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)

台灯旁的绅士

今天翻阅1995年,本地基督教出版社文桥为我出版的第一本书《情牵法律》。看到其中一篇淡到当年法律学院毕业后实习的情况;文中有提到我的实习师傅,已故拿督彼得穆尼爵士博士(Dato’ Dr. Sir Peter Mooney )的一些事迹。兹将它摘录如下,以纪念穆老:

作我们这行的,都得进“吧”(Bar),然而,此吧非彼吧,虽然说无巧不成书,很多我辈中人也是彼吧常客。在未能“正式挂牌”(天下人对能正式执业的术语)前,法律系的毕业生就得做上9个月的“廉价工人”,跑码头赶场似的跑这个法庭跑哪个法庭,专做律师大人们不屑一顾的小差事。

好了,离开了安全、温暖,单纯的校园后(为什么温暖的东西似乎总是单纯的?),要投入社会,人家所说的那个大染缸。实在无暇去想社会是怎么个样子的,同学们都迫 不急待地找实习的律师楼。因为1986年正值经济不景之时,搞到人心惶惶。不知道是不是虚荣心作祟,我跟另外两位女同学选上了吉隆坡最大间,最有名气的纪思龄律师楼。

律师公会的规矩是每一个“实习学生”(补注:英文称为Pupil或Student,即实习律师也),都必须有个“师傅”(Pupil Mater),这名师傅 必须拥有7年执业经验,他负有教诲他的“入关弟子”之责任,以致他能成为一名有足够“法律知识、有正义感,庄重自守,品格又高超”的律师,以免有损律师公会清誉。换句话说,如果当了9个月的廉价劳工后,师父不为我们美言几句,我们就没有翻身的日子了。除此 ,通常能不能在实习后,继续留在该律师楼做一名正式律师,也有赖师傅的推荐了。所以被谁选上成为“入关弟子”,他喜不喜欢你,是事关重大的。

我听说我的师傅是纪思龄律师楼的第二号老板(补注,即穆老),心中压力大得很,担心不能胜任他所托之工。第一天上班时心跳一百,八点半准时到办公室(后来才知道师傅每天是八点十五分就报到)。纪思龄办公室的行政经理,一名不苟言笑的中年妇女,领我到我的“办公室”,即一个安排了几张连接在一起的桌子,几张椅子,两面用了板隔开,一以免靠墙的小角落。(后来我才知道这个地方叫做“学生巷”(补注:英文称为chambering lane,chambering 就是法律实习的意思),有点类似少林寺的木人巷吧?)。在“学生巷”里有另外两名实习学生(律师),一个格子小小,永远笑脸迎人的Lydia,另外一个是高个子,性格开朗的Andrew;大家打个招呼,寒暄了几句。甫坐定,有一位高个子的女律师进来,劈口问道:“New student?” 她是我们的师姐,就快要离开“学生巷”了。她告诉我们这些新的实习律师说,必须准备一张纸,然后周游整个律师楼去拜会纪思龄约16位老板。我们唯命是从,当天就硬着头皮去找老板们谈谈,彼此认识一下。最重要的是要他们在“觐见纸”上签个大名。

desk lamp当然第一个要“觐见”的是我的师父啦!我恭敬地问师父的秘书Miss Kong,是否能见他。她按了电话,几分钟后对我说OK。我心中忐忑不安的敲了房门,里面传来微弱的“come in”。推开门,心中暗忖,这么暗暗的,只有一盏台灯的亮光?微光中只见一位满头白发,脸上带着绅士笑容的白种人站立起来说:“How do you do?”洋腔十足;我不知所措的寒暄几句,大家坐下。我坐在他桌子前的一张椅子上,等候师父的盘诘。他问我有关本国土地法内英国衡平法(补注:English equitable principles)的可用性。这个问题在法律学院曾经研究过,因此我对答如流。接着他问道:“Can you get me the Incorporation of Franciscan Brothers Ordinance?” 我只听到“Brother, brother “ 声,其他的词汇,我无论怎样竖起耳朵,也分辨不出他的洋腔来。厚着脸皮,我嗫嗫嚅嚅地说:“Pardon me?” 他才重复一遍。当时心中大叫不妙,记忆中没有这个法令。只好唯唯诺诺地说我去找找。这是与师傅的初次过招,表现应是不过不失。

