In this recent decision, the European Patent Office confirmed that the concept of allowing a computer to access a data library without reconfiguration is technical. However, the deciding board refused to grant a software patent because the claimed solution was found to be obvious. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1180/13 (Partitioned data library III/HEWLETT PACKARD) of 25.4.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

Allowing a computer to access a data library without reconfiguration is technical.

The invention

This European patent application relates to a partitioned data library that is to be attached to a data storage area network. To allow existing software to access the partitions without first being reconfigured, the partitions are set up to emulate existing data libraries for which the software has already been configured.

Fig. 1 of EP 1 324 185 A2
Fig. 1 of EP 1 324 185 A2

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

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

Since claim 1 of the main request was found to contain added subject-matter, the board decided on inventive step only with regard to the first auxiliary request. Claim 1 of the first auxiliary request is directed to a data library adapted to be attached to a storage area network. The library contains a number of partitions, each partition including at least one data transfer element and at least one data storage element slot. The partitions share at least one media transport element for moving media between slots and data transfer elements. The library includes a library controller that restricts movement of media between slots to slots assigned to the same partition.

Each of the data transfer elements, data storage element slots and media transport elements is assigned an “internally unique element address”. The library controller assigns a different “logical unit designation” to each partition and an “external element address” to each of the data transfer elements, data storage element slots and media transport elements.

Regarding inventive step, the board held that the invention differed from the closest prior art in the following features:

  • internally unique element addresses are assigned to the data transfer elements, the data storage element slots and the media transport elements;
  • external element addresses are assigned to the data transfer elements and the data storage element slots;
  • the library controller maps the internally unique element addresses to the external addresses; and
  • for each partition, the number of data transfer elements, the number of data storage element slots and the external addresses correspond to the respective numbers and element addresses of an existing data library model from a plurality of existing library models.

The board had no doubt that these features indeed provide a technical effect and thus formulated the objective technical problem as follows:

These features have the effect that a computer configured to access a data library of the existing data library model need not be reconfigured to access the claimed data library.

The problem to be solved may therefore be formulated as how to modify the data library of document D4 so as to allow a computer to access the data library without reconfiguration.

In the end, however, the claimed solution to this problem was found to be obvious:

The skilled person, starting from document D4 and faced with this problem, would consult document D2, which discloses a data library that has a virtual configuration different from its physical configuration and is presented to host computer systems as a conventional data library with a physical configuration identical to the virtual configuration (see abstract). Document D2 explains that this avoids “complicating the set-up, maintenance, or creation of application software utilizing the library” (column 9, lines 30 to 40).

To achieve this goal, the library’s response to host commands must be altered (column 9, lines 44 to 49). In particular, to correctly deal with a SCSI move medium command as shown in Figure 10, the library’s controller has to “remap source and destination addresses from the virtual configuration seen by the host to the appropriate physical resources allocated to that host” (column 9, lines 58 to 62; column 7, lines 10 to 25).

In other words, the library controller maps external element addresses corresponding to the configuration of the “conventional data library” to the internally unique addresses corresponding to the actual physical configuration of the data library (and vice versa). And it is self-evident that for the virtual configuration to correspond to the physical configuration of a conventional data library, the virtual configuration needs to define the same number of data transfer elements and data storage element slots.

Hence, document D2 discloses a SCSI-based solution to the problem posed which is applicable to the SCSI-based data library of document D4 and corresponds to the solution proposed in claim 1. The skilled person would therefore apply the teaching of document D2 to the data library of document D4 and thereby arrive at the subject-matter of claim 1 without the exercise of inventive skill.

Therefore, the board decided that claim 1 of the first auxiliary request does not involve an inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1180/13 (Partitioned data library III/HEWLETT PACKARD) of 25.4.2019

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