WO-A-2006/081385 (D1). The examining division further held that independent claims 1 and 13 of the first and second auxiliary requests then pending defined added subject-matter contrary to the requirements of Art. 123(2) EPC.

II. The appellant (applicant) filed an appeal against the decision.

With the grounds of appeal, the appellant requested that the decision be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of an enclosed set of claims according to a main request or, alternatively, one of auxiliary requests I to VI.

III. At the appellant's request, a summons to attend oral proceedings was issued.

IV. In a communication pursuant to Art. 15(1) RPBA, the appellant was informed of the provisional opinion of the Board with regard to the appellant's requests.

The appellant was invited to indicate the basis in the original application documents for the amendments made to the independent claims of of all requests. In this regard, it was reminded that support in the description should not only exist for the claimed features as such, but also for the combination of features actually claimed.

With regard to inventive step, document D1 was considered to represent the closest prior art. Moreover, the appellant was asked to provide copies of standards concerning physical features of integrated circuit transaction cards.

V. In reply, the appellant did not make any submissions concerning the issues raised by the Board. The Board was only informed that the applicant's representative would not be attending the oral proceedings.

VI. The Board ordered, of its own motion, a copy of International Standard ISO/IEC 7816-2: 2007(e), second edition of 15 October 2007.

The appellant was informed by fax that the Board intended to refer to said standard insofar as aspects regarding the relative positioning of the microchip and embossing area were concerned. A copy of said document was annexed to the fax.

VII. Oral proceedings took place in the absence of the appellant.

VIII. Claim 1 of the main request reads:

"1. A method of making a transaction card comprising:

cutting a first sheet of metal to create a card body;

milling a first pocket on a second surface of the transaction card;

milling a second pocket on a first surface of the transaction card;

embossing the transaction card within the first pocket to provide embossed characters on the first surface of the transaction card;

disposing an adhesive within the second pocket;

disposing a microchip within the second pocket;

cutting a second sheet of metal to create a back panel; and

bonding the back panel to the first pocket with an adhesive to provide a smooth surface on the second surface of the transaction card".

Claims 2 to 12 of the main request depend on claim 1.

Independent claim 13 of the main request reads:

"A transaction card comprising:

a titanium card body having a first surface and a second surface;

a first pocket disposed in the second surface;

embossed characters punched into the transaction card within the first pocket and providing embossed characters on the first surface;

a back panel disposed in the first pocket and bonded to the second surface;

a second pocket disposed in the first surface;

a microchip disposed in the second pocket."

Claims 14 to 18 of the main request depend on independent claim 13.

IX. Claim 1 according to auxiliary request I differs from claim 1 of the main request in that it incorporates at the end of the claim the additional feature:

"wherein the first pocket to which the back panel is bonded is positioned below the location of a signature panel of the transaction card".

A similar amendment was introduced in independent claim 13 as to the transaction card.

X. Claim 1 according to auxiliary request II differs from claim 1 of the main request in that it recites at the end of claim 1 the additional feature:

"wherein the first pocket to which the back panel is bonded is positioned below the location of a signature panel of the transaction card and the second pocket in which the microchip is disposed is positioned above the location of the signature panel".

A similar amendment was introduced in independent claim 13 as to the transaction card.

XI. Claim 1 according to auxiliary request III differs from claim 1 of the main request in that the feature of "bonding the back panel to the first pocket with an adhesive to provide a smooth surface on the second surface of the transaction card" has been amended to read "bonding the back panel to the first pocket with an adhesive". Moreover, the following additional limitation has been added at the end of the claim: "wherein the method further comprises disposing indicia on the back panel and then pairing the back panel with the card and performing the bonding of the back panel to the first pocket".

Independent claim 13 differs from claim 13 of the main request in that the following wording "wherein indicia are disposed on the back panel" was added at the end of the claim.

XII. Claims 1 and 13 according to auxiliary request IV differ from the corresponding independent claims of the main request in that they combine the amendments made with regard to auxiliary requests II and III.

XIII. Auxiliary request V differs from auxiliary request III in that claims 13 to 18 as to the transaction card have been deleted.

XIV. Auxiliary request VI differs from auxiliary request IV in that claims 13 to 18 as to the transaction card have been deleted.

Reasons for the Decision

1. Applicable law [...]

2. The appeal is admissible.

3. Main request

3.1 D1 reproduces the content of the present application insofar as the embodiments of Figures 1 to 14 are concerned. Concretely, document D1 discloses a transaction card made of metal and a method of manufacturing such a card. In this respect, the Board shares the view of the examining division that D1 illustrates the closest prior art.

3.2 The question arises whether the examining division also rightly considered that the method of claim 1 according to the main request differed from the manufacturing method disclosed in D1 in that it comprised the steps of:

- milling a second pocket on a first surface of the

transaction card;

- disposing an adhesive within the second pocket; and

- disposing a microchip within the second pocket.

3.3 Paragraph [0100] in D1 explicitly refers to the presence of "any other pocket" that may be milled in one or more surfaces of a transaction card. Therefore, contrary to the view of the examining division, the feature of milling a second pocket on the first surface of the transaction card, that is on a surface different from the one receiving the first pocket, as mentioned above, is known from D1. Since, moreover, the part of the description relating to the embossing pocket also refers to a milling process, it follows that D1, as a whole, discloses milling both the embossing pocket and "other pocket" on said first surface.

Since said paragraph explicitly refers to a microchip transaction card, it is considered that the feature of disposing a microchip in an additional pocket is also disclosed in D1.

There is however no indication to be found in this paragraph or in the disclosure as a whole that the second pocket to be milled on the first surface is the one that would receive the microchip. For these reasons, a further selection is to be made between the two configurations identified above in paragraph [0100] which shall actually define the closest prior art.
3.4 The embodiment referring to the incorporation of a microchip as a card feature is considered to define the most promising starting point (closest prior art) when deciding on the inventive merits of the claimed invention since it reproduces the functionalities of the claimed transaction card.

It follows that the subject-matter of claim 13 differs from the card disclosed in D1 only in that the second pocket is disposed on the first surface of the card.

Similarly, the method of making the transaction card of claim 1 differs from the method disclosed in D1, in that the second pocket is milled on the first surface of the transaction card.

3.5 The presence of the second pocket for receiving the microchip on the first surface of the transaction card does not justify the presence of an inventive step since it results from requirements contained in said International Standard ISO/IEC 7816-2:2007(e). Specific reference is made to section 5 ("Location of contacts relative to other technologies") where it is specified that "Embossing (ISO/IEC 7811.1) when present, shall be located on the same side as the contacts". No inventive activity can be recognised with regard to this technical prescription. It is expected from the skilled person that he would exercise his skills in the framework of technical Standards in force in his field of activity. No inventive activity can thus be derived from a feature that simply reflects the content of such a technical prescription.

3.6 Consequently, the subject-matter of claims 1 and 13 of the main request does not involve an inventive step in the sense of Art. 56 EPC 1973.

The main request is thus not allowable.

4. Auxiliary request I

4.1 The appellant's view, according to which the amendment to claim 1 (cf. point IX above) permitted to avoid damage to a microchip during the milling process of the pocket (cf. point 45 in the statement of grounds), is not convincing.

In effect, there appears to be no need in the claimed method to dispose the microchip in the second pocket before milling the first pocket. It is stressed that claim 1 does not define any clear sequence with regard to the various operations being carried out. In this respect, the effect relied upon by the appellant appears not only artificial in that it would not reflect normal practice, but also at odd with the claim's wording which does not include the limitation relied upon by the appellant.

The problem addressed by the invention must thus be reformulated so as to apply to claim 1 in its generality and be technically sensible (cf. decision T 0939/92, OJ 1996, 309).


Applying the approach developed in T 0939/92 and having regard to the teaching of document D1, the technical problem solved by the claimed method would simply consist in selecting a location for said first pocket.

The claimed configuration does not then extend beyond an arbitrary selection of the position for said first pocket for which the presence of an inventive step is denied.

