Case Law Review – T 1577/07

Case:

T_1577/07

Claimed Subject Matter:

Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs).

Differentiating features:

    • Clickable and activatable GUI items are linked to information available on a network, e.g. the World Wide Web.
    • A conflict between several users is solved by a specific rule (like a majority decision, a weighted majority decision or the result of a game, e.g. rock-paper-scissors play, see page 15, lines 11 to 33), instead of a first come first served rule like in the prior art.

Comments:

The rule was deemed to solve “a purely organisational problem, and not a technical one”. As such this distinguishing feature was found not to contribute to an inventive step and the claim was deemed obvious.

In particular, the recognition of the problem as such was found not to involve an inventive step and could not be put into the formulation of the problem without involving inadmissible hindsight.

The examining division did not contest that GUIs can in principle be technical, nor did it argue so. However, the second distinguishing feature is not technical. In principle, a technical solution to a non-technical problem can be inventive. But the solution to this organisational problem in claim 1 is merely described in terms of general functional means directly describing a (non-technical) problem, without any reference to more specific technical means. Hence the claimed generic solution did not contribute to an inventive step.

Case Law Review – T 1741/08

Case:

T 1741/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Graphical user interface (GUI) layout – in particular a method of entering of data into a data processing system.

Claim 1 relates to a method of entering data in a data processing system using a particular GUI. The layout of this GUI comprises two horizontally aligned linear sequences of icons. The second sequence is displayed for a selected icon of the first sequence. The leading icon of the second sequence is vertically aligned with the selected icon of the first sequence. In addition, one or more data entry fields are separately displayed for a selected icon of the second sequence.

Comments:

This case provides useful guidance on the patentability of GUIs, in particular whether lowering the cognitive burden of a user leads to a technical effect. There is useful commentary on many key GUI cases.

The claims differed from the prior art by what was displayed on a screen, i.e. the differences consisted solely of particularities of the GUI layout.

In the decision, the board agreed that a particular interface layout could indeed shorten the searching of an inexperienced user for where or what data to enter where. As a result, less computer resources may be used.

However, this reduction in use was caused by the way the brain of the user perceives and processes the visual information given by a particular way of presenting information. This was deemed to the mental or psychological realm and could not provide a technical effect directly.

The board noted that not everything that supports a technical task has itself a technical character. For example, the advice to have a good night’s rest in order to make searching images more “efficient” would not have technical character. A chain of reasoning that held that the layout produces a psychological effect on the user and the user produces a technical effect on the computer was different from saying that the layout produces a technical effect on the computer.

The board also confirmed that in each of T 643/00, T 928/03 and T 333/95 a specific technical effect had been identified by the boards, which made these cases exceptional. In these exceptional cases, there was something other than the simple choice of what information to display and with what layout to display it, which meant that the displayed information could play a part in the assessment of inventive step.

Case Law Review – T 629/11

Case:

T 629/11

Claimed Subject Matter:

Personalization of data services.

The invention concerns the presentation of information in an Internet browser, and the management of the information and the way it is presented, so as to evoke a desired response in the user.

Comments:

The method as claimed was deemed prima facie not excluded from patentability because it modified “Internet browser pages”.

However, the underlying method was deemed to be a means of manipulating information and its presentation, in order to affect the perceptions or behaviour of users.

As such the underlying method was not technical. Instead, it was more appropriately classified as a form of applied psychology, and the field of application might be, for example, advertising or education. As such, being non-technical, it could not contribute to inventive step. Any remaining technical features related simply to the provision of information on an Internet browser page, which was well-known.

Case Law Review – T 0698/07

Case:

T_0698/07

Claimed Subject Matter:

The differences between the subject-matter of claim 1 and the disclosure of D1 are that the user interface of claim 1 includes information concerning at least two transactions associated with the user, instead of a single one, and that the user interface enables the user to input feedback information for the at least two transactions, instead of enabling the user only to enter feedback for a single transaction.

Comments:

In the board’s judgement, the non-technical features consist in the nature of the data which is stored in the network-based facility (“transactions”), included in the user interface (“transaction information”), and inputted by the user (“feedback information”). These non-technical features relate to the harvesting of feedback pertaining to transactions, representing essentially a commercial objective, therefore relating to unpatentable subject-matter as defined in Article 52(2)(c) EPC. Thus, these features do not contribute to any technical effect. According to the case law of the boards of appeal (see e.g. T 641/00), these features cannot support the presence of inventive step and are therefore to be disregarded in the assessment of inventive step.

The technical effect of these differences is that the user can input feedback information related to two transactions using a single interface.

The technical problem can thus be formulated, based on this technical effect, as how to improve the ease of use for the user of the feedback scheme.

The appellant has mainly argued that the alleged invention is in a technical field and that each step of claim 1 is a technical step and contributes to the solution of a technical problem. The board accepts that the alleged invention is in a technical field and agrees with the definition of the technical problem by the appellant. However in the board’s judgement the technical features of claim 1 do not contribute, in combination, to an inventive step of the subject-matter of claim 1 (see paragraph 3.3 above).