Author Archive

Classification of search engine resources using deep learning: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to spam classification of search engine resources. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the distinguishing features relating to the allegedly non-technical spam classification would not produce a technical effect. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0874/19 (Classifying resources using a deep network/GOOGLE) dated July 6, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Classification of non-technical features cannot produce a technical effect.

Spam classification is a non-technical problem.

The invention

According to the present application, internet search engines aim at identifying resources relevant to a user’s needs or interests. A user submits a search query and receives a set of search results, each of which identify a corresponding search enginge resource (cf. application as filed, page 1, background section).

In order to avoid manipulation of these search results by a spammer, the present application discloses an approach that classifies search engine resources as either a spam resource (i.e., the resource belonging to the “spam” cateogry) or as a not spam resource (i.e., the resource beloning to the “not spam” category) (cf. application as filed, page 5). For this purpose, a score representing a predicted likelihood is generated for each category.

Fig. 1 of WO 2014/160282 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main request)

Is it technical?

According to the Board, in accordance with the Appellant’s view, D1 forms the closest prior art for the subject-matter of claim 1.

D1 discloses the idea of combining deep-learning and large-margin discriminative learning called “DNet-kNN” based on a deep encoder network. The approach of D1 is applied to classify newsgroup text data into four categories (“computer”, “recreation”, “science” and “talks”).

Compared to D1, the Board identified the following distinguishing features over D1:

a respective category score (226) for each category in a pre-determined set of categories,

wherein each of the respective category scores measure a predicted likelihood that the resource belongs to the corresponding category.

Regarding the claimed categories the Board noted that these may be:

a “spam” category and a “not spam” category

a “not spam” category and a category for each type of spam, such as “content spam”, “link spam” and “cloaking spam”, etc.

a category for each resource type of a group of resource types, including “news resources”, “blog resources”, “forum resources”, “shopping resources”, “product resources” and “political resources”

However, according to the Board, it was not apparent what further technical effect the distinguishing features relating to these categories could produce nor what objective technical problem is to be solved.

The appellant argued that following decision T 1227/05 (Circuit simulation I/Infineon Technologies) the claimed system could at least be regarded as simulating a hardware circuit that classifies inputs and thus has a technical purpose.

However, the Board stated:

The board considers that decision T 1227/05 cannot be followed as argued by the appellant in view of the recent decision G1/19, Reasons 133.

As a result, the Board stated that claim 1 of the main request does not provide any technical effect which goes beyond its straightforward implementation in one or more computers.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0874/19 (Classifying resources using a deep network/GOOGLE)

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Scoring concept terms for online advertising using deep learning: non-technical

The application underlying the present decision relates to generating scores for concept terms using a deep neural network. The scores may then be used to select the optimal keywords for online advertising auctions . However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since the the distinguishing features would only refer to the mere automation by means of one or more computers. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0872/19 (Concept terms scoring/GOOGLE) dated October 14, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Classifying features of a web page to improve the placement of advertisements is not technical.

The invention

The Board in charge summarized the invention underlying the present decision as follows:

  1. The application relates to online advertisement auctions. When an online advertisement auction is to be conducted to select one or more advertisements to be included in a particular presentation of a resource (for example, a web page), resource features are extracted from the particular resource.
  2. A concept term scoring system 100 uses the received resource features to predict a vector of scores that includes a score for each of the set of concept terms. A score for the concept term represents the predicted “relevance” of the concept described by the term to the resource. The concept term scoring system 100 can generate a score for each of a set of concept terms that may be used as advertising keywords for selecting advertisements for participation in the auction.
  3. The system can select a specified number of one or more highest-scoring concept terms or each concept term having a score that
    satisfies a threshold value as advertising keywords to be used in selecting candidate advertisements for participation in an online advertising auction.

 

Fig. 1 of WO 2014/160344 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main request)

Is it technical?

According to the Board, in accordance with the Appellant’s view, D1 forms the closest prior art for the subject-matter of claim 1 of. The Board identified the following distinguishing features over D1:

In the Board’s view, D1 does not disclose a classifier configured to generate a respective relevance score for each concept term in a pre-determined set of concept terms, wherein each of the respective relevance scores measures a predicted relevance of the corresponding concept term to the resource.

Based on the above-identified distinguishing features, the Board in charge discussed the existence of a technical effect concerning these features as follows:

The Board pointed to the fact that concept terms might be “advertising keywords” which are “relevant” to a resource (e.g., a web page determined by its URL). As a result, the keywords most relevant for the resource in terms of advertising can be selected.

