Case Law Review – T 2217/08

Case:

T 2217/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Detection of files that do not contain executable code (Microsoft).

The claim was found to differ from the prior art by the fact that:

a. parsing comprises the step of parsing said input file with all the component parsers, said parsing continuing even if a component parser has already recognized said file format;

b. the compound parser is configured to allow extension by addition of a new component parser to the compound parser, the new component parser recognizing a further file format and recognizing executable code within the further file format and

c. the input file is stored only if no executable code has been found.

Comments:

The Board of Appeal debated whether a step of “parsing” per se had technical character. They concluded that it did not necessarily rely on technical considerations or have technical effects – i.e. it may lack a technical character in certain cases.

In the case in question the appellant added a concrete step of “storing” based on the output of the “parsing” step. The Board of Appeal concluded that the storage of a file was a technical step that provided a further technical effect. This could then lend technical character to the preceding “parsing” step.

Case Law Review – T 0844/09

Case:

T_0844/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

A computer-implemented method of operating a verification system (100) for verifying details of transactions drawn upon a financial account and a user’s authorization to use the financial account, the method comprising:

    • receiving from a user, at a user interface (102), information identifying (204) a financial account which the user desires to use, before the user may initiate an online transaction using the financial account;
    • generating (208) a series of verifying transactions involving the financial account, with selected details of the transactions not being known to the user;
    • initiating (210) the series of verifying transactions from a transaction processor (106);
    • storing in storage means within the verification system a first set of details of said series of verifying transactions;
    • receiving (216) from the user, at the user interface, a test set of details, to include specified details of evidence of the verifying transactions retrieved by the user from his or her financial account;
    • comparing (218) said test set of details to said first set of details; and
    • if said test set of details matches said first set of details, authorizing (220) the user to conduct online transactions using the financial account.

Comments:

Claim 1 concerns a computer-implemented method of operating a verification system for verifying details of transactions drawn upon a financial account and a user’s authorization to use the financial account. It thus relates to the field of schemes, rules and methods for doing business, which shall not be regarded as inventions pursuant to Article 52(2)(c) EPC. The corresponding features in claim 1 are deemed to be non-technical. The method of claim 1 is, however, defined to be computer-implemented and thus involves a computer as technical means, with a transaction processor, storage means and a user interface. The corresponding features in claim 1 are technical. Claim 1, thus, contains both non-technical and technical features and has technical character as a whole. Accordingly, the subject-matter of claim 1 is not a scheme, rule or method for doing business as such. The patentability of the subject-matter of claim 1 is, therefore, not considered to be excluded under Article 52(2) and (3) EPC (cf T 258/03 (OJ EPO 2004, 575), reasons 3 and 4).

Although verifying a user’s authorization to use a financial account may in certain cases involve an administrative procedure lacking technical character, this is not considered to be the case for the subject-matter of claim 1.

The verification of the user’s authorization to use a financial account in the present case, in particular the recognition that the retrieval by the user of transaction details offers a convenient and secure channel for forwarding transaction authentication information to the user, and the realization that “verifying” transactions can be generated and initiated to contain the transaction authentication information, relies on a technical understanding of the operation of the transaction system and its respective components and, thus, lies within the scope of a technically qualified person working in the field of computer-implemented online financial transaction systems and notably entrusted with the security aspects thereof.

Neither the business professional nor the administrative professional would, in the board’s judgement, be qualified and indeed able to devise any of these ideas as they lie outside their areas of competence.

Accordingly, the above consideration relating to the verification of the user’s authorization to use a financial account cannot be included in the formulation of the technical problem, contrary to what is essentially argued in the decision under appeal applying the principles of decision T 641/00 (cf above).

Still, the remaining features of claim 1 relating to a financial transaction refer to an aim to be achieved in the field of schemes, rules and methods of doing business, deemed to be non-technical, which may legitimately appear in the formulation of the problem (following T 641/00 above).