其实我的师傅是一名思想精细,学识渊博,受人尊敬的律师。每每与他商讨后,走出他的房间,总觉得自己太渺小了。他专门做些没有其他律师有能力办的大案,或者“奇难杂案”,偏偏他又喜欢问我们这些学生一些显然是能力不及的问题。每次在找了一些资料后,总是战战兢兢的把自己的“法律意见”( Legal opinion,即 一种针对某些法律问题的分析及提供解决方法的意见)呈上,等待他的评估。最高兴的时刻,当然是自己的“意见”被证实是正确的时候。…….

(原文题目为“Call to the Bar”, 写于1993年,刊登于《情牵法律》(吉隆坡:文桥传播中心,1995)页26-28)

一个真正的绅士

文:张文光

上个周末本国著名作家陈团英(Tan Twan Eng)电邮他的近作The Garden of Evening Mists 之台湾版《夕雾花园》之书评给我。 星期一上班第一件事,就是略略读了这三篇台湾作者所写的中文书评。我简略的把我的看法告诉团英。电邮往返间,他捎来噩耗,说道我法律实习时期的师傅(pupil master)拿督彼得穆尼博士爵士(Dato’ Dr . Sir Peter Mooney)已经谢世;且丧礼正在进行着。听到消息,令我怅然了好阵子。

Dato Petre Mooney

约四年前,在国油的管弦乐团音乐会中看到拿督彼得穆尼,当时他精神奕奕,风度翩翩,依然一幅英伦雅儒绅士的气度。中场时,我自动上前与他打个招呼;看他的反应,大概他已忘了我这个不太出色的实习学生。但是依然谦逊有礼,用他一贯的轻声细语挚诚问候交谈。记得30年前,当我还在Skrine 律师楼实习时,同事告诉我他是个非常尽责的“师傅”,一定会细心教导他属下的实习律师。而且还会定时与他的实习学生一起吃午餐。这些说法果然一点也不虚假,他时常独自约我们吃午餐。坦白说那几顿午餐是吃的挺不自在的,一是不知道该说 些什么。二来穆老说话非常小声,特有的爱尔兰腔调更是让我这个甘榜(Kampong) 来的华校生大为紧张,心里暗叫不妙。许多时候需要竖起耳朵,才略微听到他在说些什么。

印象中当年穆老作了许多的慈善工作;在实习期间,他给我最多的任务 (assignment),就是查阅一些有关天主教医院的法律条文。记得他曾叫我看一些慈善信托(Charitable Trust)的冗长法律文件是否符合本地法律的要求,写个法律意见(Opinion)给他审核,令我叫苦连天。好不容易写完了,战兢地交上功课,还以为师傅会把它丢到废纸箩里。没想到他尽量采用我所写的东西,只是做出必须作的修改(当然是满江红)。他叫我侍立在旁,看看那些需要做出修改。当时他还是用手书写法律文件,记得他在草稿纸上振笔如飞,一下笔就甚少需要再修订。足见早拟功夫(Drafting Skill)一流;读了他所写的作品,才知道什么是一流的法律头脑,一流的法律意见。

记得我进入律师公会当天晚上(英文叫做Call to the Bar ),他还邀请了我,与当时Skrine 的一位律师 D.P. Naban (现为Lee Hishamuddin 的大老板),以及我的另外一个实习律师同事Chee Yoke Yang到他Gasing Hill 的别墅吃晚餐。晚餐过后,他还为我们弹了一点钢琴助兴。

其实他不需要请我们这两个微不足道的实习律师吃饭,但是这就是Peter Mooney —一个不折不扣的绅士,君子。有学问,但没有架子,乐于助人,照顾后备。一想起他,我心中是温暖的。团英说他为本国的律师专业增添许多的分量(英文作 : Gravitas),我完全同意。他的离去肯定是本国律师界的一个大损失。

安息了,穆老。