Trade secrets, and the law relating to them, can seem a bit of a ‘black art’, but the basics are very simple. In summary, companies should 1) know what their trade secrets are and 2) take steps to keep them secret.
In England and Wales the protection of trade secrets has in the past been based on the common law principles of confidentiality, but that is soon to change. EU Directive 2016/943 “on the protection of undisclosed know how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure” has prompted the government to draft new Regulations to ensure that the entire UK is fully compliant with the Directive. This briefing summarises the provisions of the Directive (which should be implemented in all European Union Member States) and gives some brief practical advice for companies with trade secrets.
The Directive provides that ‘trade secret’ means information which: (a) is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question; (b) has commercial value because it is secret; and (c) has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.
It also defines ‘infringing goods’ as goods, the design, characteristics, functioning, production process or marketing of which significantly benefits from trade secrets unlawfully acquired, used or disclosed.
The Directive sets out acts which are prohibited in relation to trade secrets and to infringing goods. In summary, the unauthorised acquisition, use or disclosure of a trade secret will be considered unlawful. This applies not only to the original acquirer of the information, but also to any other person who later obtains the trade secret directly or indirectly and who knew (i.e. a subjective test) or ought to have known (i.e. an objective test) that the trade secret had been acquired unlawfully. Unlawful use of a trade secret includes producing, offering or placing on the market infringing goods, and importing, exporting or storing infringing goods for those purposes.
The definition is set out above. Examples of the type of information which can qualify as a trade secret if kept confidential include commercial data, technological information or product information. Commercial data include customer or supplier information, business plans and market strategies. Technological or product information includes recipes, techniques and know how. Clearly, these types of information have little value if widely known but potentially considerable value if known only to one person in the relevant market. A famous example of a trade secret is the recipe for Coca-Cola. It is hugely valuable as long as it remains secret but would be worthless if everyone knew it (unless, of course, there are further crucial secrets in exactly how to mix the ingredients to replicate the flavour). A more prosaic example is your company’s customer profile. This is valuable to your company because it gives you an informational edge over your competitors, but if your competitors have the same information then it is less valuable.
You can only control secrets that you know about. The first step of a company trade secret policy is to conduct an audit of all information believed to be secret and commercially valuable. Assemble the information and then analyse it to assess whether it is confidential to the company, and whether it has value as a result of that confidentiality. Assuming there are some trade secrets then put in place policies to protect them (see below).
Most companies continue to research, innovate and improve their processes and products and therefore are likely to continue to generate information which could potentially qualify as trade secret. Accordingly, your company’s ongoing trade secret policy should ensure that any new trade secret is recognised as such and falls within the framework set up to protect the existing trade secrets.
Not all trade secrets remain secret and commercially valuable forever, and information no longer considered trade secret need not be subject to the same protections. It is useful to review the designated trade secrets periodically so that any information which is no longer valuable (e.g. the business plan for 2010) or no longer secret (because it was either deliberately or accidentally disclosed) can be re-designated and resources diverted away from protecting it.
The key points to guide your company’s policy are 1) the fewer people know a secret, the less likely it is to be disclosed; and 2) a court will look at what effort a company has expended in protecting information as part of its assessment of whether that information qualifies as a trade secret.
Staff in different departments need to know different things: sales staff need to know about customers but not the recipe, whereas manufacturing staff need to know the recipe but not the customers. Accordingly, try to minimise the number of staff privy to specific information. Restrict access to information physically, electronically and legally to those staff who need to know it in order to discharge their duties.
For example, R&D laboratories should be accessible only to the relevant researchers, and documents detailing trade secrets should be marked as confidential and kept in a safe place (e.g. a safe).
Electronic documents should be protected by passwords and computers should be protected from hacking (we don’t pretend to be IT security experts – your IT consultants will give you best practice on this).
There are three phases to the legal aspect: when staff join, while they are employed, and when they leave.
When staff join it is important to ensure that employment contracts for relevant staff include confidentiality provisions (and possibly non-compete and non-solicitation provisions).
While they are employed it is important to educate staff about what a trade secret is (so they can identify new ones), what the company considers to be trade secret, and the consequences of the secret no longer being secret. The company should monitor compliance with the physical and electronic procedures put in place to protect the trade secrets. There is little purpose in having rules which are not observed.
When staff leave they should be given an exit interview to remind them of their obligation of confidence. In addition, they should return all company property and sign a statement confirming that they have returned all confidential information (physically and electronically).
The same basic rules apply to relations with external contractors. A company should protect its confidential information physically, electronically and legally.
In physical and electronic terms this means much the same as for internally within the company: use physical and digital means to restrict access to the information.
In legal terms this means that companies should always sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) before disclosing any confidential information (even if the information does not qualify as a trade secret because it has no commercial value, it might one day become commercially valuable). NDAs should be drafted in as specific terms as possible in relation to what information is disclosed and to whom it is disclosed (i.e. specific individuals), and they should be appropriate for the jurisdiction (i.e. enforceable where the receiver of the trade secret is based).
When the collaboration comes to an end it is vital to ensure that all documents (physical and electronic) containing confidential information are returned or destroyed, and ensure that the NDA continues to be enforceable in relation to information that the collaborators might remember.
The basic principles of restricting access physically and electronically apply. If the general public is permitted onto the premises then it should be only into areas where there is no risk of any confidential information being accidentally disclosed.
Remember, also, that in addition to restricting access by the general public, it is important to prevent staff accidentally releasing confidential information into the public domain. Any documents which contain confidential information should be shredded when disposed of, staff should not work on confidential documents in public spaces, and care taken with electronic access, USB sticks and suchlike.
