In this decision, the European Patent Office refused an application in the field of augmented reality, because the claimed object detection technique was not sufficiently disclosed. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 0677/17 (Augmented reality, detecting position of apparatus / Sony) of 13.2.2020 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

A European patent application has to disclose the invention so clearly and completely that it can be carried out by a person skilled in the art over essentially the whole scope claimed.

The invention

This European patent application generally relates to apparatuses and a system for presenting an image comprising real space parts and superimposed virtual parts to two users. The positions of the apparatuses used by the users are detected and taken into account.

Fig. 2 of EP 2 352 117
Fig. 2 of EP 2 352 117

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

The board had doubts whether the patent application disclosed the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art. The discussion revolved around the feature in claim 1 of “an other terminal detection unit (158) for detecting the image of the other apparatus (20) included in the real space image and for specifying a spatial coordinate of the other apparatus (20) in the spatial coordinate system based on the real space image”.

According to the board, this unit carries out two functions:

  • (a) detecting the image of the other apparatus included in the real space image; and
  • (b) specifying a spatial coordinate of the other apparatus in the spatial coordinate system based on the real space image.

First of all, the board tried to interpret the technical meaning of these features based on the description:

The real space image referred to is, for example, “a landscape captured by an imaging apparatus” (paragraph 44). In particular, a two-dimensional digital image, as taken by a digital camera, is covered by the claim’s wording.

The description, in paragraph 55, sets out that “[t]he image of the other terminal included in the real space image, for example, can be detected using a well-known image processing means for performing background difference and the like”. Similar wording is repeated in paragraph 82. These passages are the only explanation in the description relating to function (a).

The application does not contain any further explanation of the “background difference” image processing technique. In the field of image processing “background difference” is mostly used for detecting a moving object in a movie sequence. However, the “other terminal detection unit” as claimed does not have a movie sequence at its disposal, but only a real space image. Moreover, the detection of the image of an apparatus included in a real space image presupposes that the detecting unit possesses information about properties of the apparatus to be detected, e.g. size, form, colour, etc., or alternatively about properties of the background included in the real space image. In the board’s view, claim 1 does not specify or limit the properties of the other apparatus or of the background.

As to feature (b), the board notes that clearly the spatial coordinates of the other apparatus can only be specified once the other apparatus has been detected. In this regard, paragraph 55 contains the following explanation:

“the position of the other terminal in the spatial coordinate system, for example, can be specified using a position detection method disclosed in Japanese Unexamined Patent Application Publication No 2006-209334 and the like”.

According to the abstract, this Japanese patent application pertains to the detection of the position of a human person in a two-dimensional image. Paragraph 61 of the description of this publication suggests that another animal or another moving body can be detected too; however no corresponding details are provided. Hence, this published application does not provide an enabling disclosure for feature (a) or (b) over essentially the whole scope claimed.

Also the common general knowledge did not lead to another result:

The board is not aware of any common general knowledge which would enable the skilled person to put into practice the features referred to in section 1.1, in particular in view of the very broad wording “image of the other apparatus”.

At the oral proceedings, the appellant had argued that the line of sight to the other apparatus was known and only the distance from it had to be detected in order to specify the spatial coordinates of the other apparatus. But the board did not follow this argument either:

The board does not accept this argument. As set out above, detecting the image of a not further specified other apparatus in a two-dimensional image taken by one camera is not sufficiently disclosed. Clearly, the image of the other apparatus has to be detected first, before a line of sight can be established.

In the end, the board concluded that the application does not disclose the claimed invention in a sufficiently clear and complete manner, and dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 0677/17 (Augmented reality, detecting position of apparatus / Sony)

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