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:

Key takeaways

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.

The invention

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:

Fig. 2 of EP 2 211 299
Fig. 2 of EP 2 211 299

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:

Fig. 3 of EP 2 211 299
Fig. 3 of EP 2 211 299

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1

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.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1308/13 (Customised shared environment/DISNEY) of 17.12.2019

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