In this decision, the European Patent Office acknowledged that precomputing user habit information for a graphical user interface of a mobile device is technical. However, this difference over the prior art was found to be obvious. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1718/17 (User habit list/HUAWEI) of 29.4.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.06:

Key takeaways

Maintaining information as sub-tables rather than generating the tabular information as needed has the advantage that the display interface can be generated more quickly when actually needed, but the disadvantage that the sub-tables must be precomputed and kept in memory.

In the art of computing, “precomputation” is a well known method of speeding up program execution.

The invention

This European patent application relates to the problem of simplifying the use of complex user interfaces, e.g. in smartphones.

The invention proposes to track users’ interactions with their devices to determine their “habits” and thus to predict what they might want to do next. A number of likely user preferences (“user habit options”) are compiled from actual user operations and displayed as a “user habit list” from which the user can select. The list is ordered according to priorities that aim to express user preferences well. The parameters being tracked (and taken into account to arrange the user habit list) relate to applications and their options, the frequency of calls, the time of day, and the like.

Fig. 4 of the application illustrates an example of a user habit list:

Fig. 4 of EP 2 888 664
Fig. 4 of EP 2 888 664

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1 of the main request:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

The Board of Appeal identified the following difference between claim 1 and the closest prior art: Instead of maintaining a single user habit list as in the prior art, claim 1 referred to at least two “user habit statistical sub-tables” which reflect the user habits for “different time span[s] of a day”.

On the one hand, the Board took the view that the multiple statistical sub-tables indeed provide a technical effect. Doing so, however, was found to be obvious:

In the application to hand, the “sub-tables” are disclosed in embodiments 4 and 6 (see the original description, page 17, line 9, to page 19, line 7, and page 20, line 9, to page 22, line 16). Apart from no­ting that different sub-tables can model time-dependent user habits (see page 17, lines 16 to 29) – which is known from documents D3, D5 and D7 – the description does not disclose any specific technical effect of using the claimed subtables for the implementation of that model.

The board can only speculate that maintaining the pertinent information as “sub-tables” rather than (re-)generating the tabular information as needed has the advantage that the display interface can be generated more quickly when actually needed, but the disadvantage that the sub-tables must be precomputed and kept in memory. From this perspective, precomputing sub-tables would have been obvious to the skilled person to achieve the effect known from document D3 as a matter of the well-known trade-off of “precomputing”, namely between time and space requirements on the one hand and system responsiveness on the other.

The board takes the view that, in the art of computing, “precomputation” is a well known method of speeding up program execution. The basic idea is to avoid the time-consuming computation of certain data when it may be needed urgently, by computing it – or part of it – earlier. This speeds-up access to the data when needed and may, thereby, increase system responsiveness. This advantage comes at a cost, in that the precomputed data has to be stored until needed and thus increases the program’s memory consumption.

Therefore, the Board decided that claim 1 does not involve an inventive step and dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1718/17 (User habit list/HUAWEI) of 29.4.2019

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