This decision relates to a European patent application that concerns an electronic device with a touch-sensitive display surface to detect gestures and provide tactile output and forgoing tactile feedback when making a zoom gesture. The Board agreed with the applicant that forgoing tactile feedback and providing selective haptic feedback improves the operations and feedback provided during interaction with the device is a technical problem. Since tactile feedback would potentially interfere with the user’s ability to make an ongoing zoom input gesture and be disturbing, forgoing tactile feedback when making a zoom gesture is a plausible advantage. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1645/19 (Selective haptic feedback/APPLE) of January 26, 2022 of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05:

Key takeaways

Improving the operations and feedback provided during interaction with the device is a technical problem.

Forgoing tactile feedback when making a zoom gesture is advantageous, since tactile feedback would potentially interfere with the user’s ability to make an ongoing zoom input gesture and be disturbing.

Cherry-picking different aspects of cited document for a combination that is not disclosed and for which there is no pointer would be based on hindsight knowledge of the invention.

The invention

The invention relates to an electronic device with a touch-sensitive display surface to detect gestures and provide tactile output.

Many electronic devices provide a form of confirmation to a user in response to an event being triggered by a user action. However, this confirmation or feedback can be distracting or confusing to a user when it occurs in response to inputs that do not correspond to the feedback.

For instance, the user may be confused between tactile feedback provided with the single contact (such as for selection) and a multitouch contact (such as for pinch zoom input).

The invention provides a more convenient and intuitive interface by generating a tactile output in response to detecting a gesture that includes a first number of contacts (e.g., one contact) and forgoing generating the tactile output if the gesture includes a second number of contacts (e.g., two or more contacts).

Fig. 17F of WO 2014/105275 A1

  • Claim 1 of the Main Request

Is it patentable?

The first-instance Examining Division decided that the subject-matter of claim 1 lacked inventive step starting from the disclosure of D1: EP 2 375 314. The Board identified the distinguishing features as follows:

2.2 D1 does not disclose the following features of claim 1:

– the device performs an operation in response to detecting a gesture including two contacts and including an increase of intensity of a contact above the threshold for triggering an event,

– this operation consists in reducing the size of an object displayed in accordance with the gesture, and

– for this two-contact gesture, generation of tactile output is forgone.

The technical effect of these distinguishing features is that an operation of zoom-out is enabled by a two-contact gesture, without any tactile feedback.

The objective technical problem can thus be formulated as how to improve the operations and feedback provided during interaction with the device.

In the preliminary opinion, the Board indicated that the features were not inventive as the cited document D1 provided a threshold for providing feedback. Therefore, the combination of detection and forgoing feedback were obvious. Furthermore, the advantages were said to be heavily dependent on the skills of the user.

However, during the Oral Proceedings, the applicant overcame these objections by arguing that cherry-picking different embodiments were in hindsight of the invention and the Board agreed that the advantages were plausible:

2.3 At the priority date of the present application in 2012, the skilled person was aware that touch-screen devices able to detect multi-touch gestures, i.e. multi-finger contacts, such as the device of D1, could be adapted to detect the so-called “pinch-to-zoom” gesture. It was thus common ground in the oral proceedings that applying to the device of D1 recognition of the pinch-to-zoom gesture and its associated functionality did not contribute to an inventive step.

However, only in one passage does D1 disclose forgoing tactile feedback when an operation is performed after a touch (see paragraph [0057]. In that case, a lower touch threshold and an upper touch threshold are defined for a location, and a touch having an intensity between the lower and the upper touch thresholds results in the operation of highlighting a selection option, but without tactile feedback. The teaching of paragraph [0057] therefore implies that for a one-contact gesture, the performing of an operation may occur with tactile feedback. However, claim 1 specifies that for all the locations on the touch screen the same intensity threshold, i.e. force threshold, triggers an event both in the case of a one-contact and in the case of a two-contact gesture, whereas tactile feedback is always generated in the case of a one-contact gesture. Thus, nothing in the teaching of D1 in paragraph [0057] provides any hint to the skilled person of implementing the forgoing of tactile feedback only in the case of a two-contact gesture as defined in claim 1.

Furthermore, D1 discloses in paragraphs [0033] and [0043] the forgoing of tactile feedback in case of a multi-contact gesture, but only on the assumption that this gesture was made inadvertently and is therefore not to trigger any operation. Thus, the teaching of D1 in paragraphs [0033] and [0043] does not provide any hint to the skilled person of implementing the forgoing of tactile feedback in the case of a two-contact gesture triggering an operation, as defined in claim 1.

Moreover, even if paragraph [0042] of D1 were interpreted as meaning that a touch force threshold may depend on the number of simultaneous touches, i.e. that a force threshold for a two-contact gesture could be made different from a force threshold for a one-contact gesture, this passage of D1 would not provide the skilled person with any hint with respect to forgoing tactile feedback depending on the number of touches.

Furthermore, the board agrees with the appellant that cherry-picking different aspects of D1 for a combination that is not disclosed and for which there is no pointer in D1 – namely implementing a touch threshold for generating tactile feedback – and then choosing a number of contacts as the basis for the threshold even when a gesture is positively identified and a subsequent action taken would be based on hindsight knowledge of the invention.

The appellant also plausibly argued that forgoing tactile feedback when making a zoom gesture, as defined in claim 1, is advantageous, since the user might exceed the contact intensity threshold at any point during the zoom operation. In that case, tactile feedback would potentially interfere with the user’s ability to make an ongoing zoom input gesture and be disturbing. Moreover, forgoing tactile feedback in such circumstances will also help to save battery charge for portable electronic devices.

Therefore, the subject-matter of the claims was considered to involve an inventive step, and the appeal is allowed with an order to grant a patent.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1645/19 (Selective haptic feedback/APPLE) of January 26, 2022 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.05

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