4.2 Consequently, the subject-matter of claim 1 of auxiliary request I does not involve an inventive step in the sense of Art. 56 EPC 1973. The same applies to claim 13.

Auxiliary request I is thus not allowable.

5. Auxiliary request II [...]

Order

For these reasons it is decided that: the appeal is dismissed.

This decision T 519/12 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier:  ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T051912.20170317. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo "Credit Card Chip" by Kuhnmi obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).

T 648/12 - New document introduced by Board

Delta Patents Patent Law -

Non-electronic exercise equipment

The application concerned a training device which receives an electronic training script that defines a workout sequence in which a user is instructed to perform a plurality of activities. The user is prompted for a next activity when a defined quantity of a previous activity is detected. 
The application was rejected on the basis of document D1 which is an electronic system to monitor and train an individual on proper motion during physical movement. The Board agrees with the applicant that this is not relevant for the application. Unfortunately for the applicant, the Board knows from its own experience of other trainings systems, and send the case back for further investigation. 
Summary of Facts and Submissions
(...)
VI. The wording of independent device claim 1 of the main request reads:
A training device, comprising:
a receiver (215) arranged to electronically receive data;
a sensor (221) arranged to detect at least one physical performance characteristic; and a display unit (219);
the training device being characterized in that it is for receiving and employing an electronic training script, and being further characterized in that:
the received data is an electronic training script defining a workout sequence in which a user is instructed to perform a plurality of activities, the script further defining quantities for the plurality of activities;
the at least one physical performance characteristic detected by the sensor (221) is a characteristic of at least one of the activities in the workout sequence; and
the display unit (219) is arranged to prompt the user to perform a next activity of the plurality of activities in the sequence designated by the electronic training script in response to a measurement of the at least one physical performance characteristic detected by the sensor indicating completion of the defined quantity of a previous activity in the sequence.
(...)
Reasons for the Decision
1. Inventive step starting from document D1 (Article 56 EPC 1973)
1.1 In the appealed decision, the examining division held that the claimed subject-matter did not involve an inventive step in view of the combined teaching of documents D1 and D2.
1.2 Document D1, which was considered as closest prior art in the appealed decision, is directed at solving the problem of preventing incorrect movements with the aim of reducing injuries (column 1, lines 58-63) and training an individual to make proper movements (column 1, line 55), or phrased otherwise, assisting in training an individual in proper posture while executing an identified physical activity (column 2, lines 49-51).
The main application is thus in an industrial setting where workers are required to perform repetitive manual tasks (column 8, lines 22-25). As the examining division correctly observed, document D1 also discloses a further application in sports (column 10, lines 62). Here, data collected by the device of D1 may be used as a tool to aid in the analysis and improvement of the individual's stroke technique in, for example, golf (column 10, lines 65 to column 11, line 6). Hence, the sports application is also directed at making proper movements / having proper posture while executing a specific physical activity.
1.3 The present application, on the other hand, is directed at enabling an athlete to perform a sequence of activities, wherein each activity is performed until an associated quantity is completed, without the athlete having to monitor continuously whether that quantity has been completed (see [56] of the application).
1.4 Document D1 does not mention any sequence of activities. Actually, the only sequence or series that is disclosed in D1 is the series of notice levels which can be uploaded to the device (column 5, lines 59-66).
These notice levels, however, do not correspond to a workout sequence in which a user is instructed to perform a plurality of activities, but rather to a plurality of degrees of (an angle of) a movement / posture associated to one single activity.
1.5 Thus, the claimed device and method are directed to a different purpose than the ones of document D1. The board is also satisfied that this difference is brought out in the technical features of the two independent claims.
In the absence of any specific suggestion in D1 to do so, the board does not see any reason why the skilled person would consider modifying the device and method of D1 such that they would serve the different purpose of guiding an athlete through a predefined sequence of workout activities.
The board thus concludes that the skilled person, starting from D1, would not be motivated to combine D1 with any other prior art document that is directed to that different purpose.
Document D2 is one of those documents. The board thus concurs with the appellant in that the skilled person, starting from D1, would not be motivated to combine D1 and D2.
2. New citation D6
From personal experience, however, the board is aware that Polar Electro Oy in the past marketed the portable training device S710. Document D6 contains archived screen shots from the manufacturer's website from February 2002 and earlier.
It appears from document D6 that the portable training device S710 was sold before the oldest priority date claimed for the present application (30 May 2002).
Furthermore, it appears from D6 that S710 could be programmed by a computer via an infrared or sonic link using "Polar Precision Performance Software".
Training programmes could be downloaded to S710 that were capable of guiding a user through an interval training involving heart rate target zones (with heart rate limit pairs and visible and audible alarms) as well as recovery intervals. Further, S710 could be used to determine distance and speed.
Hence it appears that the portable training device S710 of Polar was directed at the same purpose as the claimed invention, and in addition that most of the features of the independent claims of the present requests were present in that device.
S710 and document D6 relating to it thus seem to be highly relevant for the assessment of novelty and inventive step.
3. In view of this new citation, it appears to be appropriate to remit the case to the department of first instance (Article 111(1) EPC 1973, see also Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 8th edition, IV.E.7.2.2).
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.
This decision T 0648/12 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T064812.20170425. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo by tookapic obtained via Pixabay under CC0  (no changes made).

T 688/13 - Bonus effect or main effect to be achieved?

Delta Patents Patent Law -

One way street to obviousness?

This opposition appeal concerns an invention which provides an emulsion for coloring foodstuff, which is said to be more transparent and provide a more vibrant coloring ("stärkere Leuchtkraft").

This advantageous effect appears to be achieved by a reduced droplet size, which is also the sole distinguishing feature over D7 as closest prior art.

The opponent as appellant argues that the objective technical problem is to be formulated as how to obtain an emulsion which is more transparent and provides a more vibrant coloring.

According to the appellant, it is known from D5 and common general knowledge that a reduced droplet size improves the transparency of an emulsion, and that the more vibrant coloring would be obtained inherently, and thereby as a bonus-effect, when the skilled person reduces the droplet size of D7 to obtain the desired improvement in transparency.

The patent proprietor of course disagrees, and argues that the actual objective technical problem solved by the invention is how to obtain this more vibrant coloring and not the improved transparency. However, as a seemingly precautionary measure, the patent proprietor decides to 'eliminate' the technical effect of improved transparency by submitting an auxiliary request in which the emulsion is limited to application in Yogurt (which is non-transparent).

Does the latter strategy work? Yes. Although the Board concurs with the appellant with respect to the main request, the Board agrees that the 'transparency' effect is not achieved anymore by the auxiliary request. Accordingly, the improved vibrancy is now the sole technical effect of the distinguishing feature, by which the distinguishing feature is not rendered obvious anymore by the cited prior art.

Reasons for the Decision
Hauptantrag (erteilte Ansprüche)

1. Erfinderische Tätigkeit

1.1 Die dem Streitpatent zugrundeliegende Erfindung ist auf eine Farbstoffemulsion für Lebensmittel gerichtet, welche eine höhere Transparenz, eine stärkere Leuchtkraft, eine höhere Ergiebigkeit des Farbstoffs und eine hohe Säurestabilität aufweist (Absatz [0019]).

1.2 D7 ist ein deutsches Gebrauchsmuster, welches nach dem Prioritätsdatum, aber vor dem Anmeldetag des Streitpatents veröffentlich wurde. Wie vom Beschwerdegegner nicht bestritten wurde, ist die Priorität des erteilten Anspruchs 1 nicht gültig. D7 ist daher für den erteilten Anspruch 1 Stand der Technik gemäß Artikel 54(2) EPÜ.

1.3 In ähnlicher Weise wie das Streitpatent beschäftigt sich D7 mit Emulgatorzusammensetzungen, die eine hohe Säurestabilität aufweisen und somit die Emulgierung von Lebensmittelfarbstoffen ermöglichen (Absatz [0006]). Wie von allen Parteien während der mündlichen Verhandlung anerkannt, kann D7 daher als nächstliegender Stand der Technik angesehen werden.

