Case Law Review – T 972/07

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 Law Review – T 907/09

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?

Case Law Review – T 1261/08

Case:

T 1261/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Electronic trading – system for settling over the counter trades.

Whether a trade will be settled bilaterally or through clearing depends on the preferences of the party to accept the offer. If the party making the offer has bilateral trading closed with a particular counterparty and the counterparty does not permit cleared trading of the product, the product will show up as red on the trading screen. If trading is possible, the product offer will show up as white. The colour coding acts as a means for indicating whether trading is possible while preserving the parties’ anonymity.

Comments:

The Board confirmed that business aspects of an electronic exchange, such as parties’ trading preferences, do not constitute a technical contribution and, thus, do not enter into the examination for an inventive step.

However, displaying data indicative of the availability or unavailability of a computer-implemented function may be considered as a technical feature independent of any cognitive or aesthetic aspect of its presentation and independent of any business aspect of the underlying computer-implemented function. The technical character of the implementation of such an indication is not wiped out by its commercial goal.

Despite this, a feature of binary colour coding, as found in the claim in question was, in the technical context of user terminals, a notorious way of indicating the availability or unavailability of a computer-implemented function. In addition, there could be an argument that it related to a presentation of information as such.

The appellant also made reference to a granted case in the field of transaction data processing. The Board dismissed this – a granted patent is not a case law precedent and so should not be commented on or compared with the case in question.

Case Law Review – T 0042/10

Case:

T 0042/10

Claimed Subject Matter:

Determining relative skills of players (Microsoft).

The invention models performance by way of probability distributions and factor graphs.

Comments:

This case is interesting as  the Board of Appeal make reference to Gale’s Application [1991] RPC 305, a UK Court of Appeal case that considered an improved method of evaluating a square root. The Board took a similar approach to Lord Justice Nicholls in the UK case, asking: 1) what does the method as a whole do, and does it produce an overall technical result? And 2) if there is no overall technical result, does the method at least have a technical effect within the computer? If both questions are answered in the negative, no technical problem has been solved and there can be no inventive step. Using this analysis the Board concluded that certain features were not technical and that representing performance by probability distributions and using factor graphs were mathematical methods or abstract computer science concepts. As such there was no inventive step.


The Board came to a similar decision in T 1281/10, a related case. There it was found that “Bayesian learning” would be part of a non-technical method the skilled person would be required to automate.

Case Law Review – T 1954/08

Case:

T 1954/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Predicting marketing campaigns using customer-specific response probabilities and response values (SAP).

The application seeks to improve on iterative algorithms which have been used to find a global maximum of a goal value of an envisaged marketing campaign. The iteration represents a “simulation” of the marketing campaign.

 Comments:

The use of computers for automation purposes is technical but commonplace.

A mathematical algorithm may become a technical means, i.e. it may go beyond a mere mathematical contribution, if it serves a technical purpose (T 1227/05-points 3.1 / 3.2).

Anticipating a maximum revenue or profit value of a marketing campaign is a commercial rather than a technical purpose. Therefore, the iterative mathematical algorithm of claim 1 remains a mere mathematical contribution which does not enter into the examination for an inventive step.

The Board agrees that the mathematical algorithm is not provided by the business manager who is only interested in an economic forecast on which he can base his decision for a marketing campaign.

However, the Board does not agree with the appellant’s conclusion that the algorithm is provided by the implementing programmer. In the absence of a technical overall effect and purpose, the algorithm is provided by a mathematician for mathematical and ultimately commercial purposes. Mathematical definitions do not become technical by defining commercial relationships.

In T 1227/05, point 3.2.5 it was held that processing speed was not a suitable criterion for distinguishing between technical and non-technical method steps since it was always possible to conceive of a slower algorithm than the one claimed. Similarly, the sole amount of memory a computer-implemented algorithm requires is equally unsuitable for determining whether or not a method step contributes to the solution of a technical problem since it is always possible to imagine an algorithm demanding more memory. Furthermore, whether or not an algorithm is similar to what a human being would do may play a role for the examination for inventive step, but this examination presupposes that the technicality of the feature has been established.

