In another Patent Opposition, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries opposed Israel Patent Number 195030 titled “DPP IV INHIBITOR FORMULATIONS” to Boehringer Ingelheim International GMBH.
The patent published for opposition purposes on 30 September 2013 and an opposition was filed on 29 December 2013 and there is a pending Divisional application – IL 212841.
On 22 January 2014, the Opposer requested to suspend the Opposition process under Israel Patent Office Circular 020/2012 which allows suspension of Opposition processes whilst related applications are examined, provided that a detailed request to do is filed. The Opposer considers the claimed subject matter of the two cases as very similar. Although there are differences, these are minor. The Applicant accepts the similarity but does not consider this as in and of itself being a prima facie justification for suspending examination, and that at best this is grounds for a detailed request. Until such a request is filed, there is no basis to suspend the Opposition proceedings (which leaves the allowed patent in suspense, such that it cannot be enforced).
In ruling on this matter, the Commissioner (who drafted the original Circular) ruled that the existence of the Divisional Application was not, of itself, sufficient grounds to suspend the opposition. It is, in his opinion, too early to identify the claimed invention. However, under Section 24, the specification of a Divisional Application will invariably be very similar to that of the Parent Application, and this is the basis of the Opposer’s assumption that similar issues will arise in the Divisional application if it is allowed, and so suspension until that time to hear both cases together makes sense. The consideration as to whether or not to suspend the opposition is efficiency and the case is similar to other cases where an ongoing proceeding is suspended until another is decided. There is a Supreme Court precedent that relates to this issue: Appeal by authorization 3765/01 “HaPhoenix HaYisralei Insurance Company vs. Alexander Kaplan et al. (28 Jan 2002), where, in paragraph 3, it is stated that in the name of efficiency courts have the discretion to combine hearings, even where the parties are different. In the Opposition to IL 82910 Unipharm vs. Anktielofaget Hassle (1996) this principle is applied to patent cases; justification being Reg. 520 of the Civil Law Procedure. The purpose of suspension is thus to allow the apparently similar / related cases to be combined. The Opposer is correct that the currently pending claims of the Divisional Application are somewhat similar to those in the opposed patent.
It is important to consider the rights of third parties and other considerations than simply efficiency of combining from the perspective of the patent office. In this case, it is likely that the Opposer (TEVA) will oppose the divisional application, should it issue. In conclusion, the Commissioner agreed to suspend the Opposition for 18 months and to then reconsider in light of developments concerning the divisional application.
There are certainly similarities between court cases and oppositions. There are, however, some pertinent differences. One does not suspend a court case pending a possible filing of a related case, only to wait for an ongoing case to issue.
Oppositions are complicated proceedings that take time. Indeed, a primary purpose of filing them is to prevent a patent from being enforceable. Suspending an opposition to claims that have been examined and allowed on the basis that some additional claims may eventually be allowed seems to be a punishment to the Applicant. It seems to me that the opposition to the allowed patent should be allowed to proceed, with statements in the Opposition filed by both the Applicant and the Opposer serving as estoppel in possible future oppositions of the divisional. Factual issues that are determined should be binding on the future hearing. If and when the divisional patent is allowed, and an opposition is filed, overlapping grounds could be co-joined to this opposition and new grounds could be heard separately. I therefore consider this ruling to be wrong.
I have thus somewhat surprised myself by coming out in favour of the pharma Applicant and against the generic Opposer. I console myself in that in this case the issue is one of legal principle and not one of novelty or inventiveness / obviousness. I am against evergreening, but I am also against misuse of the patent opposition system to prevent patents from issuing by uneccessary time-wasting. Comments, anyone?