Accordingly, the Board stated that increasing the relevance of a resource for advertising is a non-technical effect. Instead, it relates to a method of doing business, wherein the relevance to the resource of the advertisement could be measured in clicks by users on the advertisement embedded in the resource. Thus, the “relevance” of the advertisement to the resource appears to be linked to the semantic content or visual attractiveness for the user accessing the resource (e.g., web page), which does not consitute a technical feature.

As a result, the Board stated that claim 1 of the main request does not provide any technical effect which goes beyond the mere automation of a business method.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0872/19 (Concept terms scoring/GOOGLE)

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Evaluating real estate: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to a system for automatically determining the value of real estate based on parameters such as prices of other properties in the same geographical area, view etc. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the automation of a business method. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T2295/18 Evaluating real estate/TECNOCASA) of July 20, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Using technical means for implementing a non-technical process cannot render the process technical.

Implementing a non-technical process using technical means needs to procude a technical effect that goes beyond the sheer technical implementation.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision mainly concerns the automatic determination of a real estate value. In order to determine a meaningful value for the real estate, prices of other properties in the same geographical area are evaluated. Therefore, items (i.e., real estate) in a real estate database are analysed to determine a homogenous area within a given radius around the geographical location of the real estate property to be evaluated. Based on the real estate data of said homongenous area a minimum and maximum economic value of the real estate property is computed.

Fig. 3 of WO 2014/080432 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

In esssence, the applicant argued:

“The claimed system performs technical operations on technical data. Processing, aggregating and analysing real estate data involves technical algorithms and the computations are performed technically i.e. using technical means. It would not be possible to perform the calculations manually”

Furthermore, the applicant argued:

“Data defining a geographical location (coordinates) and a geographical area (a radius around a centre point) are technical by definition. The “standardisation” of data is also technical.”

However, the Board did not follow the applicant’s arguments. The Board referred to decision T 1463/11 (introduction of the notional business person) and stated:

“In the Board’s view, the claimed invention does not produce a technical effect that goes beyond the implementation of a business method on a networked computer system.”

The Board argued as follows:

Determining the economic value of real estate is inherently non-technical. Indeed, it is an activity normally performed by a real estate agent lacking technical knowledge and skill. In other words, this activity falls within the domain of the “notional business person”.

The fact that the determination of the real-estate value involves mathematical calculations does not matter, because mathematical methods are also excluded under Article 52(2) EPC.

The fact that the calculations cannot in most circumstances be performed purely mentally or manually using pen and paper is not decisive for assessing technical character. The sheer complexity of a method does not render the method technical (see for example T 914/02).

Using a computer for aggregating, analysing, and processing data is technical, but merely using a computer for performing a method is not enough to make the whole method technical (see for example T 1670/07 – Shopping with mobile device/NOKIA), point 9). There has to be a further technical effect beyond this.

Geographical data just indicates a location, which is not technical perse. The “standardisation” of data in claim 1 is part of the non-technical method of calculating the value of real estate and addresses the non-technical problem of real-estate belonging to different “categories” being included in the calculation.

As a result, the Board stated that the implementation of the non-technical process of evaluating real estate on the prior art computer system would have been routine for the skilled person.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T2295/18 Evaluating real estate/TECNOCASA) of July 20, 2022.

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Web service user experience without upfront storage expense: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to allowing prospective users of a web service to access only parts of the available functionality to reduce resource consumption. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the implementation of a business decision. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0909/14 (Web service without upfront storage/MICROSOFT) of June 3, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Features, even if based on technical considerations, may be considered non-technical if they are devisable from a business decision.

A user interface simulation is considered as representation of information and thus non-technical.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision mainly concerns optimizing the resource usage (e.g., server resources) of web services by limiting corresponding functionality based on a user’s account status (i.e., full or light/prospective). While a full user may make full use of the capabilities of the services due to corresponding allocated resources, a light user may only use certain (i.e., reduced) functionality of the service. The application addresses a situation in which a full user invites another (prospective) user to the web service. A light profile may be created for the prospective user allowing the prospective user to utilize a limited set of functionality via a simulated user interface. If the prospective user expresses the intent to fully utilize the web service capabilities, corresponding resources may be allocated on the server and the prospective user’s user interface will be updated accordingly. As a result, resources are only allocated for those types of users, who intent to make full use of the web service’s capabilities.

Fig. 5 of WO 2009/045757 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

For assessing inventive step, the Board in charge started from prior art document D5, relating to sharing a service in which all users have accounts of a first type (i.e., full user). It was common ground that D5 only discloses the first part of the preamble (underlined part) and feature 4.

