The Federal Court Sheds Light on the Inventive Step of an Invention


Light in Autumn

The apex court of Malaysia has recently delivered an important decision which touched on the key requirement of inventive step involved in an invention and how to determine such inventive step.

In Spind Malaysia Sdn Bhd v Justrade Marketing Sdn Bhd & Pang Cheng Hoon (Federal Court of Malaysia Civil Appeal No. 02(f)-55-08/2016(W)), the following three questions of law were referred to the FC:

1. Whether for the purpose of considering whether a patented invention is inventive (or not obvious), the court is required to apply and carry out the 4-steps test from the case of Windsurfing International Inc v Tabur Marine (Great Britain) Ltd [1985] RPC 59 (or more commonly known as the ‘Windsurfing test’)? (Question 1)

2. Whether there is a distinction to be drawn between determining the “claimed features” of the claims of a patent (for the purposes of assessing novelty and infringement) and determining the “inventive concepts” of the invention in the patent (for the purpose of assessing inventiveness)? (Question 2)

3. If the answer to Question 2 is in the affirmative, whether an assessment of the “inventive concepts” of the invention is to be confined to just the claims of the patent or should be construed from reading the patent specifications as a whole and with the common knowledge of the skilled person? (Question 3)

The appeal relates to a patent for an invention which is simply called a “floor trap” granted to the Appellant. The Appellant sued the Respondents for infringement of patent and the Respondents counterclaimed to invalidate the patent for lack of novelty and inventiveness. The Appellant’s claim was dismissed and the Respondents’ invalidation counterclaim was allowed by the High Court. The appeal to the Court of Appeal was also dismissed. Leave was subsequently granted by the FC for the 3 questions mentioned above to be answered.

In answering Question 1, the FC considered the Windsurfing test to be a good starting point for assessing inventiveness – describing the test as “a useful framework…[and which] provides some clarity of reasoning and consistency of approach”. However, it cautions that the individual steps should not be considered as being “set in stone and mechanically applied”. Ultimately, the question is simply whether the invention is obvious to the person having ordinary skill in the art, having regard to prior art. The 4-steps Windsurfing test was summarised to the following:

Step 1: Identify the inventive concept embodied in the patent.

Step 2: Assume the mantle of person having ordinary skill in the art, and impute to him the common general knowledge at that date.

Step 3: Identify the differences between the prior art and the alleged invention.

Step 4: Determine whether, viewed without any knowledge of the alleged invention, those differences constitute steps which would have been obvious to the person having ordinary skill in the art.

The FC described the test for Step 4 to be an objective test and a question of a fact and two types of evidence can be considered: –

  • primary evidence in the form of the opinions of expert witnesses; and
  • secondary in the form of contemporary events and commercial success of the alleged invention.

On the evidentiary value to be given to expert opinions, the FC viewed such evidence as “generally valuable and often necessary”. However, the ultimate question of fact, i.e. whether the step was obvious or not, must be determined by the court and the court is not bound to follow the expert’s opinion. This reaffirms the position taken by the FC in the earlier case of SKB Shutters Manufacturing Sdn Bhd v Seng Kong Shutter Industries Sdn Bhd & Anor [2015] 6 MLJ 293 (“SKB Shutters”).

As for secondary evidence, the FC held that such evidence is not in itself conclusive on the question of obviousness and care should be taken when conferring proper weight to such evidence. Question 1 was thus answered in the affirmative.

Question 2 and Question 3 were considered together. The FC declared that “[t]he starting point in patent litigation, whether to determine novelty, obviousness, or infringement, is… to ascertain the scope of the claims in a patent”. As such, the inventive concept of a patent must be identified from the claims. The FC further explained that “[i]t is the inventive concept that the patentee has put forward as underpinning his monopoly that must be identified”. Accordingly, inventive concept is to be distilled from the claims and not from the patent specification as a whole. It also follows that technical advantages of an invention which the patentee aimed to achieve, but are not included in the scope of the claims, do not constitute an inventive concept. The FC was however careful to point out that while inventive concept is to be determined from the claims, it is not to be equated with everything stated in the claims. Rather, inventive concept is the “essence of the idea” or “the core (or kernel, or essence) of the invention”.

Question 2 was thus answered in the following manner: in determining both the scope of the claims for assessing novelty and the inventive concept for assessing inventiveness, the court must look at the claims in the patent. However, the inventive concept is not one and the same as the claims; it is the core or essence of the invention. Question 3 was answered in the negative.

This recent Spind decision by the FC is important for patent litigation as it confirms the application of the Windsurfing test for determining whether an invention is inventive or not. The decision also explains how the inventive concept of a patent can be ascertained – from the claims. Patent drafters would also wish to take note of the court’s position in this regard. Based on this decision, it is imperative that patent drafters ensure that the “core (or kernel, or essence) of the invention”, i.e. the inventive concept, be specifically included in the claims of the patent.

(Contributed by Teo Bong Kwang & Ng Yueng May, Messrs. Wong Jin Nee & Teo, Kuala Lumpur, 29 March 2018. Used by permission)



Photo by Lam Been Koon
Photo by Lam Been Koon

前两天到我最爱的书局Kinokuniya去,本意是要买本Moleskin日记本给儿子;免不了去浏览令人垂涎,琳琅满目的书籍。结果就是两袋书,其中一本是丹尼尔·克莱恩(Daniel Klein) 的Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It (Oneworld, 2015年出版)。作者是位78岁的美国作家,写小说也写非小说 (non-fiction),包括与他人合写了一本畅销书,叫做《柏拉图与鸭嘴兽一块上酒吧》(Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar)。

