This decision concerns an appeal by an opponent against the maintenance of the patent relating to detecting vehicles and their number plates which are in violation of traffic regulations. The Board agreed with the Patentee that the technical effect provides completely reliable and correct detection of violations (in particular with regard to false alarms) and thus solves a technical problem of how to ensure that the generation concerns the vehicle with the detected licence plate. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 2218/19 (A SYSTEM FOR DETECTING VEHICLES / Kria) of March 30, 2022, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05.
The invention relates to detecting vehicles and their number plates which are in violation of traffic regulations. There is a need for reliably detecting traffic violations and producing clear documentation with the license plate number.
The invention uses two video cameras having different characteristics. A first camera and the corresponding software detects a number plate in a certain position in the video image. As a consequence of this detection, a possible vehicle is detected in the corresponding position in the video image from a second camera.
Claim 1 of Auxiliary Request 2 (as maintained by the Opposition Division)
A system to detect the transit of vehicles (V) having license plates (T), the system comprising:
– at least one video camera (12) to detect license plates capable of framing the license plates of said vehicles and of generating a corresponding video signal,
– a processing module chain (100-106) sensitive to said video signal to perform license-plate recognition processing on said video signal,
– at least one further video camera (14) to detect vehicles capable of framing a zone (C) of transit of said vehicles (V) having license plates and of generating a respective corresponding video signal, and
– a respective chain of processing modules (200-206) sensitive to the video signal generated by the one further video camera (14) to perform on said respective video signal vehicle tracking processing to detect the position and three-dimensional shape of vehicles in transit in said zone,
characterised in that said processing module chain (100-106) includes a test module (102) to detect the presence of a vehicle (V) in transit by performing a test as to whether an image of a license plate persists on a series of images (T1, …, Tn) of the video signal generated by the one video camera (12), and a plate tracking module (104) which is activated by said test module (102) when said test has positive outcome,
wherein the system includes a supervisor module (300) that aggregates the results of said license-plate- recognition processing modules (100-106) and said vehicle-tracking processing modules (200-206) to generate information records (304) each identifying the transit modality in said zone (C) of a vehicle (V) identified by a given license plate tracked and recognised by said chain of processing (100-106) wherein:
– said respective chain of processing (200-206) sensitive to said respective video signal is configured to perform on said respective video signal processing of the Structure From Motion or SFM type, and
– said processing module chain (100-106) detects a license plate in a certain position on said image, and in consequence thereof the SFM module activates generation of a possible vehicle in the corresponding position on the image of the further video camera (14).
Is it patentable?
The Opposition Division agreed with the Patentee and maintained the claims in amended form. However, the Opponent appealed against the decision of the Opposition Division alleging that the subject-matter of the claim lacks inventive step starting from document D6 (WO 93/19441). The Board agreed with the two distinguishing features as follows:
4.1 It is common ground that document D6 forms a suitable starting point for the inventive-step analysis and that D6 does not disclose the following two features of claim 1:
CF6.2.1|”said respective chain of processing (200-206) sensitive to said respective video signal is configured to perform on said respective video signal processing of the Structure From Motion or SFM type” |
CF6.2.2|”said processing module chain (100-106) detects a license plate in a certain position on said image, and in consequence thereof the SFM module activates generation of a possible vehicle in the corresponding position on the image of the further video camera (14)”|
The Board then agreed with the Opponent that these two features do not provide a combined technical effect and since the distinguishing features solved partial problems, it was admissible to consider them individually for the assessment of the inventive step. Although the first distinguishing feature was considered obvious for a skilled person, the second distinguishing feature (CF 6.2.2) was instrumental in deciding in favour of the patentee.
4.2.9 Feature CF6.2.2 includes two aspects:
(a) in consequence of a licence plate detection, the SFM module activates generation of a possible vehicle
(b) the licence plate is detected at a certain position in an image, and the generation concerns a vehicle in the corresponding position in the image of the further camera
4.2.10 During the discussion at the oral proceedings, the appellant disagreed with the preliminary opinion of the board set out in its communication in accordance with Article 15(1) RPBA 2020, according to which the feature of claim 1 labelled CF6.2.2 in this communication included two aspects labelled (a) and (b).
In the board’s view, the two aspects (a) and (b) fully correspond to feature CF6.2.2 as claimed.
The appellant argued that the aspects (a) and (b) were “switched”. This argument is not convincing. The labels do not imply any sequence. Rather, both aspects concern detection and generation.
4.2.11 Aspect (b) ensures that the generation concerns the vehicle with the detected licence plate. The objective technical problem solved by feature CF6.2.2 may then be worded as “how to ensure that the generation concerns the vehicle with the detected licence plate“. This problem is related to the problem suggested by the respondent (see point 4.2.7 above) and to the object of the invention mentioned on page 4, lines 27 to 30 of the description, i.e. that the detection system is “completely reliable in terms of correct detection of violations (in particular with regard to false alarms)“.
Thus, the problem formulation submitted by the appellant (point 4.2.6(b) above) is not accepted.
The Board then disagreed with the Opponent that the second distinguishing feature was obvious:
4.3.2 Regarding feature CF6.2.2, the board agrees with the appellant that the skilled person would make use of the technology generally available in 2006, such as better cameras (than the ones available at the date of publication of D6, i.e. 1992), faster computers and more powerful OCR programs. Doing so would not, however, result in feature CF6.2.2.
4.3.3 The appellant argued that when the skilled person implemented the SFM function for D6’s camera 6 (feature CF6.2.1), they would notice that camera 6 would become too slow to be able to trigger camera 8. Thus, the skilled person would swap the trigger sequence, i.e. it would let camera 8 trigger camera 6.
This argument is not convincing. First, the skilled person would not use the SFM function in D6’s system if this function created such a timing problem. Second, even if the person skilled in the art used SFM despite this problem, there is no indication in the prior-art documents at hand that they would swap the trigger sequence. Third, even if the trigger sequence were swapped, the skilled person would not find any information or suggestions in the prior art regarding the consideration of the positions in the images in feature CF6.2.2.
4.3.7 The argument that changing the triggering sequence was an easy task for the skilled person and that only two possibilities were present is not convincing. A mere change of the triggering sequence does not lead to feature CF6.2.2.
4.3.8 The appellant stated that feature CF6.2.2 related to a non-technical forensic problem. The board disagrees. The problem set out in point 4.2.11 above is clearly technical.
4.4 In view of the above observations, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the auxiliary request 2 involves an inventive step within the meaning of Article 56 EPC.
Therefore, the Board agreed that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the auxiliary request 2 involves an inventive step, and the patent as maintained by the opposition division was inventive.
You can read the full decision here: T 2218/19 (A SYSTEM FOR DETECTING VEHICLES / Kria) of March 30, 2022, of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05