One of the most useful remedies available in the UK to a trade secret holder is an interim injunction. This is an Order from the Court, obtainable on very short notice, that the person alleged to have stolen the trade secret may not disclose nor use the trade secret until the case has been decided at trial (which might take a year or more to be completed).
Interim injunctions may be awarded by the court as long as there is an arguable case that a trade secret has been stolen by the defendant, and that monetary compensation would not be adequate to compensate the trade secret holder. The interim injunction will remain in place until trial, at which point it will either be converted into a permanent injunction (if the judge holds that the information did qualify as a trade secret and that it was unlawfully acquired) or it will be lifted (if the judge decides that the information did not qualify as a trade secret or it was lawfully acquired). If lifted then the claimant will be liable to the defendant for damage caused to the defendant by the interim injunction.
In order to obtain an interim injunction, especially to prevent further disclosure of the trade secret, a trade secret holder will need to apply to court as quickly as possible. The process will run more smoothly if the trade secret holder is ready with important information easily accessible. For example, it will be important to produce details of the information that the putative defendant was exposed to; a copy of the relevant confidentiality contract (i.e. the employment contract or NDA); details of the policies the company has in place to keep the information secret; the likely value of the information they might have stolen; and the possible damage that the company could suffer if the information is disclosed further.
As discussed above, it is possible to obtain an injunction to prevent the defendant disclosing the trade secret to third parties, and to prevent the use of the trade secret and/or the sale of infringing products.
In addition, the Court can order the defendant to pay damages. In the UK damages are intended to be compensatory, in the case of trade secrets that means that damages are intended to put the claimant in the position it would have been had the trade secret theft not occurred. This can be calculated as the trade secret holder’s lost profit, or account of the defendant’s profits.
Yes. It is important to take care to ensure confidentiality in maintained but in principle it is possible to licence trade secrets as know-how. The licence should compel the licensee to take steps equivalent to those taken by the owner of the trade secrets to protect the confidentiality (i.e. all the points discussed above), and could include provision for the trade secret owner to be able to conduct spot checks on the licensee to ensure that those policies are being enforced. Further, the licensee should be under an obligation to report full details of any suspected breaches of confidence as swiftly as possible to the trade secret owner in order to enable prompt legal action to be taken.
Companies should know what their trade secrets are on an ongoing basis and take steps to maintain their confidentiality. Prompt action should be taken if it is suspected that a trade secret has been stolen.
15 June 2018
05 May 2021
The Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO has, in case G 01/19 (Pedestrian simulation), issued a decision regarding the patentability of simulations under the EPC. This decision was eagerly awaited as the referral to the Enlarged Board raised fundamental questions about the patentability of simulations at the EPO. Given that simulations of technical systems had generally been considered patentable with some caveats to be applied on a case by case basis, this decision had the potential to have wide reaching consequences regarding a significant and growing area of innovation in Europe.
03 May 2021
A common misconception is that ownership of IP rights associated with a product gives an automatic right to make and sell that product. However, IP rights such as patent and design rights are best viewed as ‘negative’ rights, which allow the owner to prevent other parties from using the invention, mark or design. They do not provide an automatic right to practice the invention or to use the design.
03 May 2021
With the entry into force of Regulation (EU) 2019/933 on 1 July 2019, the EU introduced a so-called “manufacturing waiver” by amending existing Regulation (EC) 469/2009 concerning supplementary protection certificates (SPCs). Scope of the manufacturing waiver The amendments to the existing SPC Regulation have excluded certain acts from the protection conferred by SPCs. In particular, a third party (referred to as a “maker”) is permitted to manufacture a medicinal product protected by an SPC for the exclusive purpose of export to countries outside the EU 1 .
29 April 2021
The efficacy of PPH varies from territory to territory. In some patent offices there is a history of examination being influenced by the granting of a patent by particular patent offices; PPH may work well for such patent offices. In other patent offices, requesting PPH only results in acceleration and does not guarantee allowance.
29 April 2021
The aim of the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) is to provide a way for applicants to use positive examination results from one patent office to streamline prosecution in a second patent office. An evolving network of different PPH agreements exists between various patent offices, including most major patent offices. For both the European Patent Office (EPO) and the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) requesting PPH results in acceleration of examination and does not guarantee allowance.
01 April 2021
The UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) continue to receive reports of applicants and proprietors being approached for payment by firms offering to perform official processing such as registering patents and publishing patent applications. These firms often use names, abbreviations and/or logos which are confusingly similar to those used by official offices such as the UK IPO, the EPO, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
31 March 2021
Obtaining patents for polymorphs can be challenging. However, before the European Patent Office, there is no general rule which makes polymorphs less patentable in principle than other subject matter. With careful drafting and consideration of any specific advantages associated with the polymorph of interest, European patents directed to polymorphs of commercial significance can be obtained. Such patents can act as additional barriers to entry of generic products onto the market, and can thus be very useful in managing the life cycle of a patent estate for pharmaceutical and other biologically active compounds.
08 March 2021
The High Court of England and Wales has recently handed down its judgment in Illumina Cambridge Limited vs Latvia MGI Tech SIA and others. This is one of the last judgments handed down in the High Court by Mr Justice Birss, who was recently elevated to the Court of Appeal. The judgment touches on a number of important aspects of patent infringement and validity, including the first application of the recent Supreme Court decision in Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc vs Kymab Ltd relating to sufficiency. In this briefing we consider four aspects of the judgment: one relating to sufficiency of disclosure, one...
