This decision is interesting in that the distinguishing feature was found not to provide a technical contribution mainly because of the reasons for using the feature disclosed in the application. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1865/17 (Generating two-dimensional visual objects/GMC SOFTWARE) of 4.12.2020 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.07:

Key takeaways

If the reasons for not supporting a font in a terminal are licensing issues, i.e. non-technical commercial reasons, the aim to overcome such licensing issues may be added as a constraint to the objective technical problem.

The invention

This European patent application concerns a method for generating two-dimensional visual objects, e.g. graphical objects or characters.

According to the background described in the application, many companies often design their own fonts to ensure their visual appearance is consistent and uniform. These fonts are typically protected under intellectual property laws and may only be used by a third party with explicit permission or licence from the proprietor. However, it is not practical to provide communication terminals or browsers with permissions, or licences to use the company’s proprietary fonts or other visual objects. Nor is it desirable to store all these fonts on mobile communication terminals.

The general idea of the invention is that, when a user types a character sequence, it is initially displayed with a locally available font. After a certain duration of time, the display is refreshed using a second, enhanced visual representation (e.g. based on a server font) and the cursor is positioned to allow the user to continue typing:

Fig. 6 of EP 2 367 118
Fig. 6 of EP 2 367 118

Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

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

On the appeal stage, the board of appeal  started its inventive-step assessment based on document D1. D1 discloses the handling of large character sets in devices with memories too small to store the complete character set. When a character not stored in the device is required, a placeholder character is displayed instead, and the missing character is requested from a server where the complete character set is stored. Upon receipt of the missing character from the server, the displayed placeholder character is replaced with the correct character.

The invention thus differed from the closest prior art in that:

  • F1: the first visual representation has a one-to-one correspondence to the data entry
  • F2: positioning a cursor, based on the character metrics data associated with the second visual representation of the characters, to a position that enables continuation of data entry by the user

The applicant essentially argued that features F1 and F2 synergistically yielded the technical effect of ensuring immediate readability during continuous, uninterrupted data entry and thus supported a continuous human-machine interaction within the meaning of T 336/14 of 2 September 2015. Features F1 and F2 ensured that the readability was immediate and uninterrupted, respectively.

However, the board did not see any synergistic effect:

The board does not recognise the alleged synergistic effect of distinguishing features F1 and F2. Rather, the board agrees with the examining division that, when compared to the unreadable placeholders used in the method of document D1, feature F1 has the effect of an immediate readability. The board also agrees with the examining division that the positioning of the cursor according to feature F2 has the effect of enabling continued data entry after overwriting the first visual representation with the second. The effect of feature F2 is independent of the effect of feature F1, as the need to position the cursor after overwriting the first visual representation with the second is not dependent on displaying, as first visual representation, characters (in a substitute font) or placeholders.

Concerning feature F1, the board concurred with the examining division. Since D1 disclosed that placeholders for unavailable characters is unsatisfactory, the skilled person would prefer to use characters of a locally available font over unreadable placeholders, even if this font is not the desired font.

Moreover, the board also took the motivation for using a local font into account, and found that the motivation was rather non-technical:

In this context, the board observes that according to the description, page 4, lines 3 to 5, the reasons for not supporting a font in the terminal may be licensing issues, i.e. non-technical commercial reasons. The aim to overcome such licensing issues may thus be added as a constraint to the objective technical problem (see decision T 641/00, Two identities/COMVIK, OJ EPO 2003, 352), and the appellant agreed. In view of this non-technical motivation to avoid licensing issues, the skilled person would have replaced the placeholders as disclosed in document D1 with characters in a substitute font available locally when a character could not be rendered in a desired font by the communication terminal. Hence, the board is not convinced by the appellant’s argument that the skilled person starting from document D1 had no motivation to search for a solution different from using unreadable placeholders.

Also the second distinguishing feature F2 did not rescue the appellant’s case:

Regarding feature F2, the board also agrees with the examining division that the skilled person carrying out the method of document D1 was directly confronted with the problem of how to move the cursor to an appropriate display position after replacing the placeholder characters, since users would find it inconvenient to manually position the cursor after the placeholder characters were replaced with the characters in the desired font. Since any cursor positioning in a displayed text needs to be based on character metrics, the skilled person would obviously have used the character metrics, which were received from the server when downloading font information, for determining the correct position.

Furthermore, a correct positioning of the cursor was standard practice and notoriously known at the priority date. In particular, in the context of continuous text data entry, a correct positioning of a cursor implied (and still does) that the cursor is positioned behind the visual representation of the character sequence already entered in a way supporting continued entry of a sequence of characters forming text. Consequently, the skilled person would have implemented a correct positioning of a cursor without exercising inventive skill.

Therefore, the main request was found to lack an inventive step. Also the other requests did not succeed, so that the appeal was dismissed in the end.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1865/17 (Generating two-dimensional visual objects/GMC SOFTWARE) of 4.12.2020

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