Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Patentee+Patentee=Two Appeal Fees

In the case on which the decision 10W (Pat) 17/14 of the German Bundespatentgericht is based, two legal entities co-owning the patent had commonly filed an appeal against the decision of the opposition division and paid only one appeal fee.

According to earlier decisions of other senates of the the Bundespatentgericht, this had been considered sufficient because co-owners of a patent were considered mandatorily joint parties (notwendige Streitgenossen) in a legal sense. After all, they are obliged to perform procedural steps jointly.

According to the 10th Senate, this is not sufficient to qualify the co-owning patentees as a single party. According to law, the fees have to be paid for “for each Appellant” (für jeden Antragsteller).
Subsequent attempts of the patentee to argue that the actually formed single legal entity for the purpose of prosecuting the patent from the onset have not been successful. The same holds for the attempt to subsequently allocate the appeal fee to one of the patentees. It has to be unambiguously clear which parties are parties of the appeal procedure at the time limit to file the appeal.

The appeal was deemed to be not filed.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Is it unfair to account for compatibility with design characteristics of copetitors?

The question of whether or not the adaption of design features, in order to integrate a product into a series or a system developed and designed by a third party, offends the principle of fair competition has been under heavy dispute in the past.

While the BGH had ruled in the decision "Klemmbausteine II" (Urt. v. 7.5.1992 - I ZR 163/90, GRUR 1992, 619 = WRP 1992, 642)that such an integration into a series of a third party (in the case at issue, the products were plastic bricks matching Lego breaks constitutes an unfair profiting of the achievements of that third party.

However, this rule was put into perspective with the subsequent decision “Klemmbausteine III” (I ZR 30/02) and "Modulgerüst" according to which this subsequent protection against inserttion into a series of a third party should be at least limited in time. According to the Senate, the term of protection should be based on the term of protection of similar industrial property rights such as patents or registered designs. However, a legitimate interest of the author of a series of product to be protected against insertions into the series was recognized.

The two recent decisions “Regalsystem” (I ZR 136/11), and "Einkaufswagen III" constitute surprising turning point in this line of decisions. According to the decision “Einkaufswagen III”, the fact that an interest of customers in optically compatible products in view of the need of replacement or enlargement exists is no indication for an inappropriate exploitation of the valuation of the imitated product, but rather an indication to the contrary. If a need for replacement using optically compatible products exists of the side of the customers, an inappropriate exploitation of the valuation of the counterfeit product may be excluded even if the aesthetic design features are adopted almost identically.

One decisive factor is the question whether or not the salability of a product with differing design features would be reduced as compared to the product with imitated design features (BGH “Regalsystem” I ZR 136/11).

Monday, 17 March 2014

Maltese IP Attorneys are no Patentanwalt

The Federal Court of Justice BGH has received an appeal against a decision of the Bundespatentgericht. The appeal was filed by a person registered as "IP Attorney" at the Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Malta, but not as a German Patentanwalt.

The appellant's representative invoked the Directive 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market as a legal basis for his entitlement to represent before the BGH. The BGH did not follow this argument because the directive 2005/36/EG is lex specialis to Directive 2006/123/EC and allows for supplementary qualification examinations for profession in its field of application. The German (supplementary) qualification examination for qualified patent attorneys from other European Countries is such a supplementary examination and is therefore in perfect conformity with Union law.

Since the Maltese representative did not figure in the list of German Patent attorneys, he was not entitled to represent his client in this case. As he did not pass the examination, he was further not entitled to be registered in this list. The appeal was deemed to be not filed.

The full decision can be read here.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Button in the Ear has no Distinctive Character

Sometimes, the world is unfair. One of the most distinctive trademarks this blogger knows from his childhood is the "Button in the Ear" with the Steiff ear tag for Teddy bears and other cuddly animals.

The Steiff Company has therefore been well advised to apply for a community trademark registration for this trademark. The trademark was labelled as a "position trademark" accompanied with the illustration on the left hand side.

However, the members of the boards of appeal of the OHIM and judges of the European Court of Justice apparently do not share this blogger's experiences and have rejected the application  due to a lack of distinctive character.

According to the court, buttons and little tags bearing information such as a brand, price or cleaning instructions are usual design features of cuddly animals and the Steiff ear tag does not differ from the design usual in this field to a sufficient degree.

It appears that Steiff will have to provide evidence that the sign acquired distinctive character through the use which has been made of it.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Copyright Protection of Culinary Creations

Two very interesting posts in the IPKat (one by Alberto Bellan here and one by Annsley Merelle Ward here) address the interesting question of copyright protection of culinary creations.

