Tag:  “EPO”  | (22) posts

Will there be any difference in the oral hearings between the EPO and the UPC?

Anyone who has been attending an oral proceeding at the EPO, either as an observer or as an active party knows what it’s like. You need to think fast and stay on your toes, and watch your language because every issue, often starting with added subject matter, is taken to a decision immediately. The proceedings may thus end much quicker than what you have prepared for. In any case the opposition division or the Board of Appeal, will usually have pointed out at least their preliminary opinion in a written statement some time before the hearing, but this is an opinion with emphasis on preliminary.

Before the Swedish Court of Patent appeals the proceedings are very different. The parties are asked to present their whole case, mainly focusing on maybe a few aspects that the court sometimes presents at the beginning of the hearing. The decision is then delivered sometime around four weeks after the hearing. This means that the hearing itself may be more comfortable, but you are never sure if you have made your point across to the Court.

A while ago, I participated in a mock trial before a Unified Patent Court, during a course in patent litigation at the CEIPI in Strasbourg. The mock trial was led by a very well respected and experienced German judge. The oral hearing was very interactive, the panel of judges expressed the main issues that they wanted the parties to focus their pleadings on at the beginning of the hearing. The Court also asked the parties questions throughout the hearing. Being a European patent attorney before that panel of judges thus meant that the capabilities of thinking fast and adjusting to the situation came well into play. At the closing of the hearing the Court deliberated and they then gave their decision orally. The written decision will take another few weeks to deliver.

If this is the way that the UPC will work when it is up and running, nobody really knows. It may be that this will be up to the different divisions, and how the panel of judges at that particular Court is used to working and performing their hearings.

One thing that is certain is that the whole procedure before the UPC is supposed to be as efficient and quick as possible, including the oral hearings, which are meant to last not more than one day. I think we can expect that the judges therefore will be more interactive, more open with the main issues, but that the parties probably will be given an opportunity to present their whole case before a decision is taken.

Sofia Willquist, European Patent Attorney

Spain’s actions against unitary patent protection dismissed

On May 5, a potential legal obstacle against the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court was removed when the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) dismissed two Spanish actions against the regulation of the unitary patent protection. These actions, which were brought before the Court in March 2013, question two aspects of the regulation; 1) that the regulation is not in line with EU law, in particular with respect to the distribution of renewal fees, and 2) that the proposed translation regime is discriminatory (to Spain and others).

Regarding the issue of conformity with EU law, the Court finds that the EU legislature did not delegate any powers which are exclusively its own under EU law. The Court also notes that the Member States must be responsible for all implementing measures, especially as the EU is not a party to the EPC. Regarding the issue of translation regime, the Court admits that the regulation differentiates between languages, but considers this differentiation to be motivated by the purpose to make patent protection more accessible.

Personally, I am not surprised by the decision. The political will to put a “Community Patent” in place is strong, and it appears no legal principles will be allowed to stand in its way. Regarding the translations regime, I think the Court has got it quite right. On the one hand, it is certainly true that the system could be seen as unfair to Spain (just as it is to Sweden, Denmark, and any other country not having English, French or German as one of their official languages). On the other hand, it is just as certain that Europe can never grow economically strong while it is fragmented by language. If Europe is to maintain its position as one of the 4-5 most important markets, Europe must be perceived as one market. The European patent system is of course not the only relevant factor in this context, but it can be an important part of the puzzle.

The winding road of the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court now continues. For the system to enter into force, it must be ratified by 13 states, including France, Germany and Great Britain. So far, six states have ratified the agreement (France, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Belgium and Malta), and at least the Netherlands are on their way.

The level and distribution of renewal fees remains as one of the major hurdles, not only because these issues are difficult to agree upon, but also because they will most likely determine the impact and speed of propagation of the new system. Currently, two different proposals have been presented, referred to as TOP4 and TOP5. Essentially, the proposals set the renewal fee level equal to the sum of the national renewal fees of the four or five most popular countries to validate European patents in. The TOP5 proposal has the extra twist of a 25% discount for SMEs (and some other applicants).

In my personal opinion, the cheaper TOP4 alternative is the better one, in order to make the system as attractive as possible. The idea of an SME discount of course sounds attractive, but I find the discount too small to have any significant effect. With renewal fees according to TOP4, I think the Unitary Patent will be quite attractive, at least from a renewal fee point of view.

Fabian Edlund, European Patent Attorney

First non-European country begins validating European patents

As earlier announced on the Awapatent IP Blog here, Tunisia and Morocco has signed an agreement with the EPO on the validation of European patents in the respective countries.

Effective 1 March 2015 the agreement with Morocco entered in to force, thus enabling applicants with a European patent application filed on or after this date to validate their granted patent in Morocco – and thereby to obtain patent protection in Morocco in a significantly cheaper way than hitherto.

