Britax Childcare Pty Ltd v Infa-Secure Pty Ltd [No 3]  FCA 1019 (18 September 2012)
Innovation patents – divisional applications – relevant dates for assessment of infringement – claim construction – omnibus claims
According to a recent decision of the Federal Court of Australia, innovation patents may, in some common circumstances, be infringed before they have even been filed!
In a third decision in the ongoing Britax v Infa-Secure saga (see earlier articles Federal Court Conducts Markman-Style Hearing in Hot Tub and Shocking – Judge Compels Experts Actually to Assist the Court!), Justice Middleton has considered the dates from which infringement of divisional innovation patents can be considered. This is an important issue, because a patentee may be entitled to claim compensation for the commercial activities of an infringer going back to this date.
While it is well-established that the earliest possible date of infringement of a standard patent is the day on which it was published, Justice Middleton has found that an innovation patent may be infringed from its effective filing date. In the case of an innovation patent which has been divided from a pending standard patent application, the relevant date is the date of filing of the original patent application, even though this may have occurred years earlier than the filing of the divisional innovation patent application itself.
For this early infringement date to apply, it does not appear to be relevant whether the claims of the innovation patent were present, or clearly foreshadowed, in the original patent specification. According to Justice Middleton’s reasons, any valid innovation patent claims (i.e. novel claims which are adequately supported by the original disclosure, as well as satisfying the low ‘innovative step’ threshold) can potentially be enforced back to the original application date.
The court also considered the interpretation of so-called ‘omnibus claims’, i.e. claims which define an invention by reference to all or part of a specification, or by reference to examples or drawings that have been included in the specification in order to illustrate the invention. The provisions of the Raising the Bar Act 2012, which will come into effect of 15 April 2013, will largely prohibit the use of such claims, although they will continue to exist legitimately for the lifetime of many existing patents and applications.