According to the Board, the main point of the dispute is:

“Whether discriminating between full users and prospective users with limited functionality is the solution to the technical problem of saving resources or a non-technical requirement that could be envisaged by the business person.”

The applicant argued:

“The key idea of discriminating between full users and prospective users with fewer resource came from technical considerations of saving server resources, for example storage space for document’s meta data and this could not be ascribed to the business person.”

Furthermore, the applicant argued:

“Presenting a prospective user with a simulated interface of a full user was technically motivated too. It allowed a prospective user to see the full user’s interface from the beginning so that he did not need to explore its functionality from scratch after becoming a full user. This produced the technical effects of increasing the service usability and reducing the time the full user needs to explore the interface after the upgrade and, hence, energy consumption.”

The applicant concluded:

“Even if the creation of a group of prospective user with less functionality were part of the business scheme, it still would not have been obvious to reduce resources given to these users.”

However, the Board did not follow the applicant’s arguments. The Board referred to decision T 1463/11 (introduction of the notional business person) and stated:

“Under the CardinalCommerce approach, the test used in deciding on technicality of a feature is whether the notional business person could have come up with it. This boils down to determining whether there would have been at least one way to devise it without technical considerations.”

Accordingly, even if one would arrive at the feature based on technical considerations, the feature would still be deemed as non-technical. The Board concluded:

“Providing limited functionality for some users, such as not enabling the creation of documents, is a business decision which need not be based on technical considerations. There are apparent business reasons for doing it, for example charging the full user a higher subscription fee than the prospective user.”

With respect to the reduced resource usage, the Board stated that saving computer resources (e.g., storage space for metadata as argued by the applicant) is to be considered as technical. However, the Board argued that this is neither claimed nor disclosed in the application. In contrast, claim 1 only refers to saving resources on the server, which may also relate to limiting resources to reduce costs.

The Board also did not follow the applicant’s arguments regarding the alleged technical effect achieved by simulating the user interface and referred to the “broken technical chain fallacy” of T 1670/07. According to the Board, the simulation of the user interface relates to the presentation of information and is thus not based on any technical considerations.

As a result, the Board stated that the notional business person would have instructed the skilled person with implementing a non-technical business scheme based on the system of D5, which would have been obvious for the skilled person.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0909/14 (Web service without upfront storage/MICROSOFT) of June 3, 2022.

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Transferring content stored on remote terminals: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to the transfer of content from a remote terminal to a local terminal. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the implementation of a convenient content transfer with respect to a non-technical terminal selection policy. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1847/18 (Transferring content stored on remote terminals/TENCENT TECHNOLOGY) of February 8, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Technical features implementing a non-technical policy cannot contribute to inventive step.

A policy based on arbitrary user decisions does not involve any technical considerations.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision mainly concerns inter-terminal interaction to facilitate publishing of content to a social network. The invention addresses a situation in which the content is not stored on the currently used terminal (“second terminal” of claim 1). Accordingly, there is a need for efficiently transferring the required content from a specific group of terminals on which the content is stored to the currently used terminal for publishing the content.  (cf. abstract and paras. [0004] and [0005] of the application). This problem is solved by using a server (“service device”) to access content from the specific group of terminals (terminals which have been used in the past to log into the user’s social network account). The server keeps a list of these terminals (“the service device memorizes the matchup between the account information and the terminals’ identification information”). Once a user wishes to publish content (“a media resource insertion command”), a request is transmitted to the server, which then determines based on the user’s social network account information the terminals to be accessed and selects one of them (“the first terminal”). The desired content is then transmitted from the first terminal to the second terminal and published.

Fig. 1 of WO 2014/040459A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

For assessing the inventive step, the Board in charge started from a conventional social network platform (as described in para. [0003] of the application), which thus discloses the first and fifth feature of claim 1. The remaining features of claim 1 were grouped by the Board as follows:

    1. Group A (second to fourth and sixth feature of claim 1) relates to the transferring of content from remote terminals to a local terminal.
    2. Group B (seventh to tenth feature of claim 1) relates to the selection of the remote terminals.

According to the Board, group A has the effect of enabling a convenient transfer of content, while group B including non-technical features relates to a policy for selecting terminals from which the user wishes to get content for publishing. The policy specifies that these terminals are selected, which have been used in the past to log into the user’s social network account.