Thereby Morocco has become the first ever non-European country to begin validation European patents.

Morocco is automatically designated for all European patent applications filed on or after 1 March 2015.

Validation in Morocco costs a flat rate fee of EUR 240. The fee is payable at the same time as the ordinary designation fees, namely 6 months calculated from publication of the European application.

Late payment within 2 months is possible subject to a surcharge of 50 % of the above-mentioned fee.

Upon grant of the European patent, a translation will have to be filed. At the time of writing this the translation requirements are not completely clear. Indications, however, are that only a translation of the granted claims into Arabic or French must be submitted to the Moroccan IPO. An exception may be for European patents granted in German, in which case a translation of the description into Arabic, French or English will also have to be filed.

In any case the time limit for filing the validation will, as in all other cases, be three months from the publication of the decision to grant.

In other words it seems that it will in most cases not be necessary to file a full translation of the application, which is otherwise required for a direct national application in Morocco. Moreover, as a French translation of the claims will already be on file due to the EPO requirements relating to the grant of the European patent, validation in Morocco will in most cases incur no additional translation costs.

As such, for applicants interested in obtaining protection in Morocco this new procedure should prove significantly cheaper and more streamlined than applying for a direct national patent in Morocco.

Troels Peter Rørdam, European Patent Attorney & Certified Danish Patent Agent

European patent validation in Morocco and Tunisia

Recently, the EPO has initiated work on a new interesting possibility for European patent applicants.

Namely, the EPO has reported having signed an agreement with the Tunisian government on the validation of European patents for Tunisia. A similar agreement has previously, in 2013, been signed with the Moroccan government.

According to the agreements, European patents validated in these countries will have the same legal effect as Moroccan and Tunisian national patents, even if neither Morocco nor Tunisia is an EPC contracting state. Also, European patents validated in these countries will be subject to Moroccan and Tunisian patent legislation. Morocco and Tunisia will thus become States recognizing European patents upon request or, in terms of the EPC, Extension States.

However, the Moroccan and Tunisian governments will first have to ratify the agreements before they enter into force. To do so it is also possible that the Tunisian and Moroccan legislation must first be amended.

Furthermore, it is not yet established what documents will be required for validation, what the official fees applicable will be and what the translation requirements will be.

Until, and by all likelihood also after, ratification of these agreements patent protection in Morocco and Tunisia may be obtained by filing national patent applications and/or PCT national phase applications.

Furthermore, in light of the above, it is worth noting that patent protection in Morocco extends to Tangier and Western Sahara.

Troels Peter Rørdam, European Patent Attorney & Certified Danish Patent Agent

Link to the EPO press release

An unknown exception error at the EPO

We recently blogged about how the EPO has introduced the concept of small entities for obtaining fee reductions in procedures before the EPO. The new procedure can create a peculiar error that at least I did not foresee. The EPO Form 1001E for request for grant of a European patent contains a field, Item 5, where typically Danish, Swedish and Dutch applicants would request examination in their own languages. Before the new Rule 6(4) EPC this would give the applicant a 20% reduction of the examination fee. Now, however, the request form also contains an Item 14.1, “The/Each applicant hereby declares that he is an entity or a natural person under Rule 6(4) EPC”, that must also be checked in order to obtain the current 30% fee reduction.

If Item 14.1 is not checked when the examination is requested in an admissible non-EPO language the EPO cannot process the application any further. The same is likely also relevant if Item 14.1 is checked but examination not requested in the admissible non-EPO language. Such exception errors seem not defined in the Guidelines and will currently result in a phone call from a friendly (but probably somewhat annoyed) formalities officer suggesting how to rectify the error so that the EPO can start the search of the invention. The solution to the error can be to submit a statement to the EPO that either the request in the admissible non-EPO language is withdrawn or that the applicant is a small entity. A statement withdrawing the request for examination in the admissible non-EPO language will be registered as a request pursuant to Rule 139 EPC that the EPO can decide to allow.

Even though payment of the examination fee can be postponed to about two years after filing the application and that examination is requested after a search report has been issued, the request for examination made in an admissible non-EPO language on filing the application must be made together with checking Item 14.1.

It is not clear what will happen if no statement is sent to the EPO. Maybe this can be used as a simple and low risk way to postpone prosecution?

Anders Heebøll-Nielsen, European Patent Attorney & Certified Danish Patent Agent

Adopting a stricter view on ethics?

The everyday work of an IP attorney may seem to amount largely to pencil pushing, but it does in fact involve a surprisingly large number of decisions, where moral issues have to be considered. For instance, can I take on this new client without risking to step on existing clients’ toes?

