It is settled case law that the grounds for appeal can also be considered sufficient where they refer to new facts which deprive the decision of its legal basis (T 252/95, T 760/08), particularly where new sets of claims are filed (T 934/02, T 2226/13). In principle, appellants had two options when it came to submitting their statement of grounds: they could attack the opposition division's decision as flawed, so that, provided they made a convincing case with respect to all reasons underlying the decision and the board accepted that case, it would be able and obliged to set the decision aside on all counts. Alternatively, they could file amended claims which they considered apt to remedy the deficiencies identified by the opposition division in the decision.
It is not an absolute requirement for admissibility that the appellant should attack the opposition division's decision as flawed. Where amended claims have been filed, an appeal may also be admissible if sufficient reasons are given in the statement of grounds why the amendments are considered apt to remedy the deficiencies identified by the opposition division (T 1668/14).
An appeal by the patent proprietor is to be considered as sufficiently substantiated to satisfy the requirements of Art. 108 EPC, third sentence, even if it does not state any specific reason why the decision is contested, provided that two criteria are met:
- there is a change in the subject of the proceedings due to the filing of amended claims together with the statement setting out the grounds of appeal,
The board in T 934/02 added that it was therefore not necessary and would also be pointless for the purposes of adequately substantiating an appeal, to file grounds in support of a version of a claim that the appellant (patent proprietor) was no longer defending in the appeal proceedings. See also T 1197/03 and T 642/05. However, where the application was not refused on the basis that the previous set of claims on file could not be allowed, i.e. for lack of clarity, novelty or inventive step, rather on the ground that there was no agreed set of claims, filing new claims was not an adequate response (T 573/09); the statement of grounds should have set out why the appellant should be given the opportunity to have the proceedings continued before the board.
However, it was not enough merely to file a new set of claims without comment. Rather, appellants had to set out why and to what extent the amended set of claims was a response to the factual and legal assessment on which the opposition division had based its decision (T 220/83, OJ 1986, 249; and T 145/88). In T 933/09 the board held that appellants had to state explicitly in their grounds for appeal the extent to which the amendments overcame the objections on which the decision under appeal was based, and rejected the appeal as inadmissible (see also T 1533/13). The amendments should address the reasons for the decision being contested (T 2453/09).
The mere fact of filing amended claims with the statement of grounds of appeal is not sufficient if it does not overcome the reasons for the refusal in the case at issue. The appellant in T 1707/07 did not address the reasons given in the decision under appeal and it was thus not clear to the board why the decision under appeal was alleged to be incorrect. The appeal was rejected as inadmissible. See also T 502/02 and T 132/03.
In T 23/03 the factual basis of the contested decision remained unchanged and the amendments made to the claims filed with the statement of grounds of appeal did not add anything which implicitly could clarify as to why the appellant might be of the opinion that the contested decision no longer applied to the new dependent claims. The appeal was therefore inadmissible.
In T 295/04, the statement of grounds contained only a general reference to pleadings submitted during the proceedings at first instance and a set of new claims. Since such a general reference could not be regarded as setting out why the department of first instance's decision should be amended, the appeal was dismissed as inadmissible.
In T 1276/05 the patent proprietor/appellant reverted back to a form of claim which had been effectively withdrawn during the opposition proceedings, i.e. the patent as granted, without explaining why the contested decision was wrong. The board noted that the lack of a need for explanation was based on the specific situation of the case before it, wherein – unusually – the offered amendments self-evidently overcame the grounds for the decision and the appeal was thus admissible.
In T 2532/11 the question also arose whether newly filed requests could be seen as implicit grounds of appeal. A statement of grounds of appeal supported by amended claims may define, at least implicitly, the extent to which the appellant wishes the decision under appeal to be set aside. Many decisions have adopted a lenient position and deemed appeals admissible if the competent board was able to infer from the particulars of the case the presumed intentions of the appellant and the probable reasons underlying its actions (T 729/90, T 563/91, T 574/91, T 162/97). Appeals have also been held admissible where there was a change in the subject of the proceedings due to the filing of new claims together with the statement of grounds and the latter set out in detail why the raised grounds for opposition did not prejudice the maintenance of the patent as amended on the basis of these new claims (T 717/01, T 934/02 referring to J xx/87 (=J 902/87), OJ 1988, 323 and T 105/87). The board of appeal has the duty to assess whether the appeal is well-founded within the frame of the case as presented by the appellants but it cannot guess what the arguments are, let alone, provide arguments in lieu of the appellants. A direct link must be maintained between the decision under appeal and the statement of grounds of appeal.
In T 223/14 the amended claims had obviously been filed with the intention of clarifying existing features and so overcoming the objection underlying the finding of a lack of novelty. They therefore did not constitute a completely new set of facts and thus there was a sufficiently direct link (see T 2532/11) between the decision under appeal and the statement of grounds of appeal.