Author Archive

Using file prevalence to inform aggressiveness of behavioral heuristics: non-technical

This decision relates to an European patent application for a method for adjusting an aggressiveness level to use in behavior based heuristics malware detectionHere are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2386/16 (MALWARE DETECTION USING FILE PREVALENCE TO INFORM AGRESSIVENESS OF … of 27.4.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

A mere heuristic approach cannot reliably provide a technical effect.

The invention

The invention concerns behavior based heuristics malware detection. Instead of using a static approach, the invention suggests to have varying dynamic measures to be applied to a file dependent on how likely the file is considered to be infected. The more likely a file is to contain malware, the stronger will be the measures. The “aggressiveness level” of the malware detection is dynamically adjusted based on the “prevalence rate” of a file such that lower prevalence files are treated more aggressively than higher prevalence files.

Fig. 3 of EP2494446

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

D7 (US 2007/0079379 A1) was discussed as the closest prior art for claim 1.

Since the expressions “prevalence rate” and “aggressiveness level” do not have a specific technical meaning in the art and the claim does not provide its own definition, the Board has a broader interpretation of these expressions than argued by the appellant. Regarding the expression “prevalence rate”:

During oral proceedings the appellant further argued that in contrast to the claimed invention D7 did not disclose an adjustment of the analysis of the file based on the prevalence rate. The Board does not agree, because D7 discloses the use of stricter scanning rules at later times of the outbreak (see last paragraph of point 2 above). D7 explicitly discloses a re-scanning step of messages with an adapted set of rules for a virus outbreak that are initially broad and of which the scope is later narrowed down (see paragraph 248 of D7). As a result, messages that matched the earlier rule set may not match the revised rules, and become known false positives. The approach in D7 attempts to release known false positives automatically in response to a rule update, without intervention. This corresponds to the present invention as described in paragraphs 25 and 26 of the description, which is covered by claim 1.

Regarding the expression “aggressiveness level”:

D7 suggests varying measures for isolating files or stopping the execution of files such that they can be further analysed. The Board regards this as an aggressiveness level to be used in a behaviour based heuristics malware detection.

D7 discloses that when the virus score value is greater than or equal to a specified threshold, the message is stored in a quarantine queue without immediately delivering it to the recipient account (see [0045]). In addition, a variable quarantine time is suggested (see [0229]). A minimum quarantine delay is applied to messages that are less likely to contain a virus. Thus, the quarantine time is coupled to the probability that a message contains a virus. The Board considers this to be at least equivalent to the aggressiveness level in the context of claim 1.

At the end, the discussion was focused on the distinguishing feature “singleton files”:

Claim 1 further specifies “singleton files”, which have not been seen by the computer before and have the lowest prevalence rate. Those singleton files are treated with the highest aggressiveness level.

Such “singleton files” are not explicitly disclosed in D7. The Board is however not convinced that treating files having the lowest prevalence rate (singleton files) more aggressively involves an inventive step. In the Board’s view, this does not necessarily improve the virus detection over D7, which already suggests that the aggressiveness level is coupled to the probability that a message contains a virus.

Defining singleton files as the files most likely to contain malware is considered to be a mere heuristic, which does not reliably provide a technical effect. Also D7 uses heuristics. Depending on probabilities and subjective experiences, the skilled person would consider many heuristic approaches to define such files within the general idea of applying the highest aggressiveness for files most likely to contain malware.

In view of this the Board considers the feature of treating singleton files the most aggressively to be an obvious choice for the skilled person.

Therefore, claim 1 was considered not to involve an inventive step. Since none of the auxiliary requests could overcome this objection, the appeal is dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2386/16 (MALWARE DETECTION USING FILE PREVALENCE TO INFORM AGRESSIVENESS OF … of 27.4.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

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Projection surface with built-in track pad: technical

This decision relates to an European patent application for an interactive food and/or drink ordering system and method. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2251/13 (Projection surface with built-in track pad/ORDAMO) of 13.4.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

The fact that the problem is formulated as “how to provide an alternative” does not automatically mean that the solution is obvious.

The invention

The invention concerns an interactive food and/or drink ordering system in a restaurant. The main idea is to project a menu onto the restaurant table (Figure 1). The table has a built-in track pad allowing the guest to select and order food and/or drinks from the menu.

Fig. 1 of EP2102801

The system comprises a projector that is mounted above the table and connected to a computer (Figure 15). Also the track pad is connected to the computer via a short range wireless network such as Bluetooth.

Fig. 15 of EP2102801

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1 in the final request during the oral proceedings:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

Initially, the Board of Appeal agreed with the Examining Board that the subject-matter of (old) claim 1 lacked of inventive step (Article 56 EPC) in view of D1 (US 2005/273345) in combination with D3 (Ammer A: “Projector-Camera System for Flexible Interactive Projections”, 2005, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, XP002470986).

The appellant did a good job convincing the Board of Appeal and could submit a new main request with amended claim 1 during the oral proceeding.

