The European Patent Office considered a method for checking consistency and completeness of selection conditions to have at least some technical features. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2330/13 (Checking selection conditions/SAP) of 9.5.2018 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Even though a claimed task is of a non-technical nature, the specific claimed calculation steps when performed by parallel processing, may contribute to the technical character of an invention.

The invention

This patent application relates to a method for efficiently checking the consistency and completeness of selection conditions for components of a configurable product. It can be used, for instance, for the purpose of assembling an automobile model from a catalogue of parts according to a particular set of design specifications, in order to ensure that the combinations of parts are correct. According to the description, the method is significantly faster than prior-art methods because it uses bit operations to evaluate the selection conditions.

Fig. 1 of EP 1 519 284 A1
Fig. 1 of EP 1 519 284 A1
  • Claim 1 (auxiliary request)

Is it patentable?

According to the Board, the claimed invention unquestionably contains elements of a mathematical / logical nature. In particular, claim 1 of the (amended) main request specifies that the received selection and restriction conditions comprise defined logical operations which are applied to bit sub-matrices in order to form bit strings and that bit strings are combined using logical AND, OR and NOT operations.

5.3 According to established case law, it is legitimate to have a mix of technical and non-technical features (i.e. features relating to non-inventions within the meaning of Article 52(2) EPC) in a claim, even if the non-technical features form a dominating part (T 641/00, OJ EPO 2003, 352, reasons 4). Inventive step in so-called mixed-type inventions is to be assessed by taking account of all those elements of the claimed subject-matter which contribute to its technical character (see T 641/00, supra, reasons 6 and 7). Features which would, taken in isolation, belong to the matters excluded from patentability under Article 52(2) EPC may nonetheless contribute to the technical character of the claimed invention (G 3/08, OJ EPO 2011, 10, reasons 12.2.2). However, purely non-technical elements which do not interact with the technical subject-matter of the claim for solving a technical problem are ignored (see T 154/04, OJ EPO 2008, 46, reasons 5(F)).

5.8 In summary, even though the task performed by claim 1 is of a non-technical nature (see point 5.6 above), the specific claimed bit (sub-)matrices, bit strings and steps of the method, especially those of splitting the bit matrix, forming bit strings representing the selection and restriction conditions and determining inconsistent pairs of selection conditions when performed by parallel processing, do contribute to the technical character of the invention and should be taken into account when assessing inventive step. Similar conclusions apply to the other claims of the main request.

Thus, the Board disagrees with the assessment of the examining division with respect to the technical charachter of a plurality of the claimed method steps. Moreover, said features were also found not to be notorious, and thereore have to be considered in the assessment of inventive step:

7. In the Board’s view, the features of claim 1 of the main request contributing to the technical character of the claimed subject-matter which were listed above are not notorious. Furthermore, it follows from the technical-character assessment above that the claimed method cannot be seen as corresponding to an obvious “human approach”, as argued in decision T 1954/08. Unlike the binary map in that case, the bit (sub-)matrices and bit strings of the present invention are not merely used to store “flagged information”, but instead play an important role in the processing steps which are specifically adapted to use those data structures for the efficient parallel evaluation of selection conditions in a computer.

Thus, the Board remitted the case back to the first instance examining division for re-examination of inventive step.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2330/13 (Checking selection conditions/SAP) of 9.5.2018

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