While the appellant argued that said policy improves data security and integrity, the Board did not follow this argumentation as the selection of terminals depends entirely on the user’s past log in activities (i.e., the list of terminals includes the terminals on which the user has logged into in the past). This might be the phone of a friend, but also an anonymous internet terminal in an airport. Therefore, the Board concluded that the selection cannot be based on security considerations and thus cannot provide the mentioned technical effect. As a result, the features of group B relating to the policy are to be considered as non-technical.

The Board followed that the technical problem may thus only be based on the convenient transfer of content (group A), while, in addition, meeting the requirements of the non-technical policy (group B).

Based on that, the Board defined the objective technical problem as:

“enabling a convenient transfer of social network content from previously used remote terminals to a local terminal”.

However, the Board judged that the skilled person, starting from a conventional social networking platform in combination with D1, would have solved this problem without inventive effort. The Board argued as follows:

    • D1 discloses a convenient way e.g. using a web browser interface, to select data on remote terminals and transfer the selected data to a local terminal.
    • From this the skilled person would learn that data transfer can be realized using a server storing a list of remote terminals and authorization information such as user account data.
    • Therefore, D1 anticipates all features of group A apart from the fact that the user account is the user’s social network account.
    • However, latter is a direct consequence of the policy defined by the features of group B and can thus not contribute to the inventive step.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1847/18 (Transferring content stored on remote terminals/TENCENT TECHNOLOGY) of February 8, 2022

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Measuring communication skills of crew members: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to measuring communication skills of crew members. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the improvement of calculating a (non-technical) property, namely the prosodic accomodation of two crew members during a conversation. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2689/18 (Measuring communication skills of crew members/Trinity College Dublin) of January 25, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:

Key takeaways

Improving the quality of a (non-technical) output from a (technical) signal processing procedure cannot contribute to the technical character of an invention.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision mainly concerns the measuring of specific communication skills (e.g., prosodic accomodation) from a recorded conversation between at least two crew members (cf. paras. [0001] and [0014] of the application).

Fig. 4 of WO 2015/014956 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

Both the Board in charge and the Appellant agreed that the closest prior art document D1 fails to disclose the following two features of claim 1:

1. Two recorded audio traces from two participants in a conversation are compared with each other in order to provide a rating for each of the at least two participants as well as a joint rating for the at least two participants together, and

2. The calculation of the correlation coefficient is based on a time window, the default length of which is extended to include the speech utterance of each crew member it its entirety.

The Appellant argued that adjusting the default length, which is extended to include the speech utterance of each crew member in its entirety, by flexibly varying a time window used in the calculation of the correlation, would result in a better resolution of the correlation coefficient.

However, the Board considered both features as non-technical. Regarding the first feature of measuring the skills based on comparing their recorded audio traces, the Board argued as follows:

1.1 Comparing and analysing two audio traces (signals) instead of only one as disclosed in D1 is carried out using the same, generally know signal processing techniques. Otherwise indicating details are not provided in the application.

1.2 The specified prosodic parameters used in the analysis are based on speech utterance and are as such non-technical. The reason for this is that they involve a mixture of administrative, psychological and mental acts. The same reasoning applies to the numerical rating resulting from the signal processing of the two audio traces.

1.3 Moreover, the aural detection of the crew’s behaviour does not go beyond the computer-implementation of a equivalent analysis by a human. An increased objectivity of the ranking arises purely from the computer-implementation itself due to the straightforward automation by the computer.

Regarding the second feature concerning the default length of the moving time window, the Board outlined:

2.1 The choice of the length as well as the positioning of the window are purely subjective choices that have no technical influence on the calculation of the correlation coefficient or the statistical modelling technique. Instead, only the quality of the calculated coefficient is improved. Given that the rating has no technical meaning, obtaining a “better” or “more accurate” rating has no technical meaning as well. Consequently, the choice of the length of the time window is seen as a choice based on an administrative consideration, a scheme of performing a mental act or a mathematical method, all of which are non-technical.

Despite the lack of a further technical effect, the Board also responded to the Appellant’s argument that the definition of the “default length” is of a flexible or extendable nature:

2.2 The wording of said feature, namely the “default length is extended to include the speech utterance of each crew member in its entirety” does not necessarily express the appellant’s interpretation that the moving time window is of a flexible or extendable nature. According to the definition of claim 1, it can be understood that the “default length” is adjusted according to the entire duration of the speech utterance of each participant once at the beginning of the statistical modelling. From this, one cannot conclude that the window length is flexibly varied and extended during the course of the analysis. There is also no passage of the application which defines the exact meaning of the term. In fact, the term is used only once in the entire description (para. [0049]) and in a very similar wording. Accordingly, a flexibly variable time duration cannot be unequivocally derived.

