This decision relates to an European patent application for analyzing a set of information. However, the distinguishing features were considered non-technical by the Board of Appeal. 

Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1971/18 (Determining an analysis chronicle/NOKIA TECHNOLOGIES OY) of March 8, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

Presentation of information as such is excluded from patentability under Article 52(2)(d) and (3) EPC.

Reduction of user distraction or disruption by selectively presenting information to the user fulfils the cognitive interests or needs of the user, which is not a technical purpose or based on technical considerations.

A bonus effect which is at best incidental to a non-technical solution is not a technical effect on which an inventive step can be based.

The invention

The application relates to monitoring information sources for a user and presenting information to the user without superfluous content such as a similar news story from a plurality of information sources. The invention relies on “analysis criteria” to express rules for filtering information. The analysis criteria is represented by a graph (cf. Fig. 2A), in which each leaf node corresponds to a condition and each intermediate node corresponds to a “directive” associating the conditions to which it is connected.

Fig. 2A of EP2550611

In the method according to the invention, “analysis chronicles” are determined, where an analysis chronicle indicates which nodes of the analysis criteria are positively determined by a set of information. Further, the method determines whether a change occurred between two analysis chronicles. Change determination may be based, at least in part, on the presence of a significant difference between the analysis chronicles. If a change occurred, an operation is performed, e.g. providing indication of at least part of the analysis chronicle (cf. Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 of EP2550611

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The board finds it appropriate to assess inventive step starting from a well-known apparatus configured with such an aggregator which continuously receives sets of information from different information sources filtered according to the user’s informational preferences, and presents the filtered and aggregated information to the user (here based on D4).

According to the board:

2.2 The subject-matter of claim 1 differs from the well-known apparatus configured with an aggregator in that (using an itemisation corresponding to that used in the grounds of appeal):

(e to g) the analysis criteria comprises a root node and a plurality of nodes associated with the root node, the plurality of nodes comprising a plurality of nodes relating to a condition and one or more nodes relating to a directive that associates two or more of the nodes relating to a condition;

(h) a set of information is determined to comply with the analysis criteria at least by virtue of the root node of the analysis criteria being determined positively by the set of information;

(i) and (j) if the set of information complies with the analysis criteria, the analysis chronicle is determined as a record that indicates which nodes of the analysis criteria are positively determined by the set of information;

(k to n, o’) information is presented to the user if the analysis chronicle is determined to have changed by determining that a difference between the analysis chronicle and another analysis chronicle associated with a previously received set of information is significant, wherein the difference between the analysis chronicle and the another analysis chronicle is significant if it is within a particular number of nodes from the root node.

An experienced patent attorney would already recognize that these distinguishing features seem to be only a mathematical method.

The appellant tried to argue that there is a technical effect to reduce the operations being performed. However, the board considers that the alleged effect is only a bonus effect, which is not the purpose of the distinguishing features:

2.5 Only the purposive use of non-technical features in the context of a solution to a technical problem may contribute to the technical character of an invention (see T 49/99 of 5 March 2002, Reasons 7) and a bonus effect which is at best incidental to a non-technical solution is not a technical effect on which an inventive step can be based (T 1023/06, 7 December 2006, Reasons 3.7.2, T 2230/10 of 3 July 2015, Reasons 3.4 to 3.8). The purposive use can be established if technical considerations are present for the adoption of non-technical features with the view to achieve a technical effect or solve a technical problem (T 697/17 of 17 October 2019, Reasons 5.2.3 and 5.2.4, T 244/00 of 15 November 2001, Reasons 12 and 13).

In the prior-art aggregator, filter criteria (corresponding to the analysis criteria of the invention) are used and updates are presented to the user. Compared to that, the distinguishing features serve the purpose of presenting to the user information only if it significantly differs from previously displayed information. Within the context of the claimed apparatus, the distinguishing features are not concerned primarily with the reduction of operations, which only occurs if the information does not change significantly. Therefore, the purpose of the distinguishing features is not technical.

A technical contribution could reside on the implementation of the apparatus. The distinguishing features provide details of the software implementation, including the data model used to represent the analysis criteria and analysis chronicle as graphs, and details of how they are used to determine significant changes of an information set. However, these features are not based on technical considerations as they concern only the abstract data model and mathematical algorithms used, which are computer-program features as such excluded from patentability (Articles 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC).

2.6 Therefore, none of the distinguishing features contributes to solve a technical problem. Since such non-technical features cannot support the presence of an inventive step, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request is not inventive (Article 56 EPC).

Since none of the auxiliary requests can add contribution to solve a technical problem, the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1971/18 (Determining an analysis chronicle/NOKIA TECHNOLOGIES OY) of March 8, 2021 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07.

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