This decision concerns notification of feed across multiple client devices where the Board reiterated that the technical effect should be a result of a “further technical consideration”. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2366/18 (Notification feed across multiple client devices/DROPBOX) of 16.3.2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:
The European patent application underlying the present decision relates to online content management services that allow users to access and manage content across multiple devices. Users can store contents (e.g., documents, files) in a master repository maintained by the service provider, mirrored to or synchronised with local copies on various user devices.
The invention aims at keeping all of a user’s clients (such as mobile device applications, desktop applications and web browsers) synchronised. This is done by providing a flexible feed of event notifications reporting the various events provided in real-time. The feed is a structured notification (including a topic identifier, sequencing information, and content), enabling replacing obsolete information with current information.
Fig. 1 of EP 2 943 895 A1
Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request)
A method executable at a server (202) for providing a notification feed, the method comprising:
receiving (902), by the server from a client device (110-116), a request for new notification records (222);
retrieving (904), by the server from a notifications data store (210), an initial set of notification records responsive to the request, wherein each notification record in the initial set corresponds to an event and includes a respective topic field (510) including information indicating the subject-matter of the notification record, a respective sequence field (512) including a temporal order indicator, and a respective content field (514);
generating, by the server, a consolidated set of notification records from the initial set of notification records, wherein generating the consolidated set of notification records includes:
determining (906) whether two or more notification records in the initial set pertain to a same topic by comparing their respective topic fields, and when respective topic fields of two or more notification records in the initial set match, determining that those two or more notification records pertain to the same topic; and
in response to determining that two or more notification records pertain to the same topic, consolidating (908) the notification records pertaining to the same topic by removing older ones of the notification records pertaining to the same topic from the consolidated set of notification records based on the respective sequence fields of the notification records; and
sending (910), by the server, the consolidated set of notification records to the client device.
Is it patentable?
In the first instance, the Examining Division alleged that the claimed subject-matter lacks inventive step over document D1 as it considered some of the claimed features to be non-technical aspects.
At the appeal, the Board agreed with the applicant that document D1 (method of managing updates to website) failed to disclose the feature including providing a consolidated set of notification records. Therefore, the board was not convinced that document D1 is a suitable starting point for assessing inventive step.
However, the Board assessed inventive step over the prior art which were acknowledged in the background section of the application, and the distinguishing features among others, related to the information in the notification report (i.e., notification record, sequence field including a temporal order indicator, and content field).
The applicant argued that the features contributed to the technical character as it provides an event notifications feed with increased efficiency. For instance, sending the consolidated set of records instead of all records saved bandwidth, and was computationally more efficient than comparing the content fields.
The Board disagreed with the applicant and did not acknowledge the effect of increased efficiency as it was not a result of a further technical consideration:
The board does not consider the alleged bandwidth savings to be a result of “further technical considerations” (see opinion G 3/08, OJ EPO 2011, 10, Reasons 13.5 and 13.5.1). The decision to send only the most recent notification records is a non-technical consideration that is related not to the internal operation of the distributed computer system but to the client’s perceived information need. The board thus does not consider this effect to be technical (see decision T 1924/17 of 29 July 2019, Reasons 21).
The applicant also argued that the introduction of a topic field permitted efficient operation as it avoided having to compare the full content. The Board again disagreed here:
As to the alleged improved efficiency due to comparing topic fields instead of content fields, the board sees no “further technical considerations” here either. According to decision T 1924/17, Reasons 21.2, it has to be considered whether an improvement in the processing speed is based on “further technical considerations”, i.e. technical considerations going beyond the abstract formulation of algorithms or beyond “merely” finding a computer algorithm to carry out some procedure. Such “further technical considerations” may relate to the specific internal functioning of the computer as a technical system. However, the introduction of the topic field is on an algorithmic level and not based on “further technical considerations” within the above meaning. Consequently, the board is not convinced that the alleged effect of improved efficiency is technical.
In an Auxiliary Request, the applicant tried to amend the claim to include the feature of time-stamps and argued that its use in the topic field corresponded to a higher hierarchical level so a machine could more easily/efficiently determine whether records related to the same topic. However, the Board did not agree with this argument:
7.1 In the board’s view, the use of time stamps in computing was notorious at the priority date (see D1, paragraphs  and , for example). In this case, the use of time stamps and further fields for consolidating (folding) records serves an overall non-technical purpose (providing information to a user without superseded notifications) and does not involve any “further technical considerations” relating to the internal operation of the computer system.
The various target identifiers concern the desired non-technical communication aspects for alerts/notifications, such as which user is alerted about which type of events and to which object an event pertains.
As to the appellant’s argument that the machine could more easily/efficiently determine whether records related to the same topic, the board considers that this relates to mere algorithmic considerations rather than to “further technical considerations” as the considerations underlying the relevant aspects relate to the design and use of notification records rather than to hardware-related aspects of the functioning of the computer.
In the end, the subject-matter of the claim was considered obvious as the distinguishing feature did not contribute to a technical effect and not included in the assessment of inventive step.
You can read the whole decision here: T 2366/18 (Notification feed across multiple client devices/DROPBOX) of 16.3.2021
Preston is a European patent attorney at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He handles patent applications in the field of electronics and communication technology, particularly hardware and software inventions related to wireless communication and entertainment devices.