Events of the last weeks testify that such issues affect everybody in the IP business, also those at the very top.

First, we heard that the renowned Judge Randall Rader from the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) had left his post as head of the CAFC. According to his own words the reason was that he had “crossed lines established for the purpose of maintaining a judicial process whose integrity must remain beyond question”. It appears that Judge Rader’s communication with attorneys appearing before his court had been a bit too friendly.

A few days later it came out that the Chairman of the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) of the European Patent Office (EPO) had taken the consequence of the decision in case R19/12. A series of tasks previously handled by the Chairman in his capacity as Vice-President of Directorate General 3 will be taken over by the President of the EPO and the Chairman will no longer be part of the President’s Management Committee.

The question at hand in R19/12 was whether the Chairman could reasonably be suspected of partiality due to his position on the Management Committee, where he could influence the work of the EPO divisions, whose decisions could later be appealed to the EBA. In a configuration without the Chairman the EBA decided that the suspicion of partiality was in fact legitimate.

Is it merely a coincidence that these stories turn up so soon after each other? Or is this a new wave of Puritanism sweeping over the IP community?

Vibeke Warberg Rohde, European Patent Attorney

Introduction of fee reductions for small entities before the EPO

Effective 1 April 2014 the Administrative Council (AC) of the EPO has changed the rules for obtaining reduction on certain fees charged in relation to the procedure before the EPO [1].

The requirement that the applicant must be a resident of or have principal place of business is in an EPC contracting state with an official language other than English, French or German or be a national of such a state who is resident abroad has not been changed.

However, the reduction obtainable has been increased from 20 % to 30 %. Now, who wouldn’t want to obtain such a reduction? Everybody, obviously! However, not everybody is eligible for fee reductions. Thus, to find out whether you are eligible for a fee reduction, read on.

According to the new Rule 6 EPC the applicant must also be a small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs), a natural person or a non-profit organisation, university or public research organisation.

These types of applicant are defined in the EU Commission’s recommendation of 6 May 2003 [2], and outlined in a somewhat simplified manner in the Official Journal of the EPO [3].

As regards natural persons, non-profit organisations, universities and public research organisations, these types of entities are straight forward to identify.

Natural persons and non-profit organisations are considered self-explanatory. Universities are institutions of higher education and research under the relevant law. Public research organisations are institutes organized under public law with the primary purpose of conduction research and development and of disseminating the results by teaching, publication or technology transfer and which must reinvest all profits in carrying out such activities.

As regards SMEs to qualify as such three conditions must be fulfilled, namely:

a) employ fewer than 250 persons;

b) have an annual turnover not exceeding EUR 50 million and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceeding EUR 43 million; and

c) no more than 25% of the capital may be held directly or indirectly by another company that is not an SME.

When calculating these numbers for a given enterprise, any mother and daughter enterprises must be included subject to the somewhat complex rules of calculation given in [2].

If the applicant is an enterprise failing to fulfill just one of the above-mentioned criteria, no fee reductions are available any longer.

Furthermore, the new reduction of 30 % applies only to the filing fee and the fee for examination. Hence, fee reductions are no longer available for the fees for opposition, appeal, petition for review and limitation/revocation.

To obtain the reduction a declaration stating the applicant’s status must be filed with the EPO when paying the relevant fee. This may be done simply by ticking a box added to the relevant accompanying form.

And what if the applicant changes status during the pendency of an application, you may ask. Fortunately, changes in the status of the applicant occuring after the declaration is filed have no retroactive effect, and so the status of the applicant at the time the fee falls due applies.

It is also worth mentioning the EPO will perform random checks of the declarations filed. If a declaration is incorrect, the associated application will be deemed withdrawn. Fortunately, in this case further processing is available to reinstate the application.

Troels Peter Rørdam, European Patent Attorney & Certified Danish Patent Agent

References:
[1] Decision of 13 December 2013 (CA/D 19/13) the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation: Link
[2] Recommendation of the EU Commission dated 6 May 2003: Link
[3] Official Journal of the EPO, 2/2014, A23: Link

Wider scope of protection for Swedish patents?

Last week the Swedish government referred an amendment of the Swedish patent law to the Council on Legislation for reconsideration. According to the suggested amendment, patent applications filed in English need not be translated into Swedish. Instead, they can be granted in English.

For applicants filing a Swedish patent application in English and wishing to obtain a Swedish patent, this ought to be a major cost saver. However, many of my clients use the Swedish patent system for receiving a quick and not so expensive search and examination and then, after receiving the first Office Action, they abandon the patent application. The patent protection in Sweden is instead obtained by validating a European patent in Sweden. With the new legislation though, there can be benefits in keeping the Swedish application alive.