The appellant argued that since the user had to obtain transaction details online relating to a previous or test transaction, effectively he had to pass two levels of verification in order to use an account.

This argument is, however, not convincing. In conventional online-banking systems, involving the use of lists of Transaction Authentication Numbers (TAN) provided to the user like in D3, the user gains online access to a bank account via an internet site of his bank, typically by entering the bank account number and a password, thereby passing a first level verification. At this point, the user has eg direct access to his financial statements or can initiate a fund transfer for which a TAN will be needed. In the case envisaged in the application and covered by claim 1 where the transaction authenticator in the form of a set of details of evidence of a verifying transaction is available through online access to the financial statement of the bank account, a fraudulent user will, thus, have unrestricted access to the transaction authenticator. Accordingly, no second level verification needs to be passed in this case.

The objective problem to be solved relative to document D3, accordingly, is to provide transaction authenticators to the user in an alternative manner.

The claimed solution consists in:
– generating (208) a series of verifying transactions involving the financial account, with selected details of the transactions not being known to the user;
– initiating (210) the series of verifying transactions from a transaction processor (106);
– storing in storage means within the verification system a first set of details of said series of verifying transactions;
– receiving (216) from the user, at the user interface, a test set of details, to include specified details of evidence of the verifying transactions retrieved by the user from his or her financial account;
– comparing (218) said test set of details to said first set of details; and
– if said test set of details matches said first set of details, authorizing (220) the user to conduct online transactions using the financial account.

This solution is not rendered obvious by document D3.

Case Law Review – T 505/09

Case:

T_0505/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

System, method, and computer program product for identifying code development errors.

Comments:

The invention related to a method for identifying defective program code. In this case, the board considered the extent of the common general knowledge. While certain testing techniques were agreed to form part of the common general knowledge, the board directed that further, and preferably written, evidence was required to demonstrate that certain knowledge was also well known in the specific field of software testing and debugging.

Case Law Review – T 1893/08

Case:

T 1893/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

A compiler system.

The subject-matter of claim 1 differs from the disclosure of the prior art in the following features:

    • information on data definitions is in the form of a common language file represented in a different language to first and second source code languages;
    • the first source language has an import statement that imports a common language file; and
    • as part of said examination, determining if the statement is an import statement related to the common language file and, if so, reading the common language file into a symbol table by parsing the common language file and adding type and method information in metadata in the common language file to the symbol table.

Comments:

This case demonstrates that features of a compiler system may be seen as technical features. Information on data definitions was provided in the form of a common language file represented in a different language to first and second languages for compilation. The first language had an “import” statement that imported the common language file.

The board concluded that these features did provide an inventive step when compared to the cited art. In particular, the board considered that the cited art suggested a particular solution that differed from the claimed solution; as such the skilled person had no motivation to introduce the novel compiler features.

Case Law Review – T 1769/10

Case:

T_1769/10

Claimed Subject Matter:

Internet remote game server.

The gaming of the prior art did not include:

    • a plurality of “game outcome servers” in which a “player management server” is physically separate and remotely located from the “game outcome servers” by network infrastructure;
    • a “game outcome server” that is not allowed direct access to the player database;
    • a player that may navigate to each “game outcome server” through a game access interface offering game links to game outcome server-supported games at the “game outcome servers”;
    • a game access interface that is supported by the “player management server” and displayable by the identified client device; and
    • player navigation that arises without the player having to register or log-on into the game outcome servers.

Comments:

It was concluded by the Board of Appeal that improving a player’s access to games and maintaining confidentiality of the player’s data in the player database were requirements to be met. In particular, a suitable technical problem was: how to improve the player’s access to games while maintaining confidentiality of the player’s data in the player database in terms of a technical solution using technical means.

