In this decision, the European Patent Office did not grant a patent on the concept of a three-dimensional motion graphical user interface. Here are the practical takeaways of the decision T 2371/17 (Animated 3D-GUI/SAMSUNG) of 7.7.2020 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

Guiding a user’s eyes by certain graphical projection effects only relies on the user’s preferences and thus cannot confer a technical character to the projection effects.

The property that a time delay to move the eyes is “comfortable” or not for a user is heavily dependent on the user’s preferences and cannot be related to a technical effect.

The invention

This European patent application relates to a three-dimensional motion graphical user interface (MGUI).

Compared to conventional two-dimensional GUIs, which are flat and static, three-dimensional GUIs are multi-level and dynamic, according to the application. When communicating information to a user, the three-dimensional GUI is advantageous in that it is more visual and pleasing to the user. However, occasionally, a two-dimensional GUI is said to be more effective than a three-dimensional GUI. For example, in the case of text, a larger amount of information can be communicated in a two-dimensional plane, and it is easier for the user to read information using the two-dimensional GUI.

According to the patent application, in the conventional three-dimensional user interface, three-dimensional information and two-dimensional information cannot be displayed such that the three-dimensional information and the two-dimensional information can be dynamically associated with each other.

The application formulates its aim as to provide a three-dimensional motion graphical user interface capable of effectively displaying information and pleasing to a user and an apparatus and a method of providing the same.

Fig. 6a of EP 1 780 632
Fig. 6a of EP 1 780 632

Here is how the invention is defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it technical?

The first-instance examining division had refused the patent application based on lack of inventive step.

The board of appeal based its inventive-step assessment on a document that describes a graphical user interface which displays headlines of news stories on a polyhedral graphical object. By clicking on one of the faces of the polyhedral object, the corresponding news story is displayed in full in a pop-up window under the corresponding headline.

Claim 1 essentially differed from this prior art by displaying second information on a projected surface using projection effects. Here is how the board considered this difference:

With respect to the other features of claim 1, the board agrees with the findings of the examining division that the identified distinguishing feature of displaying the second information on a projected surface using projection effects represents a mere presentation of information. An association between the first and second displayed information, as claimed, is achieved in D3 by having the same headline displayed on the selected face of the polyhedral object and in the pop-up window, which can both be viewed by the user.

It thus remained to be seen whether the projection effects achieved a technical effect over the prior art:

All the effects that the appellant considers to be achieved by the projection effects actually rely on the user’s preferences and do not contribute to any technical effect and/or are already achieved by the method of D3. In particular, guiding the user’s eyes from the selected face to the projected surface, as well as a one-to-one correspondence, is clearly achieved in D3 when the large pop-up window having the same headline (72, Figure 9) appears above the polyhedral object (60, Figure 9) showing the selected face in a prominent position. A definitive advantage of the eye guiding provided by the projection effects over the eye guiding achieved by D3 could only rely on the user’s preferences and thus cannot confer a technical character to the projection effects. The appellant has further argued that using projection effects would save space on the projected surface and thus enable this surface to display more second information, in contrast to the pop-up window in D3 that must display the headline in addition to the second information. However, in the board’s view, the projection effects themselves take up space on the display and thus limit the size of the projected surface and by consequence the display space dedicated to the second information.

Therefore, claim 1 of the main request was found not to involve an inventive step.

Concerning auxiliary request II, the appellant argued that the projection effects provide a small time delay which provides the user with a comfortable amount of time to move their eyes from focusing on the polyhedron object to focusing on the second information on the projected surface. However, the board noted:

The board first notes that no such time delay is defined in claim 1 or even mentioned in the description. Second, the property that a time delay to move the eyes is “comfortable” or not for a user is heavily dependent on the user’s preferences and cannot be related to a technical effect.

In auxiliary request V, the appellant tried to define an animation on the graphical user interface upon the user selecting a face of the polyhedral object. Also this did not convince the board:

The board agrees in substance with the examining division that the effects of this animation are of an aesthetic nature and relate to psychological and cognitive aspects of the human user such that the animation features do in fact merely represent a presentation of information. Moreover, opening a face of a three-dimensional icon is a well-known feature in the field of graphical user interfaces, as illustrated by D4 (see Figures 9A and 9B). The appellant has argued that a technical effect of this animation is to better attract the visual attention of the user. In the board’s view, this effect depends mainly on the user’s preferences and does not represent a technical effect on which an inventive step argument can be based.

In the end, none of the requests were found to involve a non-obvious technical contribution, and thus the appeal was dismissed.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 2371/17 (Animated 3D-GUI/SAMSUNG) of 7.7.2020

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