Sabaf v. MFI and Others: The Obviousness


The House of Lords reconsidered the test for obviousness in patent disputes in Sabaf v Meneghetti and MFI. The decision provided reassurance to patent owners and practitioners alike in assessing whether a particular invention is obvious or not. The five Law Lords, including Lord Hoffman, ruled that Sabaf’s patented gas burner used in kitchens was obvious to the person skilled in the art as it involved the collocation of two obvious concepts.

n his Judgment, Lord Hoffman wrote “Two inventions do not become one invention because they are included in the same hardware… the references in the Act to an ‘invention’ … are to the expression of a single inventive concept and not to a collocation of separate inventions”.

The Patent was granted in 1981, and was subsequently enforced by Sabaf against an Italian company Meneghetti for authorising the importation of the burners into the United Kingdom and against MFI who sold the burners in the UK.

MFI were advised to settle the matter at the outset but remained in play concerning the validity of the patent. Furthermore the case continued with Meneghetti and whether it was liable for infringement of Sabaf’s patent though authorising the importation of the products into the UK.

The case was first heard before the High Court and Mr Justice Laddie who ruled against Sabaf on the grounds that the patent was invalid on the grounds of obviousness, however Meneghetti were liable for importing the products into the UK.

The case was appealed to the Court of Appeal who reversed both points of Laddie’s Judgment, ruling that the Patent was valid however Meneghetti had not infringed the Patent as it had not imported the products itself.

The House of Lords on appeal reconfirmed the Windsurfing case and has now confirmed the law concerning obviousness bringing it in line with the European Patent Office and European case law.

The House of Lord’s Decision can be viewed here

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