In this decision, the European Patent Office did not grant a patent on the idea of allowing a user to specify, via display gestures, two possible ways of transposing a displayed information table. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 1505/17 (Transposition gestures/HUAWEI TECHNOLOGIES) of 17.2.2020 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:
This European patent application generally relates to allowing a user to transpose a displayed table such that the columns become rows and the rows become columns. The description relates mainly to mirroring the table in its main diagonal, i.e. from the top-left corner to the bottom-right corner. An example is shown in Fig. 1A (original table) and Fig. 1B (transposed table):
Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request)A table graphics management method, comprising:
Displaying (51) a table on a display apparatus, wherein the table has multiple rows and multiple columns, each of the rows comprises multiple frames that are sequentially arranged along a first dimension, each of the column [sic] comprises multiple frames that are sequentially arranged along a second dimension, and the second dimension is vertical to the first dimension, wherein the frames of the rows and the columns are filled with information;
detecting (52) a control track for the table input by an input device;
determining (53) a moving direction of the control track according to the detected control track; and along the moving direction of the control track, transposing original information in the frames of the row that are sequentially arranged along the first dimension into the frames of the column that are sequentially arranged along the second dimension, and transposing original information in the frames of the column that are sequentially arranged along the second dimension into the frames of the row that are sequentially arranged along the first dimension, so as to acquire a transposed table; and
displaying (54) the transposed table on the display apparatus.
Claim 1 is directed to a “table graphics management method”. The method first displays a table which has multiple rows and columns. When a “control track for the table” input by an input device is detected, a “moving direction” of the detected control track is determined. In view of dependent claim 3, the “control track” may be a “touch track” entered via a touch input apparatus. Therefore, the board understood the step “detecting a control track” as meaning that an input command in the form of a gesture is detected.
The claim refers only to a single row and column and to “transposing” information from the frames of the row into the frames of the column and vice versa. However, the phrase “so as to acquire a transposed table” and the examples given in the description make it clear that the table as a whole is transposed, resulting in the rows of the table being converted into columns and the columns into rows.
Claim 1 does not specify what is meant by transposing “along the moving direction of the control track”. Based on the disclosure in the application, the user can specify a transposition that transposes corner frame 11 in Figure 1A into corner frame 14 in Figure 1B by inputting a gesture that starts in frame 11 and moves in the general direction of frame 13 (of Figure 1A), i.e. perpendicular to the diagonal in which the table is mirrored. However, the board took the view that the expression “transposing along the moving direction” could also be understood as referring to the transposition that mirrors the table in the diagonal indicated by the “moving direction”. At the oral proceedings, the appellant agreed that both interpretations were possible.
Is it technical?
According to the board, claim 1 differed from the closest prior art in that the control input is a “control track” instead of a button click and in that the table is transposed “along the moving direction of the control track”, allowing the user to specify one of two possible transpositions.
First of all, the board assessed whether the concept of two possible types of transpositions was a technical feature:
In the Board’s judgment, the idea of allowing the user to specify one of the two possible table transpositions is non-technical, reflecting the user’s subjective wish to choose how to transform the table. Indeed, transposing a displayed table, for example in the context of a word processor and for editorial reasons, is itself non-technical. This non-technical idea may thus be included in the formulation of the objective technical problem.
Hence, the objective technical problem to be solved may be formulated as modifying the method of document D1 to allow the user to input commands for the two possible table transpositions.
Accordingly, what had to be assessed was whether enabling two different gestures to solve the problem was non-obvious:
In view of the prevalence of smartphones and tablets at the filing date of the present application, i.e. in April 2012, inputting user interactions by means of gestures, e.g. gestures made by moving a mouse or by moving a stylus or finger over a touch pad or touch screen along a “control track”, was well known in the art. To implement two different control options, one would have had to provide two distinguishable gestures. Distinguishing the two gestures on the basis of their control track’s “moving direction” would have been an obvious possibility, just like a scroll-down gesture was commonly distinguished from a scroll-up gesture by the gesture’s direction.
[…] The skilled person would thus have arrived at the claimed subject-matter without the exercise of inventive skill.
One argument of the appellant was that the use of gestures had several advantages, such as replacing a multitude of clicks and requiring fewer icons to be displayed. The problem to be solved had to be formulated as “modifying the method of document D1 for increasing usability on smaller displays and/or touch screens”. However, the board held that these advantages were among the known and expected advantages of the use of gestures (and indeed are not mentioned in the application as filed) and therefore cannot support an inventive step.
The appellant also argued that the claimed gestures were particularly intuitive. However, also this did not convince the board:
Given the lack of precision in the definition of the claimed gestures (see point 3.5.1 above), the Board is not convinced that the claim encompasses only the use of “intuitive” gestures. In any event, whether or not a particular input gesture or other kind of input mechanism is intuitive to the user is normally a subjective and not a technical matter.
In the end, claim 1 was found to lack an inventive step, and the appeal was dismissed.
You can read the whole decision here: T 1505/17 (Transposition gestures/HUAWEI TECHNOLOGIES)
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.