据作者说,本书是他25岁开始收录的一些哲理短句(他称之为Pithies)的反思。每章卷首都有一段某位哲学家的短句,作者就借题发挥,加以扩充,评论。这本书没有提供当怎样过一种有意义的生命的想法,而是探讨不同的哲学思想,让读者自行决定那种想法才是好的。作者所收录的短句其实代表了不同学派或者是一些重要的哲学思想,主题,如自由意志 (Free Will),享乐主义(Hedonism),存在主义,萨特,休谟对生命意义的洞见,尼采的“超人”思想,悲观主义,理性主义,犬儒主义 (Cynicism),新无神论(New Atheism),不可知主义(Agnosticism), 朋友的好处,什么是爱,圣经《传道书》的智慧等。

Photo by Lam Been Koon
Photo by Lam Been Koon



在本书142页(我只能用页数,因为这本书没有目录,也没章题,章数),作者克莱恩引述了培根(Francis Bacon)的名言:“一点哲学引向无神主义,但是深邃哲学则带领人的心思到宗教”(原文作:A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion”)。作者自谦的说他可能没有资格评论,因为他无法探研哲学的深处,但是他还是能捉到这句名言的重点。他接着说:“亚里斯多德的名言:‘当你知道得越多,那你会发现你不知道的更多’,培根是从这个想法开展他的看法的。承认自己所知的有限,而更重要的是,我们能够知道的是那么少,真的是一种大开眼界的想法(a real eye opener)。但是这不能阻止我们想要知道的更多,或者至少保持一直探索的态度。对未知的追寻,肯定让我们心思倾向于寻求属灵事物(any wondering about the unknowable certainly inclineth a mind toward the spiritual)。

另外一章是谈到怀疑主义大师大卫·休谟(David Hume, 1711-1776)的那一句:“对宇宙来说,人的生命不比一只牡蛎来得重要”(The life of a man is of no greater importance to the universe than the at of an oyster)(参本书第81页)。 休谟认为人只是宇宙这个巨大机器中的一个小零件,渺小得没什么意义。但是作者认为我们可以用另一个角度来看这个牡蛎比喻。虽然我们的生命微小,但是可以有巨大的涟漪作用 (ripple effect)。他引用Frank Capra 的电影It is a Wonderful Life 来说明。主角George Bailey认为他对不起他的家人与社群而想在圣诞节前夕自杀,但是Bailey 的守护天使Clarence出现,让Bailey 看到如果没有他,整个社区将会不一样。

此外,克莱恩也引用英格玛·伯格曼(Ingmar Bergman)的电影 《芬妮与亚历山大》(Fanny and Alexander)中的一段对白,来带出这个信息:

“世界是一窝的强盗,黑夜经已降临;邪恶已经挣脱锁链,像疯狗般的横行世界。邪恶的毒素影响了我们每个人,无人幸免。因此让我们还能快乐的时候,继续快乐吧,让我们继续善良,慷慨,充满爱心,做个好人吧。我们无需感到羞耻,其实是必须,在我们微小的世界取乐吧。”(It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world)(参页84-85)

17293170 - a photo of the full moon at night

从本书,我也学习到,思索本身就是一种的喜乐,而其重要性不亚于其他肉体感官好处。根据作者说这是英国哲学家罗素(Bertrand Russell)所强调的(参页58-60)。他引述罗素的说话:”The goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body”。

书中有一章谈到友情的可贵,引述了美国哲学家爱默生(Ralph Waldo Emerson)的名言:“老朋友的其中一个好处,就是你能愚笨的与他们相处”(It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them)(页64),读后让我心有戚戚矣。

在宗教观念上,作者自称是一个不可知论者(Agnostic),但他对宗教仍然是非常尊重,且持开放的态度(参页145)。 所传达的仍然是一个积极的人生态度,在讨论叔本华的悲观主义那一章(页30-34),作者引用伍迪·亚伦(Woody Allen )的电影Hannah and Her Sisters 的男主角密奇(Mickey)在片尾的一段独白,来说明其实我们能从生命中的小乐趣,重拾对生命的喜悦感。而就是这些小乐趣,让我们在看来充满绝望的境况继续向前。正如王尔德(Oscar Wilde)所说:“我们每个人都身处阴沟,但当中有些人却看着满天星星。”(We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”)


书中有个相当精彩的后记 (Epilogue),讲到读者对本书的回响。他说读者们最大的回响是有关他的狗Snooker的一些记载。因此在后记他谈论了一些狗与哲学家的有趣逸事。我转述之,以飨我的读者。

古代希腊(约公元前4世纪)的哲学家第歐根尼(Diogenes)曾说:“狗与哲学家作了很多很大的好事,但是他们得到最少的报酬。”英文是这么说的:“Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards” 。[我想很多人会把“哲学家”这词,换成他现在正在做的职业或工作]

Diogenes是希腊众多哲学派系中称为“Cynic”的,他也被称为Diogenes the Cynic。 而“Cynic”这个词是来自希腊文,意思是说“像只狗“(dog-like)。因为Diogenes生活举止活脱脱就像只狗。他说狗很自然,不做作;要吃东西就吃东西,要撒尿撒尿。狗只活在当下,不用为过去或未来烦恼。Diogenes 常赞赏推崇这种生活方式。一生据说说是住在一个木桶(亦说是装死人的瓮),所拥有的所有财产只包括这个木桶、一件斗篷、一支棍子、一个面包袋。他鄙视社会的虚伪,卫道之士。我们的仁兄也因此仿效狗狗,肆无忌惮的公开撒尿。中文把Cynic翻译为“犬儒”。嗯,还是第一次看到两者的联系。

不只是Diogenes从狗学到人生哲理,大哲学家柏拉图也说:“Your dog is a true philosopher” . 不相信,去翻阅《理想国》第二卷,当中苏格拉底与格劳孔(Glaucon) 有关“哲学王” (philosopher king) 当拥有的素质的对话。