The European Patent Office considered a method of performing data transfer of data in a clipboard format to have at least some technical features. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0424/03 (Clipboard formats I/MICROSOFT) of February 23, 2006 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:
This patent application relates to providing expanded clipboard formats that embellish the number of formats that may be used with a clipboard. These expanded clipboard formats enable users in applications to broaden their use of the clipboard and other data transfer mechanisms.
Claim 1 (main request)
1. A method in a computer system (10) having a clipboard for performing data transfer of data in a clipboard format, said method comprising the steps of:
providing several clipboard formats including a text clipboard format, a file contents clipboard format and a file group descriptor clipboard format,
selecting data that is not a file for a data transfer operation,
using the file contents clipboard format to hold said data by converting said selected data into converted data of said file contents clipboard format and storing the converted data as a data object,
using the file group descriptor clipboard format to hold a file descriptor holding descriptive information about the data that is to be encapsulated into a file during the data transfer operation,
completing the data transfer by providing a handle to said data object,
using said handle to paste said data of said data object to a data sink,
using said descriptive information to enable the computer system to create a file at the data sink and
encapsulating the data object into said file.
Is it patentable?
According to the appelant, the claimed method provides technical character:
The claimed method modifies the internal operation of a computer system and is therefore technical. Moreover, the method achieves a non-obvious improvement over the appellant’s prior operating system Windows 3.1 because the available prior art does not suggest a clipboard format which enables non-file data to be transferred for encapsulation into a file at a receiving application program (data sink) which expects to handle a file format (rather than a text format, for example).
The Board in charge generally agrees to appelant’s arguments:
Claim 1 relates to a method implemented in a computer system. T 258/03 – Auction method/Hitachi (OJ EPO 2004, 575) states that a method using technical means is an invention within the meaning of Article 52(1) EPC. A computer system including a memory (clipboard) is a technical means, and consequently the claimed method has technical character in accordance with established case law.
Moreover, the Board would like to emphasise that a method implemented in a computer system represents a sequence of steps actually performed and achieving an effect, and not a sequence of computer-executable instructions (i.e. a computer program) which just have the potential of achieving such an effect when loaded into, and run on, a computer. Thus, the Board holds that the claim category of a computer-implemented method is distinguished from that of a computer program. Even though a method, in particular a method of operating a computer, may be put into practice with the help of a computer program, a claim relating to such a method does not claim a computer program in the category of a computer program. Hence, present claim 1 cannot relate to a computer program as such.
The Board also considers the claimed method steps to contribute to the technical character of the invention:
These steps solve a technical problem by technical means in that functional data structures (clipboard formats) are used independently of any cognitive content (see T 1194/97 – Data structure product/Philips; OJ EPO 2000, 525) in order to enhance the internal operation of a computer system with a view to facilitating the exchange of data among various application programs. The claimed steps thus provide a general purpose computer with a further functionality: the computer assists the user in transferring non-file data into files.
Moreover, the Board considers that the claimed subject-matter solves a technical problem with technical means:
7.1 With respect to the closest prior art (Windows 3.1), the method of claim 1 solves the problem of how to facilitate a data exchange across different data formats, in particular when transferring non-file data.
7.2 The solution provides for a file contents clipboard format and a file group descriptor format which interact to allow data to be sent in a first format (non-file data) and processed in a second format (file encapsulation) at the receiving data sink.
As a result, the Board considered the claimed subject-matter to be non-obvious and finally granted a patent.
You can read the whole decision here: T 0424/03 (Clipboard formats I/MICROSOFT) of February 23.
Patrick is a European patent attorney at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.