This decision relates to opposition proceedings against a European patent in the field of 3D Printing. The patent was maintained as amended according to auxiliary request VII based on the interlocutory decision of the opposition division. However, the Board of Appeal (Board 3.2.05) eventually revoked the patent.
Here are practical takeaways from the decision T 0225/19 () of 17.10.2022:
The invention relates to a method for producing a three-dimensional component by a laser melting process, in which the component is produced by successive solidification of individual layers of building material solidifiable by the action of radiation by melting the building material. In addition, the invention also relates to a device for carrying out this method and to the use of a visualisation device for the two-dimensional or multi-dimensional representation of component regions of components produced generatively by the action of radiation on powder-like building material with regard to their component quality.
Figure 2 of EP2598313
Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request = auxiliary request VII of the opposition proceedings, added numbering of the features)
[1.1] Process for producing a three-dimensional component (1) by means of a laser melting process,
[1.2] in which the component (1) is formed by successive hardening of individual layers of building material (4) that can be hardened by the action of radiation (3) by melting the building material (4),
[1.3] wherein the melting area (5) generated by a point-shaped and/or line-shaped energy input is detected by a sensor device (6, 11, 12, 18) and sensor values for evaluating a component quality are derived [sic] therefrom,
[1.4] the sensor values recorded for evaluating the component quality being stored together with the coordinate values locating the sensor values in the component (1) and
[1.5] by means of a visualization device (29) in a two-dimensional and/or multi-dimensional [sic] representation in relation to their detection location in the component (1),
[1.6] wherein the coordinates of the sensor values are assigned via scanner data.
Claim 1 (original version in German)
[1.1] Verfahren zum Herstellen eines dreidimensionalen Bauteils (1) durch ein Laserschmelzverfahren,
[1.2] bei welchem das Bauteil (1) durch aufeinanderfolgendes Verfestigen einzelner Schichten aus durch Einwirkung einer Strahlung (3) verfestigbarem Baumaterial (4) durch Aufschmelzen des Baumaterials (4) erfolgt,
[1.3] wobei der durch einen punkt- und/oder linienförmigen Energieeintrag erzeugte Schmelzbereich (5) durch eine Sensorvorrichtung (6, 11, 12, 18) erfasst wird und daraus Sensorwerte zur Evaluierung einer Bauteilqualität hergleitet [sic] werden,
[1.4] wobei die zur Evaluierung der Bauteilqualität erfassten Sensorwerte zusammen mit den die Sensor-Werte im Bauteil (1) lokalisierenden Koordinatenwerten abgespeichert und
[1.5] mittels einer Visualisierungseinrichtung (29) in zwei- und/oder mehrdimensionalen [sic] Darstellung bezogen auf ihren Erfassungsort im Bauteil (1) dargestellt werden,
[1.6] wobei eine Koordinatenzuordnung der Sensorwerte über Scannerdaten erfolgt.
Is it patentable?
The Board found that the subject-matter of claim 1 differs from the method known from document E1.3 by features 1.4 to 1.6.
However, feature 1.5 was found non-technical and was not taken into consideration for inventive step:
13.4 According to the decisions T 336/14 and T 1802/13 mentioned by the respondent in this context, when assessing the technical character of a feature relating to cognitive content displayed to the user of a graphical user interface, the main points to be clarified are clarifications whether the user interface and the way in which the cognitive content is presented credibly support the user in the execution of a technical task through constant and guided human-machine interaction (T 336/14, reasons for decision 1.2.4; T 1802/13, reasons for decision 2.1 .5). The technical effect is deemed to have been credibly achieved if the user’s support in performing the technical task is objective, reliable and causally linked to the feature. However, the present case does not deal with user interfaces. The representation of the sensor values only serves to evaluate the component quality (see feature 1.3 and paragraphs , ,  of the patent). There is no indication that the viewer of the two-dimensional or three-dimensional image uses the knowledge gained from it in a targeted and uninterrupted manner to adjust the process parameters. Therefore, the decisions mentioned cannot support the Respondents’ point of view. It cannot be seen that the viewer of the two- or three-dimensional image purposefully and continuously uses the knowledge gained from this to adapt the process parameters. Therefore, the decisions mentioned cannot support the Respondents’ point of view. It cannot be seen that the viewer of the two- or three-dimensional image purposefully and continuously uses the knowledge gained from this to adapt the process parameters. Therefore, the decisions mentioned cannot support the Respondents’ point of view.
13.5 For these reasons, no technical effect can be ascribed to the feature that the sensor values are “displayed in [a] two-dimensional and/or multi-dimensional representation in relation to their detection location in the component”, so that it is not taken into account in the examination of inventive step (cf. the Comvik approach based on decision T 641/00; OJ EPO 2003, 352).
Hence, the Board found that the relevant distinguishing features are as follows:
– “[1.4] wherein the sensor values recorded to evaluate the component quality [are] stored together with the coordinate values locating the sensor values in the component (1) and”
– “[1.6] wherein the coordinates of the sensor values are assigned via scanner data”.
In the end, the Board stated that it was obvious to the person skilled in the art, based on document E1.3, to assign the coordinate values of the individual scanning locations available for controlling the scanner to the sensor values recorded at these locations and thus to determine the position of the sensor values in the component in a two- or three-dimensional representation. The solution according to features 1.4 and 1.6 is therefore suggested starting from document E1.3, taking into account general knowledge.
Consequently, the subject-matter of claim 1 was found not to involve an inventive step within the meaning of Article 56 EPC. The auxiliary requests could not remedy this negative decision. Thus, the European patent was finally revoked.
You can read the whole decision here: decision T 0225/19 () of 17.10.2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.2.05.