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Case Law of the Boards of Appeal

 
 
f)
Conferences 

In T 739/92 an oral description of the invention had been given in a conference. The question was whether the participants at this conference were bound to secrecy and could therefore not be seen as constituting "the public" within the meaning of Art. 54(2) EPC 1973. The list of participants showed that the conference was open to every specialist active in the relevant field. The participants were not prohibited from disseminating oral information from the conference, or from publishing information from it provided that they omitted any reference to the conference. Recording the lectures on tape, etc. and photographing slide material were prohibited. Guests were not permitted to attend the conference lectures and discussions. The board held that under these conditions the participants at this conference were to be regarded as normal members of the public since there was no secrecy agreement. In contrast to the situation in T 300/86, the participants were neither licensees of the organisers nor subject to a blanket contractual prohibition from communicating the information they obtained to third parties.

In T 202/97 the board held that a draft standard sent together with an agenda to the members of an international standards working party as part of the preparations for a meeting on standards was not normally confidential and was thus available to the public. Even though only a particular group of persons had been invited to take part in the meeting on standards, it was the task of a standards committee to draw up, with the experts in the field, proposals for standards which had been agreed upon, on as broad a basis as possible, and which were based on the current state of developments. This task precluded any obligation to maintain confidentiality.

In T 838/97 the invention was presented orally at a conference attended by about 100 of the most renowned experts in the respective technical field including potential rivals. The participants were explicitly instructed that information presented at the conference was not to be used without the specific authorisation of the individual who made the contribution. The board considered that the participants were bound by a confidentiality agreement and thus the invention was not to be considered to form part of the state of the art.