01 March 2021
The European Patent Office (EPO) applies the same basic patentability criteria to antibodies as to other inventions. However, the high volume of applications in this area means that examiners have developed standardised approaches to assessing “antibody-specific” issues and these have recently been formalised in a new section of the EPO’s Guidelines for Examination (G, 11, 5.6; issued March 2021). For an explanation of the basic approach adopted by the EPO, please see our related briefing Antibodies in the European Patent Office – Basic Principles or ask your usual J A Kemp contact. This briefing is intended to develop those Basic...
01 March 2021
Over recent years, antibodies have become increasingly important as therapeutic drugs and large numbers of patent applications are filed in this area (>1000 granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2019). Whilst patentability is assessed in the same way as for any other invention, the high volume of cases means that examiners have developed standardised approaches to assessing “antibody-specific” issues. These informal principles have recently been formalised in a new section of the EPO’s Guidelines for Examination ( G, 11, 5.6 ; issued March 2021).
16 February 2021
Before the EPO parameters are defined as features which are based on directly measurable properties or combinations of several variables in the form of formulae. This might be a claim defined by the viscosity of a composition, or the particle size of a powder, for example. Relying on such features to define an invention is commonplace within the chemical sphere and can be very useful. However, their utility is not limited to such subject matter and they could be used to define characteristic features in a broad range of technologies. The EPO has developed a large amount of case law which...
10 February 2021
In our previous discussions of antibody practice at the EPO, we observed that there was a (perhaps surprising) lack of case law to support the evolving practice of the examining divisions. Despite the high number of applications and patents relating to antibodies that have been prosecuted at the EPO more recently (>1000 granted in 2019), the quantity of Board of Appeal decisions concerned with “antibody inventions” remains relatively low. We counted only 21 published decisions in the last 3 years that we considered meet this definition. Each of the 21 decisions arises from an application with a filing date between 1999...
01 February 2021
In the UK, marking patented products as patented is not compulsory. However, there are several benefits to marking products as patented and both guidance from the UK Intellectual Property Office, and UK law, effectively encourage this practice. However it is important for patentees considering marking their products as patented to ensure that this is done correctly because failure to do so can potentially lead to adverse consequences. This briefing provides an overview of patent marking in the UK and some practice points for patentees to bear in mind when considering whether and how to mark their products.
27 January 2021
It does not seem possible to write any review of 2020 without mentioning Covid-19. However in this case we shall limit it to noting that the cancellation of most in-person oral proceedings at the EPO lead to a comparatively low number of published decisions by the electronic and software-focused boards of appeal (247 vs 339 in 2019) and that Board 3.5.03 held the first appeal hearing by video conference in May 2020. Previously only Examining Division Oral Proceedings had been held by video conference and rarely; it will now be quite routine, saving costs for applicants. On substantive issues it was...
07 December 2020
This document is intended to provide a brief introduction to Supplementary Protection Certificates (SPCs) for plant protection products. For more detailed information, please speak to your usual J A Kemp contact.
07 December 2020
This document is intended to provide a brief introduction to Supplementary Protection Certificates (SPCs) for medicinal products. For more detailed information, please see our full briefing on this topic.
02 December 2020
What are SPCs? A Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) is an intellectual property right available for active ingredients of human and veterinary medicinal products requiring marketing authorisation 1 . The highest tribunal hearing disputes involving SPCs for EU member states is the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Historically there have been numerous referrals to the CJEU on points of law relating to SPCs and this is expected to continue. Some of the key decisions are discussed below.
24 November 2020
The Technical Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO) issued its written decision in case T844/18 on 6 November 2020. The central issue was whether the patentees were legally entitled to claim priority. If not, the patent would be invalid for lack of novelty.
18 November 2020
The European Patent Office (EPO) uses oral proceedings as a means to bring pre-grant examination and post-grant opposition proceedings to a close. Oral proceedings will be appointed when the EPO considers it expedient to discuss outstanding issues face to face and/or at the request of any party to the proceedings. Consequently, the majority of EPO oppositions conclude with oral proceedings. Oral proceedings are rarer during pre-grant examination, but are typically appointed when the EPO intends to refuse the application. The Boards of Appeal also hold oral proceedings during the appeal procedure.
28 August 2020
The UK Supreme Court has handed down an important judgment1 which is likely to have global implications for how standard essential patents (SEPs) are licensed in the future. Background A standard essential patent (SEP) is a patent which covers technology which is required (i.e. is essential) to be used in order to implement a technical standard (for example such as 2G, 3G and 4G in the telecommunications industry). Conforming to the technical standard allows devices from different manufacturers to operate together and to use the same infrastructure. Standard Setting Organisations (SSOs) bring participants together to evaluate technologies for inclusion in a new standard....
22 July 2020
The deadline for requesting entry of a PCT application into the European regional phase is 31 months from the filing date or, if priority has been claimed, from the priority date (Rule 159(1) EPC). However, if this deadline is missed, remedies are available that may permit entry into the European regional phase later than this deadline.
10 July 2020
The CJEU issued on 9 July 2020 its judgment in the Santen C-673/18 case. The full text of the judgment can be found here . The Santen decision overturns the earlier Neurim C-130/11 decision, which had held that it is possible under certain circumstances to obtain an SPC for a new therapeutic application of an active ingredient, even if that active ingredient has previously been authorised for other therapeutic applications.
