In this decision, the European Patent Office considered a generated metadata file as non-technical. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2573/16 (OLAP-cube specification/ACCENTURE GLOBAL SERVICES) of 6.11.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

If non-technical features could not contribute to a technical effect because they are non-technical, there would be no need for analyzing whether these features produce a technical effect over a computer. Hence, it has always to be analysed whether, and to what extent, a non-technical scheme, when implemented on a computer, produces a technical effect over that computer.

While a file itself is likely non-technical, the generation thereof might be technical.

The invention

This European patent application relates to online analytical processing (OLAP) which is a category of tools used to provide access to data in a database. With OLAP, multidimensional analytical queries can be quickly answered. Databases configured for OLAP may use a  multidimensional data model that provides multidimensional views of data for quick access to strategic information for further analysis (cf. EP 2 312 465 A1, para. [0002]).

OLAP tools use OLAP cubes to achieve efficient data retrieval which is a data structure that organizes categories of data by dimensions and measures (cf. EP 2 312 465 A1, para. [0003]). If users want to change the OLAP cube, such as add or remove dimensions, a cumbersome process must be followed by the technical solution team to properly implement the changes. The back-and-forth communications and processes needed to implement changes to the OLAP cube are burdensome (cf. EP 2 312 465 A1, para. [0005]).

The present application seeks to to improve OLAP systems by means of a template metadata file including metadata defining the structure of the OLAP cube (cf. EP 2 312 465 A1, para. [0006]).

Fig. 1 of EP 2 312 465 A1

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

According to the first instance Examining Division, almost all features of claim 1 would refer to non-technical aspects:

4.1 (…) Point 10.1.1.5 of the decision essentially repeats point 10.1.1.3 by stating that the only technical aspects present in claim 1 were the feature specifying that the metadata receipt module was “configured to receive input via a user interface”, which implied the use of a general-purpose computer, and the features relating to “files”, which were to be interpreted as “electronic data files in a computer memory” of that general-purpose computer. All other aspects of claim 1 were non-technical in nature and therefore formed “part of a given framework within which the technical problem [was] posed, for example in the form of a requirements specification provided to the person skilled in a technical field”.

Hence, considering a common personal computer as closest prior art, the Examining Division rejected the present application due to lack of inventive step.

According to the present decision, however, the Board in charge considered the reasoning of the Examining Division not persuasive:

4.5  In sum, the contested decision’s inventive-step reasoning is incomplete as it stands, and the general approach to assessing inventive step taken in the decision is prone to overlook technical contributions made by non-technical features.

In more detail, the Board argues that the Examining Division failed to assess whether the claimed non-technical scheme produces a technical effect or not:

4.2 Although in many cases the implementation of a non-technical scheme on a general-purpose computer results in subject-matter that is obvious, this is not inevitably the case. As the Examining Division essentially stated in point 10.1.1.4 of its decision, non-technical features are to be taken into account in the assessment of inventive step to the extent that they interact with the technical subject-matter of the claim to solve a technical problem or bring about a technical effect (see G 1/04, OJ EPO 2006, 334, reasons 5.3; T 154/04, OJ EPO 2008, 46, reasons 5, under (F), and 13 to 15). It therefore still has to be analysed whether, and to what extent, the non-technical scheme, when implemented on a computer, produces a technical effect over that computer.

Therefore, the Board in charge re-examined inventive step in all detail. In this respect, the Board, however, came to the conclusion that the process of generating a metadata file may be technical, but not the metadata file as such:

5.4 The overall effect of the four modules is the generation of a metadata file which defines the structure of an OLAP cube and which is to be used by the claimed system’s conventional OLAP functionality.

This generated metadata file cannot be technically distinguished from the metadata file produced by the technical solution team of the prior art: the four claimed modules do not ensure any special property of the generated metadata file that translates into a technical effect, occurring when the file is used by the system’s conventional OLAP functionality, that is different from the technical effects that occur when a metadata file produced by a technical solution team is processed.

(…)

Hence, the generated metadata file does not represent a technical effect achieved over the prior-art OLAP system. Any technical effect is thus to be found in the generation process itself.

However, the Board considered the technical aspects of the generation to be trivial:

Indeed, the only technical features here relate to reading and writing data from and to files and the use of implicit input and output devices for receiving input from and presenting information to the user. Since these features are well known and are used for their normal purpose, they do not support an inventive step.

As a result, the Board dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2573/16 (OLAP-cube specification/ACCENTURE GLOBAL SERVICES) of 6.11.2019.

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