2.
Requirement of unity of inventionSpecial technical features

A European patent application must relate to one invention only or relate to a group of inventions which must be so linked as to form a single general inventive concept (see also B-VII, 1).

The requirement of unity of invention needs to be assessed only if a group of inventions is claimed. A group of inventions may be formed, for example, by a plurality of independent claims in the same or in different categories, or a plurality of alternative embodiments defined within a single independent claim (see also F-IV, 3.7).

If a group of inventions is claimed, the requirement that the inventions in this group are so linked as to form a single general concept (Art. 82) is fulfilled only if there is a technical relationship among the claimed inventions involving one or more of the same or corresponding special technical features.

The term "special" means that the features in question define the contribution that the invention considered as a whole makes over the prior art in terms of novelty and inventive step.

The term "same" means that the special technical features are identical or define an identical chemical structure.

The term "corresponding" means that the special technical features achieve the same technical effect or solve the same technical problem. Correspondence may be found for example in alternative solutions, or interrelated features, e.g. the interaction between a plug and a socket causing a releasable electrical connection, or in a causal relationship such as a step in a manufacturing process that causes a certain structural feature in a product. For example, an application might include two sets of claims, one comprising a metal spring, and another comprising a block of rubber. The metal spring and block of rubber may be considered to be corresponding technical features as they both achieve the same technical effect of resilience.

In contrast, features that are not shared, i.e. the rich varieties in features that only appear in some but not in other claims, cannot be part of the single general inventive concept (W 45/92).

Therefore a substantive assessment of unity of invention requires

(1)
determining, in the light of the application as a whole, the subject-matter that is common to the claims directed to the different claimed inventions, i.e. the technical features of these claims that are the same and/or corresponding,
(2)
examining whether any of this common matter is special within the meaning of Rule 44(1).

Any ground for lack of unity must show absence of the technical relationship required by Rule 44(1), i.e. either that no common matter is present among the claimed inventions, or that the common matter is not "special".

For example, a lack of unity may arise between the dependent claims if an independent claim provides the only common matter linking them or the only common matter linking two alternatives defined within a single dependent claim, and the common matter does not comprise any features that make a technical contribution over the prior art in terms of novelty or inventive step, i.e. is not "special".

Rule 44(1) indicates how one determines whether or not the requirement of Art. 82 is fulfilled when more than one invention appears to be present. The link between the inventions required by Art. 82 must be a technical relationship which finds expression in the claims in terms of the same or corresponding special technical features. The expression "special technical features" means, in any one claim, the particular technical feature or features that define a contribution that the claimed invention considered as a whole makes over the prior art. Once the special technical features of each invention have been identified, one must determine whether or not there is a technical relationship between the inventions and, furthermore, whether or not this relationship involves these special technical features. It is not necessary that the special technical features in each invention be the same. Rule 44(1) makes clear that the required relationship may be found between corresponding technical features. An example of this correspondence is the following: in one claim the special technical feature which provides resilience is a metal spring, whereas in another claim it is a block of rubber.

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