10 June 2020
On 14 May 2020 , the EPO’s enlarged board of appeal issued its decision in case G3/19 (“Pepper”). This derives from a referral made to the enlarged board by the EPO president in April 2019, which aimed at resolving some outstanding questions regarding patent-eligibility of plants under Article 53(b) EPC . Contrary to earlier case law, G3/19 confirms that plants that are the products of essentially biological (i.e. breeding) processes are not patent-eligible.
01 June 2020
What is a patent? A patent is a legal monopoly granted by a government in return for public disclosure of an invention. A granted patent gives the proprietor the right to prevent others using the invention in the territory to which the patent applies. A patent does not, however, give a positive right to use an invention. There may be earlier patents for other inventions that an inventor may need to license to exploit his own invention.
30 April 2020
On 30 April 2020 the CJEU gave its ruling in C-650/17 (Royalty Pharma). The judgment, which is reviewed in detail below, confirms that SPC applications are allowable when the product is not explicitly recited in the claims. However, it is implied that the product will need to be disclosed to a high degree of specificity elsewhere in the patent. The case was previously joined with C-114/18 (Sandoz and Hexal) because both referrals concern the interpretation of Article 3(a) of the SPC Regulation. Article 3(a) requires that: “A[n SPC] shall be granted if… the product is protected by a basic patent in force” However,...
25 March 2020
Patent protection may be obtained in the UK either by filing a European patent application with the European Patent Office and then validating a granted European patent in the UK, or by filing of a UK national patent application with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO). It is possible to file a UK patent application directly with the UK IPO, with or without a claim to priority from an earlier (e.g. foreign) patent application, or to enter the UK national phase from a PCT application. The official fees payable to the UK IPO for prosecution of a UK national application...
05 March 2020
European Patent Office (EPO) opposition procedure comprises two parts: opposition division (first instance), and, if relevant, appeal. A typical procedure is set out on the attached flow chart. It is also possible to petition the Enlarged Board of Appeal for review of the appeal decision under certain very limited circumstances. There are some fixed time limits in the overall procedure, such as the deadline for filing an opposition and an appeal. However, there is also some flexibility in the procedure. The EPO announced in June 2016 that it aims to issue first instance decisions on “straightforward” oppositions within 15 months. ...
22 January 2020
2019 has been another busy year for the EPO Boards of Appeal covering computer-implemented inventions, although the most significant case has not reached a conclusion. In T 0489/14 (Pedestrian simulation/CONNOR) of 22.2.2019 questions relating to the patentability of simulations and modelling were referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal, which has not yet set a timetable for a hearing and decision. Although the questions asked are primarily related to the narrow field of simulation of physical systems, it is possible that the answers given could have a broader impact by affecting what is considered technical.
12 November 2019
On 23 October 2019, Kitchin LJ handed down a judgment, available here , which brought to an end a 13-year long dispute between Professor Ian Shanks OBE FRS FREng and Unilever. The case concerns a compensation claim made by Professor Shanks, in connection with several patents owned by Unilever directed towards glucose monitoring devices, for which Professor Shanks was the sole inventor (the “Shanks patents”). Professor Shanks considered that his patents were of outstanding benefit to Unilever and, in accordance with Section 40(1) of the UK Patents Act 1977 (PA ’77), that compensation was due.
04 October 2019
The EPO has recently revised the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal (RPBA) 1 . The revised RPBA will come into force on 1 January 2020. The revisions are fairly extensive and are primarily concerned with harmonising the practices of the various different Boards of Appeal. The EPO is also hoping that the changes will increase the overall efficiency of the appeal procedure. Many of the changes may require users of the European patent system to modify their day-to-day practice, both during first instance proceedings and in subsequent appeals.
08 May 2019
Two recent decisions of an EPO Technical Board of Appeal emphasise the need for a proper technical context to be set out in claims to render an abstract idea patentable. The two appeals, by Ab Initio Technology LLC, related to inventions in the field of parallel processing, a field that seems on the face of it highly technical. However, the inventions were claimed as processes for converting computation graphs into a form better adapted for parallel processes but without specifying any steps of performing any processing, parallel or otherwise. At this level of generality the Board considered the inventions to...
27 March 2019
Whatever the technology, IP can form a significant intangible asset for a company. In addition to legally protecting the company’s products and activities from being copied by competitors, IP can generate revenue through licensing or sales, it can protect market share and increase return on a company’s R&D investment. IP therefore plays a vital role in establishing the value of a company. When looking to invest in a company that holds IP, a good understanding is needed, not only of what IP a company holds, but how that IP adds value to the company. IP is not just a matter of numbers: the strengths...
05 March 2019
The issue of “double patenting” arises in the EPO when one applicant files two European patent applications with closely related claims and the same effective filing date. A situation where double patenting commonly needs to be considered is when the claims of a divisional application overlap with the claims of its parent application. Under such circumstances it is necessary to determine how much overlap between the claims of the two applications should be permitted. The case law has developed such that the EPO will generally allow substantial overlap between the claims.
28 February 2019
EPO Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07 has, in case T 0489/14 (Pedestrian simulation/CONNOR), referred questions to the Enlarged Board of appeal concerning what is to be considered technical in the fields of design and simulation. The cases of Designing optical systems/Philips and Circuit Simulation I/Infineon have long been cited as precedent that the design or simulation of a technical system is itself technical and eligible for patent protection. However, some more recent cases have put limits on that proposition, suggesting that the technical system must be defined with sufficient specificity and that the purpose of the simulation might also be...
