EPO Board of Appeal Decisions – New publication formats and search interfaces

The following guest post is from Paul Cole of Lucas and Co., UK.  My thanks to Paul for this update:

The EPO Appeal Boards had handed down some 28,000  decisions by the time that the 6th Edition  of the EPO’s case law book was published in July 2010. It is believed that that all of these are available online and computer-searchable. However, major improvements have been made this year both in the format in which decisions are made available and in the search interfaces by which they can be accessed. 

A basic search interface is available here http://www.epo.org/law-practice/case-law-appeals/basic-search.html. For example, entering the search term VICOM gives immediate access to the text of decision T 208/84 in its German, English and French versions together with some 56 subsequent decisions in which the VICOM case may be mentioned. Selecting the English language version makes the full text available on-line in computer-searchable form. Selecting Edit and Find on this page enables text searches to be carried out and, for example, the text of the decision contains 9 matches to the word “algorithm”. Cited decisions are listed (none in this instance). Very usefully,  subsequent citing decisions are also listed, giving immediate access to some 34 forward references which can be searched simply by clicking on them. 

The basic interface also permits word searches. For example, entry of “game” as a search term gives access to 54 decisions, of which the first listed T 717/05 Auxiliary Game/LABTRONIX confirms that maintaining a player’s interest can be regarded as a relevant technical problem rather than a mere psychological one. A more common term e.g. “business method” finds 307 decisions and “inventive step” finds 1420 (although possibly this reflects a limit on the number of returned results rather than the size of the database). Search terms can also be entered in Boolean form, so that  “Business Method” AND “2011” returns a more manageable 8 decisions and “inventive step” AND “problem invention”  returns a more manageable 27 decisions dealing with the issue whether recognition of a technical problem can defeat an objection of obviousness. 

An advanced search interface is available here http://www.epo.org/law-practice/case-law-appeals/advanced-search.html and includes facilities for search by case number, application number, title, EPC article, EPC rule,  IPC classification and  applicant/proprietor. The search can be limited by language of the proceedings, decision type (e.g. Enlarged Board, Legal Board of Appeal), technical board (mechanics, chemistry, physics, electricity) and date of publication for those decisions published since 2005. Of particular utility, decisions can be ranked in order of perceived importance, the hierarchy being those published in the OJ EPO, those distributed to board chairman and members, those distributed to board chairmen only and those marked “no distribution”. For example a search based on a.54 EPC inventive step returns 3220 English language decisions of which 37 are listed as being published in the OJ EPO, 756 as being distributed to broad chairmen and members, 26 as being distributed to board chairmen, and 794 as having no distribution. The above four results cover only 1613 of the original 3220 decisions, and it appears that only the more recent decisions can be sorted in this way. 

The advanced interface provides a simple way of keeping abreast of recent decisions in a field of interest. For example using a.52 EPC (patentable subject-matter) as a search term in combination with a time limitation of e.g. the last 60 days revealed two decisions, one of which T 494/07 Currency Validator/MEI confirmed that a method (in this instance of programing a currency tester) is not excluded from patentability if it involves technical means. Interestingly, failure to follow an earlier decision concerning highly relevant subject-matter (in this instance T 410/96) was held to be a mere error of judgment and not a substantial procedural  violation justifying refund of the appeal fee. 

Decisions published since 2000 can also be accessed through a “recent Decisions” button and are listed by year and by month.  Selecting the heading for a listed decision gives a plain text copy which, as noted above, is readily searchable. There is also an option to select the pdf version where available (not for older decisions) which contains a text layer which can be cut and pasted and also images e.g. of structural formulae which is of importance especially to those practising in the chemical arts. 

Although the decisions database has been online for many years, the new search interfaces are more user-friendly, the former format for entering case numbers e.g. T_0208/84 no longer being essential, accessibility of full text decisions and where available pdf versions now being at a single click, and the forward listing not only providing an easy link to potentially relevant later decisions but also giving an immediate indication as to whether any particular case has been influential or has not been followed in subsequent decisions. It has been said that ignorance of the law is no excuse, and so far as the EPO is concerned the latest improvements to the decisions database have done much to put the knowledge base of previous decisions at the immediate disposal of every practitioner. 

Paul Cole
Chartered Patent Attorney
European Patent Attorney

Lucas & Co.

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