1.3.1 D7 offenbart in den Absätzen [0021] bis [0026] ein Ausführungsbeispiel, das identisch auch in den Absätzen [0061] bis [0070] des Streitpatents unter der Überschrift "Beispielhafte Beschreibung der Emulgator-Zusammensetzung in einer säurestabilen Beta-Carotin 1% O/W" wiedergegeben ist. Dieses Ausführungsbeispiel der D7 offenbart die Herstellung einer Emulsion, bei der eine Ölphase, die u.a.

- 1% beta-Carotin E-160a, entsprechend dem anspruchsgemäßen Carotinoid,

- sowie 2% Lecithin E-322, entsprechend dem anspruchsgemäßen Lecithin (Absatz [0040] des Streitpatents), enthält,

einer Wasserphase die u. a.

- 2% Zuckerester E-473, entsprechend dem anspruchsgemäßen Saccharosefettsäureester (Absatz [0040] des Streitpatents), enthält

zugesetzt und über Dispergierungs- und Hochdruck-Homogenisierungssysteme bis 500 bar bis zu einer Partikelgröße "von 90% < 1 my" dispergiert wird.

Die auf die Gesamtzusammensetzung bezogene Menge von jeweils 2% an Lecithin und Zuckerester entsprechen einer auf die Emulgatorzusammensetzung bezogenen und in den anspruchsgemäßen Bereichen liegenden Menge von jeweils 50%.

1.3.2 Es war zwischen den Parteien strittig, ob das Beispiel der D7 auch das einzige, noch verbleibende Anspruchsmerkmal, nämlich die Größe der Öltröpfchen von 100 nm oder weniger offenbart.

Wie oben ausgeführt, sagt das Beispiel diesbezüglich aus, dass 90% der das Carotin enthaltenden Öltröpfchen eine Teilchengröße von kleiner "1 my" aufweisen.

Von den Beschwerdeführern wurde im schriftlichen Verfahren argumentiert, dass "1 my" für 1 Millimikrometer und damit 1 nm stehe, was im anspruchsgemäßen Bereich liege. Dem kann die Kammer nicht zustimmen, da dann die Größe der Öltröpfchen unterhalb derjenigen der in den Tröpfchen enthaltenen Moleküle läge, was physikalisch nicht möglich ist. Daher kann die Angabe "kleiner 1 my" in D7 nur kleiner 1 mym bedeuten. Somit geht die anspruchsgemäße durchschnittliche Tröpfchengröße von höchstens 100 nm (0.1 mym) nicht unmittelbar und eindeutig aus der in D7 genannten Tröpfchengröße "kleiner 1 my" hervor.

Darüber hinaus argumentierten die Beschwerdeführer, dass die Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase inhärent im anspruchsgemäßen Bereich liegen müsse, da das Beispiel ja identisch in den Absätzen [0061] bis [0070] des Streitpatents wiedergegeben sei. Man müsse davon ausgehen, dass ein Beispiel auch erfindungsgemäß sei.

Jedoch findet sich auch im Streitpatent identisch zu D7 die Offenbarung, dass 90% der das Carotin enthaltenden Öltröpfchen eine Teilchengröße von kleiner 1 my aufweisen, was, wie oben ausgeführt, für 1 mym steht und außerhalb des anspruchsgemäßen Bereiches liegt. Ferner hängt, wie vom Beschwerdegegner ausgeführt, die Tröpfchengröße von der Dauer der Homogenisierung ab, die im Beispiel der D7 (und auch entsprechend im Streitpatent) nicht genannt wird. Wenn überhaupt, kann aus der Formulierung in diesem Beispiel "bis zu einer Partikelgröße der Öltröpfchen von 90% < 1 my dispergiert" nur abgeleitet werden, dass die Homogenisierung bereits bei Erreichen einer Tröpfchengröße von 1 mym abgebrochen wurde, und damit die Homogenisierungsdauer in diesem Beispiel gerade nicht so lange war, um die anspruchsgemäße Tröpfchengröße von 100 nm oder weniger zu erreichen. Daher kann nicht davon ausgegangen werden, dass die Tröpfchengröße in D7 inhärent im anspruchsgemäßen Bereich liegt. Somit unterscheidet sich die Emulsion des Beispiels der D7 von derjenigen des Anspruchs 1 hinsichtlich der Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase.

1.4 Gemäß Streitpatent (Absätze [0019] und [0023]) löst die Erfindung insbesondere die Aufgabe, eine Farbstoffemulsion bereitzustellen, die eine höhere Transparenz und eine stärkere Leuchtkraft aufweist. Es ist zu prüfen, ob diese Aufgabe durch das oben identifizierte Unterscheidungsmerkmal glaubhaft gelöst wird.

1.4.1 Der Beispielteil des Streitpatentes (Absatz [0044] bis [0056]) enthält ein anspruchsgemäßes Beispiel 1 und ein Vergleichsbeispiel 1. Im Beispiel 1 liegt die Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase im anspruchsgemäßen Bereich, nämlich bei 80 bis 100 nm. Im Vergleichsbeispiel 1 wird eine Tröpfchengröße von 1 mym (Seite 5, Zeile 35), 1 mm (zweitletzte Zeile des Absatzes [0049]) sowie 1 mµ (vorletzte Zeile des Absatzes [0042]) genannt. Wie von den Beschwerdeführern nicht bestritten wurde, würde bei einer Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase von 1 mm keine stabile Emulsion vorliegen. Somit ist die Angabe "1 mm" technisch unsinnig. Gleiches gilt für die Angabe "1 mµ". Würde das "m" in dieser Angabe als Präfix "Milli" aufgefasst, stünde diese Angabe für 1 Millimikrometer und somit 1 nm, was technisch unsinnig ist, da dann die in den Tröpfchen enthaltenen Moleküle kleiner als die Tröpfchen selbst wären. Daher kann die Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase im Vergleichsbeispiel 1 bei technisch sinnvoller Würdigung nur bei 1 µm gelegen haben.

1.4.2 Aus den Emulsionen des Beispiels 1 und Vergleichsbeispiels 1 wurde ein gefärbtes Getränk hergestellt und gefunden, dass das mit der Emulsion des Beispiels 1 hergestellte Getränk einen niedrigeren Absorptionskoeffizienten (0.05) als das mit der Emulsion des Vergleichsbeispiels 1 hergestellte Getränk (0.3) aufwies. Darüber hinaus wies das die Emulsion des Beispiels 1 enthaltende Getränk eine um 15 % erhöhte Farbergiebigkeit (d. h. Leuchtkraft) auf (Absätze [0052] bis [0056] des Streitpatents).

Ferner wurden durch jeweiliges Ausmischen der Emulsion und Vergleichsemulsion mit einem Joghurt zwei gefärbte Joghurts hergestellt. Bei Verwendung der Emulsion des Beispiels 1 wurde hierdurch ein Joghurt mit einer Farbintensität b von 32 erhalten, während bei Verwendung der Vergleichsemulsion nur eine Intensität b von 29 erreicht wurde. Somit war die Leuchtkraft und Ergiebigkeit durch die Anwendung der Emulsion des Beispiels 1 im Vergleich zum Vergleichsbeispiel 1 im Joghurt um ca. 10% erhöht (Absätze [0057] bis [0059] des Streitpatents).

1.4.3 Wie von den Beschwerdeführern während der mündlichen Verhandlung nicht bestritten wurde, belegen diese Versuche, dass die im Streitpatent genannte Aufgabe der Bereitstellung einer Farbstoffemulsion mit höherer Transparenz und Leuchtkraft gegenüber D7 gelöst wurde. Damit stellt diese Aufgabe die objektive technische Aufgabe dar.

1.5 Es ist zu untersuchen, ob die anspruchsgemäße Lösung dieser Aufgabe im Hinblick auf den zitierten Stand der Technik oder das allgemeine Fachwissen nahelag.

