|European Case Law Identifier:||ECLI:EP:BA:1991:J001490.19910321|
|Date of decision:||21 March 1991|
|Case number:||J 0014/90|
|Language of proceedings:||DE|
|Download and more information:||
|Title of application:||-|
|Headnote:||1. Re-dating an application cannot be justified on the grounds that the later date would permit the granting of a European patent for a new Contracting State.
2. An invitation to the President of the EPO under Article 12a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal to comment on "questions of general interest" which arise in the course of proceedings is made to him direct. It is not necessary for such questions to be specifically defined or formulated (see Reasons, point 1).
|Relevant legal provisions:||
|Keywords:||Date of filing - Re-dating to obtain patent protection in a new Contracting State (no)|
Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. The applicants filed European application No. 89 250 127.1 on 21 December 1989 claiming a priority date of 28 January 1989. With the exception of Greece they had designated all the Contracting States for which the European Patent Convention was in force on 21 December 1989 by placing a cross against each of them in Section 26 of the Request for Grant form (as published in OJ EPO 1986, 306) and had paid the required eleven designation fees. As is usual, Section 27 of the form was left unchanged and hence also included a precautionary designation of Greece.
II. In December 1989 (OJ EPO 1989, 479) the EPO announced that Denmark had deposited its instrument of ratification of the European Patent Convention on 30 October 1989 and that under Article 169(2) EPC Denmark could be designated in European patent applications filed on or after 1 January 1990. On 12 January 1990 the applicants deposited a cheque for a twelfth designation fee and requested that this be considered as applying to Denmark, arguing that Denmark had become a party to the European Patent Convention from the date it deposited its instrument of ratification on 30 October 1989, and that from this date onwards it was therefore covered by the precautionary designation in Section 27 of the Request for Grant form.
III. The Receiving Section at the EPO refused this request in a decision delivered on 3 April 1990, ruling that under Article 169(2) EPC the European Patent Convention had not entered into force for Denmark until 1 January 1990. It was possible for agreements under international law to contain provisions to the effect that their entry into force will be at a point in time later than the deposit of the instrument of ratification.
IV. The applicants filed an admissible appeal against this decision in which they initially took issue with the view of the department of first instance on when the European Patent Convention entered into force for Denmark.
V. In the present appeal case, J 14/90 - Flachglas, as well as in J 18/90 - Canon (OJ EPO 1992, 511) and J 30/90 - Shea (OJ EPO 1992, 516), both of which also related to the designation of Denmark in connection with the date of entry into force of the European Patent Convention for Denmark, the Board invited the President of the European Patent Office to comment under Article 12a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal (OJ EPO 1989, 361). He did so in writing and, in the present case, was also represented at the oral proceedings held on 21 February 1991.
VI. During the oral proceedings the applicants requested that the decision under appeal be set aside. Departing from their submission at first instance, they requested that their European patent application be accorded a filing date of 1 January 1990.
VII. The applicants submitted in support of this new request that, in view of the circumstances on the date of filing (21 December 1989), it would have been apparent to the EPO that the applicants were interested in designating Denmark: (1) With the exception of Greece they had designated all the states.
(2) The entry into force of the European Patent Convention for Denmark was legally guaranteed and had been announced in the Official Journal of the EPO.
(3) It therefore followed that Denmark could be designated before expiry of the time limit for claiming priority (28 January 1990).
(4) That this was indeed the applicants' intention was clearly shown by their having paid the designation fee on 12 January 1990.
(5) The fact that on 18 January 1990 the applicants had subsequently filed the priority document, which was absolutely identical to the European patent application, clearly showed that the European patent application did not contain any extension of the subject-matter claimed in the priority document and that they therefore could have had no particular interest in claiming a filing date earlier than the expiry of the time limit for claiming priority. Given the above circumstances, it was apparent on the date of filing that the applicants were also interested in designating Denmark.
VIII. The views expressed by the President in his written and oral comments are essentially in accord with those of the Board (differences, however, in the case of J 18/90 - Canon of 22 March 1991, OJ EPO 1992, 511). During oral proceedings the applicants' representative was given the opportunity to reply to the President's comments.
Reasons for the Decision
1. This appeal case is the first in which the Legal Board of Appeal has invoked Article 12a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal, under which it may invite the President of the European Patent Office to comment on questions of general interest arising in the course of proceedings pending before it. The Board therefore feels this is a good opportunity to set out the following observations.
1.1 Article 12a was inserted into the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal by a decision of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation of 7 July 1989 (OJ EPO 1989, 361) and reads as follows:
"The Board may, on its own initiative or at the written, reasoned request of the President of the European Patent Office, invite him to comment in writing or orally on questions of general interest which arise in the course of proceedings pending before it. The parties shall be entitled to submit their observations on the President's comments."
In the preparatory document of the Administrative Council the considerations giving rise to this amendment were explained as being that in matters of general importance, landmark decisions might be given a broader basis if the President of the EPO were able to point out circumstances relevant from his point of view. In many Contracting States the national patent office was either a party to appeal proceedings or was heard by the second instance.
