It is a pleasure when this weblog can report on something to do with European patents that has nothing to do with power politics and everything to do with what the patent system is all about: operating a system of rules that is designed to separate the novel wheat from the previously-disclosed chaff in order to ensure as far as possible that only patentable inventions receive patents. Sometimes this happens at a positively nerdish level of detail. This guest blogpost from Susan Keston (Patent Director, HGF Ltd) illustrates a level of legal sophistication in the applicability of patent law to the facts of individual applications that lies way beyond the imagination of the casual reader of the European Patent Convention. This is what Susan writes:
Decision T0571/10 (decision date 3 June 2014 but online only on 27 November) makes an interesting contribution to the debate on partial priority. This decision affirms decision T1222/11 by departing from the strict and literal interpretation of the words “provided that it gives rise to the claiming of a limited number of clearly defined alternative subject-matters” adopted in a number of previous decisions (T1877/08, T476/09, T1443/05 and T1127/00). This limited number of clearly defined alternatives condition was first introduced by G2/98.* This lovely painting is available to purchase by auction. Merpel hopes that one of our readers will buy it ...
The decision T 0571/10, referred to the FICPI memorandum (Example 1) to justify its rationale of using a “swiss cheese” approach to partial priority. In particular, for a term in the claim that is generalised relative to the disclosure of the priority document, the generalised claim is priority-entitled for the subset of the claim scope that is clearly and unambiguously disclosed by the priority document and everything outside that subset but within the scope of the generalised claim is not priority-entitled.
"I have Swiss Cheese", by Nicole Wong*
The priority document of the patent in suit (application number 08165575.5) for T 0571/10 disclosed (i) a particular calcium salt as an active agent; and (ii) a tribasic phosphate salt in which the cation is multivalent. The particular calcium salt was generalised to a generic class including the calcium salt “or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof” and the tribasic phosphate salt was generalised to an “inorganic salt”. The Board held that it was not necessary that the clearly defined alternative subject matters were spelled out as such in the application (paragraph 4.5.12 of decision). The Board carved out the generalised claim filed during oral proceedings into two clearly-defined alternative subject-matters as follows:
Priority entitled: pharmaceutical composition comprising the calcium salt of the generic class (dihydroxyhept-6-enoic acid) as the active ingredient and tribasic phosphate salt in which the cation is multivalent.Decisions T 0571/10 and T1222/11 were both associated with Board 3.3.07. This new decision is relevant to the contentious issues of toxic priority and poisonous divisionals, which arise due to the strict literal interpretation of the “limited number of clearly defined alternative subject-matters” rejected in T0571/10.
Not entitled to priority: pharmaceutical composition comprising the generic class of acid or a pharmaceutically acceptable salt thereof as the active ingredient and an inorganic salt in which the cationic multivalent, wherein the active ingredient is other than the calcium salt of the acid and the inorganic salt is other than the tribasic phosphate salt in combination.