Changes to the IP Landscape in Turkey-Industrial Designs

On December 22, 2016, Turkey adopted a new IP Code of Property no. 6769 IP (IP Code), which repealed and replaced the Decree Laws on Patents and Utility Models, on Trademark and Service Marks, on Industrial Designs, and on Geographical Indications (Decree Law).  The new IP Code entered into effect on January 10, 2017.  In this multi-part series, we will address how this new IP Code changes the IP landscape in Turkey.  In our second installment of the series, we will examine the changes to the codes relating to industrial designs.  In part one, we examined the changes to the codes involving patents and utility models.

Submission of the Description of the Designs

Under the new IP Code, during examination, the submission of the description of an industrial design is optional.  This is because the information provided in the description does not affect the scope of the protection of the design.  In contrast, the former Decree Law required such a description to be provided during examination.  The new IP Code avoids an obligatory requirement for registering a design.

Industrial Designs will be Examined for Novelty

During examination, a design will now be examined for“novelty”.  Designs found not to be novel will be ex-officio refused.  The former Decree Law did not provide an ex-officio novelty search stage during examination.  In fact, novelty could only be questioned through a post-grant opposition or an invalidity action before the IP Courts.

Visible Parts of a Complex Product

According to the IP Code, only the visible parts of a complex product are protectable.   However, in order for the visible parts of a complex product to be protected, the visible parts must meet novelty and distinctive character requirements.  A design is considered to be novel if before the application date no identical design has been made available to the public anywhere in the world.

A design is understood to have an distinctive character if the overall impression it creates on the informed user is significantly different from the overall impression created on the same user by any design which has been made public (in Turkey or anywhere else in the world) before the application date of the design.  In the assessment of the distintiveness, the emphasis of the evaluation will be on the common features of the design; however, the degree of freedom of the designer in developing the design will also be taken into consideration.

Spare Parts of a Complex Product

According to Decree Law, the owner of a registered design could not assert its rights with respect to a visible part of a complex product until three years after the time period after which the design was first made available to the public. The new IP Code introduces a new derogation stating that the this three year period is not be applicable if the protected spare part design is mentioned among the list of “equivalent parts” issued by the Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology.

Shorter Opposition Period

Under the new IP Code, the post grant-opposition period is now three instead of six months.  The reduction from six to three months will reduce the total registration time to less than a year.

Non-Registered Industrial Design Rights

In order for a design to be protected as a “non-registered” design, the design must first be made available to the public in Turkey.  The duration of protection for a non-registered design is three years from the date the design was first made available to the public (in Turkey).  Interestingly, non-registered design protection is intended to protect fast changing designs which are not intended to be registered for long periods by the design owner.  This type of protection will avoid registration costs for the designs for which registration is not preferred.  However, the owner of a non-registered design will be requested to evidence of ownership and that the design was first made available to the public in Turkey when enforcing its rights.

Non-registered designs are also protectable without any time limit under the unfair competition provisions of the Turkish Code of Commerce which remain in force.  During the next few years, it will be interesting to watch whether the Courts in Turkey will still allow such unfair competition cases after the completion of the 3 year protection period.

Enforcement of Non-Registered Designs

Under the new IP Code, designs are protectable for three years from the date of first public disclosure, if such disclosure was made in Turkey.  This protection is available for non-registered designs to prevent the use by third parties of identical or similar non-registered designs.  The IP Code also provides a common provision for the compensation of damages arising from intellectual property rights including registered and non-registered designs.  As a result, a design holder can ask for material damages which include actual damages and loss of income.  The loss of income can be calculated pursuant to one of the three (3) options mentioned in the IP Code, namely, the loss of income of the plaintiff, the income of the defendant or in accordance with an exemplary license fee.  Upon request by the plaintiff, the Court can increase the damages for the design holder under specific circumstances.  Moreover, the design holder can also seek moral/reputational damages.

Under the IP Code, a design holder can ask the Court to issue a preliminary and/or permanent injunction, compensation, the confiscation/destruction of the infringing goods and the tools and machinery (such as those used for manufacturing the infringing products), the publication of the verdict in a daily newspaper or any similar award.

Please continue to watch the BRIC Wall Blog for the remainder of the series on changes to the intellectual property landscape in Turkey.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller and Kate Merath of Michael Best and Okan Can of Deris.

