5.5.2 Infringement analysis
188.8.131.52 Direct patent infringement
The patent owner generally has an exclusive right to use the invention. Which specific acts are prohibited to third parties depends on whether a product or a method is protected. The different acts that constitute a direct patent infringement are set out in Section 9.
In terms of product claims, third parties are not entitled to manufacture, offer, put on the market or use a product that is the subject matter of the patent. Moreover, they are not entitled to import or possess such a product for the aforementioned purposes (Section 9 no. 1). “Manufacture” covers the entire creation process of the product, not only the final step.66 The manufacturer of individual parts could also be considered the manufacturer of the overall product if the manufacturer supplies the individual parts to a third party that assembles them into the protected overall product.67 An offer is any act by which the product is made available to third parties. It does not need to be an offer for a contract but could also be a mere (internet) advertisement.68 The offered product does not need to be manufactured or brought within the territory of Germany. However, the mere transit of infringing products does not constitute an act of infringement in Germany.
In terms of process claims, a third party is not entitled to use, or offer for use, a process that is the subject matter of the patent if the third party knows or if it is obvious from the circumstances that use of the process is prohibited in the absence of the consent of the proprietor of the patent (Section 9 no. 2). A use of a process requires, in principle, that all the steps of the method are carried out within Germany. However, if the method is carried out partly within Germany and partly abroad, the method claim could nevertheless be infringed. This would require that the method steps carried out abroad can be attributed to the person who carried out the method steps within Germany.69
Furthermore, a third party is not entitled to offer, place on the market or use a product that is produced directly by a process that is the subject matter of the patent, or to either import or possess such a product for the aforementioned purposes (Section 9 no. 3). This refers to a product obtained directly by the process, which is at least the case when the process is not followed by any further processing or treatment operations. According to case law, however, the process does not need to be the last step in any case, but the decisive fact is whether the further-treated product obtained by the patented process maintains its characteristics.70
184.108.40.206 Indirect patent infringement
According to the concept of indirect infringement, any party is prohibited, in the absence of the consent of the proprietor of the patent, from supplying or offering to supply, within Germany, persons other than those entitled to exploit the patented invention with means relating to an essential element of the invention for use within Germany if the third party knows or if it is obvious from the circumstances that those means are suitable and intended for using that invention (Section 10(1)). Typical cases of indirect patent infringement are, for example:
- the offer and supply of a device with which a patented method can be carried out;71
- the offer and supply of a component of a device that can be combined with other components to form the complete patented combination; and
- the offer and supply of a machine with which a patented device can be manufactured.
The offered or supplied means must relate to an essential element of the patented invention. According to the case law of the FCJ, such a means relates to an element of the invention if it is capable of interacting with the element of the invention realizing the invention.72 If the means are mentioned in the patent claim, they are generally considered to relate to an essential element of the invention.
The means must be objectively suitable for a direct patent infringement. Thus, if the means are used together with other means or for use of a method, a direct patent infringement must be possible.73 However, an indirect infringement does not require a direct infringement by the offered or supplied person.
Furthermore, the means must be offered or supplied within Germany,74 for use in Germany75 and must be delivered to a person who is not entitled to exploit the invention. Thus, an export of the means would, in principle, not constitute an indirect infringement. However, according to case law, the supply of parts to a person abroad could constitute an indirect infringement if the products containing those parts are reimported to Germany.
The offered or supplied person must intend to use the means in an infringing way, and the person offering or supplying the means must know that the means are suitable and intended for exploiting the invention, or it must be at least obvious to them. If the means could also be used in a noninfringing way, the injunction could be limited to an infringing use, for instance, by way of a specific warning notice.76 The means must not be generally available commercial products, such as nails or screws, except where the supplier induces the supplied person to use the products in an infringing way (Section 10(3)).
220.127.116.11 Infringement by equivalent means
The scope of protection is not limited to literal patent infringement. When an element specified in the patent claim is replaced by a variant, a patent infringement by equivalent means could be considered. According to the case law of the FCJ, three requirements must then be fulfilled:77
- 1. The variant must solve the problem according to the patent with means having essentially the same effect as the element specified in the patent claim.
- 2. The skilled person must be able, due to their expert skill, to find the variant as having essentially the same effect as the element in the patent claim.
- 3. The skilled person must be able to find the variant as having the same effect by considerations oriented to the technical teaching protected by the patent claim.
In terms of the first requirement, it is decisive that the overall effects according to the patent – specifically those advantages of the element specified in the claim – are essentially achieved.78 This requirement is not met if the variant achieves the effects of the element specified in the patent claim only in part. It is also not met if the variant has disadvantageous properties that the embodiment, as specified in the patent claim, does not have or that are to be avoided according to the teaching of the patent claim.
The third requirement is not met if the variant is a technical means that the patent seeks to avoid or a means that the patent-in-suit intends for the same technical effect only in a different context. Furthermore, an infringement is usually excluded if it is clear from the overall context of the patent claim that it is limited to a specific solution. Furthermore, the third requirement is not met if the variant is a means that the patent specification refers to as an alternative to the claimed solution79 or if the patent specification discloses several possibilities as to how a given technical effect of the invention can be achieved but where only one of these possibilities has been specified in the claim.80 However, an infringement by equivalent means cannot be denied only because the embodiment claimed by the patent would have been understood by the person skilled in the art as a special application of a more general solution principle with regard to the description or for other reasons even if, on the basis of this knowledge, the person skilled in the art would have been able to find further embodiments corresponding to this solution principle.81
Even if the court finds the three requirements to be met, the so-called Formstein defense82 can be raised. Under this defense, it could be objected that the embodiment making use of the patent by equivalent means is not patentable because it lacks novelty or does not involve an inventive step and that the patent cannot be extended to a nonpatentable subject matter.