1.5.1 Diesbezüglich zitierten die Beschwerdeführer die folgenden Textstellen der vorveröffentlichten Dokumente D5 und D6:

"Für spezielle Anwendungsgebiete von Carotinoiden, beispielsweise für die Färbung von Getränken (u.a. Softdrinks) ist gewünscht, daß die Carotenoid-Formulierung in flüssiger Form vorliegt, und daß die Redispergierung dieser Flüssigformulierung in wässrigen Systemen zu klar gefärbten Lösungen führt. Um diesen Effekt zu erzielen, sind entsprechend kleine Wirkstoffpartikel (<100nm) erforderlich." (Seite 2, Zeile 20 bis 23 der D5, Hervorhebung durch die Kammer).

"As used herein, 'microemulsion' refers to a clear-appearing system containing at least two immiscible (mutually insoluble) components (oil phase and water phase) and at least one emulsifier or surfactant component. [...] The size of droplets in a microemulsion is about 5 to 100 nm, smaller than the wavelength of visible light (about 100 nm). Therefore, a microemulsion is clear"

(Absatz [0018] der D6).

Aus den zitierten Textstellen der D5 und D6 geht hervor, dass es eine physikalische Gesetzmäßigkeit, und damit Teil des allgemeinen Fachwissens, darstellte, dass die Tröpfchengröße eines emulgierten Stoffes 100 nm oder weniger sein muss, um eine klare Emulsion und damit eine hohe Transparenz zu erhalten.

1.5.2 Der eine hohe Transparenz anstrebende Fachmann hätte daher aufgrund seines durch D5 und D6 belegten allgemeinen Fachwissens die Teilchengröße in D7 auf eine Größe von 100 nm oder weniger verringert und wäre so zum Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 gelangt.

1.5.3 Durch die Verringerung der Teilchengröße fällt dem Fachmann der zusätzliche Effekt einer erhöhten Leuchtkraft ohne zusätzliche technische Maßnahmen in den Schoß. So wird durch das Streitpatent (Absatz [0028]) anerkannt, dass eine auf 100 nm oder weniger verringerte Teilchengröße eine erhöhte Leuchtkraft bedingt. Daher liegt zum Erreichen der höheren Transparenz gewissermaßen eine Einbahnstraße vor, die zwangsläufig die Zusatzwirkung einer erhöhten Leuchtkraft bedingt. Eine derartige auftretende Zusatzwirkung einer naheliegenden Maßnahme stellt gemäß der Rechtspraxis des EPA einen Bonus dar, der - selbst als überraschender Effekt - keine erfinderische Tätigkeit zu begründen vermag (T 506/92; Punkt 2.6 und T 794/01; Punkt 3.8).

1.5.4 Diesbezüglich kann sich die Kammer dem Argument des Beschwerdegegners nicht anschließen, dass die Erhöhung der Leuchtkraft die eigentliche technische Aufgabe darstelle, deren Lösung ausgehend von D7 nicht nahegelegen habe. Insbesondere stellt das Streitpatent in seiner Gesamtoffenbarung immer auf beides, d. h. eine Erhöhung der Transparenz und Leuchtkraft ab und enthält keinerlei Hervorhebung der Leuchtkraft als eigentliche technische Aufgabe. So wird auf Seite 2, Zeile 15 und 57, Seite 3, Zeile 32 und 52 bis 53 und dem Beispielteil des Streitpatents (insbesondere Seite 6, Zeile 14 bis 37) immer sowohl auf die Transparenz, als auch die Leuchtkraft abgestellt, und auf Seite, 3, Zeile 41 bis 45 sogar nur auf die Transparenz eingegangen.

1.5.5 Auch das Argument des Beschwerdegegners, dass der Fachmann D5 und D6 nicht herangezogen hätte, da sich diese Dokumente nicht auf Emulsionen, sondern auf Lösungen bezögen, kann nicht durchgreifen. So stellt zumindest die oben zitierte, das allgemeine Fachwissen belegende Textstelle der D6 klar auf Emulsionen ab.

1.6 Daher ist der Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 nicht erfinderisch gegenüber D7 in Kombination mit dem durch D5 und D6 dokumentierten allgemeinen Fachwissen.

2. Weitere Einwände

2.1 Von den Beschwerdeführern wurden zusätzlich zu dem obigen Einwand der mangelnden erfinderischen Tätigkeit noch weitere Einwände mangelnder erfinderischer Tätigkeit sowie mangelnder Offenbarung und fehlender Neuheit erhoben. Von der Kammer wurde in der mündlichen Verhandlung die Auffassung vertreten, dass der durch den Hauptantrag definierte Gegenstand ausreichend offenbart und neu sei. Aufgrund der Feststellung, dass es dem Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 gegenüber D7 als dem nächstliegenden Stand der Technik an erfinderischer Tätigkeit mangelt, erübrigt sich jedoch eine Abhandlung dieser Einwände in der vorliegenden Entscheidung. Gleiches gilt für den Antrag der Beschwerdeführer, die im Rahmen dieser zusätzlichen Einwände eingereichten Vergleichsversuche des Beschwerdegegners nicht zuzulassen.

Hilfsantrag 1

3. Zulässigkeit

3.1 Hilfsantrag 1 wurde in der mündlichen Verhandlung vor der Kammer eingereicht. Von den Beschwerdeführern wurde beantragt, diesen Antrag nicht in das Verfahren zuzulassen.

Hilfsantrag 1 unterscheidet sich vom Hauptantrag dadurch, dass mit Ausnahme des erteilten Anspruchs 15 alle Ansprüche gestrichen wurden und der Rückbezug des erteilten Anspruchs 15 auf den erteilten Anspruch 11 und damit indirekt den erteilten Anspruch 1 ausgeschrieben wurde. Der verbleibende einzige Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrages 1 bezieht sich damit auf die Verwendung einer wie im erteilten Anspruch 1 definierten Emulsion in Joghurt, der 0.5 bis 3 g der Emulsion, vorzugsweise 2.0 g der Emulsion pro Kilogramm Joghurt enthält (siehe Punkt XI oben). Somit enthält der neue Hilfsantrag 1 keine neuen Ansprüche und wirft, wie vom Beschwerdegegner nicht bestritten wurde, auch keinen neuen, über die Diskussion des Hauptantrages hinausgehenden Problemkreis auf.

Von den Beschwerdeführern wurde während der mündlichen Verhandlung vorgebracht, dass der in der mündlichen Verhandlung vorgelegte Hilfsantrag 1 den zwanzigsten im Beschwerdeverfahren eingereichten Hilfsantrag darstelle, was gegen die Zulassung dieses Hilfsantrags spreche. Dieses Argument kann jedoch nicht durchgreifen. Die Beschwerdeführer haben eine Vielzahl von Angriffen im schriftlichen Beschwerdeverfahren vorgetragen, unter anderem vier Neuheitsangriffe und zahlreiche Angriffe auf die erfinderische Tätigkeit, die von drei unterschiedlichen Dokumenten als nächstliegendem Stand der Technik ausgingen. Daher ist es im vorliegenden Fall dem Beschwerdegegner nicht vorzuwerfen, dass er sich gegen diese Vielzahl von Angriffen mit einer relativ großen Zahl von Hilfsanträgen verteidigt hat.

Aus diesen Gründen hat die Kammer entschieden, Hilfsantrag 1 in das Verfahren zuzulassen.

4. Ausreichende Offenbarung

4.1 Von den bezüglich des Hauptantrages gemachten Einwänden wurde von den Beschwerdeführern der Einwand aufrechterhalten, dass die Homogenisierungsdauer, die entscheidend für den Erhalt der anspruchsgemäßen Tröpfchengröße ist, im Streitpatent nicht genannt sei. Wie vom Beschwerdegegner jedoch ausgeführt wurde, gehört es zum allgemeinen Fachwissen, dass bei der Homogenisierung einer Öl-in-Wasser-Emulsion die darin enthaltenen Öltröpfchen um so kleiner werden, je länger die Homogenisierung durchgeführt wird. Dies geht implizit auch aus Absatz [0049] des Streitpatents hervor, wo hinsichtlich des oben bereits diskutierten Vergleichsbeispiels offenbart wird, dass bis zu einer Teilchengröße von 1 mm (korrekt: 1 µm) homogenisiert wird, d. h. so lange, bis diese Teilchengröße erreicht wird.