13 February 2019
In 2014, the EPO launched the Early Certainty initiative to speed up the patent granting process. This initiative has resulted in speedier establishment of search reports and a shorter examination procedure. As can be seen from the chart, the result is that the number of EP patents granted since the launch of the initiative has increased far more quickly than the number of patent applications filed. This is confirmed by our experience, in which a quicker turnaround time has been noticeable, with an increasing number of applications proceeding to grant directly after a response to the search report is filed.
13 February 2019
This briefing explores the options available to applicants in the event that the deadline for filing a PCT has been missed. In this context we refer to the deadline for filing a PCT application that is set by the twelve month deadline for claiming priority under the Paris Convention. A successful claim to priority may be important, particularly if the applicant has disclosed their invention after filing their first application and wishes to proceed with national and/or regional phases in which no grace period is provided for disclosures by the inventor/applicant.
13 February 2019
Re-establishment of rights under Article 122 EPC may be used to recover rights lost as a result of missing a deadline set by the European Patent Office. The requirements of this provision are shared with a number of restoration systems worldwide. There is much variation from regime to regime. However, the European Patent Office approach is well established, with a history of case law that makes it clear what is needed to successfully recover rights in Europe.
13 February 2019
The central issue when seeking restoration or re-establishment of rights in many countries is establishing that due care was taken. This is certainly true of cases before the European Patent Office. This paper reviews what issues may need to be addressed in order to demonstrate due care to the European Patent Office when preparing grounds for re-establishment of rights. Other offices, such as the International Bureau, follow a similar approach to the European Patent Office.
31 January 2019
2018 has been a year of increased productivity for at least those Boards of Appeal that cover software inventions (Boards 3.5.01 and 3.5.03 to 3.5.06). In particular Board 3.5.01 has returned to a similar level of productivity as the other Boards now that it has a Chairman. The main controversies continue to be the proper treatment of mixed inventions (those involving non-technical aims or features as well as technical ones) and how to determine what is and is not technical.
04 December 2018
The Supreme Court in the UK handed down its decision in Warner-Lambert v Actavis on 14th November 2018 (and a copy of the complete decision is available here ). The Supreme Court considered the following issues in its judgment: how much data is required in the application as originally filed to support a second medical use claim; and the circumstances under which “cross label use” for the patented indication of a drug sold by a competitor company can constitute infringement of a second medical use claim.
19 October 2018
This is the fourth year in a row that sections of the EPO guidelines for examiners relating to computer implemented inventions (CII) have been significantly amended. These amendments have come about as a result of a project within the EPO to harmonise the treatment of inventions involving computers and software across all examining divisions. In the EPO, inventions not relating to computer science per se are handled in various examining divisions according to the function performed by the computer and its software. Thus, significant variation in practice had arisen between different examining divisions. This year’s set of amendments is the...
25 July 2018
The EPO operates a PCT service, PCT Direct, available to PCT applications which: name the European Patent Office as International Searching Authority; and claim priority from an earlier patent application which was searched by the EPO. If a new PCT application fulfils both of these criteria, the Applicant may file a “PCT Direct letter” providing informal comments with the application. The Search Examiner is obliged to consider those comments when preparing the International Search Report and the Written Opinion on patentability.
06 July 2018
A patent that has been granted by the European Patent Office may subsequently be made effective in any of the countries for which a designation, extension or validation fee has been paid. This process is commonly known as “validation” of the European patent. Some countries impose translation requirements as part of the validation procedure. In general, any required translations must be submitted within three months of the grant date of the patent.
14 June 2018
The EPO has long adopted an approach to consideration of inventive step known as the problem and solution approach. Although this approach is fundamentally the same across most technical areas, special considerations apply for software related inventions. Firstly, the EPO looks for an invention to be the technical solution to a technical problem and so disregards non-technical aims/features, which are common in software fields. Secondly, the EPO Boards of Appeal often have quite high expectations of the capabilities of the ordinary person skilled in the art and thus a high threshold for inventive step. We discuss these issues below with...
01 June 2018
The European Commission published on 28 May 2018 a proposal 1 for a “manufacturing waiver” to permit third parties to manufacture a medicinal product protected by a Supplementary Protection Certificate for the purposes of export to countries outside the EU. The Commission aims to have the new legislation in place by 2019.
05 March 2018
Claiming small entity status on a US application or patent provides a reduction in official fees. Most fees (e.g. basic filing fee, examination fee, search fee, etc.) are reduced by 50%, so the saving is significant. There are some risks but these may be mitigated. Where available, small entity status is attractive to many applicants.
09 February 2018
The EPO announced in January 2018 a number of changes to the rules and fee structure that come into force on 1 April 2018. The key changes are (a) discontinuation of the reduced search fee for most European regional phase applications, (b) expansion of the window in which the third year renewal fee can be paid, and (c) changes to fee structure, including an increased appeal fee for most corporate appellants. These changes are discussed in further detail below.
17 January 2018
2017 was a year of change for the Boards of Appeal of the EPO: a new President 1 and a move out of the EPO’s oldest building in the centre of Munich to a suburb, Haar. There has been some recruitment, but overall it appears there are still many vacancies on various Boards. Overall the relevant Boards issued 10% more decisions than in 2016 and Board 3.5.01 in particular has significantly increased its output in the latter part of the year as it now has a chairman.
10 January 2018
The European Patent Office (EPO) uses the term “ disclaimer ” to refer to a negative feature in a claim of a patent application. Negative features are those which exclude certain subject matter from the scope of protection. While a positive feature in a claim may for instance take the form “ wherein the composition comprises X ”, a disclaimer would take the form “ wherein the composition does not comprise X ”.
