Canada: La Cour fédérale accepte d'utiliser l'historique d'une demande de brevet présentée à l'étranger dans le cadre d'un litige canadien

Les titulaires de brevets doivent savoir que les communications avec le Bureau des brevets (au Canada et à l’étranger) peuvent avoir une incidence sur la portée des droits conférés par leurs brevets. Dans le passé, ces communications étaient inadmissibles dans le cadre d’une procédure canadienne relative à un brevet, mais la donne a changé l’an dernier avec l’entrée en vigueur de l’article 53.1 de la Loi sur les brevets. La Cour fédérale a désormais examiné la portée de ce nouvel article. 

Contexte

L’un des principes bien établis en droit des brevets canadien veut que les revendications d’un brevet s’interprètent sans égard à la preuve extrinsèque. Ainsi, l’historique de la procédure (la correspondance échangée entre le titulaire du brevet et le Bureau des brevets pendant la procédure de délivrance) n’a jamais pu être employé au soutien d’une revendication jusqu’à présent. Cette inadmissibilité était la principale différence entre le droit des brevets au Canada et aux États-Unis, où l’historique de la procédure est habituellement pris en compte, conformément au principe selon lequel le breveté est lié par tout ce qu’il a écrit pendant la procédure de délivrance et qu’il ne peut pas venir affirmer le contraire durant un procès.

L’exception à ce principe bien établi a été introduite dans la Loi sur les brevets du Canada à la fin de l’année dernière : le nouvel article 53.1 dispose qu’une communication écrite entre le titulaire du brevet et le Bureau canadien des brevets peut être admise en preuve pour réfuter une déclaration faite par le titulaire du brevet relativement à l’interprétation des revendications se rapportant au brevet. 

Dans son jugement récent Canmar Foods Ltd. v. TA Foods Ltd. («Canmar »), la Cour fédérale a interprété et appliqué cette nouvelle disposition.

Les faits

Dans Canmar, TA Foods Ltd. (« TA Foods ») s’est défendue contre une action en contrefaçon de brevet au moyen d’une requête en jugement sommaire dans laquelle elle a prétendu que son procédé ne contrevenait pas au brevet en cause. 

Les revendications liées au brevet visaient une méthode de torréfaction des graines oléagineuses par laquelle les graines étaient chauffées dans un « courant d’air » puis transférées et maintenues dans une « chambre ou une colonne de torréfaction isotherme ou partiellement isotherme ». Dans la requête, TA Foods a prétendu que son procédé de torréfaction des graines oléagineuses ne constituait pas une contrefaçon parce qu’il ne comprenait aucun de ces deux éléments.

TA Foods a invoqué l’historique de la procédure canadienne du brevet dont la contrefaçon était alléguée et l’historique de la demande américaine correspondante pour faire valoir que ces deux éléments étaient essentiels à l’invention revendiquée. 

Analyse

Dans son examen de la portée de l’article 53.1, la Cour considère que le libellé de la disposition est expressément limité aux communications entre le titulaire du brevet et le Bureau canadien des brevets. Par conséquent, en l’absence de « circonstances extraordinaires », l’historique d’une demande de brevet étranger ne devrait pas être pris en compte dans l’interprétation des revendications d’un brevet. 

Mais en l’espèce, la Cour estime être en présence de « circonstances extraordinaires » étant donné que la demande étrangère fait partie de l’historique de la demande du brevet canadien et qu’elle est pertinente pour circonscrire les limites des revendications canadiennes.

La Cour applique ces principes et conclut à l’admissibilité de l’historique des procédures canadiennes et américaines, puisque pendant la procédure de délivrance canadienne, le titulaire du brevet avait expressément fait mention de la demande présentée aux États-Unis et reconnu que des modifications avaient été apportées aux revendications afin d’atténuer des préoccupations soulevées aux États-Unis. La Cour estime que l’omission d’adopter une telle approche inciterait les demandeurs à ne pas faire preuve de transparence envers le Bureau canadien des brevets et pourrait même leur permettre de s’appuyer sur des demandes étrangères simultanément en instance afin d’éviter l’application de l’article 53.1.

Sur la question de l’interprétation des éléments contestés dans l’action, la Cour estime que la preuve d’expert n’est pas nécessaire pour interpréter ces éléments et que l’historique des procédures admis en preuve aide l’interprétation. La Cour conclut que les modifications apportées aux revendications au cours de la procédure canadienne et les déclarations faites par le titulaire du brevet au Bureau des brevets à propos de ces modifications constituent une « preuve manifeste » de l’intention expresse de vouloir faire de ces éléments des éléments essentiels. Par conséquent, la Cour conclut, selon une interprétation téléologique, que chacun des éléments contestés était essentiel. Comme la Cour conclut également que TA Foods a prouvé que son procédé ne comportait aucun des éléments contestés, elle juge qu’il n’y a pas eu de contrefaçon du brevet et elle accueille la requête en jugement sommaire de la défenderesse.

Principales conclusions

Les répercussions éventuelles des modifications et observations faites au cours d’une procédure de demande de brevet canadien, y compris les renvois aux demandes étrangères correspondantes, devraient toujours être examinées attentivement. L’historique des démarches suivies pendant la procédure de délivrance d’un brevet doit aussi être examiné attentivement quand on étudie le bien-fondé d’une action en contrefaçon.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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