ESCO’s patent did not make a composite promise and so is not invalid afterall

ESCO has won its appeal from the ruling that its patent lacked utility because the claims did not fulfill all promised advantages.

The Patent

ESCO’s patent relates to a wear assembly for securing a wear member to excavating equipment. Think of it as a way of attaching “teeth” to an excavating bucket and for a design of the “teeth” themselves.

There are 26 claims.

Claim 1 (and its dependent claims)[1] are for a wear member:[2]

a wear member for attachment to excavating equipment. The wear member comprises:
(a) a front end (to contact materials being excavated and to protect the excavating equipment);
(b) a rear end;
(c) a socket that opens in the rear end of the wear member (to receive a base fixed to excavating equipment);
(d) a “throughhole” in communication with the socket;
(e) a lock “integrally connected” in the throughhole and movable without a hammer;
(f) between a “hold position” and a “release position”;
(g) the lock and the throughhole being cooperatively structured to retain the lock in the throughhole in each of the hold and release positions;
(h) irrespective of the receipt of the base into the socket of the wear member or the orientation of the wear member;
(i) a “hold position” (where the lock can secure the wear member to the base); and
(j) a “release position” (where the wear member can be released from the base).

Claim 13 (and its dependent claims)[3] are for the wear assembly:[4] essentially, a wear assembly designed to enable the attachment of the wear member of claim 1 to the bucket.

You may get some idea of what is claimed from these figures. The wear member is 28, shown fitted to the base 15 of the wear assembly.

Utility

The trial Judge

Paragraph 6 of the Specification was the first paragraph under the heading “Summary of the Invention”:

The present invention pertains to an improved wear assembly for securing wear members to excavating equipment for enhanced stability, strength, durability, penetration, safety and ease of replacement. (Full Court’s emphasis)

As to which the expert evidence was:

In relation to enhanced strength, none of the claims would achieve this advantage.

In relation to enhanced stability, claims 3 and 5 may provide a minor stability advantage as set out in paragraphs 14–21 of my first affidavit. ….

In relation to enhanced durability, none of the claims would achieve this advantage.

In relation to enhanced penetration, none of the claims would achieve this advantage.

In relation to enhanced safety, claims 1, 11, 13, 21, and 22 would achieve this advantage.

In relation to enhanced ease of replacement, claims 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16, 19, 22, and 25 would achieve this advantage.

In light of this evidence, the trial Judge had found ESCO’s patent invalid because the claims did not achieve all six of benefits promised by paragraph 6 of the Specification.

The Full Court

On appeal, the Full Court accepted the basic premise applied by the trial Judge: a claim is bad for inutility if following the teaching in the Specification does not lead to the promised result. There has been a failure of consideration. So, the Full Court explained at [208]:[5]

first, provided the results promised by the specification can, on the evidence, be achieved and, second, provided that those results can be applied to at least one useful purpose, the patent for the claimed invention does not fail for inutility. If, however, the promised results are unfulfilled or unrealised, the patent for the claimed invention will be bad for inutility

Further, if the Specification properly understood contained a “composite” promise, any claim which failed to achieve any one of the elements of that composite promise would be bad for inutility. At [239]:

We therefore accept that if para 6 of the Patent Application, properly understood having regard to the whole of the Specification including the claims, contains a “composite” promise for the described invention, a failure to attain any one of the elements of the composite promise in any claim defining the invention renders the invention so far as claimed in any claim, inutile.

The question then is – what is the promise of the invention?

It followed from the requirements of s 40, which required the specification to describe the invention fully and claims to define the invention,[6] that identification of the “promise” of the invention required consideration both of the body of the specification and the claims.

That consideration led the Full Court to conclude either that paragraph 6 of the Specification was not the “promise” of the invention. Or, alternatively, if it were, the several elements in paragraph 6 were to be read disjunctively rather than, as the trial Judge had done, conjunctively. In either case, ESCO’s patent was not bad for inutility.

The central consideration here was that the claims were directed to two related, but different entities: claims 1 to 12 being directed to the “wear member” only; claims 13 to 22 being directed to the “wear assembly”. Correspondingly, paragraphs 7 to 20 of the specification dealt with various “aspects” of the invention and, in doing so, paragraphs 15 and 16 identified the “promises” of the invention.

The Full Court considered paragraph 5 of the specification as reciting historical attempts “to enhance the strength, stability, durability, penetration, safety and/or ease of replacement of “such wear members” … with varying degrees of success.” The Full Court then characterised paragraph 6 as continuing that discussion to open the summary of the invention.

