In this decision, the European Patent Office considered features that enable a user of a touch screen device to efficiently select a text portion as technical, but obvious in view of the prior art. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2741/16 (Haptic feedback assisted text manipulation / Immersion) of 28.11.2019 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

Enabling a user of a touch screen device to efficiently select a text portion: technical

The invention

This European patent application generally relates to user interface techniques, and particularliy to a device with a touch screen that provides tactile feedback when it senses a touch by a user’s finger. The addressed problem is to support the user as he or she manipulates text.

The solution as claimed provides for adapting the type of tactile feedback to the type of manipulation and to specific touch gestures.

Fig 3 of EP 2 461 228
Fig 3 of EP 2 461 228

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

The board of appeal used a document as closest prior art which discloses a device with a touch screen. The device is adapted to provide tactile feedback in different situations. The appellant had argued that this prior art did not anticipate the claimed feature of “as the finger slides across the dynamically generated text, different haptic events are generated”, and argued why this was non-obvious.

However, the board of appeal did not agree to the appellant’s analysis and took the view that the alleged difference was already disclosed in the prior art. As the only difference, the board identified the feature that “the user’s finger is being slid across the dynamically generated text and the corresponding portion of the text is highlighted”.

But this difference was found to be obvious by the board:

The technical effect of distinguishing feature (m1) is that the user is enabled to efficiently select a text portion.

The objective technical problem is considered to be how to enable the user to efficiently select a text portion.

Faced with this problem, the person skilled in the art would consider, based on his or her common general knowledge, that by dragging a selection cursor on a touch screen text can be selected and highlighted.

Similarly, document D1, which falls within the same technical field and discloses techniques for selecting information on a touch screen, discloses selecting and highlighting a region of text by a proximity-drag touch operation (Figures 45 and 46, paragraph 201). In this regard, the appellant confirmed (page 4, last paragraph of the statement of grounds) that document D1 discloses that “text may also (be) directly selected by sliding the finger over the text”.

Consequently, to solve the problem posed, the person skilled in the art would modify the teaching of document D2 by providing a possibility for the user to slide his or her finger across the text and thereby highlight the corresponding text’s portion. Moreover, the different haptic events of document D2 would clearly result as the finger slide across the text. In this way, the skilled person would arrive at the subject-matter of claim 1 in an obvious manner.

What is interesting about this decision is that enabling the user to efficiently select a text portion was accepted as a technical problem without any discussion. Accordingly, innovative user interface control mechanisms can indeed be patented, if they are non-obvious.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2741/16 (Haptic feedback assisted text manipulation / Immersion)

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