The technical solution involving technical means as claimed was essentially determined to be letting the server for maintaining the player database communicate with a plurality of game outcome servers, with respective, different games. The server for maintaining the player database was arranged to be physically separate and located remote from the game outcome servers. The game outcome servers were not allowed direct access to the player database, such that confidentiality of the player database was maintained. Player access was improved by letting the player navigate to each game outcome server through a game access interface offering game links to game outcome server-supported games at the game outcome servers through a game access interface supported by the player management server and displayable by the identified client device and without the player having to register or log-on into the game outcome servers.

In the prior art the “player management server” did not communicate with a plurality of “game outcome servers”, nor did it support a game access interface accessible by the player offering game links to game outcome server-supported games at the game outcome servers, without the player having to register or log-on into the game outcome servers. In the prior art, the “player management server” merely maintained the player database and the server has direct access to the player database. Accordingly, the above technical solution involving technical means as claimed was not rendered obvious by the prior art.

Case Law Review – T 1227/05

Case:

T_1227/05

Claimed Subject Matter:

The purpose of the application is to simulate or model the performance of a circuit under the influence of a 1/f noise, i.e. a stochastic process with a frequency spectrum whose intensity is inversely proportional to a power beta of the frequency. The process describes the time dynamics of a physical variable, e.g. electric voltage.

The solution is based on the notion that 1/f noise can be simulated by feeding suitable random numbers into the circuit model. The application derives the numbers from a Gaussian stochastic process BFBM (fractional Brownian motion as a function of time) whose derivative is known to have a 1/f spectrum. The BFBM process and its derivative are characterised in particular by a covariance function and a covariance matrix.

The invention generates a covariance matrix which features the same simple elements as the covariance matrix (equation 2.7) of the derivative of the fractional Brownian motion. A triangular (Cholesky) decomposition of the generated covariance matrix is multiplied by a vector x of random numbers having a Gaussian distribution. Due to the design of the covariance matrix, the resultant random number sequence y forms a 1/f noise source.

Comments:

The board held that specific technical applications of computer-implemented simulation methods are themselves to be regarded as modern technical methods which can form an essential part of the fabrication process and precede actual production of a product. Such simulation methods cannot be denied a technical effect merely on the grounds that they do not yet incorporate the physical end product.

The take-away point is that if a simulation is clearly and specifically limited to a narrow technical field (and particular technical features within that field) it is more likely to be found to be technical it itself.

While the invention may be preceded by a mental or mathematical act, the claimed result must not be equated with this act. The present claims relate to a simulation method that cannot be performed by purely mental or mathematical means, not to the thought process that led to that simulation method.

Simulation performs technical functions typical of modern engineering work. It provides for realistic prediction of the performance of a designed circuit and thereby ideally allows it to be developed so accurately that a prototype’s chances of success can be assessed before it is built. The technical significance of this result increases with the speed of the simulation method, as this enables a wide range of designs to be virtually tested and examined for suitability before the expensive circuit fabrication process starts.

Without technical support, advance testing of a complex circuit and/or qualified selection from many designs would not be possible, or at least not in reasonable time. Thus computer-implemented simulation methods for virtual trials are a practical and practice-oriented part of the electrical engineer’s toolkit. What makes them so important is that as a rule there is no purely mathematical, theoretical or mental method that would provide complete and/or fast prediction of circuit performance under noise influences.

For example, specific technical applications of computer-implemented simulation methods are themselves to be regarded as modern technical methods which form an essential part of the fabrication process and precede actual production, mostly as an intermediate step. In view of this development it must be assumed that the outlay for implementing a technical product will increasingly shift to the numerical simulation phase, while final implementation of the simulation result in the actual manufacture of the product will entail no or only comparatively little extra innovation effort. In that light, such simulation methods cannot be denied a technical effect merely on the ground that they do not yet incorporate the physical end product.

A further fundamental change is to be found in the fact that development and production are increasingly separated, materially and geographically, in a globally distributed industry. In that light, too, the board considers specific patent protection to be appropriate for numerical development tools designed for a technical purpose.