Posts Tagged ‘Computer Implemented Inventions’

Case:

O/174/14

Claimed Subject Matter:

The alleged invention relates to a computer system and method for executing a point of sale transaction. In particular, the invention provides a point of sale terminal which is capable of receiving first price data from at least one item purchased by a customer and a server which receives both transaction data from the point of sale terminal and second price data pertaining to comparable competitor items from an update server so that the first and second price data can be compared and a voucher issued based on the comparison.

[This appears to be a patent application directed to Sainsbury’s Brand Match feature.]

Comments:

The Hearing Officer found that the actual contribution of the invention related entirely to a method of doing business which, as it was brought about by a computer program, also related to a computer program, as such. The invention was therefore excluded by section 1(2) and the application was refused.

Section 22 shows the risk of using an argument that is not present in the specification; the Hearing Office was sceptical of an argument based around quality control / self-checking that appeared to have little basis in the application as filed. As we have seen with many Europe cases, basing an argument on advantages not described in the patent application rarely succeed.

The Applicant attempted to argue that a technical contribution lay in “the overall architecture of  the computer system with technical components which in themselves are known but connected in a different way” . However, on applying step 3 of the Aerotel/Macrossan test the Hearing Officer was firmly of the view that “the actual contribution relates entirely to a way of conducting business” (see 27). This is because the actual contribution was deemed to be “about: (i) comparing prices, which manifestly is a business issue, and (ii) issuing a voucher with “value” information on it, which is also wholly a business issue”.

Section 29 has useful comments on whether the computer program exclusion is avoided. It was argued that “it is the connectivity of the components of hardware that creates the overall architecture of the invention” and that the computer program “lies in the middle of the system” but does not make up the whole system. This was found to be initially persuasive. However, the Hearing Officer concluded that the ” connectivity is necessarily brought about by a computer program” and that therefore lies “entirely in the programming itself”.

Case:

T 1602/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

A  computer system for managing relationships between brokers and traders in a trading network.

Comments:

The Appellant claimed that the invention solved a technical problem which arose in such systems, namely that a trader could not simply and easily control, i.e. prevent or permit, a computer terminal operated by a broker to send trading commands on behalf of the trader from the computer terminal via the network to the trading system.

The Appeal was dismissed by the Board.

The Board found that the problem formulation only made sense in the context of operations by a (non-technical) “active trader”, these being traders who wish to be able to supervise trade orders given to brokers. It was found that since the trading was computer-based the active trader would need to have access to the broker’s trading system. The skilled person was certainly aware that this made a log-on necessary. Equivalently, if the active trader for some reason was not logged on, the broker should not be allowed to trade. Ideally, the check should be automatic. These straight-forward considerations were deemed to lead directly to the subject-matter of claim 1.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case:

T 1192/10

Claimed Subject Matter:

User interface with gesture recognition.

The subject-matter of claim 1 differed from the disclosure in the closest prior art document in that according to claim 1:

a) warning messages are output to the user instead of having only internal messages between different components,

b) a range of sampling periods, i.e. a period when the button is activated, is supervised,

c) a range of poses indicating ranges of pitch and roll angles of the input device with respect to the bottom plane on which the input device is positioned is supervised and

d) temporary button release when the button is deactivated and re-activated within a predetermined time causes another warning to the user.

Comments:

Feature (a) of outputting warning messages to a user instead of internal messages between different components was deemed to be technical, solving the technical problem of how to provide feedback to the user about internal states or identified conditions of the device, but notoriously known.

However, features (b) of supervising a range of sampling periods and (d) providing temporary de-activation of a button were deemed to be technical features that provided an inventive step over the cited art. This set aside an earlier decision of the examining division.

The examining division had argued that although the actual implementation of the specific validation criteria involved a technically skilled person, the definition of the expected operation (e.g. what motions and durations of the input are expected) was rather business-based, according to the intended purpose of the device and to design choices. This argument was not accepted by the Board who concluded that, whatever the reason for the definition of a gesture might be, the underlying ranges, rolls and angles are of a technical nature.