While the copyright protection of recipes in their written form has been the issue of the BGH decision "Marions Kochbuch", the recent decision "Geburtstagszug" might open a way for a copyright protection of the particular aesthetic presentation of food on the plate. 

When doing some search on the history of patent law for a lecture last year, I was surprised that the protection of the creation of cooks might indeed have been the first known monopoly rights for intellectual property in history.

Sybaris, a Greek colony in southern Italy that existed from 720 to 510 B.C., was supposedly known for a luxurious and decadent lifestyle. Quoting from the historian Phylarcus, the Greek writer Athenaeus states:

The Sybarites, having given loose to their luxury, made a law that . . . if any confectioner or cook invented any peculiar and excellent dish, no other artist was allowed to make this for a year; but he alone who invented it was entitled to all the profits to be derived from the manufacture of it for that time; in order that others might be induced to labour at excelling in such pursuits.

(Quoted from "The Law of Patents" by Craig Allen Nard)

Supposing that the legislators grant monopoly rights for intellectual property for the purpose of inciting developments which promote the general prosperity of their people, I think it is very interesting that the focus has shifted from culinary innovations in a luxury society in ancient Greece to technical innovations in the Renaissance era until today. This shows how the way of thinking and the valuation of good food has changed.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Farewell Handwritten Amendments at the EPO

As of January 1, 2014, the EPO does no longer accept submissions including handwritten amendments on replacement sheets of the application documents. Under Rule 86 EPC this also applies to amendments in patent specification documents in opposition proceedings.

This may be of particular relevance if the patentee wishes to submit new requests in the course of oral proceedings. According to the FAQ page:

Documents containing handwritten amendments may be used as a basis for discussion during oral proceedings until agreement is reached on the final text of the patent; a final decision granting a patent or maintaining it in amended form may only be taken on the basis of a document which is not formally deficient.

In order to assist the parties in such circumstances, the Office provides technical facilities that will allow compliance with the formal requirements while ensuring a smooth conduct of the oral proceedings at the same time.
The author of this note has always appreciated the craftsmanship involved in preparing artful collages of paper snippets and spiced op with handwritten notes and the smell of glue in the attorney's rooms. The FAQ page further explains how the new and sterile reality will look like:

Parties using their own laptops or other electronic devices to prepare amendments may rely on the EPO’s public Wireless Network, which is widely available in public areas, or printers available in the EPO. 
For parties who do not use their own electronic equipment, the EPO provides for PCs and printers in the attorney rooms as well as in many rooms used for oral proceedings. Additionally each attorney’s room is equipped with at least two PCs and one local printer. The local printer can be either used via the EPO PC or an external laptop which can be connected via USB cable to the local printer allowing direct use. 
Additionally EPO LAN printers allow for printing PDF documents directly from a standard USB stick (FAT32 filesystem). It is sufficient to stick a USB stick into the USB port of the printer on the left-hand side of the front panel. Then using the touchscreen control panel, select “Print from USB” and choose a PDF document to be printed.
State-of-the-art text editing software (such as MS Word, OpenOffice, etc.) provides for a possibility to directly save any document as a PDF file, which then can be stored on a USB stick and printed from the LAN printers.


Monday, 24 February 2014

New Name and New Invalidity Procedure for Registered Designs

The German IP right formerly known as Geschmacksmuster is a fairly powerful tool but has hitherto lingered in a niche existence. One of the reasons might have been that its name was difficult to pronounce for foreign applicants and even for the German public not very telling. According to the press release:
From 1 January 2014, designs - previously named "Geschmacksmuster" in German - will be called "eingetragenes Design" - meaning "registered design" - in Germany. The Act Modernising Designs Law and Revising Provisions for Notifications on Exhibition Protection (Gesetz zur Modernisierung des Geschmacksmusterrechts sowie zur Änderung der Regelungen über die Bekanntmachungen zum Ausstellungsschutz) of 10 October 2013 (Federal Law Gazette I 2013, no. 62, p. 3799) has also implemented other changes facilitating procedures for designs.

"With the renaming, we accommodate language developments," says Cornelia Rudloff-Schäffer, President of the DPMA. "The IP right's subject matter will become easier to understand, referring to both form and appearance of a product."

Invalidity proceedings for registered designs will also be introduced. The designs unit in Jena can declare a registration invalid if a respective application has been submitted. It can be based on absolute or relative grounds for invalidity. In civil proceedings, invalidity of a registered design can only be achieved by putting forward a counterclaim before the designs courts of the Länder from 1 January 2014.
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