Camtek and Orbotech are two Israeli companies making automated inspection systems for the microelectronics industry.
There appears to be a fair amount of bad blood between the two companies, and invariably when one receives a patent allowance in Israel, the other files oppositions.
In March 2001, Orbotech filed a patent application number IL 142028 into Israel. The application was a national phase entry of WO00/19372, titled “Pixel Coding and Processing Method” and had a priority date of 28 September 1998. The independent claim as filed reads as follows:
“A method of multi-level pixelization of images comprising: determining at least one edge between a first area and a second area in the image; dividing the image into pixels; assigning a first value to pixels completely in the first area; assigning a second value to pixels completely in the second area; and assigning a value to pixels through which the edge passes, said value being one of the first value, the second value or a different value.”
In June 2006, the patent was allowed and published for opposition purposes. Camtek filed an opposition claiming lack of novelty, obviousness, insufficient disclosure and lack of enablement.
MS Yaara Shoshani Caspi, an adjudicator at the patent office accepted that the claimed invention was obvious based on the teachings of:
- US 5,148,495 “Line region Segmentation Method”
- US 5,754,690 “Position Sensitive Detector based Image Conversation System Capable of Preserving Sub Pixel Information”
- US 4,896,364 “Method of Detecting Boundary Structures in a Video Signal” and
- US 4,873,577 “Edge Decomposition For the transmission of High Resolution Facsimile Images.”
The opposition was accepted and the applicant was ordered to pay costs of NIS 30,000 to the opposer.
I think Ms Caspi Shoshani’s ruling as to obviousness of the main claim is reasonable. I note that she does not consider that all four cited patents are required to knock out the main claim.
There were, however, some other aspects of the ruling I was less happy about.
- There appears to be an assumption that if the independent claim is obvious, the patent should be rejected without substantially relating to the dependent claims. I reject this totally.
- the application was criticized as being confusing and difficult to understand, and without the affidavit of the expert witness, it was beyond the arbitrator to understand what the purpose of the invention was. I reviewed the application, and like many patents for image analysis, it is not easy subject matter. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel that the applicant was trying to obfusticate.
- The examples dealt with printed circuit boards but the applicant claimed image analysis in a much wider, context independent manner, without bringing support for so doing. The adjudicator criticized this. Now, I accept that a photograph of copper paths laid down on a dielectric substrate provides one of the easiest types of images to approximate as a binary image and to unambiguously determine the edges of. Nevertheless, the approach taken is clearly application independent, and I can’t see any reason for the applicants to have discussed and brought examples of printed text or other images.
At the end of the day, the adjudicator construed the main claim and compared to the prior art cited to find the approach obvious. She also correctly noted that by assigning edges with a value representing dark, representing light or representing another value, the claim covered all imaging algorithms and was thus too broad. I think the decision could reasonably have been left at that.
We note that although the PCT received a positive international search report, it appears that the application was rejected in Australia and not allowed anywhere else.
Finally, as the two sides were fighting the opposition over a 6 year period, with a hearing, etc., it seems that the NIS 30,000 in legal costs awarded was less than generous.
Israel Patent Office ruling concerning Opposition to IL 142028 to Orbotech by Camtek, adjudicated 9 December 2012, by Ms Shoshani Caspi