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Reference to an ISO Standard Renders a Claim Unclear under the EPC

A technical board of appeal of the EPO recently ruled that a patent claim lacks clarity if it contains a feature which is only defined by reference to an ISO standard of undetermined date since ISO standards are revised in course of time (T 1888/12).

Background

In a claim of a patent application, two technical features have been defined only by a general reference to an ISO standard. The claim was directed to an adapter for a terminal of a control assembly for a trailer vehicle wherein a second adapter terminal was defined according to ISO standard 7638 and a third adapter terminal according to ISO standard 12098.

Key statements

If a technical feature in a claim is defined by reference to an ISO standard of undetermined date, the characteristics of the technical feature are unclear, since ISO standards are revised in course of time. The argument that the ISO standard at the priority date should be applied is only convincing if the description of the patent application contains such a hint. Thus, the definition of a technical feature merely by a general reference to an ISO standard does not fulfill the requirements of clarity pursuant to Art. 84 EPC.

Impact on drafting patent applications

In case of using an ISO standard for defining a technical feature of a claim it should be at least mentioned in the patent application that the ISO standard at the priority date/application date applies in order to avoid any lack of clarity objections. In order to be on the safe side, the ISO standard should be described in more detail in the specification.

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