Amendments under the European Patent Convention

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Legal requirements applicable to European patent applications and patents
Note: The above list of legal requirements is not exhaustive.

Article 123 of the European Patent Convention (EPC) [1] relates to the amendments under the EPC, i.e. the amendments to a European patent application or patent, and notably the conditions under which they are allowable. In particular, Article 123(2) EPC prohibits adding subject-matter beyond the content of the application as filed, while Article 123(3) EPC prohibits an extension of the scope of protection by amendment after grant.

Article 123(1) EPC[edit]

Article 123(1) EPC provides the right for an applicant, in proceedings before the European Patent Office (EPO), to amend its European patent application and for a patent proprietor (during opposition proceedings) the right to amend its European patent.[1] This must however be done in accordance with the Implementing Regulations, considering that the applicant is given "at least one opportunity to amend the application of his own volition."[1] According the Implementing Regulations, amendments before receiving the (extended) European search report are generally not allowed,[2] amendments are allowed in response to the extended European search report (i.e., in response to the communication under Rule 70a(1) or (2) EPC), and amendments are also allowed shortly after entry into European phase of a PCT application (namely, in response to the communication under Rule 161(1) EPC),[3] but any further amendment is subject to the consent of the Examining Division.[4]

Article 123(2) EPC[edit]

Article 123(2) EPC provides that a European patent application, or European patent, may not be amended (during prosecution for an application, and after grant for a patent) in such a way that it contains subject-matter which extends beyond the content of the application as filed.[1] In other words, an amendment cannot go beyond the original disclosure of the application. The amended subject-matter must be directly and unambiguously derivable (i.e., clearly and unambiguously derivable) from the content of the application as filed. The underlying idea of Article 123(2) EPC is that an applicant should not be allowed to improve his position by adding subject-matter not disclosed in the application as filed, which would give him an unwarranted advantage and could be damaging to the legal security of third parties relying on the content of the original application.[5] This legal provision illustrates the importance accorded by the Convention to the content of a European patent application as filed –i.e. on the filing date– in respect of its legal effects.[6]

An extension of the subject-matter of the European patent beyond the content of the application as filed is a ground of opposition,[7] and revocation.[8]

Application[edit]

The provisions of Article 123(2) EPC do not concern whether amendments have introduced an expression not present in the application as filed, but whether the amendments have introduced subject-matter extending beyond the content of the application as filed.[9] In other words, the only relevant question is whether the skilled person is confronted, in the amended version of the application or the patent, with additional technical information compared to the technical information contained in the application as filed. If so, Article 123(2) EPC is violated.[10]

When assessing the content of a European patent application as filed, the applicable standard of proof is a rigorous standard, namely the certainty "beyond reasonable doubt" rather than the "balance of probabilities", the normal standard of proof in civil proceedings.[11]

Disclaimers[edit]

A disclaimer defines, in a claim, subject-matter which is not claimed.[12] By extension, a disclaimer may also mean the action of introduction a negative limitation in a claim, i.e. "an amendment to a claim resulting in the incorporation therein of a "negative" technical feature, typically excluding from a general feature specific embodiments or areas".[13] The allowability of disclaimers is subject to particular conditions.

Under the case law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO, disclaimers are allowed only in certain circumstances, as confirmed in G 1/03 and G 2/03 decisions:

"A disclaimer [which is not disclosed in the application as filed[14][15]] may be allowable in order to:

  • restore novelty by delimiting a claim against state of the art under Article 54(3) and (4) EPC;[16]
  • restore novelty by delimiting a claim against an accidental anticipation under Article 54(2) EPC; an anticipation is accidental if it is so unrelated to and remote from the claimed invention that the person skilled in the art would never have taken it into consideration when making the invention; and
  • disclaim subject-matter which, under Articles 52 to 57 EPC, is excluded from patentability for non-technical reasons." [17]

In decision G 2/10, the Enlarged Board of Appeal further decided that:

"1a. An amendment to a claim by the introduction of a disclaimer disclaiming from it subject-matter disclosed in the application as filed infringes Article 123(2) EPC if the subject-matter remaining in the claim after the introduction of the disclaimer is not, be it explicitly or implicitly, directly and unambiguously disclosed to the skilled person using common general knowledge, in the application as filed.
1b. Determining whether or not that is the case requires a technical assessment of the overall technical circumstances of the individual case under consideration, taking into account the nature and extent of the disclosure in the application as filed, the nature and extent of the disclaimed subject-matter and its relationship with the subject-matter remaining in the claim after the amendment."[18]

Therefore, in G 2/10, the Enlarged Board of Appeal has essentially restored the possibility for an applicant or patentee to renounce part of its patent monopoly, subject to certain conditions.[19]

Article 123(3) EPC[edit]

Article 123(3) EPC prohibits amendments to granted claims during opposition proceedings in such a way as to extend the protection conferred by a European patent.[20] It is for instance "not allowable to replace a technical feature of a granted claim with another technical feature which causes the claim to extend to subject-matter which was not encompassed by the granted claim."[21] "Article 123(3) EPC is directly aimed at protecting the interests of third parties by prohibiting any broadening of the claims of a granted patent, even if there should be a basis for such broadening in the application as filed."[22] While, before grant, the legal security of third parties has been considered to be "sufficiently protected by the prohibition of extending the content of the application by amendment beyond what was originally disclosed", without therefore prohibiting a broadening of the claims before grant, the situation is different after grant. After grant, "the interests of third parties are further protected by Article 123(3) EPC [in that] the patentee's right to amend the claims is limited by the scope of the granted patent."[23]