New claim 1 submitted during the oral proceedings survived the COMVIK test:

3.1 The examining division assessed inventive step starting from D1 which relates to a food and drink ordering system comprising a computer terminal.

In the Board’s view, however, D3 is a better starting point because it is related to a projector-camera system for interactive projections, which is technically closer to the claimed invention. In other words, D3 requires fewer technical modifications to arrive at the subject-matter of the claims.

D3 explicitly mentions in paragraph 1.1 on page 2 that the projector-camera system may be used on a restaurant table to show the menu. However, even without this, D3 would be a good starting point, because the use of the projector-camera system in a restaurant to show the menu is a non-technical aim which does not contribute to inventive step under the “Comvik approach” (see T 641/00 – Two identities/COMVIK). Therefore, it is irrelevant whether or not this is disclosed in the prior art. What counts is the technical disclosure.

3.2 It is common ground that the invention in claim 1 differs from D3 by (i) the ordering of food and/or drinks from the menu, and (ii) a track pad that is “built into the [projection] surface”.

In D3, the user interacts with the system by using his fingers (paragraph 3.1 on page 8). The system makes use of a fingertip finding algorithm (paragraph 4.1) to identify the user’s interaction.

3.3 In its preliminary opinion, the Board considered that the ordering of food and drinks (i) constituted an obvious implementation of a non-technical requirement. The appellant did not contest this. Instead, the feature that was given patentable weight was the second one (ii), namely the built-in track pad.

3.4 The appellant argued that the built-in track pad provided a clearer projection surface, because the projected image was not obstructed by the user’s hand as in D3 (see Figure 7).

The Board is not convinced that the invention has this effect, because claim 1 does not exclude that the track pad covers parts of the projection area. Furthermore, a fingertip interface could be designed such that the user points at projected buttons or the like which do not contain any information. Therefore, the Board does not see that the built-in track pad has any technical effect beyond providing an alternative to the fingertip interface in D3.

3.5 The question that remains to be answered is whether this would have been an obvious alternative. The fact that the problem is formulated as “how to provide an alternative” does not automatically mean that the solution is obvious. Also the fact that the alternative, here a track pad, was well known per se is not enough. There has to be some hint or incentive, in the prior art, or in the skilled person’s common general knowledge, to provide the alternative.

3.6 In fact, the invention is not merely the use of a track pad as an input device. It involves building the track pad into a table top or a similar surface that is used as a projection surface. Although, as the examining division pointed out, there is no detailed implementation of this feature, the Board judges that “built into” implies at least that the device forms an integral part of the table top structure.

The examining division considered that this was a “straightforward constructional detail”. However, they did not refer to any prior art that disclosed such a built-in interface. Nor can this be said to be common knowledge.

3.7 At the oral proceedings it was discussed whether the idea of building something into a surface, e.g. to make it more permanent or less obtrusive, could be a routine design skill and part of the skilled person’s “mental furniture”, discussed for example in decision T 190/03 – Multiple subtitles/EDICO at point 16.

Although this seems plausible, in the end the Board judges that on balance this is not the case. The required amendment and design skill is in the field of mechanics. However, the skilled person in this case is a specialist in computer systems who would not necessarily have these routine design skills and would not have considered modifying a table top structure in order to provide an alternative input interface without a further hint.

 

Therefore, claim 1 was considered to involve an inventive step. At the end, the case was remitted to the Examining Board to grant a patent.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2251/13 (Projection surface with built-in track pad/ORDAMO) of 13.4.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01.

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Determining an analysis chronicle: non-technical

This decision relates to an European patent application for analyzing a set of information. However, the distinguishing features were considered non-technical by the Board of Appeal. 

Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1971/18 (Determining an analysis chronicle/NOKIA TECHNOLOGIES OY) of March 8, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Presentation of information as such is excluded from patentability under Article 52(2)(d) and (3) EPC.

Reduction of user distraction or disruption by selectively presenting information to the user fulfils the cognitive interests or needs of the user, which is not a technical purpose or based on technical considerations.

A bonus effect which is at best incidental to a non-technical solution is not a technical effect on which an inventive step can be based.

The invention

The application relates to monitoring information sources for a user and presenting information to the user without superfluous content such as a similar news story from a plurality of information sources. The invention relies on “analysis criteria” to express rules for filtering information. The analysis criteria is represented by a graph (cf. Fig. 2A), in which each leaf node corresponds to a condition and each intermediate node corresponds to a “directive” associating the conditions to which it is connected.

Fig. 2A of EP2550611

In the method according to the invention, “analysis chronicles” are determined, where an analysis chronicle indicates which nodes of the analysis criteria are positively determined by a set of information. Further, the method determines whether a change occurred between two analysis chronicles. Change determination may be based, at least in part, on the presence of a significant difference between the analysis chronicles. If a change occurred, an operation is performed, e.g. providing indication of at least part of the analysis chronicle (cf. Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 of EP2550611

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The board finds it appropriate to assess inventive step starting from a well-known apparatus configured with such an aggregator which continuously receives sets of information from different information sources filtered according to the user’s informational preferences, and presents the filtered and aggregated information to the user (here based on D4).

