Adding Evidence After Filing Statement of Case in Patent Opposition Proceeding

Plasto Vak ltd (1990) ltd filed Israel Patent No. 220639 titled “Disposable One Piece Container with a Removable Tear Strip Configured for Separation of the Lid and as a Tampering Alert.” On allowance, Vacotec Packaging ltd filed an Opposition.

lateBoth sides filed their statement of case, and then, at the evidence stage, Vacotec applied to reference two additional pieces of prior art. The Opposer justified the need to add these citations by arguing that the Applicant had taken an unexpected position in their Statement of Case and had post-dated the filing date due to amendments during the prosecution.  This resulted in them doing a further search and discovering the two additional references.

The Applicant , Plasto-Vak ltd denies that there was a change between the position they took during the prosecution and that taken during the Opposition in how the claimed invention overcomes the prior art. They further deny that they agreed to the application being post-dated due to significant amendments and argue that it is too late for Vacotec to file amend their Statement of Case.  They noted that they had submitted their statement of case 5 months earlier, and this request by Vacotec was tardy. Finally, Plasto-Vak ltd denies that the new citations are relevant enough to challenge the patentability of the claimed invention.

The invention in question is a disposable one-piece container. It is claimed as follows:

A disposable one-piece container [100] comprising first and second opposing sections [110 and 120], respectively, interconnected by a folding joint [130], said first and second sections [110 and 120] are separable by pulling said second sections [110 and 120] in opposite directions; wherein said folding joint [130] comprises an axis-segment [230] formed by a folding-line [210] adjacent to the second section [120] of said container [100] and a frangible folding-line [220] adjacent to first section [110] of said container [100]; said axis-segment [230] configured as a rotation axis between said two opposing sections [110,120] enabling the closure of said container [100]; further wherein said container [100] comprises a hold-tab [150] located at the first section [110] adjacently to frangible folding-line [220] and a hold-tab [160] located at said axis-segment [230] adjacently to frangible folding-line [220] and spaced apart from said second section [120]; said hold-tabs [150 and 160] are perpendicular to each other and grippable by a user for pulling in opposite directions.

The Application was submitted on 25 june 2012 and the examination was expedited. It published for opposition purposes on 30 November 2016 and the opposition was filed on 27 February 2017.

Discussion

The Applicant is correct that in general in opposition proceedings, the Opposer cannot rely on additional citations beyond those brought in the statement of case. Consequently, submission of additional references requires correcting the statement of case. See Appeal 47387-01-11 Bromium Compounds vs. Alvemarle Corporation USA 8 August 2011 and the IL 155919 Teva vs. AstraZeneca opposition from 5 December 2011.

Amendments to the statement-of-case are allowed where they help focus the discussion on points of disagreement between the parties, where there is no justification to prohibit the correction. See Opposition to IL 187923 Pimi Aggro Cleantech ltd vs Xena international 19 May 2013:

This forum has the authority to allow corrections to the Statement of Case in instances where the amendment focuses on the issues in question and where there are no reasons not to allow the amendment. Such reasons for refusing to allow the amendment include inequitable behaviour, denying the opposing party their rights in a way that may not be compensated for with monetary award in a costs ruling for the interim action, and tardiness in requesting the amendment (see interim request to amend the statement of case in cancellation proceedings against IL 154398 in Logo Engineering Development vs. State of Israel, Ministry of Agriculture, Volcani Institute 29 April 2004. Furthermore, exercising the authority to allow such amendments depends on the stage of the proceedings reached, since patent oppositions delay and prevent the Applicant from receiving the patent.

In this instance, there does not seem to be any real reason not to allow the amendment to the statement of case and the addition of these references since the Applicant can respond to the amended statement of case. The Opposer claims that their evidence is ready and can be submitted within a week so that no real delay will result from allowing the additional material to be submitted.

Two issues that the Applicant raises deserve responding to:

  1. The delay in filing the request
  2. The relevance of the new citations

It is preferable to conduct a proper search before filing the Statement of Case, and not have to subsequently amend it at the evidence stage. The Opposer claims that the search was based on the Applicant’s position as stated in the meeting with the Examiner and this resulted in the need to conduct a further search after receiving the Applicant’s statement of case.

In the prosecution, the Applicant claimed that the main difference between the applied for invention and the prior art in that the tabs are very close to the fold line.

“In response to the office action issued on 17.02.16, the applicant respectfully submits the following:

In item 1a of the office action, the examiner states that D1 discloses the present invention. The applicant interprets that the present invention is rejected as not novel. Meanwhile, the tabs functionally directed to separating upper and lower parts of the container are located in the positions absolutely different in comparison with the prior art document. Specifically, they are adjacent to the fragile folding line while, in D1, are located distantly. This limitation is the main discriminating constructive feature regardless of a material of the container.

…”

The Opposer submits that the Applicant is now claiming that there are additional differences that claim patentability due to other features as raised in the meeting.

To show that a claimed invention is anticipated, one has to find a piece of prior art that relates to all the features of claimed.  The claims are interpreted in light of the specification, and one cannot import features not described in the specification:

The correct interpretation is that terms in the claims should be interpreted in light of the specification to give them the meaning intended by the inventor. This can be narrow or broad, so long as the interpretation is anchored in the specification and is clear to persons of the art.

However one should differentiate between the ways that one can widen and clarify the monopoly and how one understands the invention. One can refer to the specification to understand the monopoly but that not claimed is not part of the monopoly. See Appeal  345/87 Hughes Aircraft Co. vs state of Israel et al. p.d. 44(4) 45, 70.

So even where the Applicant stresses one or other element in the claims or in the rest of the application during the examination or in the statement of claims, since the claims themselves were not amended in the opposition, the Opposer knew what the claimed elements to be searched were.  (this is not to be understood as license to ignore that claimed during the patent examination).

Nevertheless, the resulting delay is not serious enough to warrant forbidding the correction of the statement of case and the addition of the two new references and allowing it will not drag out the opposition. To the extent that the Opposer could have found these new citations 10 months ago, the damage to the Applicant by the resulting tardiness may be compensated for by awarding costs to the Applicant.

As to the alleged lack of relevancy of the new citations, there is no clear a priori basis to exclude the possibility that these publications are relevant to the patentability. The Applicant submitted a 23 paragraph statement to try to show why these citations are not relevant and so it seems reasonable to accept the possibility that the citations are relevant and to relate to them substantively in the Opposition proceedings instead of to prevent their being submitted.

In light of the above, Ms Jacqueline Bracha allows the statement of case to be amended to relate to the two additional citations as follows:

  1. The corrected statement of case and additional evidence must be filed within 7 days
  2. The applicant will file their statement of case and evidence within the following three months as per section 59(b) of the Regulations
  3. The Opposer will pay 5000 Shekels including VAT costs to the Applicant

 Re IL 220639 to Plasto Vak ltd (1990) ltd; Interim ruling by Ms Bracha on addition of Evidence not referenced in Statement of Case, 21 February 2018

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