Paragraphs 15 and 16 of the specification said:

In one other aspect of the invention, the lock is integrally secured to the wear member for shipping and storage as a single integral component. The lock is maintained within the lock opening irrespective of the insertion of the nose into the cavity, which results in less shipping costs, reduced storage needs, and less inventory concerns.

In another aspect of the invention, the lock is releasably securable in the lock opening in the wear member in both hold and release positions to reduce the risk of dropping or losing the lock during installation. Such an assembly involves fewer independent components and an easier installation procedure. (Full Court’s emphasis)

So, at [291], the Full Court explained:

It seems to us that the language of para 6 consisting of a single sentence under the heading “Summary of the Invention” is not, properly construed, the language of “promises” (as Ronneby would have it) for the invention described in the Specification as a whole, including the 22[7] claims, some of which are concerned only with the wear member and others with the wear assembly. Rather, the language of para 6 is seeking to do something less than that. The language of para 6 resonates with para 5 and seems to be used in the sense of reciting those things to which the invention relates having regard to the design efforts that went before, and thus the relationship between “the invention” and those things recited in para 6 is one of identifying the topics or subject matter to which the invention relates (rather than “promises” for the invention), which, having regard to paras 7 to 20 “describing” the invention (including the best method in conformity with s 40(2)(a)), may or may not find expression in the claims “defining” the invention for the purposes of s 40(2)(b). In that sense, the fully described invention may go beyond the scope of that which is actually claimed. Thus, it is necessary to identify the “teaching” of the Specification and the relationship between the teaching and the claims. Rather, the promises for the invention so far as claimed in, at least, Claim 1 and the dependent claims, are to be found in paras 15 and 16 of the Specification as we explain later in these reasons.

The two different targets of the two sets of claims were also significant for the alternative conclusion that the list of achievements in paragraph 6 should be read disjunctively. The Full Court accepted that the language of paragraph 6 of the specification was appropriate for the claimed wear assemblies achieving all 6 listed benefits. However, the Full Court considered that the language of paragraph 6 was incompatible with the idea that each claim for the wear member must satisfy all 6 promises.

Accordingly, paragraph 6 of the specification should be read disjunctively and the claims were not bad for inutility.

In the course of its lengthy historical review, the Full Court did note that s 7A now required the Specification to disclose a specific, substantial and credible use for the claimed invention for it to be useful. Section 7A had been introduced into the Act by the Raising the Bar Act[8] and so was not relevant to ESCO’s patent. The Full Court noted, however, that s 7A was intended to add additional requirements to the test of utility, not displace the old requirements. Thus, at [231], the Full Court commented:

Rather, the invention [subject to the Raising the Bar Act amendments] must meet the new test and meet the requirements of the existing law: EM p. 44.

I am guessing we shall see significantly more patent specifications in the future which claim that it is “an object of the invention to …” or, perhaps, the invention achieves “one of more of ….” Might be a bit tricky to amend assertions in a patent first filed overseas.

Novelty

ESCO’s novelty appeal was also successful. It was essentially an exercise in construction, turning on whether the locking mechanism in the prior citation was “integral” and moved between two defined points- a “hold position“ and a ”release position”.

ESCO Corporation v Ronneby Road Pty Ltd [2018] FCAFC 46 (Greenwood, Rares and Moshinsky JJ)


  1. Strictly speaking, claims 5, 6 and 9 are independent claims, but nonetheless are for “wear members”.  ?
  2. The explanatory interpolations are the Full Court’s.  ?
  3. Claim 19 is also an independent claim for a wear assembly.  ?
  4. A wear assembly for attachment to excavating equipment comprising: (1) a base fixed to the excavating equipment; (2) a wear member including a front end to contact materials being excavated and protect the excavating equipment, and a rear end to mount to the base fixed to the excavating equipment; and (3) a lock integrally connected to the wear member and movable without a hammer between a hold position where the lock contacts the base and the wear member to secure the wear member to the base and a release position where the wear member can be released from the base, wherein the lock remains secured to the wear member in the release position. (My numbering to deal with formatting limitations)  ?
  5. Citing amongst others LaneFox v Kensington and Knightsbridge Electric Lighting Co (1892) 9 RPC 413.  ?
  6. ESCO’s patent being a pre-Raising the Bar patent, s 40 in it earlier form applied.  ?
  7. Presumably, a typo.  ?
  8. By which I of course mean schedule 1 of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012.  ?

Did the Earth move for you too?

Most of the substantive Raising the Bar amendments came into force today.

