In this decision, the European Patent Office did not grant a patent on the concept of displaying an appointment request and its surrounding appointments in a mini-calendar format to avoid that the user has to switch to the calendar module. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1750/13 (Scheduling opportunity previewer/Microsoft Technology Licensing, LLC) of 1.10.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:
This European patent application relates to a previewer which displays a request to add a new appointment or meeting to the user’s calendar which takes account of the surrounding appointments in the user’s calendar. The preview is displayed in a “mini-calendar format” which is a miniature view of the user’s calendar in the user’s current context. The “mini-calendar format” shows conflicting and/or adjacent appointments:
The invention allows a user to make a decision on how to handle a request for a new appointment, e.g. to accept, decline, propose new time, without having to switch the “context”, in other words, the user does not have to open their calendar module in order to make this decision.
Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request)A computer-implemented scheduling opportunity previewer system comprising means adapted to perform the steps of:
(i) receiving (202) a scheduling opportunity,
(ii) retrieving (204) a context of one or more surrounding appointments to the scheduling opportunity
(iii) displaying (206) the scheduling opportunity in a mini-calendar format with the context of surrounding appointments.
Is it technical?
The first-instance examining division had refused the patent application based on a lack of inventive step. In the summons to oral proceedings, the board expressed a preliminary view that the refusal was justified. In the decision, the board points out:
In order to make an informed decision, any kind of scheduling and planning activity requires a user to have information at hand about appointments in his or her calendar which are potentially conflicting or surrounding the new appointment. In the Board’s judgement this information and its provision simply form part of an administrative or business scheme and a presentation of information. The features of claim 1 of receiving a proposed scheduling opportunity or appointment (feature i), retrieving the context of one or more surrounding appointments [from the user’s calendar] (feature ii) and displaying the result (feature iii) to the user in a specific format [for allowing it to make a decision about whether to accept or decline the new appointment] are a computer implementation of this scheme.
The established approach for dealing with mixed-type inventions is the “COMVIK approach” (T 641/00 – Two identities / COMVIK), according to which the non-technical features cannot contribute to inventive step.
The issue in this appeal is thus whether the above mentioned scheme has any technical features or effects. If not, then claim 1 of the main request is merely a straightforward implementation of the scheme on a general purpose computer, which would not involve an inventive step.
One argument of the appellant was that the claimed “previewer system” was a technical feature. The board, however, did not follow this argument:
The Board notes that in text processing, previewing a document means displaying it on a screen instead of, or prior to, printing it. The purpose is to inform a user about the look of a document, whether the formatting is correct, thereby avoiding the waste of paper. In other fields, a preview of information is a visualisation of a subset of information, such as a summary of the content of a book on a book cover, of selected fields of its bibliographic data. The purpose is to inform a person about a book without obliging him to read its full content.
In the Board’s judgement, both are a mere presentation of information which does not lead to a technical effect and therefore does not have technical character.
Secondly, the appellant argued that a “mini-calendar format” should be regarded as technical feature:
The feature “mini-calendar format” refers to a miniature view of the user’s calendar in the user’s current context, see paragraph . It is employed in the application to limit the information to be displayed to those appointments which are in conflict or which are close to the proposed appointment. However, in the context of scheduling appointments, which is an administrative activity, a user evidently only needs to consider the “surrounding” and “conflicting” appointments, other appointments are not relevant for him to decide. In the Board’s view, a requirement for describing what a user wants to see is a non-technical rule or scheme and its arrangement on a display resulting in a “mini-calendar” format is a mere presentation of information.
The appellant had also argued that displaying the “scheduling opportunity” in a mini-calendar format with the context of surrounding appointments achieved three technical effects:
- it saved time and resources because only a minimum number of surrounding appointments needed to be retrieved
- it improved user-friendliness and usability because the context of surrounding appointments for a “scheduling opportunity” was retrieved
- it saved resources because a user did not need to open a separate calendar
But also this did not persuade the board:
However, in the Board’s view, the effects identified are too vague and would be mere bonus effects. They depend on the underlying computer system on which the information is to be displayed, which means that on certain devices resources may be saved, while on others there may be no such saving effect. For example, the need for less storage space is an (inevitable) bonus effect of choosing which data to consider. Moreover, the effects have a subjective aspect, depending on the respective user. For example, while a miniature display may be user-friendly for one user, it may not be the case for another user who prefers to handle his or her appointments in a separate calendar application.
Therefore, claim 1 was found to lack an inventive step, and the appeal was dismissed.
You can read the whole decision here: T 1750/13 (Scheduling opportunity previewer/Microsoft Technology Licensing, LLC) of 1.10.2019
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.