Case:

T 0913/10

Claimed Subject Matter:

Encrypting data within a database system based on a defined system role (security administrator, database administrator, and user administrator).

Comments:

The case provides an interesting discussion about the term “role”, e.g. as used in a computing sense e.g sysadmin, user, database admin.

The Board concluded that “that nothing in the claims or in the description can dispel the reasonable possibility that the definition of tasks to be distributed over three administrators is merely an organisational and hence non-technical issue, not­withstanding that it relates to a technical entity such as a database system”. The claims were then found to lack an inventive step based on this assumption.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case:

T 1929/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

Server-side web summary generation and presentation.

Claim 1 specified: an Internet Portal, comprising an Internet-connected server and a portal software executing on the server, including a summary software agent, wherein the Portal maintains a list of Internet destinations specific for a subscriber, and the summary software agent accesses the Internet destinations, retrieves information according to pre-programmed criteria, and summarizes the retrieved information for delivery to the subscriber.

Comments:

The underlying idea was to facilitate the life of a user who normally had to provide some personal information for accessing certain web pages. This was deemed at first instance to be a non-technical problem.

The Board agreed with the Appellant that improving the allocation of resources on the Internet and reducing connection time between servers or between a server and a workstation are, in principle, technical problems. However, the Board held that an information service tailored to the needs of a particular user and limited to user-defined Internet destinations is essentially a business scheme. Thus, the mere idea of providing such a service cannot be regarded as a contribution to the solution of a technical problem.

Claim 1 was broad and lacked technical detail on a specific implementation; as such any technical features therein were deemed to be obviously required. The background of the invention was cited to support this point.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case:

T 0218/11

Claimed Subject Matter:

A self-service checkout which solved the problem of the self-service checkout being overly sensitive (or conversely not sensitive enough) to people making mistakes (or conversely, trying to “cheat” the checkout).

Comments:

The Appellant argued that keeping track of customers and tolerating different numbers of errors when using the checkout was itself technical, and that this would form part of the problem for the technically skilled person to solve.

However, the Board concluded that judging whether a customer is trust-worthy and treating them according to that judgement was a non-technical matter. Hence, an underlying idea of recording a level of trust forms part of a requirements specification that is given to the skilled person; the technically skilled person is faced with the task of modifying the self-service checkout terminals so as to keep track of how trusted different customers are, and so as to interrupt transactions earlier for those customers who are less trusted, and later for those that are more trusted.

The features of the claimed solution was thus deemed to either be found in the prior art, be non-technical and thus not contribute to an inventive step, or be technically obvious given the defined technical problem.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case:

T 2216/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

A a system that enabled subscribers of a wireless telecom operator to execute financial transactions with a mobile phone.

Comments:

The system was deemed to mainly relate to an excluded business scheme.

All steps of the underlying business scheme were deemed part of the information provided to the technician in charge of the technical implementation and did not as such contribute to inventive step.

The Appellant argued that the specific transaction platform and client software did not exist in a conventional wireless phone system, and so were out of reach of the normal activity of the person skilled in the art of telephone networks. However, the Board concluded that the person skilled in the art would be able to implement the new system, given the specifications of the underlying business scheme. For example, any extension of the type of financial transactions which can be performed with the account (receive monetary deposits, debit and credit operations) was deemed to be dictated by the underlying business scheme.

[With thanks to Jake Loftus for help finding and reviewing these cases.]

Case:

BL O/244/13

Claimed Subject Matter:

The invention relates to a method of synchronizing data, including representing messages as text or binary property list files (plist). The synchronization protocol provides for exchanges between a client and server in which separate sync modes (e.g. fast, slow, reset) are associated with different dataclasses and the dataclasses can be updated in parallel. This is achieved by proposing and agreeing the sync mode for each dataclass; sending sync-start, syncchanges and finally a sync-commit command between client and server.

Applicant: Apple Inc.

Claim 1 was directed to a server-side method and claim 10 was directed to the sychronization server.

Comments:

The alleged contribution was deemed to be:

Synchronizing data including initiating a sync session by receiving a request comprising a separate proposed sync mode for each of multiple data classes, specifying changes to data of the multiple data classes, using a status code to indicate whether the sync mode for each dataclass is accepted, in accordance with the sync mode for each dataclass, updating the data and selectively committing the changes, which means that a reduced number of messages is required to be transmitted. (Paragraph 23.)