According to the board:

2.2 The subject-matter of claim 1 differs from the well-known apparatus configured with an aggregator in that (using an itemisation corresponding to that used in the grounds of appeal):

(e to g) the analysis criteria comprises a root node and a plurality of nodes associated with the root node, the plurality of nodes comprising a plurality of nodes relating to a condition and one or more nodes relating to a directive that associates two or more of the nodes relating to a condition;

(h) a set of information is determined to comply with the analysis criteria at least by virtue of the root node of the analysis criteria being determined positively by the set of information;

(i) and (j) if the set of information complies with the analysis criteria, the analysis chronicle is determined as a record that indicates which nodes of the analysis criteria are positively determined by the set of information;

(k to n, o’) information is presented to the user if the analysis chronicle is determined to have changed by determining that a difference between the analysis chronicle and another analysis chronicle associated with a previously received set of information is significant, wherein the difference between the analysis chronicle and the another analysis chronicle is significant if it is within a particular number of nodes from the root node.

An experienced patent attorney would already recognize that these distinguishing features seem to be only a mathematical method.

The appellant tried to argue that there is a technical effect to reduce the operations being performed. However, the board considers that the alleged effect is only a bonus effect, which is not the purpose of the distinguishing features:

2.5 Only the purposive use of non-technical features in the context of a solution to a technical problem may contribute to the technical character of an invention (see T 49/99 of 5 March 2002, Reasons 7) and a bonus effect which is at best incidental to a non-technical solution is not a technical effect on which an inventive step can be based (T 1023/06, 7 December 2006, Reasons 3.7.2, T 2230/10 of 3 July 2015, Reasons 3.4 to 3.8). The purposive use can be established if technical considerations are present for the adoption of non-technical features with the view to achieve a technical effect or solve a technical problem (T 697/17 of 17 October 2019, Reasons 5.2.3 and 5.2.4, T 244/00 of 15 November 2001, Reasons 12 and 13).

In the prior-art aggregator, filter criteria (corresponding to the analysis criteria of the invention) are used and updates are presented to the user. Compared to that, the distinguishing features serve the purpose of presenting to the user information only if it significantly differs from previously displayed information. Within the context of the claimed apparatus, the distinguishing features are not concerned primarily with the reduction of operations, which only occurs if the information does not change significantly. Therefore, the purpose of the distinguishing features is not technical.

A technical contribution could reside on the implementation of the apparatus. The distinguishing features provide details of the software implementation, including the data model used to represent the analysis criteria and analysis chronicle as graphs, and details of how they are used to determine significant changes of an information set. However, these features are not based on technical considerations as they concern only the abstract data model and mathematical algorithms used, which are computer-program features as such excluded from patentability (Articles 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC).

2.6 Therefore, none of the distinguishing features contributes to solve a technical problem. Since such non-technical features cannot support the presence of an inventive step, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request is not inventive (Article 56 EPC).

Since none of the auxiliary requests can add contribution to solve a technical problem, the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1971/18 (Determining an analysis chronicle/NOKIA TECHNOLOGIES OY) of March 8, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07.

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Three-dimensional motion graphic user interface (MGUI): non-technical

This decision relates to an European patent application for a three-dimensional motion graphic user interface (MGUI). However, the distinguishing feature was considered non-technical by the Board of Appeal. While this is a short decision, there are still some interesting aspects to learn about patenting GUIs. 

Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1677/18 (Polyhedron components 2/SAMSUNG) of May 3, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

Reducing screen clutter and presenting the user with more details in a GUI are not technical requirements.

Modifying the presentation of a GUI does not produce a technical effect.

The invention

The European application aims to provide an improved three-dimensional motion graphic user interface (3D MGUI). According to one aspect, the 3D MGUI comprises a first polyhedron component that is formed of a plurality of faces. At least one of the plurality of faces that are subordinate to the first polyhedron component has predetermined attributes and displays information according to the attributes. The first polyhedron component is separated into a plurality of second polyhedron components according to a user’s action with respect to the faces. A hierarchy of menus and sub-menus is assigned to specific faces of these polyhedron components.

Fig. 3A and 3B of EP1624368

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The appeal was withdrawn after the Board had issued its preliminary opinion. The decision merely confirmed the preliminary opinion that the distinguishing features of the application were non-technical:

3. The appellant thus seems to have suggested that the second polyhedron components in claim 1 of the main request may display sub-menus on more than one face and that these sub-menus have some form of relationship with the menu on the selected face of the first polyhedron component. In its preliminary opinion, however, the board informed the appellant that whether the sub-cubes displayed sub-menus on one face or on a plurality of faces and the relationship between these menus/sub-menus were non-technical differences in GUI design in which the board could not discern any technical effect.

