In the decision T 2451/13, the board dealt with the public availability of a commercial brochure D16 bearing a "copyright date" 4 years before the filing date. Pictures identical to those of the brochure appeared in another publication. No further evidence that the brochure was indeed distributed and not kept in the drawer of the opponent had been offered. The board summarizes the case-law and concludes that up to the hilt and beyond reasonable doubt are the same thing:
If the publication date of a document originating from an opponent (or a subsidiary thereof) is in dispute, the opponent must prove that date "up to the hilt". The yardstick for this proof is that of "beyond reasonable doubt" rather than "absolute certainty" (point 3.2).The more detailed reasoning is as follows:
3.2.4 T 472/92 did not specify precisely the conditions to be fulfilled in order for a party to prove its case "up to the hilt". However, when discussing the disputed issues, the board stated that its conclusions were based on "... an extremely high degree of certainty", which is thus clearly the yardstick - rather than "absolute certainty" - for "up-to-the hilt" proof. It is thus evident that the standard of "up to the hilt" does not require absolute certainty but that "an extremely high degree of certainty" suffices.
3.2.5 In subsequent decisions T 97/94, T 55/01 and T 2/09, this standard of proof was consistently interpreted to mean "beyond reasonable doubt":
"According to this decision [T 472/92], where practically all the evidence lies within the power of the opponent, the assessment of probability which normally underlies the boards' opinion must cede to a stricter criterion close to absolute conviction. In other words there should be a degree of certainty which is beyond all reasonable doubt" (T 97/94, point 5.1, insertion in square brackets by the present board).
"It is true that, in cases where only one party has access to information about an alleged public prior use, the case law has tended towards expecting that the public prior use be proved beyond any reasonable doubt ("up to the hilt"), answering the typical questions "What?", "When?", "Where?", "How?" and "To whom?", since the other party was reduced to merely pointing out inconsistencies or gaps in the chain of evidence; see T 472/92, reasons, point 3.1 (OJ EPO 1998, page 161)" (T 55/01, point 4.1).
"However, especially in cases where only one party had access to information about an alleged public prior use, the case law has tended toward expecting that the public prior use be proved beyond any reasonable doubt or "up to the hilt" (see e.g. T 55/01, point 4.1 of the Reasons, and T 472/92, OJ 1998, 161, point 3.1 of the Reasons)" (T 2/09, point 3.2). Also in T 782/92, where a public prior use by the opponent had occurred, the standard of proof of "beyond reasonable doubt" was applied (point 2.2).
Lastly, in decision T 1553/06 (point 6.3.3), which dealt with the public availability of internet disclosures, it was stated that "Contrary to the opponent, the board regards the terms "beyond reasonable doubt" and the more colloquial term "up to the hilt" as being equivalent".
3.2.6 The board agrees with the appellant that the standard "up to the hilt" also applies to the present case. Document D16 originates from a company (Gerber) which is now a subsidiary of the respondent.
Therefore, all the evidence about the publication date of D16 is essentially in the hands of the respondent. It thus has to be examined whether the respondent has proven beyond reasonable doubt that D16 was available to the public before the priority date of the patent.
D16 addresses parents and gives them instructions on how to feed their infants. In view of this, it would be contrary to life experience to assume that D16 was not published but rather kept by Gerber in the drawer for about 4 years, i.e. until at least (after) the priority date of the patent. This is corroborated by D17, which is an advertisement of Gerber in the spring 2002 edition of the journal PediatricBasics. In this advertisement, Gerber gives the same recommendations to parents and, in part, uses the same pictures as in D16. The board is therefore convinced that it is not only more likely than not, but quite clearly beyond reasonable doubt that D16 was published before the priority date of the patent.