There will be occasions when the applicant might have to file a translation of the claims, e.g., when publishing the patent application in order to obtain provisional protection and upon receiving an intention to grant. Further, during opposition or litigation, the patentee can be requested to file a translation of the description and the abstract. It is however the claims in English that determine the scope of the patent.

When validating a European patent in Sweden, the scope is instead determined by what is present in both the claims of the European patent and the claims of the Swedish translation. This can be a problem if the translator chooses a narrower wording than the wording in the original application. Hence, one advantage with letting the Swedish patent application become a patent might be a wider scope of protection.

To sum up, the suggested amendment provides both cost savings and supposedly a wider scope of protection. Whether it will lead to an increase in filing rates, we can only guess.

If the amendment is passed, it will become effective 1 July 2014.

Update: The Council on Legislation have now reviewed the amendment and have no objections. The next step is that the Swedish government presents a parliamentary bill to the Riksdag. (25 Nov 2013)

Julia Mannesson, European Patent Attorney 

Link to more information (in Swedish)

Russian documents unveiled

Russian is the 22nd available language in Patent Translate, a machine translation tool specially tuned – by Google and the EPO – to patent documents and patent lingo. In the particular case of Russian, I expect Patent Translate will be saying “claims” rather than “invention’s formula” and similar nonsense. The public can use Patent Translate to translate any patent document on Espacenet.

In a recent press release, the EPO says the new technology will have an impact also on the searches its examiners perform. Certainly, all important patent literature in Russian (1.5 million documents) was already searchable and indexed, often with English abstracts too, but the Office believes that access to full-text translations will increase the chances that relevant prior art is discovered and considered during examination. On top of this, the Russian Patent Office will be adopting the CPC classification system shortly (commented here).

At least in theory, patentees should feel less worried about Russian “submarines” that their competitors might fish up after grant.

What technical fields will benefit the most? As a first guess, I’ve compared the top ten IPC classes in the 5,000 most recent EP, RU and Soviet publications.

  European Patent Office (EP) Russian Federation (RU) Soviet Union (SU)
1 A61 Medical devices; hygiene A61 Medical devices; hygiene C07 Organic chemistry
2 H04 Electric communication C07 Organic chemistry A61 Medical devices; hygiene
3 G06 Computing G01 Measuring; testing B01 Phys./chem. apparatus
4 G01 Measuring; testing H04 Electric communication H01 Basic electric elements
5 C07 Organic chemistry G06 Computing A01 Agriculture; forestry
6 H01 Basic electric elements C12 Biochemistry; beer; wine G01 Measuring; testing
7 C12 Biochemistry; beer; wine A01 Agriculture; forestry C08 Polymers
8 B01 Phys./chem. apparatus B01 Phys./chem. apparatus B29 Working of plastics
9 C08 Polymers H01 Basic electric elements F16 Engineering elements
10 A01 Agriculture; forestry C08 Polymers C12 Biochemistry; beer; wine

Based on this rather unsophisticated analysis, there are just moderate differences between SU and EP patenting. Contemporary EP and RU documents are distributed in a very similar way in terms of IPC classes, meaning that the Russian material is likely to be relevant for a large percentage of the European patent applications. I’m curious to see if the EPO examiners will actually cite more Russian language documents in the next years.

Anders Hansson, European Patent Attorney and member of Awapatent’s Specialist Team for IP in Asia and Russia

Cooperative Patent Classification – Time to prepare for the launch

Almost a year ago I wrote on the Awapatent IP Blog about the efforts of the EPO and USPTO to harmonize their patent classification systems to form the Cooperative Patent Classification (in short CPC). The work is progressing, and it has now become time for an update.

The CPC is now taking shape, and it has become possible for users to familiarize themselves with the new classification scheme as the results this far have been made available by the EPO and the USPTO in what they have named a “CPC launch package”. The launch package includes the complete CPC scheme, the presently finalised CPC definitions and an ECLA-to-CPC-to-IPC concordance table. The launch package is available here.

The EPO and the USPTO explain that the CPC scheme for classifying patent documents according to the technological field of the invention is based on the latest version of the International Patent Classification (IPC) system. The CPC scheme will have sections A through H similar to the IPC as well as an additional brand new section Y including new technological developments and cross-sectional technologies.

There will be CPC definitions available for every CPC subclass and each definition will contain a description of the technical subject-matter covered in the subclass. The CPC definitions will be continuously maintained. Also, a CPC-to-IPC concordance table has been published to help users find the relevant part of the IPC on which the CPC is based.

The CPC is scheduled to be launched on 1 January 2013, and the Awapatent IP Blog will continue to monitor the development with interest to keep our readers updated.

Troels Peter Rørdam, European Patent Attorney & Certified Danish Patent Agent