Amongst other things, schedule 1 of the Raising the Bar Act introduced a raft of changes designed to raise the threshold of patentability – i.e., make it harder to get a patent.

These include:

  • introducing the really diligent searcher of prior art for obviousness via changes to s 7(3)[1] so that it will be permissible to combine any piece of prior art with common general knowledge (if the skilled addressee could reasonably be expected to combine the two), not just those elements of the prior art that the skilled addressee could be reasonably expected to have found;
  • a new concept of utility based on the US approach; and
  • doing away with the ’old’[2] fair basis requirement in s 40 as interpreted by the High Court in that Lockwood ruling.

Instead of fair basing, a patent will be required by s 40(2) to disclose:

(a) the invention in a manner which is clear enough and complete enough for the invention to be performed by a person skilled in the relevant art; and

(aa) the best method known to the applicant of performing the invention; and …

and s 40(3) will read:[3]

“The claim or claims must be clear and succinct and [fairly based on the matter described] supported by matter disclosed in the specification.”

Provisional specifications will have to meet the requirements set out above in s 40(2)(a) also.

This is intended to introduce into Australian law the requirements under the UK’s 1977 Act: s 72(1)(c).

The Court of Appeal[4] provides an interesting example of how these new rules should work in it Merial ruling. Merial had (at least) 2 patents relating to its Frontline brand of flea-treatment products. One of these, the 881 patent survived the attack on sufficiency of description, but the other, the 564 patent did not.

Kitchin LJ identified the crucial difference between the 2 patents at [85] – [86]:

…. This was a matter to which the judge expressly referred at [77]:

”77. In contrast to the examples in 881, the examples of 564 simply specify different concentrations of the active ingredients. The examples do not contain any formulation details beyond saying that there should be present a crystallisation inhibitor, an organic solvent and an organic co-solvent.”

This then was the critical difference between the disclosures of the two patents. Omnipharm failed to establish that the practical guidance given by the examples of the 881 patent was not sufficient to enable the skilled team to work across the breadth of the claims. But the 564 patent claimed a combination of actives and did so without any worked examples at all. It provided no real practical assistance over and above the common general knowledge.

Kitchin LJ accepted Merial’s argument that the UK Act did not impose an obligation to include examples of the way the claimed invention worked. However, his Lordship considered that was not why the trial judge, Floyd J, upheld the attack. Rather, the description was insufficient because it did not give sufficient guidance about which ingredients to choose and in what proportions. So, Kitchin LJ explained at [89]:

I reject these submissions. I think it is clear from [151] – [152] that the judge did not find that the absence of any detailed examples was, in itself, fatal to the sufficiency of the 564 patent. What rendered it insufficient, in his view, was the absence of proper exemplification of a formulation of the invention in the context of a specification which was generally inadequate to guide the skilled person to success and provided no real practical assistance beyond the teaching of the prior art and the common general knowledge. The specification contains no more than a very broad indication of the components of the formulation and, as the judge found, it is not a sufficient description to enable the skilled person to arrive at formulations across the breadth of the claims without undue effort.

One illustration of the problem with the 564 patent was set out earlier at [83]:

The disclosure in relation to solvents and co-solvents is something the judge also had well in mind, as is clear from [66]-[67]. Here he referred to the dielectric constant ranges which the solvent and co-solvent must meet, and that the co-solvent must have a boiling point below 100°C. He also referred to the lists of suitable solvents and co-solvents. This information would not, however, be of any practical use to the formulator who, as Dr Walters explained, would have to fall back on his general knowledge of solvents and techniques for enhancing spreading and skin penetration in order to decide on the appropriate solvent system to use.

Neither the Court of Appeal nor Floyd J at first instance set out at length the legal principles underlying insufficiency for these purposes. However, Floyd J had earlier set out his understanding of ‘classical insufficiency’, Biogen insufficiency and ‘insufficiency through ambiguity’ at [361] – [454] in Zipher.

Omnipharm Ltd v Merial [2013] EWCA Civ 2 via IPKat

ps.: those who attended David Brennan’s talk last year will find his ‘Monash paper’ in 38(1) Monash University Law Review 78.


  1. Austlii doesn’t seem to have caught up with all the minutiae yet.  ?
  2. The ‘old’ rules will continue to apply for all standard patents granted before 15 April and any pending applications for which a request for examination had been made before 15 April. (This the pre–15 April 2013 version of s 40 will break when the new rules come in.)  ?
  3. where the words in between [ and ] are deleted by the new Act  ?
  4. For England and Wales (of course).  ?