4. In the statement setting out the grounds of appeal, the appellant referred to T 928/03, arguing that “facilitating a continued human-machine interaction by resolving conflicting technical requirements [was] a possible technical purpose”. It submitted that the distinguishing features of claim 1 of the main request resolved conflicting “technical requirements” of this kind, namely giving the user easy access to all kinds of details without overly cluttering the screen. However, as the board informed the appellant in its preliminary opinion, reducing screen clutter and presenting the user with more details in a GUI are not technical requirements.

5. Regarding claim 1 of the first auxiliary request, the appellant had argued in the statement setting out the grounds of appeal that D1 did not disclose “the modification of information” or “how a use may be enabled to modify the shown information”. However, as noted in the board’s preliminary opinion, modifying the presentation of a GUI does not produce a technical effect.

As a result, the Board confirmed that claim 1 does not involve an inventive step. Thus, the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1677/18 (Polyhedron components 2/SAMSUNG) of May 3, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05

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Image data arrangement: non-technical

This decision concerns an European patent application for image data arrangement, which was considered non-technical by the EPO. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1294/16 (Image data arrangement/OMRON) of March 10, 2021 by the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.06:

Key takeaways

It is of constant jurisprudence that only features contributing to the solution of a technical problem by providing a technical effect can contribute towards a finding of inventive step.

Differences in mathematics can lead to a finding of inventive step only if they contribute to defining a technical solution in a field of technology not excluded under Articles 52(2) and (3) EPC.

The invention

The application relates to the detection of patterns on products in manufacturing context. Starting from the known technique of using normalized cross correlation (NCC) to detect known patterns in grayscale images, the application aims at providing a robust NCC method for color images. For this purpose, the 3-color image is transformed into a 2D or 1D matrix by rearranging the values according to predetermined rules. The NCC is then computed on this matrix.

Fig. 3 of EP1783664

Fig. 4 of EP1783664

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The Board considers claim 1 of the main request obvious in view of D1/D2.

The more interesting discussion for us is about the first auxiliary request:

21. This request differs from the main request in that it defines two alternative rules of arranging the color values in a single data array.

22. This arranging does not change the result of the color NCC, which remains identical to that of D1, as the order of the elements is irrelevant for the result of the computation (compare equation 2 of D1 with equations 1 and 4 in the application). This was not contested by the appellant. There is therefore no technical effect in terms of the results of the detection procedure.

The appellant argued why D1/D2/D7 do not solve the same problem. Furthermore, the appellant argued the following:

24. Moreover, there was no requirement under Article 56 EPC of a technical effect. Even if a technical effect was not acknowledged, the claim should be recognized as compliant with Article 56 EPC (1973) because it was not obvious. Starting from D1 or D2 there was no pointer to the specific data arrangements claimed.

However, the above-given argument was not shared by the Board:

25. In response to this second point, the Board recalls that it is of constant jurisprudence that only features contributing to the solution of a technical problem by providing a technical effect can contribute towards a finding of inventive step (T 0641/00 Two identities/COMVIK, point 6). This is because the EPC provides for protection of inventions, which require a technical solution to a technical problem (Rule 27(1)(c) EPC 1973). It is the (claimed) invention, i.e. the technical solution, that needs to involve an inventive step (Articles 52 EPC and 56 EPC 1973) for a patent to be granted.

Finally, the Board considers that the distinguishing feature of claim 1 of the first auxiliary request has no technical effect:

26.2 The Board does not dispute that a technical effect might be obtained under some circumstances. But this is not sufficient for acknowledging an inventive step, because those circumstances are not claimed (nor are they in fact made clear by the description), which means that the effect is not obtained over the full breadth of the claim, which in turn leads to the conclusion that at least a subset of the claimed matter is not to be seen as a technical solution to a technical problem and hence cannot be acknowledged as an invention involving an inventive step (see also T 0939/92, points 2.4 to 2.6).

27. Regarding the argument as to the convenience for the programmer, i.e. easing the programming effort, this, in principle, cannot be considered to define an invention at all (T 1539/09, Catchword). Arguendo, even if that could be the case, the technical effect cannot be objectively assessed here, because on the one hand the programming language is not specified, and because on the other hand the answer is a matter of subjective preference: while writing code with only two loops may be more convenient, the indexes will no longer intuitively directly represent the standard RGB format, making code reading less convenient.

28. Thus the claimed data transformation means does not solve any technical problem at all, and hence cannot contribute to a finding of inventive step. As in the case of the main request, claim 1 of this request lacks inventive step starting from D1 in view of the common knowledge in the art or from D2 in view of D1 and the common knowledge in the art.

The discussion about the third auxiliary request is also interesting. Claim 1 of the third auxiliary request includes a specific mathematical formula.

35. The Board has already considered the argument as to the number of loops, so this cannot help the appellant’s case. The mathematical formula itself is different to the one in D1, but this is immaterial for the inventive-step assessment in the present context.

Differences in mathematics can lead to a finding of inventive step only if they contribute to defining a technical solution in a field of technology not excluded under Articles 52(2) and (3) EPC. This is not the case here, the proposed formula is only a mathematical equivalent of that in D1 causing no ascertainable technical effect, as discussed in the framework of the previous requests.

