The European Patent Office decided that displaying a 3D bird’s eye view map, e.g. in a car navigation system, and the associated calculation steps are technical. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0651/12 () of 14.4.2016 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:
This European patent application relates to a map display apparatus that three-dimensionally displays a two-dimensional map (plane map) as a bird’s eye view map. This is achieved by converting the two-dimensional map into a bird’s eye view display format, whereby ground levels and roads are displayed either depressed or elevated in correspondence to their altitudes.
The invention was reflected in claim 1 of the main request as follows:
Claim 1 (main request)A map display apparatus for displaying a bird’s eye view map, the map display apparatus comprising:
- a database device (2) that includes at least a height data portion in which a plurality of height data respectively corresponding to altitudes of a plurality of areas into which a two-dimensional map is divided are respectively stored in correspondence to the areas, each one of the plurality of areas being assigned with only one of the plurality of height data, and a road data portion in which a road (R) extending within the two-dimensional map is expressed with a plurality of element points (0, 1, 2, …, n-1, n) and positional coordinates (X, Y) of each of the element points in the two-dimensional map are stored; and
- a calculation means for generating a bird’s eye view map by converting the two-dimensional map into a display format of a bird’s eye view method, the bird’s eye view map corresponding to a view obtained by looking down the two-dimensional map from a specific viewpoint, wherein
the calculation means is configured to
- perform a calculation to determine in which of the areas each of the element points read out from the road data portion is located,
- read out height data corresponding to one of the areas ascertained through the calculation from the height data portion to use as height data for each of the element points, and
- calculate coordinate values of each of the element points on the bird’s eye view map to be displayed on a monitor screen based upon positional coordinates read out from the road data portion and the height data read out from the height data portion.
Is it patentable?
Firstly, the Board addressed whether claim 6 – a computer-implemented method for displaying a bird’s eye view map – was patent-eligible. Not surprisingly, claim 6 passed this hurdle already due to the presence of the phrase “computer-implemented”:
As a first point, it is noted that the subject-matter of claim 6 is not excluded from patentability under Article 52(3) EPC, as it does not relate to such subject-matter or activities as such. Indeed, since claim 6 is directed at a computer-implemented method, it involves the use of technical means in the form of a computer and thus, according to established jurisprudence of the boards of appeal, is an invention within the meaning of Article 52(1) EPC (cf T 258/03 OJ 2004, 575, Reasons 4.1 to 4.4 and “Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO”, 7**(th) Edition 2013, I.A.2.4.4.c).
By the way, if you are interested in a deeper look into how the European Patent Office examines software-related inventions, this 30-minute video gives a concise overview of the “two hurdle” approach with lots of examples:
Then, the question remained whether the calculations performed by the method were to be considered merely mathematical “as such” and thus irrelevant for assessing inventive step. The Board took the view that the calculations indeed serve a technical purpose:
In the board’s judgement, however, the method of claim 6 does not relate to a mathematical method within the meaning of Article 52(2)(a) EPC. Meant are in Article 52(2)(a) EPC, in the board’s view, merely abstract mathematical methods, ie calculations for the sake of the calculation.
In the present case, however, the outcome of the calculation is used for a technical purpose, namely to display information in an ergonomically improved manner.
It is noted in this respect that in the board’s judgement, displaying the three-dimensional bird’s eye view map, eg in a car navigation system, provides a more realistic view of the road to the user and supports the user in better orienting himself, ultimately assisting the user in taking the right turn, and thus adds to the ergonomics of the map display.
In the board’s opinion, ergonomics, understood as the applied science of refining the design of products to optimize them for human use, in the context of the map display of the present case, is a technical field. Displaying the three-dimensional bird’s eye view map is, thus, considered to provide a technical solution to a technical problem.
Moreover, it is noted that in the context of eg a car navigation system, the immediate apprehension of the presented information results in the driver being less distracted from the road and traffic and, thus, also adds to safety. Accordingly, also in this respect, displaying the three-dimensional bird’s eye view map provides a technical solution to a technical problem.
As such, the board sees no fundamental difference between the present case and a method for operating a computer-controlled machine where the outcome of some calculation is used for operating the machine in an improved manner, which is generally considered technical in all aspects.
In the end, the Board remitted the case back to the examining division for additional search and a subsequent examination.
You can read the whole decision here: T 0651/12 () of 14.4.2016
Maggie is a patent engineer at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. She specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.