14 December 2017
Since the UK Court of Appeal judgment in Menashe v William Hill, it has not been safe to assume that infringement of a patent claim including a processor or a processing step can be avoided by performing the processing on a server outside the UK. A third judgement on this topic has recently been issued – making the score two for infringement and one for non-infringement – so it is instructive to consider what factors affect a finding of infringement. We review the relevant points of the three cases and draw some practical conclusions.
30 November 2017
The EPO has published its yearly update to the Guidelines for Examination, which came into force on 1 November 2017. The updated Guidelines for Examination can be found here , with a list of the amendments made compared to the current version available here .
16 November 2017
The EPO has published its yearly update to the Guidelines for Examination, which came into force on 1 November 2017. The updated Guidelines for Examination can be found here , with a list of the amendments made compared to the current version available here . An overview of the changes is provided in our news item here .
14 November 2017
In May 2017, we reported on two “CardinalCommerce” decisions 1 by EPO Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01 that introduced the concept of a “notional business person” into in the examination of mixed inventions (inventions including both technical and non-technical features). A new decision by the same Board ( T0630/11/Waterleaf ) provides some clarification of this approach, warning against over limiting what the notional business person can do and perhaps limiting the utility of the CardinalCommerce to applicants seeking to patent mixed inventions.
26 July 2017
Experimental evidence can play a valuable role in patent litigation. It is not uncommon in patent validity proceedings for an expert will say to they would, when presented with a piece of prior art, have conducted a particular experiment in order to progress the research. Without then conducting the actual experiment that they said they would have done, it is impossible to know what the result of that experiment would have been. Knowing the result of that experiment is sometimes critical to a case, such as when the defendant argues the patent is invalid due to lack of novelty or...
21 July 2017
The UK Supreme Court’s judgment in Lilly v Actavis has profound implications for the scope of protection provided by patent claims in the UK. The judgment moves away from the principle that the patentee should enjoy the full extent, but no more than the full extent, of the monopoly that a reasonable person skilled in the art, reading the claims in context, would think he was intending to claim. Rather, following this new decision, a patent claim in the UK can be infringed by products or processes that are not within the ambit of the language used in the claims.
01 July 2017
The planned European Union-wide patent court and related patent right will not launch in December as planned. The Unified Patent Court preparatory committee said June 7 that the delay was caused by several countries failing to agree to the protocol on UPC Provisional Application. The protocol allows parts of the UPC agreement, the controlling document for the court, to come into effect earlier.
09 June 2017
Parameters are generally used in patent claims to define subject matter which cannot be expressed in terms of structural features. They are often relied upon for inventions in the chemical field, but can in fact be used in any technical area. Parameters can relate to features that can be measured directly, such as the density or melting point of a substance; measured indirectly, such as the tacticity of a polymer; or that can be calculated, such as the superficial velocity of a flow in a reactor. They can also be expressed in terms of relationships between such features.
05 June 2017
Inventors are often unaware of the potential variety of IP rights they could obtain to protect their technology, particularly design rights and how they can complement patents. This paper aims to assist new and developing businesses, by exploring key points in connection with patent and design protection, and suggests strategies for developing and managing an IP portfolio that can be used to protect and grow a business.
31 May 2017
The software industry has been a major beneficiary of the R&D tax credit regime in the UK. Although more obviously suited to the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries, the software industry can also benefit from UK Patent Box legislation. One aim of the Patent Box legislation is to provide an additional incentive to locate in the UK high-value jobs associated with the development and exploitation of patented technologies. To achieve this the Patent Box legislation allows companies to pay a lower rate of UK corporation tax for profit attributable to qualifying patented technology.
30 May 2017
Crowdfunding is a new and exciting way of raising funds. However, if you fund your business in this way you need to consider carefully how to protect your valuable intellectual property (IP). Crowdfunding involves wide and rapid disclosure of information. This can be beneficial to your business but may also pose some risks to your IP.
29 May 2017
Intellectual property (IP) rights are legal rights which provide protection for your innovative and creative endeavour. For example, IP could relate to something that you have created, such as a brand, an invention or a design, or could relate to information that you have developed or collated. When people talk about IP, they usually mean IP that can be registered: trade marks, patents and designs. However some IP rights arise automatically (so-called unregistered rights), such as copyright and unregistered designs. Each form of IP right has a different purpose in protecting a different aspect of your work and can be...
12 May 2017
When seeking patent protection, most companies start with a single national patent application but may then wish to seek protection in other countries. This briefing outlines points to consider in selecting the countries to cover, the international schemes available and the timing of the decisions to be taken. There are several advantages to filing a UK application first, even if you are not UK based. The UK Intellectual Property Office carries out searches quickly and cheaply; this can give you an indication of the patentability of your invention before you incur the costs of filing in other countries. UK applications must...
12 May 2017
Mr Justice Birss gave an important decision on 5 April 2017 concerning FRAND undertakings. FRAND stands for ‘fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory’ and the FRAND undertaking is the undertaking a patentee has to give when declaring a patent to be essential (‘essential’ meaning that it would inevitably be infringed by operating in accordance with a given standard) to the standards setting organisation (SSO) that it will grant licences on FRAND terms. Until this decision it was not clear exactly what ‘fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory’ meant nor the exact legal standing of the FRAND undertaking and while this decision cannot provide all...
