This decision relates to a European patent application directed to a system for providing information to a user. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1167/19 () of 19.4.2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03:
The invention relates to the display of a large amount of data using “sparklines”. Sparklines are word-sized, minimized graphical diagrams, e.g. column or bar diagrams. The displayed data is grouped initially according to a particular criterion. This criterion can be changed by changing means triggered by triggering means upon activation by the user.
Figure 1 of EP1850280
Here is how the invention was defined in claim 1:
Claim 1 (main request)
System for providing information to a user, said system comprising
a screen for showing the information to the user,
information generating means for generating at least one graphical and/or textual information,
first selecting means for enabling the user to select at least one of said graphical and/or textual information,
first generating means for generating first data which are related to said selected information,
wherein said first data are grouped according to a criterion,
changing means for changing said criterion to at least one further criterion,
and triggering means which are adapted to trigger said changing means upon activation by the user of the system.
Is it patentable?
The Board found that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request differs from a notorious general purpose standard computer only by
– changing means adapted for changing said criterion to at least one further criterion, and
– triggering means which are adapted to trigger said changing means upon activation by the user of the system.
The Board found these features not inventive for the reasons below:
3.5 The Board does not see how these distinguishing features (or more generally, the “specific processing steps” referred to by the appellant) would achieve the technical effect of saving power/reducing the energy consumption of the system and allocating display space with maximum efficiency referred to by the appellant (e.g. grounds of appeal, page 4, first to fifth paragraphs). The submission of the appellant that only the most relevant items of information are displayed and that the same amount of information can be displayed on only one screen where previously two screens would have been necessary (grounds of appeal, page 6, last paragraph to page 7, first paragraph) actually even supports that view of the Board since it makes clear that a cognitive decision is taken which information is relevant and therefore to be displayed, while less relevant information is simply not displayed.
Thus, the distinguishing features/the “specific processing steps” merely allow that a cognitive decision is implemented which information is to be displayed in which manner. They do therefore not contribute to the solution of a technical problem, contrary to the submissions of the appellant.
3.6 The Board notes that the claim, including all processing steps, is formulated in a very broad and abstract manner. Thus, irrespective of whether the processing steps are considered to be technical or not, most of them have been part of the notorious knowledge at the priority date of the application, contrary to the submission of the appellant (grounds of appeal, page 6, fourth paragraph).
Furthermore, the distinguishing features defined above are also formulated in a very broad and abstract manner. For instance, they do not define that the criterion can be changed to the further criterion while the first data is displayed, or if that is the case, that display is changed immediately upon a change of the criterion. Nor is there any indication in the claim about what the criterion might be.
Irrespective thereof, the manner in which data to be displayed is grouped will normally be done depending on the content of the data, i.e. the information to be displayed. In the present case, the information to be displayed is purely business related (for instance, revenues, see page 3, last paragraph of the original application).
That is, neither the content of the data displayed nor the manner in which the displayed data is grouped contributes to the solution of a technical problem.
Hence, the criteria according to which the (non-technical) first data is to be grouped as well as the number of these criteria or the wish to change between different criteria also do not contribute to the solution of a technical problem and will thus normally be given to the technically skilled person as part of the requirement specification.
Consequently, the objective technical problem may be formulated in the present case as how to implement the changing and triggering functions defined in the distinguishing features.
The Board notes that formulating the objective technical problem as being the implementation of a non-technical requirement specification corresponds to the well-known “COMVIK-approach” and the appellant’s submission relating to an ex post facto view does not apply (see point 7. of the “COMVIK“-decision T641/00).
The implementation of the changing and triggering functions, at least at the abstract level claimed of providing corresponding “means for” performing them, would have been a straightforward task for the skilled person.
Therefore, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request is not inventive (Article 52(1) EPC) under Article 56 EPC 1973 in view of a notorious general purpose standard personal computer as set out above combined with common general knowledge.
The auxiliary requests were not admitted. Thus, the European patent application was finally refused.
You can read the whole decision here: decision T 1167/19 () of 19.4.2023 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.4.03.