The European Patent Office considered several method steps carried out by a building management system to be technical. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 0265/10 of July 5, 2011 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:
The application underlying the present decision relates to a system for monitoring site events at a plurality of buildings. Each building comprises a terminal to which a unique internet address is assigned. Furthermore, the terminals are securely attached to the buildings. This allows transmitting status information to a terminal in a building in response to a user interaction conducted at the terminal.
Due to the unique internet address of the terminals and since the terminals are attached to the buildings, it is ensured that the status information is transmitted to the correct terminal actually located in the intended building. In other words, the system prevents that status information is transmitted to an unintended terminal, e.g. due to a wrongly identified terminal.
Claim 1 (main request)
A building management system for monitoring site events at a plurality of buildings, wherein a site event is an event relating to the status of a building, a building’s visitor or a building’s equipment as reported by a user, the system comprising
a database accessible via the internet;
a plurality of uniquely identified site terminals adapted to access the database by means of web browser software, each terminal having means for enabling a user with access rights to view and enter data online relating to a site event into the database in an interaction;
each site terminal having a pre-loaded unique internet address and being physically secured at the respective building, thereby providing a time/date stamp of said interaction and a site stamp of said user’s location, to identify the building at which the interaction took place, via said unique internet address, such that the database provides current status information including entry records and times and associated information relating to site events for each building.
Is it patentable?
The first instance examining division argued that the claimed subject-matter would involve a plurality of features that merely refer to administrative tasks and thus would lack technical character. Hence, these features were omitted when it came to the assessment of inventive step and the application was rejected, without even considering prior art documents:
4.1 According to the decision under appeal, the subject-matter of claim 1 then on file lacked an inventive step, Article 56 EPC 1973. In substance it was argued that claim 1 involved a number of non-technical features being administrative steps (decision under appeal, reasons 2.2.c)). These administrative steps were taken as starting point for the technically qualified professional to undertake the technical implementation by way of technical means.
The technical character of the claim was considered to reside in that software was running on terminals, data was held in a database, web browser software was running on terminals, and the terminals and database were connected over the internet.
A general purpose networked computer system with these functionalities was so well known before the priority date of the application as considered not to require documentary evidence (cf reasons 2.2.e) and g)).
However, the Board of Appeal in charge took a different view on this point:
Arguably, it would be obvious to a person skilled in the art to implement technically the underlying administrative procedure of monitoring site events reported by a user, by providing site terminals connected via the internet to a central database. As argued by the appellant, however, a particular problem relating to user reported events, as opposed to events reported by automated control systems located in the building, is the credibility of the data provided. In particular, it is perceived to be a problem that eg contractors may pretend to have been present at a particular building at a particular time. The mere technical implementation by providing an internet-based system would in fact open up a number of possibilities of entering data into the system from locations other than those intended, as the true geographical location of the input terminal of the user is generally not considered a relevant factor in the internet.
The application sets out to solve this specific problem and provides a technical solution to it. In particular, by giving each site terminal a pre-loaded unique internet address and physically securing it at a respective building, a time/date stamp of the interaction between the user reporting an event and the database, and a site stamp of the user’s location is provided. This permits identifying the building at which the interaction took place, via said unique internet address, and determining the time/date of the interaction. These measures are not considered part of the straightforward technical implementation of the above non-technical administrative procedure. Accordingly, considered from this perspective, the subject-matter of claim 1 is not obvious to a person skilled in the art.
As a result, the Board considered the claimed subject-matter to be non-obvious and finally granted a patent.
You can read the whole decision here: T 0265/10 of July 5, 2011.
Patrick is a European patent attorney at BARDEHLE PAGENBERG. He specializes in software patents in Europe both from a prosecution and litigation point of view.