03 May 2017
In two Decisions published on 27 April 2017, EPO Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01 has given valuable guidance on the treatment of inventions that implement business methods and given rare positive verdicts on two related applications. In the process, the Board has introduced the "notional business person" whose hypothetical actions need to be considered alongside the venerable "person skilled in the [technical] art".
04 April 2017
You have a new technical idea. When will you be ready to draft a patent specification? When will it be appropriate to file an initial application at the Patent Office? Are there any potential issues with filing an application early and making a follow-up application later? This Briefing sets out some of the factors to consider in addressing such questions.
01 April 2017
The Supreme Court, the highest Court for England and Wales, has given guidance as to considerations to take into account when deciding whether an activity can be regarded as “making” a patented product and thus infringing a patent. This Decision has relevance for activities including reconditioning and repairing of patented articles and for sale of spare parts and even consumables of larger patented articles. The Decision makes it clear that the question of whether an activity is “making” is “one of fact and degree”. The Decision concludes that there are no fixed principles nor any single simple test to assess what constitutes...
27 March 2017
The EPO introduced a revised accelerated prosecution procedure (PACE) on 1 January 2016. One key difference from the previous procedure is that it will now be possible to request PACE only once during the search procedure and only once during the examination procedure.
01 February 2017
In decision G 1/151, the EPO’s Enlarged Board of Appeal ruled that an entitlement to partial priority arises for a generic claim in a European patent application in respect of subject-matter, disclosed in the priority filing, that is encompassed by the generic claim. The Enlarged Board's conclusions prevent so-called "poisonous divisional" attacks, as well as the possibility of "self-collision" with the priority application, provided that the claims of the priority-claiming European application contain exclusively broadening amendments compared with the disclosure in the priority filing. However, the wider reasoning in the decision emphasises the continuing importance of carefully drafting both priority applications...
01 February 2017
To what extent will a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) for a biological product be considered to encompass closely-related alternatives such as biosimilars? This question has been addressed by the EFTA court in Pharmaq v Intervet, and subsequently applied by the Norwegian Court of Appeal. This briefing provides an analysis of the case as well as our conclusions and recommendations for those seeking SPCs for biological products.
12 January 2017
In two judgments handed down on 13 January 2017 Mr Justice Arnold decided to send questions on the SPC Regulation to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling. In each case the question reflects the lack of clarity provided by earlier key CJEU decisions, Medeva 1 and Neurim 2 . Article 3(a) is the product “protected by a basic patent in force”.
02 January 2017
Notwithstanding surprising electoral developments in the UK and the US, 2016 was a continuation of business as usual for the Boards of Appeal of the EPO at least in relation to computer-implemented inventions. The Boards continued to apply the “Comvik” approach to examining mixed inventions, that is inventions involving both technical and non-technical features, but still did not offer any definition of what is and is not technical. Backlogs appear to have risen, due no doubt to the freeze on recruitment of Board members and consequent vacancies. This article discusses some statistics from 2016 of the various Boards of Appeal...
31 August 2016
The protection of software inventions in Europe and the United States has often been described in terms of a pendulum swinging between a liberal position, in which almost anything can be protected, and a restrictive position, in which it is much harder to obtain patents for inventions relating to or using software. While the United States has recently taken a decisive swing to the restrictive side, the position in Europe has been relatively stable for the best part of a decade.
29 June 2016
Since April 2014, it has been possible to file multiple divisional applications from any European patent application pending at the European Patent Office (EPO). Divisional applications can be filed from a European application which is itself a divisional application. Further, the EPO’s rules on double patenting are relatively liberal1. In some cases, Applicants have used these rules to file multiple divisional applications with similar claims. These divisional applications can then be kept pending at the EPO while challenges to the parent patent are determined in EPO opposition proceedings and/or in national litigation. If the parent patent is revoked, or is found...
19 May 2016
In the 2016 decision T 2440/12-Fluid flow simulation/SIMCON, Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07 has found that a commercially available software package makes the methods it embodies available to the public because it could be run line-byline in a virtual machine (VM).
12 May 2016
The Patent Box makes the existence of a patent more attractive, whatever the breadth of the patent’s claim, so long as it covers the product (or process or service). A company may wish to adapt its strategies both for filing and prosecuting patent applications and for patent and patent application abandonments.
12 May 2016
In order to benefit from the Patent Box, the beneficiary must be a qualifying company as defined in the legislation. We discuss here the requirements of a qualifying company.
12 May 2016
In order to benefit from the Patent Box, a company must hold or have an exclusive license to a qualifying IP right. Here we discuss the definition of a qualifying IP right.
12 May 2016
We discuss here issues relating to which income streams can qualify for the Patent Box. The Patent Box legislation defines what income streams count as relevant IP income. The calculation of relevant IP income is used in determining an amount deductable from the profits of the trade for the calculation of UK Corporation Tax liability. Determining the amount deductable from the profits of the trade will ultimately lead to the amount of UK Corporation Tax due being equivalent to paying a rate of 10% on the relevant IP income (following certain deductions as explained in our separate Briefing “Patent Box...
12 May 2016
A company must elect in to the Patent Box regime in order to take advantage of the reduction in payable UK Corporation Tax. For some companies there may be advantages in delaying entry into the Patent Box. This Briefing looks at this issue.
12 May 2016
We outline here the accounting steps which are necessary to calculate the Patent Box benefit. We also present a simplified example calculation which may help you to estimate the amount of saving in UK Corporation Tax you might expect to make if you were to elect in to the Patent Box regime under either the pre- or post- 1 July 2016 Patent Box rules.
