Thursday, 18 October 2012

T 1856/11 – Enough Said

In this case the Board had to review the decision  of the Opposition Division (OD) to reject the opposition as inadmissible.

[1.1] According to the Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 6th edition 2010, VII.D.2.3.2, the requirement of R 76(2)(c) is fulfilled if the contents of the notice of opposition are sufficient for the opponent’s case to be properly understood on an objective basis, so that both the patent proprietor and the OD know what that case is, see T 222/85 [4].

[1.2] As is further stated in T 222/85 [5], the sufficiency of the notice of opposition as far as it concerns the fulfilment of the minimum substantive requirements of A 99(1) and R 76(2)(c) in this respect must be distinguished from the strength of the opponent’s case. Indeed, R 76(2)(c) does not prescribe a complete “indication of the facts, evidence and arguments presented in support” so as to permit a conclusive examination on that basis alone, see T 1069/96.

[1.3] It follows that, for the admissibility of an opposition, the statements made in the opponent’s pleadings need not even be true nor the arguments conclusive in themselves. It is merely necessary that the OD and the patent proprietor are able to follow them.

[1.4] On the one hand, an (unfounded) ground of opposition might have been clearly presented and argued. Conversely, an unconvincing submission may be rejected as not allowable even though, if properly drafted, it would have succeeded. Whether such is the case, however, is no longer an issue of admissibility but purely a question of the merits of the case.

[1.5] The notice of opposition indicates two grounds of opposition: lack of novelty, based on D1 alone, and lack of inventive step, starting from D2 and using D1 to show that the skilled person would apply a certain teaching from that document in the method of D2. D1 is a “User guide for PickMaster 2002, version 2.30”. Both attacks therefore hinge on this document and the OD was correct in concentrating the admissibility discussion on this document.

[1.6] The public availability of patent documents is usually not a problem. Where, however, an opposition is based on another type of document such as a doctorate thesis or a scientific journal arriving at a certain library at a certain date or – as in this case – a user’s guide allegedly sent with a product to the customer, the question of its public availability before the effective date of the patent needs to be addressed. In this respect, the same details that apply to an alleged public prior use need to be determined.

[1.7] According to T 328/87 [3.3], when an opposition ground is based on an allegation of prior use, the requirements of R 76(2)c) are fulfilled if the notice of opposition indicates, within the opposition period, the facts which make it possible to determine the date of prior use (“when”), in order to ascertain its “prior” character; the object of the use (“what”) in order to examine its relevance, and the circumstances relating to the alleged use (“how”) in order to confirm its availability to the public. The notice of opposition must also indicate the arguments presented in support of this ground of opposition and indicate the evidence in support of the alleged prior use (the latter needs however not be conclusive for the purposes of the admissibility of the opposition, see points [1.1-3] above).

[1.8] In the present case the public availability of the user guide D1 is only indirectly argued via the reference in the notice of opposition “we also enclose an order confirmation showing that the PickMaster 2002, version 2.30 was deliverer [sic] 08.10.2004 to a customer”. The order confirmation is D3 (supra, point III).

[1.9] As concerns the details […] that need to be determinable from the notice of opposition, the supporting documents D1 and D3 allow the following to be established:

[1.9.1] As far as it concerns the “when”, the opponent stated on page 1, lines 11 and 12 of its notice of opposition that a PickMaster 2002, version 2.30 had been delivered on 8.10.2004 to a customer. D3, page 5, mentions a “PickMaster 2.30” and a “user’s guide, English”.

[1.9.2] As far as it concerns the “what”, the opponent presented a complete analysis of the features of claim 1 with respect to D1, the user’s guide Pickmaster version 2.30 with copyright notice “2002”, see page 2, line 15 to page 4, line 12 of the notice of opposition.

[1.9.3] As far as it concerns the “circumstances”, the opponent referred to the sale and delivery of the above mentioned machine and, by implication also via D3, of its “user’s guide” to the customer “Vipal S/A” on 8.10.2004, see page 1, lines 11 and 12 of the notice of opposition, i.e. implicitly without any obligation of secrecy.

[1.10] In the present case the Board considers that this is all the patent proprietor and the OD need to understand the case of the opponent, i.e. to make the opposition admissible. The rest is a question of what is sufficiently proven also taking account of what has further been filed in the proceedings and what the consequences thereof are, i.e. the case’s allowability. The Board notes that the additional details required by the respondent (whether and which part of the user’s guide was made public by Vipal, when and how this took place, or how Vipal made use of the user’s guide) are not relevant for deciding the opposition’s admissibility.

[1.11] For the reasons set out above the Board considers the opposition to be admissible.

Should you wish to download the whole decision, just click here.

The file wrapper can be found here.