Monday, 10 June 2013

J 16/11 – Indian Wrestling

In this case the applicant fell into the trap which has been fatal to many unrepresented applicants: he did not pay the renewal fee for the third year in due time.

The fee was due on March 31, 2008.

On May 20, 2008, the EPO sent to the then designated representative (Mr S.) a letter by which it informed the applicant that the fee for the third year had not been paid by the due date, but could still be validly paid up to the last day of the sixth calendar month following the due date, provided that the surcharge was also paid.

The renewal fee was not paid within the time limit.

On November 6, 2008, the EPO issued a notification to the applicant’s representative stating that the application was deemed to be withdrawn.

On December 19, 2008, the EPO was informed that Mr L. had been appointed as the new European representative, replacing Mr S., who had resigned.

On January 8, 2009, the representative filed a request for re-establishment.

The grounds for re-establishment can be summarised as follows:
  • At the beginning of 2008 the applicant had no prospective licensee any more for European countries so that he did not consider paying the renewal fee for the third year.
  • later on the applicant, then travelling for his business in India, found new perspectives for the invention and intended to pay the renewal fee with the surcharge on his return.
  • instead of staying two weeks in India as originally planned, the applicant worked there for about four months. Back in his office on 20 September 2008, the applicant had to face a lot of tasks and for some unclear reasons he did not come across the notice of his U.S. attorneys informing him about the possibility of late payment with a surcharge until 30 September 2008.
  • the applicant was thus not aware of the imminence of the deadline which was missed.
  • the European representative sent to the U.S. agent several reminders relating to the deadline for payment of the renewal fee for the third year and relating to the possibility of late payment with surcharge.
  • the former U.S. attorney, who had meanwhile left the company, had marked the patent application abandoned and the staff member who took over the case did not see any reason to follow up the final deadline.
  • the non-compliance with the time limit was noticed on 12 November 2008, when the notification of loss of right was received.
On August 10, 2011, the Receiving Section refused the request for re-establishment

The applicant then filed its appeal.

It the proceedings before the Board the applicant was offered the opportunity to provide some additional information. When doing so, the applicant contradicted its prior arguments to some extent. Small wonder that the Board dismissed the appeal:

[3.1] The decision under appeal considered that the reference point for examining the circumstances under which the applicant was expected to exercise all due care was the time limit of R 51(2), i.e. in the present case the final loss of rights that occurred when the renewal fee and the additional fee were not paid by 30 September 2008. The Board shares this view and will thus examine the case on this basis.

[3.2] Under the provisions of R 136(2), first sentence, the request for re-establishment of rights must state the grounds on which it is based and must set out the facts on which it relies. This means in particular that the request must firstly define the factual context in which the mistake occurred and secondly adduce convincing evidence in support of the alleged cause of non-compliance.

[3.3] The Boards of Appeal have consistently ruled that facts pleaded for the first time during the appeal proceedings should not in principle be taken into consideration(see J 18/98 [4], T 257/07 [1.2]).

[3.4] In the present case, the board by its communication informed the appellant that the evidence currently on file did not seem convincing enough for the contested decision to be reversed and, exceptionally, gave the appellant an opportunity to improve its case at this late stage of the proceedings.

[3.5] However, in its rejoinder the representative of the appellant, instead of filing evidence as suggested by the board, produced a “sworn statement” written by the appellant himself. In this the appellant gave a significantly different version of the facts as compared to what was the case so far and to a large extent in contradiction with the previously described circumstances.

[3.6] In this new statement and the accompanying letter of the representative, the appellant abandoned the stance taken hitherto, namely that he instructed his US attorney not to pursue the application because of a lack of commercial perspectives. He also stated – for the first time in the proceedings – that he did not receive from his US representative the reminder dated 18 December 2007 asking for instructions as to the payment of the renewal fee, nor any of the subsequent reminders, so that he had no reason at all to contact his US representative. The reasons for marking the file as abandoned by the US representative were attributed to a “possible misunderstanding”, the details of which were not known. The appellant furthermore indicated different dates relating to his trips to India, namely May and June 2007 and from 14 January to 12 February 2008, but these details were now held to be irrelevant, given that the cause of the error was seen in the fact that the appellant was not informed of any of the deadlines.

[3.7] The divergence that exists between the chain of events as explained in the grounds of appeal (and also in the request for re-establishment of rights) on the one hand and the version of the events as explained in the last submissions on the other hand is of such an extent that the board is not in a position to establish which version corresponds to the actual situation which led to the loss of the patent. This immediately raises the question whether the last submissions of the appellant are admissible at all, i.e. whether these facts and evidence are to be examined at all by the board (A 114(2)).

[3.8] Given that the new submissions do not complement the already existing facts, but present a new situation, the board holds that these facts and evidence must be disregarded pursuant to A 114(2). These facts clearly do not fulfil the requirements of R 136(2), in that they were not presented in the request for re-establishment of rights. They are also inadmissible pursuant to Article 13(3) RPBA, given that they raise issues which the board cannot be reasonably expected to deal with, such as the questions of due care in the circumstances leading to the alleged misunderstanding between the appellant and his US agents, or the reminders lost between the appellant and his US agents. The board adds that quite apart from the mentioned specific legal provisions under the EPC, bringing completely new and contradicting facts at such a late stage of the proceedings clearly goes against the general duty of fairness and good faith in the proceedings – whether towards the court(here the board) or the other party –, such a general duty being a generally recognised principle of procedural law in the contracting States (A 125).

[3.9] First of all, the board notes that once the last sworn statement of the appellant and the accompanying explanations given it its letter of 7 November 2012 […] are completely disregarded –  given the scale of the contradictions it brings in the party’s case – it does not improve the appellant’s case. From this it follows that the doubts of the board remain, due to the lack of reliable evidence on file as explained in the communication of the board […]. In this manner the board finds that it remains unproven that the appellant and his agents did take all due care as required by the circumstances. In particular, it remains unproven that the appellant was indeed unable to contact his US agents in order to inform them of his intent to keep the patent.

