This decision relates to a European patent directed to a method of monitoring a manufacturing process in a textile plant. In this case, the appellant was the opponent to a European patent. The opposition was rejected at the first instance, but the appellant (opponent) won the appeal proceedings and the European patent was eventually revoked. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1313/17 () of 9.11.2021 by Technical Board of Appeal 3.2.06:

Key takeaways

Despite being non-technical as such, these features could still contribute to the invention’s technical character if they were to form the basis for a further technical use of the outcome of the claimed method

 

The invention

The patent provides a method to optimize a textile manufacturing process (213)  in a textile plant such as a spinning mill is applied when raw material (201) is processed in the manufacturing process in several processing steps (202, 203) into intermediate products and an end product (204) is produced.

Figure 2 of EP 2 352 867

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

E1 was taken as the closest prior art document. The Board considers that claim 1 is novel because E1 does not disclose features A1.4 (second part “linked in an index file”), A1.5, A1.6, A1.7a and A1.7b.

However, according to the Board, the distinguishing features, as compared to E1, are not of a technical nature, nor is a technical use of their results implicitly specified in the claim. Here are more details:

In summary, the subject-matter of claim 1 differs from the method described in E1 in that

– the measured parameters, which are stored in the database (A1.4, first part, known as such from E1, see the reasoning under novelty above, Reasons 2.2.2), are linked in an index file (A1.4, second part), further in that

– the data stored in the database are statistically evaluated (A1.5), and in that

– a parameter of the end product is determined by comparison of the data stored in the database with a predetermined parameter of the raw material (A1.6 and A1.7a), or in that the parameter of the raw material is determined by comparison of the data stored in the database with a predetermined parameter of the end product (A1.6 and A1.7b).

“Although claim 1 defines “a method for optimizing with regard to quality, productivity and/or profitability a manufacturing process in a textile plant”, it does not include a step relating to any such optimisation. By executing the method steps as defined in the claim, a parameter of the end product or of the raw material is determined. The parameter so determined might allow an algorithm (but just as well an experienced user) to select optimal parameters in the production process to achieve a set quality level. In other words, the determined parameter could or could not be used in a subsequent optimisation step by setting production parameters in a real manufacturing process, rendering the optimisation a potential and thus only optional step.

Furthermore, the Board sees the terminology used in features A1.4 to A1.6, relating to a database, an index file and a statistical evaluation, as implying the use of a computer.

The Board thus presently considers that claim 1 does actually not relate to a “method for optimizing […] a manufacturing process” but defines a computer-implemented method for prediction of parameters in the end product or necessary parameters of the raw material.

Using the COMVIK approach, the Board found that the features of the characterising portion of claim 1 are not of a technical nature. Nor do they appear to contribute to the technical character of the invention in the context of the implementation of the data processing. They relate to handling and evaluating the data in order to predict certain parameters on the basis of an empirical model.

Despite being non-technical as such, these features could still contribute to the invention’s technical character (and would thus have to be considered in the assessment of inventive step) if they were to form the basis for a further technical use of the outcome (in the present case: the “determined parameter”) of the claimed method (see G1/19, reasons 137).

As also stated in the same paragraph of G1/19, such further use has to be at least implicitly specified in the claim. This condition is not met if the data resulting from a claimed process has relevant uses other than the use with a technical device (G1/19, reasons 95).

In the present case, the Board presently considers that the potential use of the data stored in the database as well as the parameter determined by comparison of the data stored in the database is not limited to technical purposes. In particular, the determined parameter is not limited to an application in a subsequent optimisation of a manufacturing process in the physical reality. It could just as well be used for educational purposes or form the basis for purely economic considerations, such as the calculation of the costs of manufacture. Any technical effect resulting from applying the determined parameter in a subsequent manufacturing process may therefore be considered as a “downstream” effect which may or may not be caused by said determined parameter (see also G1/19, reasons 96).

Whenever the determined parameter is not subsequently used in connection with a manufacturing process in the physical reality, but used for other purposes as set out above or not used at all (which is considered by the Board to be covered by claim 1), the claimed method will not achieve a technical effect.”

In the end, the Board concluded that the method of claim 1 does not achieve a technical effect and hence does not solve a technical problem over the whole scope of the claim, thereby rendering the claimed method non-inventive. Since the auxiliary requests were also not allowable, the patent was eventually revoked.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1313/17 () of 9.11.2021by Technical Board of Appeal 3.2.06.

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