The European Patent Office refused to grant a software patent on a system for providing customized experiences to client stations in a shared environment. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1308/13 (Customised shared environment/DISNEY) of 17.12.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:
This European patent application concerns an online shared environment, e.g. a virtual world or a computer game, in which users can interact in a chat.
Figure 2 shows an example of a shared environment. There is a room with a flower painting, a clock, and an animal (a cat). Users A, B, and C, are present in the room and can chat with each other:
The invention allows the users to customise the shared environment according to their individual preferences. User A likes cats and wants to see a cat. User B, on the other hand, prefers dogs, and user C wants to see a big fish in an aquarium. A problem arises when users A, B, and C interact with each other in relation to a customised element. For example, user B might write to user A “Isn’t that a cute dog?!”. However, user A who sees a cat will not know what user B is talking about.
The invention solves this problem by translating “interaction data” (the chat message in the example above) so that it fits with each user’s customised environment. In other words, the chat message “Isn’t that a cute dog?!” from user B to user A is translated into “Isn’t that a cute cat?!”, because user A’s customised environment comprises a cat. This is illustrated in Figure 3:
Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:
Claim 1A system for providing customized experiences to a plurality of client stations in a shared environment, the system comprising:
an online client application for execution by a client processor of a first client station of the plurality of client stations and for rendering the shared environment on a client display of the first client station;
an accounts database having data relating to a plurality of clients; and
an online server hosting the shared environment for access by the plurality of client stations, and the online server having a server processor configured to:
retrieve client data from the accounts database relating to a first client of the plurality of clients;
determine client preferences of the first client based on the client data;
create a customized environment from the shared environment according to the client preferences;
send the customized environment to the online client application executing on the first client station of the first client for rendering on the client display;
receive interaction data from the online client application of the first client station, the interaction data having interactions specific to a customizable element of the customized environment;
translate the interaction data separately for each of the plurality of client stations based on a particular customization of the customizable element by each of the other of the plurality of clients; and
send separately translated interaction data to each corresponding of the other of the plurality of client stations for rendering on the client display.
Is it technical?
The Board considered the background art described in the published application itself to be a good starting point for assessing inventive step. According to the published application, networked shared environments were known at the priority date. Those shared environments allowed users to interact with each other. However, it was not possible to customise the elements of the shared environment itself.
The invention in claim 1 thus differed from the known shared environment by the customisation of elements of the shared environment, and the translation of interaction data relating to a customised element of the shared environment.
The appellant argued that the invention solved the technical problem of reconciling customised individual personalisation with a shared social environment. However, without success:
The Board does not share the appellant’s view that this is a technical problem. Customising a shared environment according to the users’ preferences, and adapting the interaction between different users within the shared environment so as to fit with each user’s customised environment, is a matter of presentation of information or playing a game, i.e. it falls within the categories of excluded matter in Article 52(2) EPC.
Neither decision T 1177/97 nor T 769/92 helps the appellant’s case. According to T 1177/97, a piece of information that is used in a technical system may have technical character if it solves a technical problem in that system. However, the Board does not see that any technical problem is solved by the distinguishing features of the invention in claim 1. Furthermore, the Board does not see that the invention in claim 1 involves any technical considerations other than those relating to the computer implementation.
According to T 641/00 – Two identities/COMVIK, non-technical features, i.e. features that fall within the non-exhaustive categories of excluded matter in Article 52(2) EPC, do not contribute to inventive step. Such features are instead considered to be part of the framework of the technical problem to be solved, which is often a set of requirements to be implemented. The Board considers that the invention in claim 1 solves the problem of implementing the customisation and the translation of interaction data in the known shared environment. In the Board’s view, the implementation would have been obvious to the skilled person using routine programming.
Therefore, the board concluded that claim 1 lacks an inventive step and dismissed the appeal.
You can read the whole decision here: T 1308/13 (Customised shared environment/DISNEY) of 17.12.2019
Bastian is a European patent attorney at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.