Since both differentiating features are considered as non-technical, they cannot contribute to an inventive step over D1.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2689/18 (Measruing communication skills of crew members/Trinity College Dublin) of January 25, 2022.

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Customization of a piece of footwear based on physiological data: non-technical

The application underlying this decision relates to customization of a piece of footwear based on physiological data. However, the European Patent Office refused to grant a patent since claim 1 mainly addresses the a non-technical mapping of (technical) acceleration data to a gait category. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1234/17 (Customization based on physiological data/Adidas AG) of March 4, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

The mere mapping of (technical) sensor data to a gait category cannot contribute to the technical character of an invention.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision mainly concerns the customization of a product (e.g., a piece of footwear) based on physiological data (e.g., a given set of characteristics of a person’s gait as measured by an accelerometer) (cf. paras. [0005] and [0023] of the application).

Fig. 6 of EP 2610808 A1

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (Main Request)

Is it technical?

Both the Board in charge and the Appellant agreed that the closest prior art document D3 failed to disclose that the customization uses sensor data being applied to a model of human physiology as defined by the last two features of claim 1:

1.1 wherein said at least one sensor includes an accelerometer and the collected sensor data includes a time series of acceleration vectors, wherein the data collected by said at least on sensor is analyzed by a sensor data analysis module, and

1.2 wherein the sensor data analysis module applies a model of human physiology to associate the time series of acceleration vectors with one of the following categories of human gait: supination, protination, over-protination or neutral.

However, the Board considered the claimed customization as well as the use of the human physiology model to be non-technical:

1.3 The skilled person would need to be given instructions on both how the “physiological” attribute” (category of human gait) should be based on the sensor data and how the customization should be based on the human gait. This was said to be an indication of non-technicality.

In response, the Appellant argued that the term “design” pertained to technical properties of the piece of footwear and that “customization” had to be interpreted as customization of a physical item. Furthermore, the Appellant argued that the distinguishing features would improve the accuracy and user-friendliness of the customization process by additionally including dynamic information:

1.4.1 The appellant argued that the term “design” pertained to technical properties of the piece of footwear, like shape, size and material composition and that “customization” had to be interpreted as customization of a physical item rather than graphics customization. The description (paras. [0023], [0027] and [0041]) would clearly set out how sporting footwear could be customized based on one or more properties of a user’s running gait, determined from sensor data representing time series of acceleration vectors by applying a model of human physiology.

1.4.2 The appellant also pointed out that the advantageous technical effect of the combination of the above features was that not only static data about the shape of the foot of a wearer – in the form of a 3D scan of the foot and pressure map of the foot sole – was used in the customization process for the piece of footwear, but that dynamic information – in the form of a time series of acceleration vectors – was utilized to obtain information about the gait category of the wearer. The gait category was used to determine the design of the customized footwear which better fitted the user’s typical movement patterns.

1.4.3 The appellant argued that the objective technical problem should be formulated as how to improve the accuracy and user-friendliness of the customization process of D3.

However, the Board did not follow the Appellant’s arguments. Instead, the Board stated that the invention can be seen as two mappings, where the first one maps sensor acceleration data to a gait category and the second one maps the gait category to a “customized” design:

1.5.1 With respect to the first mapping, the Board stated that the recording of sensor data is no doubt technical. However, the question is whether the mere idea of mapping this acceleration data to a gait category is technical, involves any technical considerations or has any overall technical effect. This would be the case if the algorithm were to somehow enhance the input data using consideration of e.g. the placement of the sensors. However, apart from specifying that the data “includes a time series of acceleration vectors” which is “analyzed” no further details are present in the claim that could constitute technical considerations about the data or the sensors. Thus, the Board considers that the mere idea of mapping acceleration data to gait category does not contribute to inventive step. Only its implementation involving the sensors could contribute.

1.5.2 With respect to the second mapping, the Board stated that due to the lack of detail in the claim and in the description, no technical considerations were involved in the design, apart from the fact that it involves a physical object, namely footwear. Thus, the Board considers that the basic idea of customizing footwear depending on the model of human physiology does not contribute to inventive step.

Since the second mapping was considered non-technical, as a result, the Board defined the problem to be solved as how to adapt the customization process of D3 to take into account categories of human gait derived from acceleration data. However, solving this problem by adding sensors to the arrangement of D3 was considered obvious.

Therefore, the Board dismissed the appeal due to lack of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1234/17 (Customization based on physiological data/Adidas AG)) of March 4, 2022

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