The European Patent Office considered text classification non-technical. Here are the practical takeaways from the decision T 1316/09 () of 18.12.2012 of Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.01:

Key takeaways

Text classification per se does not serve any technical purpose.

The technical effect of a feature must be sufficiently substantiated.

The invention

The application underlying the present decision relates to a method and a system for suggesting automated responses to an incoming electronic message based on content analysis and categorisation (cf. EP 1 587 004 A1, paras. [0002]-[0003]). A classifier uses query-based classification in combination with example-based classification to classify the content of an incoming message (cf. EP 1 587 004 A1, paras. [0004]).

Fig. 2A of EP 1 587 004 A1

  • Claim 1 (main request)

Is it patentable?

In the course of the examination procedure, the examining division inter alia raised objections concerning inventive step. At the end of the examination phase, the application was rejected. During the appeal proceedings, the appellant argued that the objective technical problem underlying the present application could be formulated as “how to more efficiently and effectively provide a response to an incoming message”. However, the Board in charge was of the opinion that the appellant failed to substantiate why the claimed method and system increases efficiency with respect to providing responses to messages:

4. (…) Firstly, the alleged effects are speculative, considering that nothing in the claimed invention prevents the intersection of the categories provided by a query and by the example-based algorithm being empty and hence that the claimed method is a complete failure. Even more importantly, the appellant did not provide any substantive reason why a more efficient and better categorisation of the informational content of an IEM qualifies as a technical effect at all and why such an advancement over the prior art has technical character.

More importantly, the Board in charge outlined that the inventive solution of the objective technical problem must be based on the technical features of the invention as claimed:

4. A decisive factor in any assessment of inventive step is the objective technical problem underlying the invention. The inventive solution of the objective technical problem must be based on the technical features of the invention as claimed. Text classification per se, however, does not serve any technical purpose. Neither does the combination of different methods of text categorisation per se provide any relevant technical effect that could form a valid basis for defining the objective technical problem. (…)

Hence, all claim features relating to the text classification aspects were ignored for the assessment of inventive step. As a result, the Board in charge concluded that the claimed subject-matter is rendered-obvious by the cited prior art and therefore dismissed the appeal.

More information

You can read the whole decision here: T 1316/09 () of 18.12.2012.

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