The Hearing Officer deemed that the contribution was not a method for doing business as such:

The synchronised data may be ‘business data’, and the method of synchronising it may be performed in the course of business, but the contribution to data processing is broader, for example including the  provision and processing of sync modes and does not, to my mind, mean that the contribution falls within the category of a method for doing business as such. (Paragraph 25.)

However there was more debate as to whether the contribution was a computer program as such. To determine whether it was, the five signposts from AT&T (paragraph 40) were considered.

The Hearing Officer was not convinced that saving bandwidth by reducing a number of messages was an effect provided by a communication process outside of a computer. Instead, the number of messages was reduced inside the computer. Hence, the first signpost was not satisfied (see paragraph 29).

Reviewing the reasoning in relation to the second signpost, I believe this is most open to counter-argument. In paragraph 31, the Hearing Officer found that the effect was dependent on the type of data being processed: sync mode data. However, he also argued that the contribution was defined in terms of data processing and not the nature of the data being synchronised. In sum, the Hearing Officer is saying that the contribution is dependent on a particular type of control or metadata, but that the data it is applied to can be anything.  The Hearing Officer was of the opinion that this contra-indicates a technical contribution. I could disagree – the same reasoning could also be used to demonstrate compliance with the second signpost.

With regard to the third and fourth signposts the Hearing Officer concluded that the computer implementing the invention was not changed by the invention:

All that has changed is the number and format of the messages transmitted. (Paragraph 36.)

As such the fifth signpost was also answered in the negative. As none of the signposts indicated a technical contribution the Hearing Officer concluded that the invention was a computer program as such and the application was refused.

Without delving into the detailed facts of the case the decision seemed a bit harsh. It appears to follow reasoning similar to Hitachi (T 258/03) and apply it to subject matter that in my mind is more technical. It appears to follow similar recent decisions by the European Boards of Appeal that clamp down on the “relieves bandwidth by reducing messages” argument that is often applied in these cases.

One interesting question to consider is: would the decision have been the same if the independent claims covered a system of two entities, a client and a server? If the answer is yes then this appears unfair to parties that only supply one side of the communicating equipment.

The case does nicely illustrate how the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) evaluates patentable subject-matter. The framework displayed in the decision can be applied to most patentability cases at the UK IPO.

Case:

T 0972/07

Claimed Subject Matter:

System and method of assisting goods collection (e.g.  to salvage the lens in disposable cameras).

Comments:

The appellant argued that the invention related to the recycling of goods, which they believed was technical.

The Board of Appeal disagreed. They argued that the invention was essentially concerned with logistical matters of collecting and distributing goods prior to the recycling process. It is those logistics that had to be examined for technical effect, not the recycling process, which is not claimed. In the present case, those logistics were found to be administrative in nature and lacking in technical character. The remaining technical features were simply well-known computers and databases. Any dependent claims related to improvements to the administrative method rather than the technical features.

This case can be distinguished from T 1411/08 wherein the case was remitted to the department of first instance to perform an additional search on the basis that the Examining Division did not convincingly demonstrate that certain technical features were “notorious”

Case:

T 907/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

Valuation of a futures contract.

The application relates to data processing systems and methods for assessing the failure risk of a bundle of constructs that may individually fail. A resource amount is determined so as to counterbalance the failure risk when it is transferred. The risk assuming entity receives the resource amount.

Comments:

The claimed system is defined functionally in terms of means for storing and processing spread values and for continuously calculating a resource amount which reflects a value of a futures contract (which is based on a basket of credit default swaps). The claim is not limited to a technical field of application; on the contrary, its final paragraph emphasises a commercial goal.

The Board does not see any technical effect in knowing the resource amount or failure risk of a bundle of credit default swaps. The overall effect of the claimed system is that a mental, mathematical, commercial or administrative result is provided: What premium does the owner of the bundle have to offer so that another market participant is willing to take over the failure risk of the bundle?