28 January 2016
In 2015 the Boards of Appeal of the EPO continued to develop the “Comvik” approach to examining mixed inventions, that is inventions involving both technical and non-technical features, but again declined to define what is and is not technical. This article discusses some statistics from 2015 of the various Boards of Appeal that consider software inventions and some interesting or notable decisions.
26 November 2015
A patent is a legal monopoly granted by a government in return for public disclosure of an invention. A granted patent gives the proprietor the right to prevent others using the invention in the territory to which the patent applies.
24 September 2015
Third party patents can represent significant obstacles to achieving a commercial goal. The opposition procedure at the European Patent Office (EPO), if used successfully, can provide a cost-efficient mechanism for removing or limiting a troublesome patent. As a general rule, it is relatively cheap compared to national litigation and the centralised procedure means that revocation or limitation of a European patent in the opposition procedure applies in all of the validation states. However, EPO oppositions are often slow, in particular when the appeal stage is taken into account.
03 September 2015
The UK Patents Act was amended on 1 October 2014 to clarify the extent to which conducting clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of a patented drug can constitute patent infringement. This briefing contains a discussion of the amendments and of the situation before the future European Unitary Patent Court (UPC).
02 April 2015
In G 3/14 the EPO Enlarged Board of Appeal has ruled on the extent to which amendments made in EPO Opposition (and Opposition Appeal) proceedings may be examined for clarity, conciseness and support (Article 84 EPC). They confirmed that compliance with Article 84 EPC may be examined only when, and to the extent that, the amendment introduces non-compliance with Article 84 EPC. In particular an amendment which introduces the feature of a dependent claim may not be examined for Article 84 where the feature introduced corresponds to the complete dependent claim or is a simple alternative in such a claim.
21 November 2014
Earlier this month a Judgment1 was issued by the Court of Appeal which reiterated the UK Courts’ approach to the exclusion of an invention relating to computer programs (as such). The Court of Appeal rejected the Lantana application, upholding the Judgment issued by the Patents Court last year. The Lantana claim includes two computers and a data retrieval system which allows a user at a first, local computer to obtain a file from a second, remote computer. On request of the file, the local computer sends an email via the Internet to the remote computer, the email containing machine-readable instructions and an...
05 March 2014
Section 7(2) of the Indian Patents Act requires that when an application is made “by virtue of an assignment of the right to apply for a patent for the invention” , then it is necessary to file “proof of the right to make the application” . The so-called “proof of right” is normally a “Form 1” signed by the applicant and the inventors. Alternatively, a certified/notarised copy of an assignment of rights in the invention in India from the inventors to the applicant can be filed in place of a “Form 1”.
18 November 2013
Many countries have provisions which allow for compulsory licences to be granted under exceptional circumstances. However, in recent years, these provisions have only rarely, if ever, been used.
01 October 2013
Two recent decisions of an EPO Technical Board of Appeal recognise that recognition of human gestures, e.g. as a method of computer input, is technical. The Board overturned refusal of two European patent applications relating to the recognition of specific sequences of human gestures using a computer touch pad. In these refusals, the Examining Division had asserted that human gestures are inherently non-technical as a matter of policy and cannot therefore contribute to inventive step.
19 September 2013
In its decision in Generics (Mylan) V Yeda & Teva, the UK Court of Appeal considered the extent to which subsequent evidence can be relied upon for the determination of inventive step. The Court closely followed the approach adopted by the EPO to the consideration of such evidence. The decision provides a useful summary of the manner in which the technical contribution provided by a patent is assessed.
18 September 2013
Transforming research carried out in institutions such as universities and hospitals into commercial products and services can be a long and complex journey, but the results can provide significant income for the institutions involved, as well as improving the lives and prosperity of the public. IP often plays a central role in the success or failure of a project. It is crucially important to adopt the right strategies, both in terms of how an IP portfolio is grown and how it is used.
28 August 2013
Article 53(c) EPC specifies various patentability exclusions, including “diagnostic methods practised on the human or animal body”. This exclusion was considered in opinion G1/04 1 of the Enlarged Board of Appeal. The Enlarged Board identified two requirements that must both be met for a claim to be excluded from patentability. Firstly, the claimed method must include all the steps necessary to reach a medical decision on diagnosis. Secondly, all the technical steps of the method must require the presence of the human or animal body. This two-part test has subsequently been developed in several Technical Boards of Appeal decisions.
16 August 2013
Article 53(c) EPC specifies a number of exceptions to patentability in the field of medicine, including “ methods for the treatment of the human or animal body by surgery ”. These exceptions to patentability were included in the EPC on socio-ethical and public health grounds to ensure that medical and veterinary practitioners remain free to take any action necessary to treat or diagnose illnesses.
12 March 2012
After your patent application has been filed at one (or more) of the many Patent Offices around the world, it will be processed by that Patent Office. This is known as the patent “prosecution” process. This Briefing provides an overview of what to expect. However there are many local differences to take into account. The law and practice that govern the details of the procedures followed by the Patent Office vary widely from country to country. The cost involved and the time taken to process applications also vary from country to country, and indeed from case to case.
12 March 2012
Which new ideas are worthy of a patent application? How should the applications be drafted and prosecuted? When should they be filed? Where in the world should they be filed? How long should applications and granted patents be maintained? A systematic answer to these questions is provided by a patent strategy. A patent strategy is part of an overall intellectual property (IP) strategy. It is usually the most important part of such a strategy for technology-based companies. The IP strategy should follow the company’s R&D strategy which in turn should follow its overall business strategy.