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05.02.18

Not Enough Opposition/s to Wrongly-Granted European Patents

Posted in Europe, Law, Patents at 1:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Examiners know there's a problem as justice cannot prevail

EPO quality letter

Summary: The relative lack of oppositions to patents which are being granted in a rush (and under pressure to met “targets”) may mean that any sense of justice will be overlooked, not only inside the EPO but also outside the EPO

THE EPO is creating a legal minefield. European Patents (EPs) are granted too leniently — a result of decline in patent quality — basically emulating the same mistakes the USPTO made in recent decades (until patent reform). This means that access to justice in the patent sense will become as poor as EPO staff’s access to justice. It means that mobs like patent trolls can harass European companies even if they do not infringe/touch a patent or the patent in question is just questionable (expensive to prove that in court though).

Yesterday an EPO insider wrote about the concept of “Floating in a legal vacuum,” quoting documents that SUEPO had shared: “How can it be that while states are individually obliged to respect fundamental human rights, they can jointly create international institutions that are entitled to ignore them?”

“Are appeals and oppositions even possible when people like Battistelli can harass Board judges (appeals)? Or retaliate against Office staff (oppositions)?”SUEPO published two large documents recently; these pertain to exemptions from law for EPO management, but what about patents that get issued and those impacted by such patents? Are appeals and oppositions even possible when people like Battistelli can harass Board judges (appeals)? Or retaliate against Office staff (oppositions)?

Not too long ago there was a successful opposition to a patent on life. Yes, the EPO had been granting patents on life itself, but in one case (at least one) EPO staff rejected the patent. It was about CRISPR. Professor Jake Sherkow of New York Law School has just written about a CRISPR patent appeal in the US. He said that this “demonstrates that patents covering even revolutionary technology can be legally mundane and still have significant real-world impact,” having not actually opposed this practice.

But another post on the subject of appeals came from the US yesterday. It was the CCIA writing about the EPO, which is rare. “Approximately 4% of European patents are opposed, and of those, approximately 32% of oppositions are not instituted,” Josh Landau wrote yesterday. To quote the relevant paragraphs:

EPO Oppositions and Nullity Proceedings

In Europe, rather than inter partes review and district court litigation on validity, there are opposition proceedings at the European Patent Office (EPO) and nullity proceedings in European national courts.

Oppositions

Oppositions are the most similar European procedure to U.S. post-grant proceedings like IPR. So it’s instructive to examine how many European patents are opposed and the outcomes of those oppositions.

Fortunately, the EPO makes available detailed statistics on exactly these questions. Approximately 4% of European patents are opposed, and of those, approximately 32% of oppositions are not instituted. 27% of oppositions result in a final decision invalidating all claims of the patent, while the remaining 40% of patents are modified in some form and maintained as patents. (EPO opposition statistics appear to omit patents where the parties settled mid-proceeding.) Each year, the EPO handles approximately 4,000 oppositions, meaning that approximately 1,100 European patents are invalidated in their entirety on a yearly basis.

This means that about 96% of patents face no opposition; with Battistelli almost doubling the number of granted patents, how would that even be feasible? Even for companies to keep abreast of all those granted patents while still being productive at work…

What we see here is collective erosion of the notion of law or justice in the patent system. Yesterday we called it the "banana republic model"; it’s a system gone awry. A lazy man with barely any experience in patents or sciences has been put in charge of a patent-printing machine.

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