Canada: Quand les tribunaux prennent la place du Bureau de brevets

Aux États-Unis, il existe un « devoir de divulgation » pendant le processus menant à l'obtention d'un brevet. Ce devoir exige du demandeur de brevet qu'il informe le Bureau de brevets américain (le « USPTO ») de toute information pertinente à la nouveauté ou à la non-évidence de son invention. En termes concrets, ce devoir est satisfait lorsque le demandeur, l'inventeur, ou l'agent de brevet soumet à l'USPTO l'art antérieur dont il a connaissance.

Ce devoir n'existe pas au Canada. Autrement dit, le demandeur d'un brevet au Canada n'a pas l'obligation d'informer l'Office de la propriété intellectuelle du Canada (« l'OPIC ») de l'art antérieur dont il est au courant, à moins que l'examinateur ne le demande expressément.

Malgré l'absence d'une telle contrainte légale au Canada, il n'est pas rare que des agents de brevet canadiens recommandent à leurs clients de volontairement soumettre l'art antérieur. La logique sous-jacente à cette pratique est la suivante : si l'examinateur canadien est avisé de tout l'art antérieur qui pourrait nuire à la validité du brevet et qu'il décide tout de même de l'émettre, alors le brevet serait plus étoffé. Autrement dit, ce qui ne le tue pas le rend plus fort. Un jugement récent de la Cour fédérale remet toutefois en question cette prémisse.

Dans ce jugement, l'honorable juge Locke, ancien agent de brevet lui-même, se questionne quant au niveau de déférence étant dû par les tribunaux à l'égard des examinateurs de l'OPIC. Le parcours du brevet en litige dans cette affaire était tout à fait remarquable : après avoir fait face aux protêts d'une tierce partie tentant de faire invalider la demande à plus de douze reprises, le demandeur obtint finalement son brevet 17 ans après sa demande initiale. Il va sans dire que les interventions du tiers ainsi que les échanges ayant subséquemment eu lieu entre le demandeur et l'examinateur ne sont pas étrangers à ce délai hors du commun. La vie d'un brevet étant d'une durée de vingt ans, il ne restait, après ces 17 longues années, qu'un maigre trois ans à l'inventeur pour profiter de son exclusivité. En dépit de ce délai impressionnant, il était sommes toutes raisonnable de croire qu'étant donné le nombre élevé d'oppositions auxquels le brevet avait survécu, ce dernier avait fait ses preuves; il n'avait pas été tué et était donc plus fort!

Toutefois, aussitôt le brevet émis par l'OPIC, cette même tierce partie contesta sa validité devant la Cour fédérale, se basant sur les mêmes arguments et sur le même art antérieur que ceux sur lesquels il avait basé ses protêts auprès de l'OPIC. Le propriétaire du brevet plaida que l'examinateur avait déjà statué sur les moyens présentés par le tiers et qu'il ne les avait pas trouvés convaincants. Par conséquent, le breveté prétendait que le tribunal se devait de respecter la décision de l'OPIC et rejeter la contestation de son brevet.

Dans son jugement, le juge Locke explique que l'action en invalidité devant la Cour fédérale n'est pas, en dépit de ce qu'avançait le breveté, une révision judiciaire de la décision de l'examinateur. L'action est distincte du processus d'obtention du brevet et comprend de ce fait sa propre norme de preuve. Le devoir du juge siégeant lors de ces actions est de juger les allégations d'invalidité selon la preuve qui lui est soumise, et ce, selon la balance des probabilités. Par conséquent, le tribunal conclut qu'il ne doit aucune déférence à l'OPIC, déclarant ainsi le brevet invalide.

Quelles leçons peut-on (et même doit-on) tirer de ce jugement? D'abord, ne cessez pas de volontairement fournir l'art antérieur à l'OPIC dans vos demandes de brevet : le conseil présentement donné par plusieurs agents de brevet n'est pas moins valide. En effet, il demeure toujours d'une grande utilité de soumettre cet art à l'OPIC, ne serait-ce que pour tester davantage la validité du brevet lors de son processus d'obtention. Toutefois, cette décision confirme que ce n'est pas parce que votre brevet a passé à travers le feu une première fois, qu'il ne sera jamais resoumis aux mêmes tribulations. En d'autres termes, ce qui ne tue pas le brevet le rend plus fort, mais ne le rend pas nécessairement invincible.


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