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You can’t just put stuff on a bakkie and call it inventive, SA court tells Australian company

Business Insider SA
Mining slope monitors
The MSRIV Esprit from Reutech, on the left, vs the SSR-AGILIS from GroundProbe, on the right.
  • If you take stuff normally put in a trailer and mount that on a bakkie, you don't have a new invention, the Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled.
  • Australian company GroundProbe tried to stop South Africa's Reutech from selling vehicle-mounted radar systems used in mining.
  • Militaries have been putting radar on vehicles since World War II, the South African court said, and refused to give GroundProbe back its patent.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

You don't invent something by mounting it on a bakkie, South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has told an Australian mining technology company.

Especially not when the equipment you put on the bakkie is normally contained in a trailer that can be hitched to a bakkie – and when the equipment you're working with has been mounted on vehicles since World War II.

The SCA last week dismissed, with costs, an appeal by mining technology company GroundProbe, which had lost a South African patent in an intellectual property fight with Reutech Mining, a unit of the JSE-listed Reunert.

Both companies sell slope stability monitoring systems that use radar to watch for early signs of trouble in open-cast mines, where "wall failures" can swallow up entire work crews. Both sell those systems mounted on small trailers that can be hitched to light delivery vehicles and towed where necessary.

But when Reutech started selling much the same system mounted directly onto the back of a bakkie, GroundProbe came after it in a patent infringement action, on the basis of a 2012 patent for a "Work Area Monitor". Reutech agreed it infringed on that patent, but argued it should be yanked as obvious – and won.

GroundProbe wanted the Supreme Court of Appeal to overturn that decision by the Court of the Commissioner of Patents, but was given a history lesson instead.

"There are various examples in the record of radar mounted on the back of vehicles," the SCA said. "Radars used in other applications, such as in the military, have been mounted on motorised automobile vehicles since at least World War II."

The GroundProbe patent included some broad claims, the SCA said, but in terms of the "inventive step" or "inventive concept" required to qualify for intellectual property protection, there was only one conceivable candidate: mounting its system on a motorised automobile vehicle. It brought nothing new to the world in terms of radar technology, 

South Africa does no significant examination of patents before granting them, but intends to move towards a system of greater scrutiny of applications.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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