36. Claim 1 of this request lacks inventive step starting from D1 in view of the common general knowledge in the art, or from D2 in view of D1 and the common general knowledge in the art.

Hence, the Board arrived at the result that the subject-matter as claimed lacks inventive step and thus dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1294/16 (Image data arrangement/OMRON) of March 10, 2021.

This decision also concerns an interesting procedural aspect, discussed already by DeltaPatents Case Law

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Method for the detection of a movement characteristic of a vehicle: non-technical

This decision concerns a method for the detection of a movement characteristic of a vehicle. The EPO considered this non-technical. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0772/18 (recording a movement characteristic of a vehicle / TELEKOM) of February 26, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

The information that a fuel consumption deviates from a reference fuel consumption or the cause of such a deviation (for example acceleration, air resistance, etc.) may be considered technical information. However, such information does not credibly support the driver in carrying out a technical task through constant and / or guided human-machine interaction.

On the one hand, the information only displayed to the driver does not contain any specific instructions on how he should control the vehicle, for example to optimize fuel consumption, and on the other hand, the real fuel consumption is not shown either, which is why this information does not contribute to the inventive step.

 

The invention

The European patent application relates to traffic telematics with the object to provide an efficient concept for detecting causes of fuel consumption of a vehicle.

For this purpose, a speed profile of the vehicle is recorded with the aid of a mobile communication device, for example a smartphone. Based on this, physical formulas are used to calculate the forces acting on the vehicle and associated partial energies, such as acceleration energy or air resistance energy, as well as a corresponding fuel consumption.

As shown in table 603 in Figure 6, these values ​​are compared with corresponding reference values ​​that are calculated from a specified reference speed. The column “LPH” in Figure 6 shows, for example, that the fuel consumption is 300% higher than the typical fuel consumption for the urban reference cycle.

Fig. 6 of EP2913792

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

Both the examining division and the Board did not question the technical character of the invention as a whole.

However, the Board considers that the distinguishing feature of claim 1 does not solve a technical problem:

2.4 The board agrees with the appellant that D2 does not disclose the calculation of a reference energy and a corresponding fuel consumption characteristic. However, it cannot see a solution to a technical problem in this, in particular not – as the appellant claims – the recognition of economical driving behavior and the optimization of fuel consumption (to be understood in the context of human-machine interaction, see T 336/14, guiding principle ).

2.5 The detection of the fuel consumption characteristic, as carried out in the last step of claim 1 …calculates an additional consumption or a saving of a fuel consumption compared to a specified reference consumption.

The mere calculation of such a characteristic does not include any feedback to the driver or any other output of this information. For this reason alone, this information cannot play a role in the interaction of the driver with the vehicle…

2.6 The information that a fuel consumption deviates from a reference fuel consumption or the cause of such a deviation (e.g. acceleration, air resistance, etc.) may be considered technical information. However, the board is of the opinion that this information does not credibly support the driver in carrying out a technical task through constant and / or guided human-machine interaction (as in T 336/14, reasons 1.2.4 and 1.2.5, or T 1000/09, reason 7, explained).

On the one hand, the information displayed to the driver does not contain any specific instructions on how to control the vehicle, for example in order to optimize fuel consumption, and on the other hand, as the testing department has already determined, it does not seem to reflect real fuel consumption either. Rather, this also depends on the preferences of the driver, for example on the selection of more efficient or less efficient gears.

At most, feedback may sharpen the driver’s understanding that he may be driving too fast or driving too often on roads with steep inclines and in city traffic. However, this alone is not sufficient to solve the technical problem mentioned by the appellant.

Since the distinguishing feature over D2 could not provide any technical contribution, the claimed subject-matter does not involve any inventive step within the meaning of Article 56 EPC. Hence, the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0772/18 (recording a movement characteristic of a vehicle / TELEKOM) of February 26, 2021.

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Method for determining comparability of service offers or products: non-technical

This decision concerns a European patent application relating to a method for determining comparability of service offers or products, which was considered non-technical by the EPO’s Board of Appeal in charge. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2379/16 () of 11.9.2020 of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

The closest prior art can be a generally known network-based computer system, so that there is no need to refer to a document to assess inventive step.

The invention

A dynamic online reservation system for events is proposed in the application underlying the present decision, in which customers can submit quality assessments for seating and standing space online. These ratings are then available to all customers when choosing a seat during the online reservation (see paragraphs [0004] to [0006] of the published application).

Fig. 1 of EP2079045

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

In the first instance, the application was refused due to lack of inventive step by the examining division.

At the appeal stage, the Board confirmed the decision of the examining division with the following reasoning:

No closest prior art was cited in the examination procedure. The board shares the examining division’s view that the closest prior art is a generally known network-based computer system, so that there is no need to refer to a document to assess inventive step.

Then, the Board categorised the features of claim 1 into technical features and non-technical features, as required by the COMVIK approach (see T 0641/00).