According to Enlarged Board of Appeal decision G 2/88, "it is the totality of the claims before amendment in comparison with the totality of the claims after the proposed amendment that has to be considered".[24] If for instance the subject-matter of the claims is changed during opposition proceedings to a different embodiment and if, thereby, the scope of protection of the claims has been extended, the amendment, or change, is contrary to Article 123(3) EPC.[25]

Inescapable Article 123(2) and (3) EPC trap[edit]

If a European patent contains a feature which was not disclosed in the application as filed (in contravention of Article 123(2) EPC) and if the removal of this feature would extend the scope of protection beyond the scope conferred by the patent as granted (in contravention of Article 123(3) EPC), the European patent has, in principle, to be revoked.[26] In principle again, it does not matter whether the amendment leading to such a situation may have been approved during prosecution by the examining division,[26] since the responsibility for any amendment always lies with the applicant.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Article 123 EPC
  2. ^ Rule 137(1) EPC
  3. ^ Rule 137(2) EPC
  4. ^ Rule 137(3) EPC
  5. ^ Legal Research Service for the Boards of Appeal, European Patent Office, Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO (7th edition, September 2013), ii.e.1 "Article 123(2) EPC", citing G 1/93.
  6. ^ Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO, G 11/91 (19 November 1992), Reasons 1.5.
  7. ^ Article 100(c) EPC
  8. ^ Article 138(1)(c) EPC
  9. ^ Board of Appeal decision T 567/06 of 31 May 2007, Reasons 2.6.
  10. ^ See for example: (German) Decision T 1906/11 of 18 January 2013, Reasons 4.2.2, second paragraph.
  11. ^ Decision T 1248/08 of 16 February 2012, Reasons 1.1.2.
  12. ^ Decision G 2/10 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office, August 30, 2011, Reasons for the decision, point 2.1.
  13. ^ Decision G 2/10, August 30, 2011, Reasons for the decision, point 2.2.
  14. ^ The reasoning of G 1/03 and G 2/03 applies to disclaimers which are not disclosed in the application as filed. In other words, these decisions relate to "(originally) undisclosed disclaimers". See for instance: Decision T 0154/06 of 11 January 2008, Reasons 4.
  15. ^ Robert Young (8–9 November 2012). EPO boards of appeal and key decisions: Disclaimers and their legal basis, especially in the light of decisions G 1/03, 2/03 and G 2/10 – possible consequences for their use as an instrument of patent prosecution (Part 1 of 3). Munich, Germany: European Patent Office. 19:54 to 21:42 minutes in. Retrieved November 10, 2013. (...) the restricted framework of the decisions. They were talking about undisclosed disclaimers. 
  16. ^ For an application of this principle, see Decision T 33/06 of 18 September 2007. Reasons 2.3:
    "The disclaimer... does not only delimit ... against [the] state of the art under Article 54(3) EPC but against more subject-matter than defined in [the state of the art document] as being novelty destroying. Hence, the subject-matter now excluded ... extends beyond the relevant passage serving as a basis in [the state of the art document] for the exclusion.
    Hence, the amendment has a bearing on the technical information disclosed in the specification, and the patent has been amended in a way that it extends beyond the content of the application as filed.
    It follows that the patent in suit contravenes Article 123(2) EPC."
  17. ^ G 1/03 and G 2/03
  18. ^ Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO) (August 30, 2011). "Case Number: G 0002/10, Decision of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of 30 August 2011, Headnote". European Patent Office (EPO). Retrieved July 29, 2012. 
  19. ^ Robert Young (8–9 November 2012). EPO boards of appeal and key decisions: Disclaimers and their legal basis, especially in the light of decisions G 1/03, 2/03 and G 2/10 – possible consequences for their use as an instrument of patent prosecution (Part 3 of 3). Munich, Germany: European Patent Office. 8:32 to 8:44 minutes in. Retrieved November 10, 2013. The Enlarged Board has largely, in my understanding, restored the position of the disclaimer as a renunciation of part of a patent monopoly, subject to safeguards. 
  20. ^ Legal Research Service for the Boards of Appeal, European Patent Office, Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO (7th edition, September 2013), ii.e.2 : "Article 123(3) EPC".
  21. ^ See for instance Decision T 0195/09 of 8 October 2010, point 2.1.5, paragraph 4.
  22. ^ Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO, G 1/93 (2 February 1994), Reasons 9.
  23. ^ G 1/05, reasons 5.3.
  24. ^ Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO, G 2/88 (11 December 1989), Reasons 3.2.
  25. ^ See for instance T 0837/07 (6 October 2010), Reasons for the Decision, 1.
  26. ^ a b Legal Research Service for the Boards of Appeal, European Patent Office, Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO (7th edition, September 2013), ii.e.3.2 : "Decision G 1/93 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal", and Enlarged Board of Appeal decision G 1/93.
  27. ^ G 1/93, Reasons 13, last sentence.

Further resources[edit]

External links[edit]