4.2 Somit war der Fachmann ausgehend von der durch das Streitpatent bereitgestellten Information in Verbindung mit seinem allgemeinen Fachwissen in der Lage, die anspruchsgemäße Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase zu erreichen. Daher steht der Einspruchsgrund der mangelnden Offenbarung der Aufrechterhaltung des Streitpatents auf der Grundlage des Hilfsantrags 1 nicht entgegen.

5. Neuheit

5.1 Es wurden von den Beschwerdeführern keine Einwände erhoben und auch die Kammer sieht den Gegenstand des einzigen Anspruchs 1 als neu an.

6. Erfinderische Tätigkeit

6.1 Der einzige von den Beschwerdeführern vorgetragene Angriff beruhte in Analogie zum Hauptantrag auf D7 als dem nächstliegenden Stand der Technik.

Wie der Anspruch 1 des Hauptantrages fordert Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 eine Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase von 100 nm oder weniger. Daher unterscheidet sich auch der Gegenstand des Anspruchs 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 zumindest durch die anspruchsgemäße Größe der Öltröpfchen von D7.

6.2 Es war zwischen den Parteien strittig, welche Aufgabe durch dieses Unterscheidungsmerkmal gegenüber D7 gelöst wird.

Wie in Punkt 3.1 ausgeführt wurde, bezieht sich Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrages 1 im Gegensatz zum erteilten Anspruch 1 nicht mehr auf die Farbstoffemulsion als solche, sondern auf deren Verwendung in einem Joghurt. Ein Joghurt ist nicht transparent und somit kann der oben hinsichtlich des Hauptantrages diskutierte Effekt einer erhöhten Transparenz im Joghurt bei der Definition der objektiven technischen Aufgabe keine Rolle mehr spielen. Daher wurde die gegenüber D7 zu lösende Aufgabe vom Beschwerdegegner darin gesehen, eine Farbstoffemulsion für einen Joghurt bereitzustellen, die zu einem Joghurt mit erhöhter Leuchtkraft führt. Wie oben hinsichtlich des Hauptantrags ausgeführt wurde, liefert das Ausmischen einer anspruchsgemäßen Emulsion in einer Jogurtbasis tatsächlich einen Joghurt mit einer höheren Leuchtkraft als eine Vergleichsemulsion (Absätze [0057] bis [0059]). Somit ist glaubhaft, dass diese Aufgabe gegenüber D7 auch gelöst wurde. Daher stellt diese Aufgabe die objektive technische Aufgabe dar.

6.3 Es ist zu untersuchen, ob die anspruchsgemäße Lösung dieser Aufgabe im Hinblick auf den zitierten Stand der Technik nahelag. Von den Beschwerdeführern wurde diesbezüglich Seite 2, Zeile 15 bis 19 der D5 zitiert:

"Zur Verbesserung der Farbausbeuten sind verschiedene Verfahren beschrieben worden, die alle das Ziel haben, die Kristallitgröße der Wirkstoffe zu verkleinern und auf einen Teilchengrößenbereich von kleiner 10 µm zu bringen. Neben der Vermahlung von Carotinoiden, gemäß WO 91/06292 bzw. WO 94/19411, zählen dazu beispielsweise die bekannten Emulgier- und Mikronisierverfahren, u.a. beschrieben in DE-A-12 11 911, EP-A-0 410 236 sowie in EP-B-0 065 193."

Gemäß Beschwerdeführern lag es ausgehend von dieser Textstelle der D5 nahe, die Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase in D7 zur Verbesserung der Leuchtkraft zu verkleinern. Der Fachmann wäre daher ausgehend von D7 und dem durch diese Textstelle belegten allgemeinen Fachwissen in naheliegender Weise zum Anspruchsgegenstand gelangt.

Dem kann sich die Kammer nicht anschließen. Die in dieser Textstelle genannte Teilchengröße von kleiner 10 µm bezieht sich auf die Teilchengröße von festen, durch Vermahlen erhaltenen Carotinoidkristalliten, während eine Tröpfchengröße der Ölphase von Öl-in-Wasser-Emulsionen nicht genannt wird. Ferner würde der Fachmann, selbst wenn er die in dieser Textstelle für feste Carotinoidkristallite genannte Teilchengröße auch für die Öltröpfchen der Öl-in-Wasser-Emulsion der D7 anstreben würde, diese Tröpfchengröße lediglich auf 10 µm, d. h. dem Hundertfachen der in Anspruch 1 genannten Obergrenze, einstellen. Wie durch Vergleichsbeispiel 1 des Streitpatentes aber gezeigt, ergibt sich selbst bei einer deutlich geringeren, näher an der anspruchsgemäßen Obergrenze liegenden Tröpfchengröße von 1 µm eine Farbstoffemulsion, die zu einem Joghurt mit geringer Leuchtkraft führt und die somit die objektive technische Aufgabe nicht löst.

Somit wäre der einen Joghurt mit erhöhter Leuchtkraft anstrebende Fachmann ausgehend von D7 unter Berücksichtigung des durch D5 belegten allgemeinen Fachwissens nicht zum Anspruchsgegenstand gelangt.

6.4 Daher ist der Gegenstand des einzigen Anspruchs 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 erfinderisch.

7. Geänderte Beschreibungsseiten

7.1 Während der mündlichen Verhandlung reichte der Beschwerdegegner geänderte, an den Anspruch 1 des Hilfsantrags 1 angepasste Beschreibungsseiten ein. Gegen die Endfassung wurden von den Beschwerdeführern keine Einwände erhoben und auch die Kammer ist der Ansicht, dass die geänderten Beschreibungsseiten die Erfordernisse des EPÜ erfüllen.

Entscheidungsformel

Aus diesen Gründen wird entschieden:

1. Die angefochtene Entscheidung wird aufgehoben.

2. Die Angelegenheit wird an die Einspruchsabteilung mit der Anordnung zurückverwiesen, das Patent in geändertem Umfang mit folgender Fassung aufrechtzuerhalten:

- Patentanspruch 1, eingereicht als Hilfsantrag 1 während der mündlichen Verhandlung vom 10. Februar 2017;

- Beschreibung: Seiten 2 bis 6, eingereicht während der mündlichen Verhandlung vom 10. Februar 2017;

- Figuren 1A und 1B wie erteilt.

This decision T 688/13 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T068813.20170210. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo "One Way to..." by Jeffrey obtained via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license (no changes made).

T 1818/12 - On evidence, sufficiency, and effect

Delta Patents Patent Law -

This pencil cracked under the pressure

The main claim in this opposition appeal concerns an E. coli host cell sample subjected to non-lysing pressure. According to the opponent the examples in the patent are the only known cell system that do not lyse under the conditions of the claim, or that give the effect of increased yield. As a result, the claim is neither workable nor inventive over the entire scope claimed. 
The Board has problems with the evidentiary value of the documents cited by the opponent. Furthermore,  that there are exists an embodiment falling under the scope of the claim that does not show the effect is in itself not enough to deny inventive step. 

