This decision concerns an European patent application relating to a method for displaying a view. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1803/21 (Grouping of multiple objects/HUAWEI) of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.03.
The invention underlying the present decision provides a method for displaying a view on a terminal device.
Figure 5 of EP3282679
Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (sole request)
Is it patentable?
The examining division found that claim 1 lacks an inventive step over D1 (US 2012/0290984 A1) and thus refused the application.
The applicant appealed but was unable to change the outcome of the case. The Board in charge dismissed the appeal with the following reasonings:
1.1.2 The board agrees with the appellant and the examining division that the subject-matter of claim 1 differs from D1 in features c.), e.) and g.), i.e. grouping is done if the quantity of multiple objects is greater than or equal to a preset threshold – otherwise the method ends – and the multiple sorted objects are grouped according to values of sizes of storage space occupied by the multiple objects if the sorting attribute is the value type, corresponding to a size of occupied storage space.
1.1.3 The appellant submitted that those features had the technical effect of optimising the use of screen space. In particular, feature c.) served this effect by limiting a grouping to cases where a grouping was actually necessary; features e.) and g.) worked towards this effect by grouping the storage space required by the individual entries. All of these features worked towards the joint effect of optimising the use of screen space.
1.1.4 The appellant further commented on the reasons provided in the appealed decision as follows:
(a) In Reasons 22.214.171.124 of the appealed decision, the examining division did not provide any proof or even argumentation for the allegation that the skilled person would realise that, for a very small number of items, it is not beneficial to group them but instead that grouping was a way to provide some order when there are too many objects.
(b) In Reasons 126.96.36.199, the examining division further argued that features e.) and g.) would correspond to a design variation. Especially, the examining division argued that it was well known to use different sorting criteria and mentioned the “Windows Explorer” as a proof for this. First of all, the examining division did not provide a specific example of the “Windows Explorer” predating the priority date of the present application. Also, a specific piece of software could not be considered as proof of the general knowledge of the skilled person. Moreover, the argumentation of the examining division was inherently flawed since the examining division did not show a grouping according to the size of occupied storage space. Such a grouping is completely uncommon and was not found in any version of the “Windows Explorer” according to the knowledge of the applicant.
1.1.5 In response to the board’s preliminary opinion, the appellant added that, by checking whether the number of objects was greater than or equal to the preset threshold, a reduction in the processing burden imposed on the terminal device was achieved. The grouping was only done if the number of objects was greater than or equal to the preset threshold, but otherwise the method was ended. Therefore, a subsequent processing – in the sense of a subsequent grouping – was only done if the number of objects was greater than or equal to the preset threshold. If the number of objects was less than the preset threshold, no further method steps were executed. The grouping method steps were only executed if it was really worth executing those method steps, reducing the processing burden imposed onto the terminal device since, if the number of objects was less than the preset threshold, nothing was done.
1.1.6 These arguments are not convincing. With respect to the purported technical effect of distinguishing features c.), e.) and g.), the board is not persuaded that the grouping of multiple sorted objects according to a user-defined sorting attribute indeed leads to an “optimisation of the screen space” given that:
(a) according to feature i.), the view generated comprises all the group identifiers forming the multiple group identifiers and the multiple objects, and
(b) no indication is given about the graphical representation of objects and group identifiers (e.g. icon size, font size, etc.).
Even if it did, the mere fact of grouping objects in accordance with user-defined sorting attributes – in particular the size of occupied storage space – and associating them with respective group identifiers cannot credibly assist the user in performing a technical task by means of a continued and/or guided human-machine interaction process (cf. e.g. T 336/14, Reasons 1.2.5). Rather, the distinguishing features merely relate to the obvious implementation of a certain type of presentation of information which is merely dictated by (subjective) user preferences. According to the jurisprudence of the Boards of Appeal, such features cannot contribute to a credible technical effect (see e.g. T 1802/13, Reasons 2.1.5).
Finally, the arguments concerning the alleged reduction of the processing burden do not sway the board. In essence, the appellant compares the claimed situation with one where grouping would be done irrespective of the quantity of objects. However, as explained above, the selection of the minimum quantity of the multiple objects – as per feature c.) – is not associated with any quantifiable objective technical assessment but with a (subjective) user preference.
You can read the whole decision here: decision T 1803/21 (Grouping of multiple objects/HUAWEI) of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.03.