Wednesday, October 12, 2016

BGH rules for patentees on appeal - again

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Article Bundesgerichtshof, Article Bundespatentgericht, Article European patent law, Article German civil procedure, Article German Federal Court of Justice,

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In two decisions published yesterday on its website, the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) overturned two decisions by the Federal Patent Court (Bundespatentgericht) invalidating the patents in suit for lack of novelty. Both decisions are remarkable not because they break new ground in (patent) law (they don't), but rather because the BGH corrects the fact finding of the lower court and finds in favour of the patentees. They fuel the impression that the Federal Court of Justice is more patent-friendly than the Bundespatentgericht, or, to put it another way, that the Federal Patent Court has become overly strict.


In the first decision, designated a leading case (Leitsatzentscheidung) by the Court, the BGH finds that a key witness lacked credibility and concludes that the public prior use which led the Federal Patent Court to invalidate the patent for lack of novelty was not established. The patent at issue was Nichia's EP 936 682, an important patent concerning white light emitting diodes that has also been the subject of opposition proceedings before the EPO. The decision is remarkable because the Federal Court of Justice is bound by the fact finding of the lower court unless there are specific doubts regarding the correctness and completeness of the fact finding (§ 529(1) Civil Procedure Act). The Court held that there were specific doubts as to the credibility of a key witness for the public prior use, whose testimony was inconsistent with that of other witnesses and established facts. The twist was that the witness had died in the meantime and could not be questioned again. This, so the BGH, did not preclude it from finding the testimony unpersuasive. After it had concluded that public prior use was not proven, the Court assessed inventive step based on the record before it and found the subject matter(s) of the claims to be inventive.


Fig. 1 of EP 1 389 985
In the second decision, the Federal Patent Court had found that claim 1 of EP 1 389 985 concerning a lower leg orthosis lacked novelty over the German utility model DE 299 08 981. It upheld an auxiliary claim. The patentee appealed. The Federal Court of Justice held that the lower court had misconstrued the disclosure of the allegedly novelty destroying document and that the document failed to disclose all the features of the invention. It then went on to assess novelty over two additional documents, also finding the invention not anticipated, and assessed inventive step in a single paragraph, concluding the plaintiff had failed to show lack of inventive step. Again the patentee prevailed on appeal.


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