Summary of Facts and Submissions
(...)
VI. Claim 1 of the set of claims found allowable in the decision under appeal (main request) reads as follows:
"1. A method for the manufacture of recombinant antibody molecules comprising culturing an E. coli host cell sample transformed with an expression vector encoding a recombinant antibody molecule that is expressed in the periplasm of the host cell and subjecting said host cell sample to a heat treatment step, characterised in that said sample is subjected to a non-lysing pressure treatment step between 1000 psi
(68.9 bar) and 4000 psi (275.8 bar) before being subjected to an increase in temperature within the range of 30°C to 70°C for a period of up to 24 hours".
(...)
Reasons for the Decision
1. The oral proceedings were held in the absence of the appellant, in accordance with Rule 115(2) EPC and Article 15(3) RPBA. Accordingly, the appellant is treated as relying on its written case.
Main Request - Claims 1 to 5
Disclosure of the invention - Article 100(b) and Article 83 EPC
2. The ground for opposition Article 100(b) EPC requires that the European patent discloses the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art. According to the case law of the boards of appeal, the subject-matter of a patent is sufficiently disclosed if the skilled person is able to obtain substantially all embodiments falling within the ambit of the claims. Moreover, it must be possible to reproduce the invention on the basis of the patent without any inventive effort and undue burden (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office, 8th edition, II.C. 4.1, 4.4 and 5.6)
3. The appellant argued that finding E. coli strains suitable for use in the claimed method, other than the strain W3110, was an undue burden for the skilled person. Document D6, provided evidence of cell lysis under the pressure and temperature conditions of the claim. Similarly, Annexes 1 and A were submitted as additional evidence to show, inter alia, that due to cell lysis under conditions of the claim, the skilled person would not be able to carry out the invention other than by using the strain exemplified in the patent.
4. Document D6 concerns "the high-pressure homogenization of Escherichia coli, strain JM101, containing inclusion bodies of recombinant porcine somatotropin" (see abstract). None of the findings on the lysis of E. coli strains under homogeniser pressure (see page 368, right column, penultimate paragraph and Figure 7) relate to periplasmic expression of a protein. It was concluded that "the overexpression of a foreign protein leads to weakening of the cell wall" (Id, paragraph 1). However, in the case of periplasmic expression, the foreign protein would be expressed outside of the cell wall. In view of this, the board considers that there is no evidence in document D6 that the skilled person would encounter any difficultly in identifying strains of E. coli periplasmically expressing recombinant proteins that do not lyse under conditions of the claim.
4.1 Thus, document D6 does not provide evidence that the skilled person cannot carry out the invention as claimed without undue burden.
5. In relation to the evidence provided in Annexes 1 and A, the established case law of the boards is that there are no firm rules according to which types of evidence are, or are not, convincing. Each piece of evidence is given an appropriate weighting according to its probative value on a case-by-case basis (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office, 8th edition, III.G.4.2).
6. In the case at hand, the board has noted a number of issues that arise when considering the Annexes. These include the following:
6.1 Neither Annex 1 nor Annex A has an identifiable author. In the case law of the boards "an unsigned statement by an unknown and unnamed person should in principle be given minimal weight" (see Id., 4.2.1). Moreover, the level of skill of the person who carried out the experiments is unknown.
6.2 It is not clear if, in the experiments reported in the Annexes, the expression of the antibody was to the periplasm. The board notes that expression of a protein to the periplasm in E. coli is generally governed by the presence of an appropriate signal sequence. Neither Annex nor any of the appellant's written submissions provide any details about the expression vector used.
6.3 The information presented in Annex 1 is, in part, inconsistent with that presented in Annex A. For instance Annex 1 (Abb. 4) and Annex A (Fig. 1b) relate to the same experiment and both show the amount of product (antibody) recovered in mass per unit volume. The yield obtained for induced and auto-induced systems at 70 and 200 bar shown in Abb. 4 of Annex 1 and Fig. 1b of Annex A is shown below;
Annex 1 (Abb.4) Annex A (Fig. 1b)
70 bar
Auto-induced ca. 50 mg/l 0 mg/l
Induced ca. 250 mg/l 1050 mg/l
200 bar
Auto-induced ca. 230 mg/l 0 mg/l
Induced ca. 420 mg/l 1200 mg/l
6.4 The fact that there is no correspondence between the yield achieved for the induced and the auto-induced systems between the two sets of results, although these relate to the same experiment, leads to the conclusion the there must be an error, either in the reporting of the results or in the experiments themselves.
7. All of the above factors lead the board to the conclusion that the evidence in both Annex 1 and A is of a nature that it cannot convincingly demonstrate that the skilled person would face an undue burden in carrying out the invention as claimed without undue burden.
8. The board is therefore satisfied that the requirements of Article 83 EPC are met for the subject-matter of the claims.
Inventive step - Article 56 EPC
9. To assess whether or not a claimed invention meets the requirements of Article 56 EPC, the board applies the "problem and solution" approach, long established in the case law of the boards of appeal (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office, 8th edition, I.D.2).
The closest prior art
10. Document D3 discloses, inter alia, methods for the manufacture of recombinant antibodies from the periplasm of E. coli strain W3110 and retrieval of folded and soluble material by applying heat treatment (see column 13, line 64 to column 14, lines 1 to 19). This document was seen as representing the most relevant state of the art for assessing inventive step by the opposition division and both parties. The board has no reasons to depart from this assessment.
The technical problem and its solution
11. The method of claim 1 differs from that disclosed in document D3 in the inclusion of a step of subjecting the E. coli host cell sample to a non-lysing pressure treatment. According to the patent, the technical effect of this is "that non-lysing treatment in combination with heat treatment, brings an increase in the yield of functional antibody at the primary extraction stage of up to 50%; i.e. the yield of functional antibody is increased above that of heat treatment alone" (see paragraph [007]).
12. The appellant, on the basis of evidence in the patent itself, in Annexes 1 and A and in document D6, disputes that this effect is achievable over the entire scope of the claim.
13. It is established case law of the boards of appeal that "If the inventive step of a claimed invention is based on a given technical effect, [it] should, in principle, be achievable over the whole area claimed" (see Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office, 8th edition 2016, ID. 9.8.3).
14. The data provided in the patent in Figures 2, 3b, 4a and Table 1 shows that the yield of antibody obtainable by carrying out the method as claimed is improved in comparison to the yield obtainable without the non-lysing pressure conditions, i.e. in comparison with a method representing the closest prior art. Figure 3(a) of the patent (a histogram showing the effect of pressure treatment on the yield of functional antibody at 60°C) shows that the yield of functional antibody at 1000 psi (319 mg/l) was slightly less than the control (atmospheric pressure; 343 mg/l). However, in the same experiment, the yield at pressures of 2000 and 4000 psi was greater than the control (460 and 921 mg/l, respectively).
15. Thus, while the patent discloses that a single set of conditions, falling within the ambit of claim 1, did not result in an improved yield, it also discloses several other working embodiments of the claimed method which did result in an improved yield. For the board, the overall evidence in the patent convincingly demonstrates that using the claimed method leads to an improved yield of high purity antibodies, achievable over substantially the whole area claimed.
16. As far as document D6 and Annexes 1 and A are concerned, the board considers that none of them provides evidence that the technical effect of improved yield of high purity antibodies cannot be achieved over the whole area claimed for the reasons given in points 4.4. to 7.7. above.
17. Hence, the technical problem can be seen as to improve the yield of a method for the production of high purity recombinant antibodies.
Obviousness
18. The question to be answered in considering obviousness is whether the person skilled in the art, seeking a solution to the above formulated problem, and starting from the closest prior art as represented by document D3, would have considered that subjecting an E. coli sample, periplasmically expressing recombinant antibody, to a non-lysing pressure treatment step at between 1000 psi and 4000 psi, before subjecting it to an increase in temperature, was obvious.
19. The appellant has argued that the solution as presented in claim 1 was obvious because it combines heat with pressure treatment which combination was derivable from the disclosure of document D3 combined with that of document D5.
20. Document D5 is a review of process-scale techniques used to disrupt host cells for the large-scale manufacture of biological products. In relation to the release of proteins from the periplasmic proteins it states "[...] chemical attack of the outer membrane allows periplasmic proteins to be released. Enzymatic methods generally involve enzymatic attack of the peptidoglycan layer in gram-negative bacteria, and of the mannoprotein and glucan components of the yeast wall" (page 499, first paragraph). More specifically it states "EDTA is clearly effective at disrupting the outer membrane, and may therefore be employed to recover periplasmic proteins" (page 501, final paragraph).
21. On the other hand, pressure treatment is mentioned on page 498 as follows: "Complete destruction of the wall in a non-specific manner is usually achieved by mechanical means. Laboratory-scale methods [...] include the French press, shaking with glass beads and sonication. At process scale, mechanical methods are restricted primarily to bead milling, high-pressure homogenization, and microfluidization...".
22. In summary, document D5 suggests chemical means for the specific release of proteins from the periplasm and discloses pressure treatments as a means for the complete destruction of the cell wall and the release of the entire intracellular content.
23. From this, the board concludes that the skilled person starting from document D3 and seeking to improve the yield of high purity antibody would not have considered including an additional pressure step before the heat treatment step, since such steps were seen as a means of totally destroying the cell wall.
24. It follows that the board holds that the subject-matter of claim 1 was not obvious to the person skilled in the art at the effective date of the patent. Dependent claims 2 to 5 relate to embodiments of claim 1. The conclusions on inventive step reached for the subject-matter of claim 1 therefore apply equally to the subject-matter of claims 2 to 5.
Order
For these reasons it is decided that:
The appeal is dismissed.