3.2.1 The Board identifies the following known technical features of a network-based computer system:

(B) data processing system (32) with at least one computer unit (32), a memory unit (30), an input / output unit (36) and a communication network (34),

(D) where by means of the input / output unit (36} [deleted: evaluations of quality] features [deleted: n according to a specified evaluation standard of the place (24) and / or place area (26, 28) and related to place or place area and related to quality characteristics] are saved,

(E) [deleted: where] the [deleted: evaluations] can be processed by means of an algorithm and a result can be stored and accessed in a user-specific manner using the input / output unit (36) [deleted: based on a selected quality feature].

3.2.2 The following, mainly “non-technical” features can be identified which can easily be implemented in such a computer system, but which relate to a business method:

(A ‘) Process for providing ratings for personal spaces (24) and / or space areas (26, 28),

(C ‘) where the place (24) and / or place area (26, 28) is assigned an individualizing identification, (D’) where [deleted: by means of the input / output unit (36}] evaluations of quality features according to a specified evaluation standard of the space (24) and / or space area (26, 28) are released and stored in relation to the space or space area and in relation to quality features,

(E ‘) whereby the evaluations [deleted: by means of an algorithm] can be processed and a result [deleted: can be saved and called up user-specifically by means of the input] [deleted: /] [deleted: output unit (36)] based on a selected quality feature.

3.2.3 These procedural steps could also be carried out in the case of over-the-counter sales through the experience and customer feedback of the seller, with the storage and the algorithm being carried out purely mentally. As a rule, such consultations take place at a counter sale. The features (A ‘) and (C’) – (E ‘) are not generally known for a web-based computer system.

Further, in line with the COMVIK approach (see T 0641/00), the non-technical features (A ‘) and (C’) – (E ‘) can be included in the formulation of the technical problem.

The Board agreed with the examining division that the task to be solved is to enable an accurate and detailed quality assessment of seat categories. Therefore, the objective technical problem reads as follows:

Computer-implemented realization of a dynamic, quality-optimized seat selection through a web-based computer-implemented method for the provision of ratings for personal seats and / or seat areas,

where the space and / or space area is assigned an individualizing identification, whereby evaluations of quality features according to a defined evaluation standard of the space and / or space area are issued and stored in relation to space or space area and in relation to quality features, whereby the assessments can be processed by means of an algorithm and a result is obtained can be called up on a user-specific basis for a selected quality feature.

However, the Board denied an inventive step of claim 1:

3.5.3 The Board … is also of the opinion that no unexpected technical solution is proposed for either the technical or the non-technical subtask. In addition, there is no apparent technical contribution that would appear unexpected or surprising to the person skilled in the art (T258/03, T172/03 and T641/00).

3.5.4 The inventive step can only be based on the particular type of implementation of a non-technical subject (see T336 / 07, catchword 1 and 2). When implementing the solution to the above task, beyond a pure computer implementation, no solution is offered that has an additional technical effect or special technical advantages. Such effects could be achieved by adapting the hardware, the input / output devices or special database structures and their linking. Even in electronic payment systems that serve a purely commercial purpose, there is patentable material for such technical features that go beyond a pure computer implementation.

As a result, the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2379/16 () of 11.9.2020.

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Call routing matrix: technical

This decision concerns an European patent application for a wireless device to manage cross-network telecommunication services. While the device is technical per se, the decision depends on whether the distinguishing feature(s) of the application are novel and involve an inventive step over the prior art. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1352/18 (Call routing matrix/AVAYA) of 23.3.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.03:

Key takeaways

Although the technical problem to be solved should not be formulated to contain pointers to the solution or partially anticipate it, merely because some feature appears in the claim does not automatically exclude it from appearing in the formulation of the problem. In particular where the claim refers to an aim to be achieved in a non-technical field, this aim may legitimately appear in the formulation of the problem as part of the framework of the technical problem that is to be solved, in particular as a constraint that has to be met. (cf. T 641/00, Headnote 2)

The invention

This European patent application centres on the provision and use of a user profile for call routing (“call routing matrix 1900”; see e.g. Fig. 19). In this user profile, based on a certain user activity mode (e.g. “At Home”; “At Office”, etc.) so-called communication management directives (e.g. call forwarding settings such as “Send to Voicemail”; “Ring Mobile”, etc.) are associated with the user’s distinct user addresses (e.g. telephone number, home/office email address) and the dedicated communication networks (e.g. PSTN, wireless networks, etc.). This user profile is supposed to be set up by the user and is most pertinently illustrated in Figure 19 of the present application:
Fig. 19 of EP 1 794 995

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The first-instance examining division had refused the application based on lack of novelty over the prior art on record.

On the appeal stage, the board of appeal re-assessed the disclosure of D1 and found that D1 does not disclose the second last feature:

determining which communication management directive applies to the initiated communication is further responsive to a determination as to which user address was used in initiating communication.

However, the board of appeal denied an inventive step based on the well-known problem-solution approach:

2.1.3 The board considers that the technical effect associated with this distinguishing feature is that it provides more flexible handling of incoming calls because, in addition to the activity mode for the user, also the “user address” used in initiating the communication is considered.

