This decision concerns an European patent application relating to a method for identifying an application type of unknown data that may be encountered during a data recovery process. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1245/20 (Identifying an application type of unknown data/MAGNET FORENSICS) of March 3, 2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07.
The application relates to methods of identifying an application type of unknown data that may be encountered during a data recovery process. Claim 1 defines a computer-implemented data analysis method (200) of displaying data with an unknown application type recovered from one or more addresses marked as unallocated on a storage device. The recovering step is done by step (A) of claim 1, whereas the displaying step is performed at step (F) of claim 1 (unfold the accordion below for further details).
Figure 1 of EP3049970
Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (sole request, feature labelling (A) to (F) added by the board)
Is it patentable?
The examining division found that claim 1 lacks an inventive step over a general purpose computer system or the disclosure of documents D1 or D5 and thus refused the application.
The applicant appealed but was unable to change the outcome of the case. The Board in charge assessed each step of claim 1 and found none of the steps in claim 1 can provide an inventive step.
Step (B) was considered by the Board as relating to mental act (non-technical activity), which does not contribute to a technical effect:
7.3.1 In step (B) of claim 1, it is stipulated that the “database information” of the recovered data comprises “at least one table with at least one column”. Column identifiers of the unknown database of the recovered data are analysed “to determine that the recovered data corresponds to database information”. The board notes that claim 1 does not define how the column identifiers are recognised or found if the database from which the recovered data originates is “unknown”.
7.3.3 Thus, after having found, in a manner undefined in claim 1, column identifiers (“col_1”, “col_2”, “col_3”, .., “col_N”) of an unknown database DBj, these column identifiers are analysed, and it is determined whether they correspond to database information.
Thus, some column identifiers correspond to some database information, and this correspondence appears to be pre-defined, this being similar to the associations, in the catalogue of the prior art disclosed in the application, of applications to respective data formats illustrated in point 6.1.1. Analysing the column identifiers by reading them and looking at a pre-defined correspondence between the column identifiers and an associated database to determine the associated database cannot be considered to involve an inventive step. It is, rather, based on an analysis of data formats by a software engineer or programmer, which is in essence a mental act and thus a non-technical activity not contributing to a technical effect.
Steps (C), (D) and (E) were considered by the Board as relating to mere programming (software engineering), which does not contribute to a technical effect:
7.4.11 Steps C and D alone cannot provide an inventive step since they consist in looking whether a keyword in a table of associations or catalogue is present in the column identifier to implicitly look up in the table of associations or catalogue the data field associated with this keyword and to implicitly look up in another table of associations or catalogue the application associated with this data field. These steps essentially just relate to mere programming based on non-technical considerations of software engineering and do not contribute to a technical effect over the prior art disclosed in the application.
7.5.4 Step (E) alone cannot provide an inventive step since storing the mapping determined in step (C) and (D) is obvious and would be performed by the skilled person without exercising an inventive step and depending on the circumstances. Moreover, the mapping itself relates just to software engineering and the analysis of data formats in applications, this being non-technical.
Step F was considered by the Board as relating to mere presentation of information, which does not contribute to a technical effect:
7.6 Step (F)
There is a displaying step (F) in a preview section (having reference sign 560) of a user interface (having reference sign 500) of a data record (of the database information) having a data field DFy. The data record is displayed in a column of the user interface “based on the stored mapping of the stored data field of the data record to the stored column”.
The board considers that step (F) concerns a mere presentation of information which is non-technical and cannot render claim 1 inventive.
Moreover, the Board also cited G 1/19 and stated that a technical effect shall be derivable over the whole scope of the claim:
13. One question that arises is whether the method of claim 1 has the potential to cause technical effects. But the mapping and display of the data record in a respective column of the user interface resulting from the claimed method is not specifically adapted for any technical use (see G 1/19, point 94). Since the board does not see any technical effect from the implementation of the claimed method in a computer system derivable over the whole scope of the claim, the claimed subject-matter does not achieve a technical effect over the prior art acknowledged in the application.
You can read the whole decision here: decision T 1245/20 (Identifying an application type of unknown data/MAGNET FORENSICS) of March 3, 2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07.