The European Patent Office refused to grant a software patent for a logical hierarchical data model for sharing product information across product families. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0042/09 (Logical hierarchical data model/BOEING) of 10.3.2014 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:
This European patent application addressed the problem of modelling a “family” of products. Instead of providing a separate model for each variation of a product, a single “product data-model” is provided that captures the whole family. This product data-model models a generic product by means of a number of “logical component-usage” nodes. Each “logical component-usage” node essentially represents a logical component function and is connected, by means of a number of “component-usage” nodes, to respective “components” providing such function. The “component-usage” nodes thus represent configuration options for the “logical component-usage” node. By applying certain “applicability attributes”, at each “logical component-usage” node a choice is made from the possible “component-usages” and their corresponding “components”.
Claim 1 (main request)A method of designing products using CAD and of manufacturing products using CAM, wherein a product data-model is stored in a memory associated with a computer, said product data-model representing product information about at least one component that is a constituent of at least one parent assembly, comprising:
a parent assembly and two or more children, each comprising at least one component, said parent assembly holding information for associating the two children with the parent assembly;
a plurality of component-usages for holding information relating to usages of the component, said component-usages being operatively connected to a component of the parent assembly;
a plurality of logical component-usages for holding information relating to logical usages of the component, said logical component-usages being operatively connected to said component-usages; and
said parent assembly, said component-usages and said logical component-usages being hierarchically interconnected.
Is it patentable?
First of all, the Board noted that, although the patent claim mentioned “designing” and “manufacturing” products, it did not actually include any steps in this regard:
Although claim 1 of the main request is directed to a “method of designing products using CAD and of manufacturing products using CAM”, it does not define any steps, let alone steps of designing products using CAD and of manufacturing products using CAM. Instead, claim 1 defines features of a “product data-model” without explaining its relation to a method of designing or manufacturing.
In this respect, the Board notes that the invention as disclosed in the application also rather appears to be concerned with the general use of a particular “product data-model” stored in the memory of a computer in unspecified activities related to CAD/CAM.
The actual subject-matter, namely the definition of an information model, was considered to be non-technical:
The features of claim 1 relating to the “product data-model” define an abstract information model. Indeed, these features are worded in abstract terms and make no reference to any concrete physical representation of the product data-model.
According to decision T 49/99 of 5 March 2002, reasons 7, information modelling is in principle a non-technical activity, and only a purposive use of information modelling in the context of a solution to a technical problem may contribute to the technical character of an invention. For the reasons given under point 2.32.3 , the Board considers that the claimed connection with CAD/CAM activities cannot qualify as such a purposive technical use. The product data-model does not enable, improve, or otherwise contribute to the solution of a concrete technical problem.
Therefore, the Board ultimately decided that the patent application does not provide any technical contribution that could be the basis for an inventive step.
You can read the whole decision here: T 0042/09 (Logical hierarchical data model/BOEING) of 10.3.2014
Bastian is a European patent attorney and a partner at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.