One of our clients was accused of infringing an arch-rival's patent. 70% of our client's products were alleged to infringe. If its competitor won, there would be no way back for our client: its business would have to close. The situation could hardly have been more serious.
There was no question of the competitor offering our client a licence: the dispute had become personal and the competitor wanted to force our client off the market. The pressure was intense: rumours were even spread among our client's customers that it was about to be put out of business.
It was time to fight tooth and nail. With no possibility of a negotiated settlement, we set about defending our client with focused aggression. Our primary counterattack was to challenge the validity of the patent in opposition proceedings at the European Patent Office.
Our client's competitor drew out the opposition proceedings as long as it could, trying to hide the issues behind a smokescreen of counter-arguments and amendments. But we would not be shaken off: we knew that the patent was invalidly broad.
We absorbed and lived the patent. We took it home with us. We sweated over every invalidity argument. When it came to the final hearing in Munich, we pretty much knew the patent by heart.
The turning point of the case was the meaning of a single word buried in the specific description of the patent. We spotted that the word was in its plural rather than singular form. That nuance was enough for the patent to encompass the prior art, and so to lack novelty. The patent had to be restricted so much that all of our client's products fell outside its scope. Our client's business was saved by a word.