2.1.4 The objective technical problem can thus be defined as “how to adapt the call system of D1 to the case of multiple communication subscriptions (i.e. user addresses) per user”, in which using more than one subscription per user is taken as an administrative requirement

2.1.5 …For the skilled person, in view of the system of D1 – with each subscription comprising a respective single personal number (PN) associated with a respective subscriber profile – it would have been straightforward to associate a single user with multiple subscriptions in the underlying database, each subscription comprising a respective single PN associated with a respective subscriber profile.

The choice of a communication management directive for the initiated communication would inevitably have relied on both the user address used in initiating the communication (i.e. relating to which subscriber profile is to be used) and the retrieved association (i.e. the corresponding entry in the “Subscriber Schedule” for the corresponding subscriber profile).

As a result, the main request was found to lack an inventive step. Since none of the auxiliary requests was found to be allowable either, the appeal was dismissed in the end.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1352/18 (Call routing matrix/AVAYA) of 23.3.2021

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Transmitting geographical risk rating to insurance company server to determine insurance cost on the server: technical

This is an example case which involves a mixture of technical and non-technical features. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2486/16 of 12.1.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

A non-technical aspect of the distinguishing feature(s) can be considered as part of the framework of the technical problem to be solved, in accordance with T 641/00 (COMVIK, see points 1 and 2 of the Headnote).

The invention

This European patent application concerns a method and device for recording driving characteristics utilized to monitor and compile vehicle usage data and diagnosing device condition for determining an insurance premium.

Some vehicle insurance currently determines price based upon information gathered by in-vehicle sensors that indicate where the vehicle was driven, how fast the vehicle was driven, times of day and days of the week, etc.

There are some concerns that the amount of detailed information that is given to the insurance companies with these types of systems intrudes on the privacy of the users.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The aim of the invention is to improve the privacy of the user.

According to the invention, the privacy of the user is protected by performing some coding prior to sending the information from the user. Specific details of the user’s driving history are converted to generalized codes that relate to insurance rates.

 

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The first-instance examining division had refused the application based on lack of novelty and lack of inventive step.

On the appeal stage, the appellant argued that D1 fails to disclose features b) and c) of claim 1 of the main request. According to the appellant, the problem was how to operate a remote usage recording system in a manner that secured the location information against third parties. A secondary problem was to reduce the technical requirements of transmission. Moreover, the transmission of only the risk rating to a server rather than the full location data required the prior comparing step to occur at the vehicle, which necessitated further computing resources. While processing of this nature might be commonplace for vehicles in 2020, this was not the case at the priority date of the application. Simply transmitting all of the data was the solution at the time.

Regarding feature b), the Board interpreted claim 1 broadly:

3.5… the more general point is that claim 1 does not define that the determination of the insurance cost is based only on the geographical risk rating; it is not excluded that other information (including data collected by other sensors on the vehicle, such as the time of day or the speed) may also be part of the determination.

Hence, the Board judges that feature b) is disclosed in D1.

Regarding feature c), the Board found that D1 discloses:

  • embodiments in which the driver score is transmitted to the central system, and
  • embodiments in which the driver score corresponds to or includes a geographical risk rating.

The Board judges that the embodiments of D1 can not fully anticipate feature c) of claim 1.

Subsequently, the Board used the Problem and Solution approach to assess feature c). Here are the Board’s main considerations:

5.3 In the Board’s view, feature c) comprises both technical and non-technical aspects, and while the Board acknowledges that improved user privacy is the overall aim of the invention, in order to arrive at a precise statement of the technical problem solved by feature c) it is necessary to disentangle the technical and non-technical aspects.

5.4 The present application addresses concerns about “the amount of detailed information that is given to insurance companies” (paragraph [0003]). An obvious and non-technical remedy to these concerns, i.e. that would have occurred to a business person without requiring an engineer or programmer, would be to ensure that the insurance company never had access to this “detailed information” in the first place…

The technical problem solved by feature c) would be how to implement this solution, i.e. how to arrive at a workable method whereby an insurance cost is determined based on geographical location (as in D1), but in which the vehicle location data is not transmitted to the insurance company. In this formulation the non-technical aspect of the distinguishing feature c) appears as part of the framework of the technical problem to be solved, in accordance with T 641/00 (COMVIK, see points 1 and 2 of the Headnote).

The technical solution to this problem, according to the invention, is to transmit to the insurance company server a geographical risk rating, so that the insurance cost may be determined on the server, without requiring transmission of the actual location data.

5.5 The skilled person facing the task of providing a method whereby an insurance cost may be determined based on geographical location, but without transmitting vehicle location data to the insurance company, would readily have found a solution starting from D1:

As mentioned above, D1 discloses a driver score which may constitute or include a geographic risk rating within the meaning of claim 1, and paragraph [0015] discloses that the determination of the driver score can be carried out on the vehicle by the vehicle monitor (point 4.3, above); in such a case it is implicit that the determined driver score would be transmitted to the central system/server for the determination of the insurance cost, with no requirement or incentive to include in the transmitted signal the raw location data, which, once the driver score has been determined, is redundant. The skilled person would thereby have been led in an obvious manner to the subject-matter of feature c).