This decision  T 1818/12 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T181812.20170209. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo by moritz320 via PixaBay under a Creative Commons CC0 license (no changes made).

T 260/14 - Partial priority for a working example of a generic claim feature

Delta Patents Patent Law -

The opposition division did not allow the main request as it considered  the priority application to be prior art pursuant Art. 54(3) EPC and the generically worded claim 1 of the main request to be anticipated by an examplary dental impression material disclosed in the priority application ('poisonous priority'). The proprietor appealed and argued that partial priority should have been recognized, following the principles of G 1/15. In the opponent's view, the claim was not entitled to partial priority and the working example of the priority document (also present in the granted patent) destroyed the novelty of the claim. In the decision , the Board carefully explains how G 1/15 is to be applied, and confirmed partial priority for the part of claim 1 concerning the working example. Consequently, the claim was novel.
Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. European patent No. 2 046 262 based on European patent application No. 07799773.2 was opposed on the grounds that its subject-matter lacked novelty and inventive step and was not sufficiently disclosed.

Claim 1 of the patent read as follows:

"A dental impression material comprising a base paste and a catalyst paste, wherein the base paste comprises at least one polymerizable polyether material with a linear backbone having no side chains which is selected from the group consisting of

a) polyethers with at least one aziridino group,

b) polyethers with at least one olefinically unsaturated group and a compound with at least one SiH group and

c) polyethers with at least one olefinically unsaturated group and at least one SiH group and

d) polyethers with at least one alkoxysilyl group;

e) polyethers with at least one olefinically unsaturated group

and 0.1 to 15% by weight of a fluidity improver, the fluidity improver being a random copolyether of ethyleneoxide and at least one more alkyleneoxide which is not ethylene oxide, the copolymer comprising at least about 50% of structural elements from ethylene oxide as a fluidity improver, the fluidity improver having a molecular weight Mw in a range of 100 to 1900, and wherein the catalyst paste comprises at least one initiator or catalyst or both for initiating or catalyzing the polymerization of the at least one polymerizable polyether material."

Independent claim 10 related to a cured dental impression material obtainable by curing the material of claim 1. Independent claims 11, 13 and 14 related to methods or uses concerning the dental impression material of claim 1. Independent claim 15 related to a kit for producing dental materials comprising a base component containing from 0.1 to 15% by weight of the fluidity improver of claim 1.

II. The following documents were among those cited during the first-instance proceedings:

D1 - D4: [...]

D5: EP 1 882 469 - Priority of the patent in suit

D7a: [...]

III. By an interlocutory decision posted on 10 December 2013, the opposition division maintained the patent in amended form on the basis of the patent proprietor's third auxiliary request, filed during oral proceedings held on 7 November 2013.

IV. In the decision under appeal the opposition division came to the conclusion that the patent was not entitled to the priority date claimed, and that priority document D5, published after the filing date of the opposed patent, was prior art pursuant to Article 54(3) EPC.

The dental impression material containing base paste 2, disclosed on page 15 of D5, anticipated the subject-matter of claim 1 of the opposed patent and of auxiliary requests 1 and 2.

The subject-matter of auxiliary request 3 was considered to meet the requirements of the EPC.

V. The patent proprietor (hereinafter: appellant-patent proprietor) and the opponent (hereinafter: appellant-opponent) both appealed against the decision of the opposition division.

With the statement setting out the grounds of appeal the appellant-patent proprietor requested the opposition to be rejected and submitted six auxiliary requests.

VI. In a communication pursuant to Article 15(1) RPBA issued on 28 February 2017, the Board expressed the opinion that the patent was sufficiently disclosed and met the requirement of novelty. Concerning the requirement of inventive step, it observed that the technical problem was to be defined taking into account inter alia the experiments submitted during the examination phase by the appellant-patent proprietor, which both parties had discussed in their statements setting out the grounds of appeal.

VII. An additional experimental report (document D17) was submitted by the appellant-patent proprietor by letter of 28 March 2017.

VIII. Oral proceedings were held on 13 April 2017. They were not attended by the appellant-opponent, as announced in advance in its letter of 8 March 2017.

IX. In relation to the requirement of novelty of the patent, the appellant-patent proprietor essentially argued that in view of decision G 1/15 the priority document could not be regarded as novelty-destroying. As to inventive step, it argued that the evidence on file demonstrated the better performance of a dental impression material comprising a base paste as defined in claim 1, over the materials disclosed in the closest prior art D1. On the basis of this improvement the product of the patent in suit was inventive over the cited prior-art documents.

X. The appellant-opponent's arguments can be summarised as follows:

(a) The skilled person would not have been able to distinguish polymers useful as fluidity improvers from other substances, such as surfactants, which could be present in the dental impression material. In view of that, the patent did not meet the requirement of sufficiency of disclosure.

(b) Claim 1 of the patent was not entitled to priority. The working example disclosed in paragraphs [0154] to [0156] of priority document D5 was novelty destroying pursuant to Article 54(3) EPC. The principles affirmed in G 1/15 did not apply to the present case. Moreover, this decision did not cover the situation where partial priority was claimed with regard to an actual numerical range selection.

Document D1 was the closest prior art for the assessment of inventive step. The comparative experiments carried out by the patent proprietor did not establish any improvement for the dental impression material of the patent in suit over the materials of D1. The objective technical problem was the provision of an alternative dental impression material. The selection of materials containing a copolymer of polyethylene oxide having a molecular weight in the range 100 to 1900 was obvious since D1, in its broadest disclosure, suggested the use of mixing additives based on polyalkylene oxide polymers of a molecular weight over 300. The subject-matter of the patent was obvious also in view of the teaching of D1 in combination with documents D2 or D3.

XI. The appellant-patent proprietor requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that the opposition be rejected or, alternatively, that the patent be maintained in accordance with one of the six auxiliary requests submitted with the grounds of appeal on 10 April 2014.

XII. The appellant-opponent requested in writing that the decision under appeal be set aside and that the patent be revoked.

Reasons for the Decision

Main request (patent as granted)

1. Sufficiency of disclosure

[...]

Hence, the patent meets the requirement of sufficiency of disclosure.

2. Novelty

2.1 The opposition division decided that the patent was not entitled to the claimed priority date and that claim 1 of the patent in suit lacked novelty pursuant to Article 54(3) EPC in view of the priority document itself (document D5) which was published on 30 January 2008, i.e. after the filing date of the patent in suit (24 July 2007).

2.2 The appellant-opponent's novelty attack against claim 1 of the patent in suit is based on a working example disclosed in paragraphs [0154] to [0156] of D5 (hereinafter: "working example") relating to a dental impression material obtained by mixing the catalyst paste and base paste 2 disclosed in paragraph [0154]. The same working example is also disclosed in paragraphs [0159] to [0162] of the patent in suit.

In its statement setting out the grounds of appeal the appellant-patent proprietor argued that claim 1 of the patent enjoyed partial priority in respect of the part of the claim concerning the working example and that the working example disclosed in D5 could therefore not qualify as prior art under Article 54(3) EPC. The appellant-opponent argued that no priority could be acknowledged from D5 and that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the patent in suit lacked novelty in view of the working example disclosed in D5.

