|Percy the non-stick cat tries out a frying pan|
for size, comfort and snuggle-ability ...
"This is a textbook obviousness and infringement analysis, and one that would serve as a case study in patent courses for the next few years".The Court of Appeal, with a line-up that was singularly lacking in intellectual property specialists, did not agree.
At trial, Jarden's electrical appliance for the dry frying of food was found to have infringed SEB's 2004 patent. Jarden appealed, arguing that SEB's patent hadn't been infringed and that, even if it had, it was invalid. Essentially, in SEB's view, the judge had been wrong to hold that he could use identifying numerals in the patent diagrams to construe the claim to include the lid as a part of the device's main body (Jarden maintained that its fryer did not infringe the patent because its heater was entirely located in its lid, while the patent's specification showed a patented device which had the heater in its main body, with ducts directing the heat in its lid). On the invalidity issue, SEB said that Arnold J was wrong to conclude that SEB's patent was not obvious over the prior art in a German patent (Vogt), dating back to 1971.
Said the Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Vos, giving judgment for himself, Lord Justice Burnett and Sir Timothy Lloyd), the appeal should be allowed:
* Arnold J should not have held that the lid of SEB's appliance was to be regarded as a part of the main body, his mistake being to rely on reference numerals in the diagrams rather than simply using them to identify which parts in the diagrams were being referred to in the claims or the specification; this was contrary to the decision of an IP-savvy Court of Appeal (Lords Justices Jacob, Patten and Kitchin) in Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd v Premium Aircraft Interiors Group  EWCA Civ 1062 [noted by the IPKat here, where Barbara Cookson of Filemot commented "Really handy piece in here at paragraph 17 providing reassurance that reference numerals in the claims do not limit it. Very useful to have that to hand when writing letters to foreign agents"].
* Arnold J was however entitled to hold that SEB's patent was not obvious over Vogt's earlier invention. Vogt's invention was a shallow frying method with an external heat source under the device: to make this a useful starting point for the skilled team working towards the SEB invention, they would have needed to change the fundamental elements of Vogt's teaching, closing the vessel to form a substantially sealed chamber and then removing the main heater means under the main body to allow a different method of cooking with heat directed at the food.
This Kat would be most reluctant to urge anyone to litigate when it's not necessary to do so, but he would love to see that the Supreme Court thinks of the "you can't construe numerals" principle. First, he thinks there is a position somewhere between "yes you can" and "no you can't", along the lines of "it all depends on how the person skilled in the art, looking at the claims and specification containing the numerals, would react to them". Secondly, he can't help wondering about something: numerals in patent diagrams are not a peculiarly British institution and they pop up in patent specifications in the rest of the world too, not excluding Europe. Is practice in Europe the same as that articulated in Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd v Premium Aircraft Interiors Group, or is there a spread of practices, in which case it will be good to know which approach will be adopted when we have a single European unitary patent, construed by the Unified Patent Court. Comments, anyone?
Painting by numbers here
The wisdom of numbers here
Book of Numbers here