The Turkish Intellectual Property Court Rules on the Patentability of Genes and Other Nucleic Acid Sequences

Background

Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF) is an inherited condition resulting from mutations in the FMF gene and is characterized by recurring episodes of painful inflammation in the abdomen, chest and/or joints. These episodes are often accompanied by fever and sometimes a rash or headache. The FMF gene provides instructions for making a protein called pyrin (also known as marenostrin), which is found in white blood cells.

A Turkish patent issued on October 22, 2007, claiming an isolated gene sequence encoding FMF, nucleic acid probes specific for the normal or mutated FMF gene and a method of detecting the presence or absence of mutations related to FMF an isolated gene.

An invalidity action was instituted against the patent in the Istanbul 1st Court of Intellectual Property (Court).  Specifically, the third party filer requested invalidity of all of the issued claims.  The Court appointed a panel of three experts (a first panel of experts) to assist in evaluating the patentability of the claims.  In invalidity proceedings in Turkey, a panel of experts is hired to assist in evaluating the technical aspects of a patent and to conduct an assessment on novelty and inventive step in light of the documents submitted by the party requesting invalidity.  Interestingly, in this proceeding, because the Court was not satisfied with the first panel, a second panel was hired to replace the first panel.

Ultimately, the Court held the Turkish Patent partially invalid. Specifically, the Court held that claims directed to an isolated gene sequence were invalid and claims covering the probe specific for the normal or mutated FMF gene and the primers for amplification were valid.  The decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Turkey by one or both of the parties.  The Supreme Court may maintain or reverse the decision of the Court.  If reversed, the Court can issue a new decision or insist that the original decision be maintained.  If the Court insists on maintaining the original decision, the case will be referred to the General Council of the Supreme Court which will issue a final decision.

Issues Discussed by the Court

The two main points addressed by the Court were (1) the patentability of isolated genes; and the (2) patentability of a method and probe for detecting nucleic acids under Turkish Patent Law.

Patentability of an isolated gene based under Turkish Patent Law

Interestingly, in this case, the Court and the panel of experts held conflicting views on the patentability of genes. Specifically, the Court held that an isolated gene was not patentable because it existed in nature and, as such, should be classified as a discovery. The Court referred to Decree Law No. 551, Article 6 (reproduced below), in support of its decision that discoveries are not patentable.  Additionally, because Turkey is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Court further held that under TRIPS, Article 27 (reproduced below) certain subject matter could be excluded from being “patentable” in Turkey.

Decree Law No. 551 on the Protection of Patent Rights, Article 6

Non-Patentable Subject Matter and Inventions

  1. The following, not being inventions by nature, shall remain outside the scope of this Decree-Law:
    (a) discoveries, scientific theories, mathematical methods;
    (b) plans, methods and rules for performing mental acts, conducting business activities and playing games;
    (c) literary and artistic works, scientific works, creations having aesthetic characteristics, computer programs;
    (d) methods of collecting, arranging, presenting and transmitting information that have no technical features;
    (e) methods of diagnosis, therapy and surgery applicable to the human or animal body.
    The provisions in subparagraph (e) of the first paragraph of this Article shall not apply either to the actual products and compositions used in connection with the said methods or to the manufacturing process thereof.

    Patents shall not be granted for inventions relating to the following:
    (a) subject matter contrary to public policy or generally accepted standards of morality;(b) plant and animal varieties or processes for breeding plant or animal varieties that are based mainly on biological factors.

    The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Article 27

    Patentable Subject Matter

  1. Subject to the provisions of paragraphs 2 and 3, patents shall be available for any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are capable of industrial application.  Subject to paragraph 4 of Article 65, paragraph 8 of Article 70 and paragraph 3 of this Article, patents shall be available and patent rights enjoyable without discrimination as to the place of invention, the field of technology and whether products are imported or locally produced.
  2. Members may exclude from patentability inventions, the prevention within their territory of the commercial exploitation of which is necessary to protect ordre public or morality, including to protect human, animal or plant life or health or to avoid serious prejudice to the environment, provided that such exclusion is not made merely because the exploitation is prohibited by their law.
  3. Members may also exclude from patentability:
    (a)    diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals;(b)    plants and animals other than micro-organisms, and essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals other than non-biological and microbiological processes. However, Members shall provide for the protection of plant varieties either by patents or by an effective sui generis system or by any combination thereof. The provisions of this subparagraph shall be reviewed four years after the date of entry into force of the WTO Agreement.

