Tuesday, 19 January 2010

T 140/07 – You Don’t Crossbreed Sheep With Goats (Even If The Shepherds Are Friends)

This decision contains an interesting paragraph on combination of documents. Claim 1 of the first auxiliary request concerned a “method of forming a hybrid composite structure of an airplane fuselage section on a lay-up mandrel …”.

The opponent considered the claim obvious over a combination of documents including document D5. This document belongs to another domain than the opposed patent but it was filed by an aeronautic company. This bridge is considered insufficient by the Board:

[…] In the Board’s judgment, the closest prior art is represented by paragraphs [0002], [0003] and [0005] of the patent specification, from which the claimed process differs in that gore strips are applied parallel to a longitudinal axis of the aircraft fuselage section and the polymeric matrix composite material is applied transversely thereto. [3.4.2]

The [patent proprietor] has shown, in particular in paragraphs [0026] to [0041] of the specification in conjunction with figures 3 to 5, that the application of the gore strips along the longitudinal axis of the lay-up mandrel and the lamination of the matrix composite transversely thereto can be automated, for instance by a strip laying machine (62) and a fibre placement machine (70) (cf. paragraphs [0033] and [0041]). Therefore, the problem of reducing manual handling is solved by these claimed measures.

D5 inter alia describes the preparation of composite structures having the shape of a prolate spheroid, where metal segments are arranged in the longitudinal direction relative to a given axis and the glass fibres are arranged transversely thereto. D5, however, is concerned with casings for rocket motors, tanks, pipes or pressure vessels which are entirely different in shape and size when compared to aircraft fuselage sections, the latter having length and diameters of several meters.

The Board also shares the Appellant’s view that the requirements concerning the mechanical strength and resistance to stress forces are different; according to D5 the focus is on the resistance to hoop stresses, whereas aircraft fuselages sections mainly have to withstand bending forces, hoop-stress resistance being of minor importance.

It is therefore considered unrealistic to assume that a skilled person intending to solve problems in connection with the preparation of aircraft fuselage sections would take into account prior art which is unrelated to their specific technical requirements. The fact that the applicant of D5 is an aeronautic company does not alter the situation, because a skilled person intending to solve a technical problem of the prior art would solely rely on the technical information actually given in the document; this information, however, contains no pointer towards the usability of the structures for aircraft fuselage sections.

For the above reasons, the person skilled in the art of aircraft fuselage sections would not consider a combination of the prior art mentioned in the patent specification, paragraphs [0002], [0003] and [0005], with D5 in order to solve the problem of the invention claimed according to the first auxiliary request. Consequently, the subject-matter of the claims according to the first auxiliary request involves an inventive step. [3.4.3] 

To read the whole decision, click here.