For the reasons set out below, the Board decides that partial priority can be acknowledged for the part of claim 1 concerning the working example.

2.3 In G 1/15 the Enlarged Board of Appeal affirmed the concept of partial priority by answering the questions of law referred to it as follows:

"Under the EPC, entitlement to partial priority may not be refused for a claim encompassing alternative subject-matter by virtue of one or more generic expressions or otherwise (generic "OR"-claim) provided that said alternative subject-matter has been disclosed for the first time, directly, or at least implicitly, unambiguously and in an enabling manner in the priority document. No other substantive conditions or limitations apply in this respect." (see the order of the decision).

2.3.1 The first step in the assessment of whether certain subject-matter within a generic "OR"-claim may enjoy partial priority is to determine the subject-matter disclosed in the priority document that is relevant. G 1/15 gives guidance that this is to be done both in accordance with the disclosure test laid down in the conclusion of G 2/98, and on the basis of explanations put forward by the applicant or patent proprietor to support its claim to priority, in order to show what the skilled person would have been able to derive from the priority document (G 1/15, point 6.4 of the Reasons).

In this context the Board refers to G 2/98 where the Enlarged Board held that a claim to priority cannot be refused on the ground that certain elements of the invention for which priority is claimed do not appear among the claims formulated in the application whose priority is claimed, provided that the application as a whole specifically discloses such elements. In the case before the Board, the novelty-destroying disclosure forms part of priority document D5 and the relevant subject-matter disclosed in D5 is the working example.

2.3.2 The second step is to examine whether this subject-matter is encompassed by the claim of the patent claiming said priority (G 1/15, point 6.4 of the Reasons). The question is thus whether D5's working example is encompassed by claim 1 of the patent in suit. The Board notes that G 1/15 concerns a generic "OR"-claim and that the Enlarged Board referred in its answer explicitly to this type of claim. Thus, in the case before it the Board also has to consider whether the working example is alternative subject-matter by virtue of a generic "OR"-claim.

In G 1/15 the Enlarged Board concurred with the obiter dictum in T 1222/11 (point 11.8 of the Reasons), according to which a decision on whether partial priority can be acknowledged for subject-matter disclosed in a priority document and encompassed by an "OR"-claim cannot depend on whether this subject-matter was expressly identified as a separate alternative in the claim (G 1/15, points 2 and 6.6 of the Reasons). Instead, the Enlarged Board gave examples of cases where the finding that a claim was entitled to partial priority to the extent that the claim encompassed specific alternatives disclosed in the priority document was based on a mere comparison of the ambit of the claim with the content of the priority document (G 1/15, point 2.4 of the Reasons).

In the case now before the Board, claim 1 of the patent in suit is a dental impression material comprising a base paste and a catalyst paste. Both pastes are described using generic features such as "polyethers" and "copolyether of ethyleneoxide". The working example is one specific embodiment of the claim (see paragraphs [0159] to [0162] of the patent in suit). This was never disputed by the parties. Multiple alternative working examples would be possible, with different variants falling within the generic features of claim 1. The working example is thus alternative subject-matter by virtue of a generic "OR"-claim which falls within the ambit of claim 1 of the patent in suit. Thus, the part of claim 1 which concerns the working example is entitled to partial priority. Therefore, the disclosure in the priority document of the working example cannot be considered to take away the novelty of the subject-matter of claim 1 pursuant to Article 54(3) EPC.

2.4 The Board does not accept the appellant-opponent's argument that the questions referred to the Enlarged Board in G 1/15 were not relevant for the case at issue. The appellant-opponent argued that the referral in G 1/15 concerned the situation where the priority document disclosed only one or more embodiments, but not the subject-matter of the entire claim claiming that priority, whereas the patent in suit comprised a limitation of the more general disclosure in D5. It supported this by reference to the molecular weight of the fluidity improver. Claim 1 of the patent in suit identified a range of 100-1900, whereas D5 disclosed a range of 100-3800.

The Board notes that this comparison, as well as the reference to other distinguishing features between the patent in suit and D5, concerns the question of whether priority can be acknowledged for the entire scope of claim 1 of the patent in suit. This is, however, not the issue which the Board needs to decide. The only relevant issue is whether partial priority can be acknowledged for that part of claim 1 which concerns the working example, i.e. that part of claim 1 against which the novelty attack was directed.

2.5 The appellant-opponent posed the question of whether the patentee, in a situation where the generic "OR"-claim and an actual selection of a numerical range are combined (i.e. partial priority claimed with regard to an actual numerical range selection), might be in a better position than a third person who filed a selection invention within the priority interval, for example by claiming a sub-range of 600-1900 of molecular weight. For the latter the criteria for assessing novelty of a selection invention would apply, which included the criterion that the claimed range is sufficiently far removed from any specific examples disclosed in the prior art and from the end-points of the known range. It was therefore not clear whether the principle of equal treatment of applicants and third parties, as referred to in G 2/98 (point 8.1 of the Reasons), would still apply in future. The appellant-opponent argued that the criteria for assessing novelty and priority should be the same.

The Board does not regard the appellant-opponent's question as being based on the facts of the case. The partial priority claimed by the appellant-opponent does not concern a range. The working example contains the fluidity improver Breox PAG 50 A 20 which has one specific molecular weight. Thus, even if one were to assess novelty, the criteria which the appellant-opponent cited with regard to the assessment of novelty of a selection invention would not apply. The appellant-opponent might have had the question in mind of what criteria would apply for the assessment of partial priority if the alternative subject-matter of a claim was a sub-range within the broader range of the claim in question. However, this is not at issue in the present case.

In its submissions dated 30 March 2016 the appellant-opponent asked the Board to decide, in view of its arguments concerning the referred questions in G 1/15, whether a further referral to the Enlarged Board was necessary. In view of the above, the Board does not regard such a referral to be necessary.

2.6 New submissions with regard to novelty

2.6.1 On 6 April 2017, and thus only one week prior to the oral proceedings on 13 April 2017, which the appellant-opponent did not attend, the appellant-opponent filed further submissions in reply to the Board's communication dated 28 February 2017. Whilst the submissions are said to concern inventive step, they can also be interpreted as a novelty attack based on D1. The appellant-proprietor objected to the introduction of this new novelty attack into the proceedings.

2.6.2 The admission of amendments to a party's case after it has filed its grounds of appeal or reply lies within the discretion of the Board (Article 13(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal). The appellant-opponent had referred to D1 already in the notice of opposition. However, throughout the opposition and opposition appeal proceedings and up to the submissions dated 6 April 2017, D1 had not formed the basis of a novelty attack. In view of the advanced stage of the appeal proceedings and the fact that throughout the proceedings the attacks on novelty were based only on D5, the Board decided not to admit the appellant-opponent's submissions to the extent that they can be understood as a novelty attack based on D1.

3. Inventive step

3.1 The invention underlying the patent in suit relates to curable preparations useful in the production of dental impression materials [0001]. In the "Summary of the invention" it is explained that these preparations are supplied to the dentist in the form of two separate pastes which are mixed before use. A problem commonly encountered with the materials known from the prior art is that the mixing of the two pastes requires complicated motorised mixing gears or the use of high force. The objective of the invention underlying the patent in suit is therefore to provide dental impression materials in the form of two components which can be easily mixed and easily dispensed by manually driven dispensers (paragraphs [0011] and [0012]).

3.2 Closest prior art

[...]

3.3 Technical problem

[...]

3.4 Obviousness

[...]

3.4.3 In the light of the considerations set out above, the Board concludes that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the patent meets the requirement of Article 56 EPC.

For the same reasons, the subject-matter of the other independent claims of the patent is likewise inventive.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

1. The decision under appeal is set aside.

2. The opposition is rejected.

This decision T 260/14 (pdf) has European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2017:T026014.20170413. The file wrapper can be found here. Photo "Ceda el paso / Give way" by Macnolete obtained via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (no changes made).

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