The first panel concluded that the invention was merely a discovery and, as a result, not patentable.  In their written opinion to the Court, the second panel disagreed and concluded that biotechnological inventions were patentable.  Specifically, the second panel stated that there was nothing in Decree Law No. 551 on the Protection of Patent Rights, Article 6 (see above), regarding the patentability of methods of treatment, second medical use and biotechnological inventions.  Moreover, the panel noted that Turkey was a member of the Budapest Treaty for Patents in Microbiological Inventions.  Additionally, the panel referred to Decree Law No. 551, Article 46 (reproduced below) to demonstrate that microorganisms and microbiological processes were recognized under Turkish law as patentable inventions. For these reasons, the panel argued that Turkish Patent Law allowed patent protection for elements existing in nature.

Decree Law No. 551 on the Protection of Patent Rights, Article 6 (Reproduced below)

Explicitness of the Description

  1. The description shall be written in sufficiently explicit and comprehensive terms for a person skilled in the technical field concerned to carry out the invention.
    Where the invention relates to a microbiological process and the related microorganism is not accessible to interested parties, the description shall be deemed to meet the requirements specified in the first paragraph of this Article if the following conditions are fulfilled:
    (a) the description contains information regarding the characteristics of the microorganism;
    (b) the applicant has deposited, no later than on the filing date of the application, a culture of the microorganism with an authorized institution established in accordance with international conventions.
    The said institution shall be mentioned in the publication provided for in the second paragraph of Article 55.

The panel cited Directive 98/44/EC (Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 1998 on the Legal Protection of biotechnological inventions, reproduced below) and argued that genes isolated using novel and technical processes were patentable (Note:  Turkey is not a member of the European Union (It is a candidate country).  As a result, this directive is not applicable in Turkey.).  Additionally, in the panel’s opinion, a gene isolated from its natural environment for the first time and having a technical effect might be patentable, even if identical to a gene existing in nature.  Therefore, according to the panel, biotechnological inventions are patentable.

Directive 98/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 1998 on the Legal Protection of biotechnological inventions, Article 5

Article 5

  1. The human body, at the various stages of its formation and development, and the simple discovery of one of its elements, including the sequence or partial sequence of a gene, cannot constitute patentable inventions.
  2. An element isolated from the human body or otherwise produced by means of a technical process, including the sequence or partial sequence of a gene, may constitute a patentable invention, even if the structure of that element is identical to that of a natural element.
  3. The industrial application of a sequence or a partial sequence of a gene must be disclosed in the patent application.

The Court invited the second panel to be heard in the hearing.  During the hearing, two of the experts changed their written opinion and stated that gene sequences should be accepted as a discovery.  As a result, despite the favorable written opinion of the panel, the Court held that a gene sequence is not patentable.

Patentability of a method and probe for detecting nucleic acids

The Court held that probes and methods for detecting nucleic acids were patentable.  Specifically, the Court‘s reasoning was as follows. A probe can only be produced when a mutated gene sequence is known. It is not possible to identify or detect a mutated gene with any probe production processes without knowing the gene sequence. Therefore, the novelty of a probe does not depend on its technique of production but on the sequence of the mutated gene. Since a mutated gene sequence is unique, the probe is patentable, even though probes are simply the chemical copy of the mutated gene and a molecule. As a result, the Court held that the claimed probe and method for detecting nucleic acids claimed in the patent were novel and met the requirement of inventive step.

Conclusion

As mentioned previously, the Court held the Turkish Patent invalid.  This decision can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

A new draft Turkish IP Code has been published and is expected to be enacted in the very near future.  According to the draft, gene sequences are not patentable if the discovery of such sequences is simply the result of a “simply discovery”.  In other words, new gene sequences that are not isolated through novel and inventive methods will not be patentable in Turkey.

Please continue to watch the BRIC Wall Blog for updates on this important case and the expected changes in the Turkish IP Code.

This post was written by Lisa Mueller and Himani Nadgauda of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, and Okan Can and Muazzez Koruturk of Deris Attorneys at Law Partnership.