[3.10] Secondly, if the board were to admit formally in the proceedings the last submissions of the appellant, and would accept, for the benefit of the appellant, that all its submissions in fact relate to the same set circumstances, then it would again be bound to conclude that A 122 was not complied with. In the absence of any solid factual basis for the examination of the case, the board can only observe that far from filling the gaps in the account of the facts previously submitted, the last explanations given by the applicant have created a wide discrepancy between the successive versions of these facts so that it has became impossible to determine which (exceptional) circumstances the appellant and/or its representatives had to overcome in order to avoid the loss of rights. As a consequence, the Board is unable to determine whether the requirement of “all due care required by the circumstances” was met (emphasis by the Board), simply because the circumstances themselves remain unclear.

[3.11] When the factual circumstances surrounding the failure to observe a time limit are not established as in the present case, the board cannot examine who, among the applicant and his representatives, bears the responsibility for the mistake or ascertain where the mistake originated from. In such a situation, it is obviously impossible to determine what the appropriate behaviour should have been in order to avoid the loss of rights. Therefore, the request for re-establishment of rights must fail even if the board were minded to examine the last submission of the appellant on its merits.

[3.12] Finally, for the sake of completeness and once more for the benefit of the appellant, if the board were to look away from the fact that the last submission amounts to a completely new case, and were minded to take into consideration solely the last version of the events given by the appellant in his sworn statement and the accompanying letter of the representative, the Board would not come to a different conclusion on the appeal. Briefly, according to this last version of events the appellant had no personal action to undertake but relied on his US patent attorney who bore the responsibility for paying the renewal fee together with the European patent attorney. The file contains evidence as to the fact that the European patent attorney sent the appropriate reminders regularly and on time. The question that arises at that point would be why the US patent attorney did not pay the fee in due time on behalf of his client or send him reminder(s), or why none of these reminders were received. This question cannot be answered with a minimum degree of certainty, essentially because it was not part of the debate in the greater part of the proceedings. These focused instead on the notion that it was the applicant who had decided to let the application lapse and changed his mind later, after he had found new business perspectives. Thus in the absence of any reliable and credible explanation, the board can only come to the conclusion that there is no apparent reason which could possibly excuse the non-observance of the time limit. Given the fact that the appellant did not attend the oral proceedings, these questions could also not be answered during the oral proceedings.

[3.13] Since the appellant has not convincingly shown that he took all due care required by the circumstances the application for re-establishment of rights was rightly rejected. […]

The appeal is dismissed.

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

The file wrapper can be found here.


Roufousse T. Fairfly said...

The request for reestablishment included the following letter from the applicant's US attorney:

Our foreign associate has informed us that an annuity is due in Europe for the abobe identified patent application. This fee is due by March 14, 2008 at an estimated cost of $875.00. Our fee for attending the matter is $65.00.

These annuities are paid annually. In order to estimate the increase in fees, we normally multiply today's rate by 30%. We do this as their government [sic] sets the actual amount in their local currency. Government fees are subject to increase and currency exchange rates fluctuate, sometimes dramatically.

I'm not sure what the second paragraph is supposed to mean. One interpretation is that the "30%" is an unrefundable surcharge.

From January to March 2008 the exchange rate hovered in the range 1 USD = 0.64-0.68 EUR.

The third year renewal fee was 400 EUR in those days.

This works out to 625 USD when the most unfavorable rate is taken. 875 USD represents a surcharge of about 40%, and at 68 eurocents to the dollar, that makes almost 50%...

I wonder how much of that markup came from the the European side. Not bad for assuming the forex risk between the world's two strongest currencies... To which a 65 USD handling fee must be added.

Kuifje said...


I read your comment as if you believe somebody is profiting tremendously and unjustifiably from a renewal fee payment.

I need to take issue here. If the applicant had paid, he would have paid circa 600 Euro, for a renewal fee of 400 Euro.

So for a measly 200 Euro, two patent attorneys, one in Europe and one in the US, need to
keep track of deadlines,
review incoming mail and report appropriately to the client,
keep track of responses,
send reminders,
explain to the customer on the phone why he needs to pay
act on instructions to pay
pre-fund the renewal fee
run the risk of invoices not being paid (sending reminders for that as well)
document every action
store the documents in case of future disputes.

I think the client was charged an extremely low price for all of these services. An absolute bargain.

Myshkin said...

Whether 200 euro for this is "measly" or not, the "fee for attending to the matter" is said to be $65.

Let's see. The European attorney asked for $676.09. That would seem to be the € 400 for the actual renewal fee plus a handling fee of about € 50 (based on the exchanged rate indicated by Roufousse).

The US attorney then adds 30%, rounds this down to $875 and adds its own handling fee of $65.

That two handling fees are charged is fair enough. But the 30% increase?

On the other hand, the letter only mentions an "estimated cost" and does not ask for payment but for instructions. Maybe the 30% is added just to be safe and the client is only charged the $676.09 plus $65? The letter also seems to anticipate the cost of the annuities in later years (in which case they might be surprised to find out that the renewal fees charged by "their government" in later years increase by far more than 30%).

Myshkin said...

So the renewal fee and the additional fee for 2008 were paid too late. Will they now be reimbursed?

The renewal fee for 2009 was paid in time. Will it also be reimbursed?

The renewal fees for 2010-2013 were never paid. What if the appeal had succeeded. Would the application have been dead anyway?

I think the answers are yes/yes/yes. If that is correct, the appeal had the best possible outcome for the applicant.