Therefore, the main request was found to lack an inventive step. Also the other requests did not succeed, so that the appeal was dismissed in the end.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2486/16 of 12.1.2021. 

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Determining a threshold of operational parameters of a nuclear reactor: technical

This case is already a few years old but relates to one of the hottest current topics: the patentability of computer simulations. The overall question was whether the purpose of the simulation and the nature of the processed data confer technical character to a method. 

Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0625/11 () of 19.1.2017 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.01:

Key takeaways

The determination, as a threshold value, of the value of the first operating parameter confers a technical character on the claim, this technical character exceeding the simple interaction between the numerical simulation algorithm and the computer system. The nature of the parameter is, in fact, intimately linked to the operation of a nuclear reactor, whether this parameter is actually used within a nuclear reactor or not.

The invention

This European patent application generally concerns the simulation of the operation of a nuclear reactor.

According to the description, it is desirable to operate nuclear reactors at reduced power when demand on the network is low, before reverting to nominal power, as necessary. But such use of a nuclear reactor, which would allow its capabilities to be better used, should not result in safety problems.

An objective of the invention was therefore to provide a method which allows at least one threshold value of an operational parameter of a nuclear reactor to be established, allowing the capabilities of the reactor to be better used, while maintaining safe operation of the reactor.

Fig. 1 of EP1556870A1
Fig. 1 of EP1556870A1

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The first-instance examining division had refused the patent application for lack of inventive step. The main argument was that the only technical feature was the computer implementation of the method, whereas the various steps of the claimed process had no effect on a technical subject, being limited to the calculation of a value.

On the appeal stage, first of all the board made clear that all of the steps of claim 1 are undoubtedly carried out by the computer system mentioned in the claim. Accordingly, patent-eligibility was no issue.

The board then went on to contrast “two approaches” in the context of inventive step with each other:

According to the “first approach”, the computer-implementation was considered to be the only technical aspect of claim 1, but not the actual simulation performed by the method. The board noted that if this approach was adopted, it would have been obvious to implement the excluded method on a standard computer system (the citations are translated from the French original):

7.2.4 … Failure to take into account the nature of the data processed or the aim pursued by the claimed method, according to the hypothesis retained above under the first approach, would then lead to the finding that the object of claim 1 of the main request is not inventive within the meaning of Article 56 EPC.

Accordingly, the board found that there would be a lack of inventive step if the nature of the processed data and the purpose of the claimed method was disregarded as non-technical.

The “second approach” was of course pursued by the appellant and relied, among others, on T 1227/05 (OJ EPO 2007, 574) and T 471/05. Accordingly, the board noted:

7.3.2 … In the present circumstances, the recognition of a technical nature linked to the use of the threshold value resulting from the simulation of an effective operation of a nuclear reactor would lead to a significantly more specific redefinition of the objective technical problem solved by the invention. Contrary to what the approach based on the sole use of technical means implies, the aspects linked to the operation of the nuclear reactor would then have a role to play in defining the objective problem to be solved. Likewise, the recognition of a technical nature inherent in the data taken into account within the framework of the simulation, would also lead to a necessary reformulation of the problem to be solved.

In the present case, the definition of the technical problem adopted by the applicant appears realistic. The invention would aim at determining at least one limit value of an operating parameter of a nuclear reactor in order to allow better use of the latter’s capacities.

In the context of this approach, the board notes that none of the documents cited against the request offers the claimed solution.

Of course, the question was then which approach was the correct one. After a detailed comparison of existing case law, the board followed the approach taken in T 1227/05:

In agreement with the appellant, the Board considers, in the present case, that the question before it is, in principle, identical to the question which arose in Board 3.5.01 in T 1227/05. In the present case, the Board is also convinced that steps b), c) and d) of the claimed process serve the stated objective of determining an operating limit value for the nuclear reactor.

Accordingly, the board ultimately adopted the “second approach”:

8.4 At the end of the deliberation of the board, the latter came to the conclusion that the determination, as a threshold value, of the value of the first operating parameter conferred a technical character on the claim, this technical character exceeding the simple interaction between the numerical simulation algorithm and the computer system. The nature of the parameter thus identified is, in fact, intimately linked to the operation of a nuclear reactor, whether this parameter is actually used within a nuclear reactor or not. In doing so, the board recognizes the relevance of the analysis developed in case T 1227/05 which it takes up for itself. Likewise, in the opinion of the board, this finding leads to retain the analysis developed above (cf. point 7) under the second possible approach and therefore to conclude that the subject of claim 1 according to the main request is inventive within the meaning of Article 56 EPC 1973.

Therefore, the appealed decision was set aside and the case was remitted to the first instance with the order to grant a patent.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0625/11 () of 19.1.2017

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