La Cour d’appel fédérale du Canada réaffirme le test de Beloit mais accepte les facteurs additionnels du juge Hughes sur l’évaluation de la non-évidence d’une invention

Dans l’affaire Novopharm Limited v. Janssen-Ortho Inc., 2007 FCA 217, (June 7, 2007), un appel d’une déclaration de la validité d’un brevet, le juge Hughes en premìère instance avait présenté un certain nombre de facteurs plus précis permettant de mieux évaluer la validité d’un brevet par rapport à la non-évidence, comparé au test plus vague de Beloit.   La Cour d’appel a réitéré que le test de Beloit est encore et toujours valide, mais en même temps a déclaré que les facteurs du juge Hughes sont néanmoins utiles (“I emphasize that this list is a useful tool, but no more.”) pour analyser les faits applicables lors de l’évaluation de la non-évidence d’une invention.

Voici un extrait des conclusions de la Cour sur cette question:


[23] The accepted legal test for obviousness is stated as follows in the leading case of Beloit Canada Ltd. et al. v. Valmet OY (1986), 8 C.P.R. (3d) 289 (F.C.A.) at page 294, per Hugessen J.A.:

The classical touchstone for obviousness is the technician skilled in the art but having no scintilla of inventiveness or imagination; a paragon of deduction and dexterity, wholly devoid of intuition; a triumph of the left hemisphere over the right. The question to be asked is whether this mythical creature (the man in the Clapham omnibus of patent law) would, in the light of the state of the art and of common general knowledge as at the claimed date of invention, have come directly and without difficulty to the solution taught by the patent. It is a very difficult test to satisfy.

[24] The inquiry mandated by the Beloit test is factual and functional, and must be guided by expert evidence about the relevant skills of the hypothetical person of ordinary skill in the art, and the state of the art at the relevant time. The expert evidence must be carefully assessed as to its credibility and reliability. The classic warning from Beloit about hindsight must always be borne in mind (at page 295, per Hugessen J.A.):

Every invention is obvious after it has been made, and to no one more so than an expert in the field. Where the expert has been hired for the purpose of testifying, his infallible hindsight is even more suspect. It is so easy, once the teaching of a patent is known, to say, “I could have done that”; before the assertion can be given any weight, one must have a satisfactory answer to the question, “Why didn’t you?”

[25] There is no single factual question or a set of questions that will determine every case, or any particular case. Justice Hughes, at paragraph 113 of his reasons, proposes a list of factors to be considered when the validity of patent is challenged on the basis of obviousness. The list is apparently derived from a survey of numerous cases from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. In my view, despite the continual debate as to whether the legal test for obviousness is the same in all of those countries, the list of factors proposed by Justice Hughes is helpful to guide the required factual inquiry, and as a framework for the factual analysis that must be undertaken. What follows is an edited version of his list:

Principal factors

1. The invention

What is in issue is the patent claim as construed by the Court.

 2. The hypothetical skilled person referred to in the Beloit quotation It is necessary to identify the skills possessed by the hypothetical person of ordinary skill in the art.

3. The body of knowledge of the person of ordinary skill in the art

The common knowledge of the hypothetical person of ordinary skill in the art includes what the person may reasonably be expected to know and to be able to find out. The hypothetical skilled person is assumed to be reasonably diligent in keeping up with advances in the field to which the patent relates (Whirlpool at paragraph 74). The presumed knowledge of the hypothetical skilled person undergoes continuous evolution and growth. Not all knowledge is found in print form. On the other hand, not all knowledge that has been written down becomes part of the knowledge that a person of ordinary skill in the art is expected to know or find.

 4. The climate in the relevant field at the time the alleged invention was made The general state of the art includes not only knowledge and information but also attitudes, trends, prejudices and expectations.

5. The motivation in existence at the time the alleged invention to solve a recognized problem “Motivation” in this context may mean the reason why the claimed inventor made the claimed invention, or it may mean the reason why one might reasonably expect the hypothetical person of ordinary skill in the art to combine elements of the prior art to come up with the claimed invention. If within the relevant field there is a specific problem that everyone in the field is trying to solve (a general motivation), it may be more likely that the solution, once found, required inventive ingenuity. On the other hand, if there is a problem that only the claimed inventor is trying to solve (a unique or personal motivation), and no one else has a reason to address that problem, it may be more likely that the solution required inventive ingenuity. However, if commonplace thought and techniques can come up with a solution, there may be a reduced possibility that the solution required inventive ingenuity.

6. The time and effort involved in the invention The length of time and expense involved in the invention may be indicators of inventive ingenuity, but they are not determinative because an invention may be the result of a lucky hit, or the uninventive application of routine techniques, however time consuming and expensive they may be. If the decisions made in arriving at the solution are few and commonplace, that may indicate that no inventive ingenuity was required to arrive at the solution. If the points for decision were many and choices abundant, there may be inventiveness in making the proper decisions and choices.

Secondary factorsThese factors may be relevant but generally bear less weight because they relate to facts arising after the date of the alleged invention.

7. Commercial success

Was the subject of the invention quickly and anxiously received by relevant consumers? This may reflect a fact that many persons were motivated to fill the commercial market, which may suggest inventive ingenuity. However, it may also reflect things other than inventive ingenuity such as marketing skills, market power and features other than the invention.

 8. Meritorious awards Awards directed to the alleged invention may be recognition that the appropriate community of persons skilled in the art believed that activity to be something of merit. That may or may not say anything about inventive ingenuity.

[26] Justice Hughes included as a secondary factor “subsequently recognized advantages”, referring to the advantages of the claimed invention that are perceived only after the date of the invention. Justice Hughes said that this factor is of limited usefulness in considering inventive ingenuity, and should be given little weight. I find it difficult to envisage a situation where a subsequently recognized advantage to a claimed invention would be of any assistance in determining whether inventive ingenuity was required to make it. I can imagine a situation where the commercial success of an invention is attributable to a subsequently recognized advantage, but that would not assist the inquiry as to inventive ingenuity. I recognize that it is impossible to imagine every possible situation, but given the current state of the jurisprudence I would be inclined to give this factor no weight except in the most extraordinary case.[27] I emphasize that this list is a useful tool, but no more. It is not a list of legal rules to be slavishly followed; nor is it an exhaustive list of the relevant factors. The task of the trial judge in each case is to determine, on the basis of the evidence, sound judgment and reason, the weight (if any) to be given to the listed factors and any additional factors that may be presented.

[28] I would also repeat the caution of Justice Hughes that catchphrases derived from this list or from the jurisprudence are not to be treated as though they are rules of law. I agree with the following comment of Justice Hughes from paragraph 113 of his reasons:

In this regard phrases such as “worth a try” and “directly and without difficulty” and “routine testing” have been used by the courts. It is not useful to use such phrases as they tend to work their way into expressions of law or statements of expert witnesses. Sachs L.J. deprecated the coining of such phrases in General Tire & Rubber Company v. Firestone Tyre & Rubber Company Limited, [1972] R.P.C. 195 at pages 211-12.

Il reste à voir si cette décision sera à nouveau portée en appel à la Cour suprême… Mais cela fournit pour l’instant des arguments additionnels pour plaider la non-évidence d’une invention dans un rapport d’examen ou au tribunal.

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