1.2 This being the first time that this article was to be invoked, the Legal Board of Appeal discussed the procedure to be adopted. Its conclusion, which is in no way binding on other Boards, was that Article 12a of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal supplements Articles 114(1) and 117(1)(b) EPC. The invitation to the President of the EPO to comment in writing and/or orally presupposes that "questions of general interest" have been raised. However, this does not require the Board of Appeal issuing the invitation to define and formulate these questions in detail. The Board need not hear the appellants or other parties to the proceedings before deciding to issue an invitation to the President. The invitation is made by the Board direct to the President as it falls within the judicial function of the Board. The staff member appointed by the President to represent him is not as a rule required to furnish any form of authorisation. The President is not a "party to the proceedings" within the meaning of Article 107 EPC and therefore has no right to submit requests, although this does not rule out his making suggestions. As Article 12a, second sentence, of the Rules of Procedure expressly states, parties to the proceedings are entitled to submit their observations on the President's comments, i.e. even where this would not be necessary to maintain their right to be heard under Article 113(1) EPC. The Convention does not itself contain any legal basis for the sharing of costs, although it might be possible, by applying Article 125 EPC, to establish such a basis by derivation from national procedural law. In such a case the principles of causality and equity would both be key criteria.
2. The appellants request that the European patent application be accorded the filing date of 1 January 1990.
2.1 The Board is unable to agree with the applicants' submission that their request may be granted on the grounds that it was already apparent from the circumstances prevailing on the date of filing that they wished to designate Denmark. The number of European patent applications received by the EPO in December 1989 was 4 243. In the Office's experience around half of them will have had time limits for claiming priority which did not expire until after 1 January 1990. As it was known that the European Patent Convention would enter into force for Denmark on 1 January 1990, it can likewise be assumed that, where the time limit for claiming priority would allow, applicants intending to designate Denmark would have delayed filing their European patent applications accordingly. It is normal for applicants not to designate all the Contracting States, hence a weighing-up of all the known circumstances prevailing on 21 December 1989 would not have led the Receiving Section to conclude that the applicants did not want to have this day as the date of filing, but 1 January 1990 instead (distinguished from the decision delivered in J 18/90).
2.2 Not until the designation fee for Denmark was paid on 12 January 1990 did it emerge that the applicants would accept, indeed were actively seeking, a re-dating of their application to 1 January 1990. It is possible for an application to be re-dated to a later date, as is shown by unpublished decision J 5/89 of 9 July 1989 (Reasons 5 to 7). Provisions to such an effect are contained in Article 91(6) EPC in respect of subsequently filed drawings, in Rule 20.2 PCT with regard to various papers pertaining to an application, as well as in Article 8 of the draft of a "Patent Law Treaty" (Doc. WIPO, PLT/DC/3 of 21 December 1990). Also of relevance in this respect is Article 58 of the Swiss Patent Law, which permits a re-dating of an application. Such a re-dating must however have some legal basis or have been sanctioned by rulings on individual cases, as in J 5/89 above. In that case, changing the date of filing from 25 August 1986, the date on which the application was validly filed in Swedish, to 6 November 1987, the day on which the same application was filed in English, was the only way to prevent a complete loss of rights which, given the particular circumstances of the case, would have been unfair.
2.3 In the present case, therefore, the Board of Appeal has no legal basis for re-dating the application to a later date. The designation of a state forms part of the request for grant of a patent, and hence belongs to the documents making up a patent application, which means that in principle there is no reason why the filing date of an application should not be changed to the date on which a further state is designated. What is lacking are the necessary legislative provisions of the kind described above which would make this possible. Nor are there special circumstances, as was the case with decision J 5/89. On the contrary: the public interest and the need for consistency rule out a re-dating in this case.
The territorial scope of the European Patent Convention can be extended, but this also has an effect on the interests of an applicant's competitors. Prior to any given qualifying date there are always any number of patent applications which could be re- dated to that qualifying date at no detriment to, indeed to the advantage of, the applicant. Were this to be allowed many requests for re-dating would be filed over a period of months, thereby subsequently extending the scope of the protection afforded. This is at variance with the need for consistency, and is incompatible with legal certainty and the public interest.
2.4 Finally, one way of granting the applicants' request might be to consider the application and the designation of Denmark expressly requested in the letter received on 12 January 1990 as a new European patent application designating Denmark. It would have been possible to re-file the application between 1 January 1990 and 28 January 1990, the date on which the time limit for claiming priority expired; this would merely have been a question of fees. That did not happen, however. Nor was any such request made. Nor can the application of 21 December 1989 together with the letter received on 12 January 1990 now be considered as a new application. Although this letter does represent a legal declaration, and is hence open to interpretation, to construe it together with the existing application as a new patent application would be beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in the first place because this was clearly not the true intention of the applicants. There is therefore no need to consider whether other reasons can be found for not viewing this letter as a new patent application.
For these reasons it is decided that:
The appeal is dismissed.