The Board concludes that the claimed method does not involve an inventive step over a general computerised method for processing data according to any existing mathematical algorithm and, thus, does not meet the requirements of inventive step.

Case Law Review – T 2464/09

Case:

T_2464/09

Claimed Subject Matter:

A system for automatically managing workflow, comprising:

    • a first computer arranged to receive an originating job request and job instructions from an authorized user, and to generate a job packet associated with-a digital file, wherein the digital file represents job input from the authorized user, and
    • a second computer for processing said job packet;

characterised in that the first computer is arranged to interpret said job instructions to provide in the job packet a job record that includes a set of computer-readable job processing requirements and the second computer is arranged to read and analyze the job processing requirements, to maintain respective scribe data for each of a plurality of scribes, the scribe data including a respective schedule data associated with each scribe and indicating when the respective scribe is to be available to work, and to automatically forward job step data to a remote computer associated with a selected scribe based on the corresponding schedule data.

Comments:

Underlying the system defined in claim 1 is a method of allocating work to workers.

A manager receives a job specification from a client and uses it to generate a “job packet” which he passes on to another manager. The second manager maintains data, including schedules, about “scribes” and forwards the job packet, or part of it, to particular scribes on the basis of their schedules. There is nothing technical in the underlying method.

It would have been obvious to the skilled person, seeking to automate that method, to use a network of computers. Once it had been decided to use such a network, it would have followed directly that the “job packet” would be associated with a digital file, that the data would be maintained on the second computer, which takes the role of the second manager, and that forwarding would be automatic.

The appellant has argued that account must be taken of the state of technology in 1998, without knowledge of the developments which have taken place since. The Board accepts that, but notes that the use of a network of computers in similar systems was known in 1998. D1 provides an example. The argument above relies only on the obviousness of using a network of computers, and not on any technical details beyond the abilities to store, process and communicate data.

Case Law Review – T 2090/08

Case:

T_2090/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Method and system for transferring or returning unused digital rights.

The independent claims of the main request differ from the disclosure of the prior art (D1) by the following features:

    1. The procedure according to D1 requires manual user intervention to store the licence on a floppy disk and to install it on the second device, whereas the transfer procedure according to the claimed invention is automatic and runs under the control of the server. More specifically, the claimed procedure involves a request message from the first terminal to the server, identifying inter alia the second machine to which the rights object is to be transferred, and a response message from the server to the first terminal after succesful transfer of the rights object.
    2. The system of D1 does not provide the first device with selection options when the transfer fails.
    3. D1 does not disclose that a revoked license, i.e. the rights object, is deleted from the first terminal, let alone in response to a response message indicating successful transfer of the license.

Comments:

In the board’s judgment, differences 1)-3) solve the following problems:

    1. Difference 1) makes the relicensing procedure of D1 more convenient for the end user by avoiding the need for a manual transfer of the license.
    2. Difference 2) handles the possible failure of the relicensing procedure at the second terminal.
    3. Difference 3) saves storage on the first machine by deleting a revoked license. The board considers that these problems arise naturally in the context of D1.

The board considers it obvious to provide a protocol according to which the first end user’s machine and the license clearing house, i.e. the server, communicate using a “request message” which, inter alia, identifies the “second machine” to the license clearing house, and wherein a “response message” is used which acknowledges this request to the first machine and confirms successful receipt of the license.

The problem to contain, control or reduce storage consumption is one that, in the board’s view, a person skilled in software development is always aware of. The board therefore deems obvious the idea that any unused data object – such as, in D1, a revoked license – should, at some point, be deleted from the end user’s machine. It is also obvious for the skilled person that the unused data object can be deleted as soon as possible or at later point in time. In order to choose between these alternatives the skilled person would have to assess the circumstances and weigh the requirements against each other, including, e.g., whether storage consumption is critical and whether it is likely that a deleted object may be needed again later (see point 5 above). In the board’s view, the skilled person would make this assessment and choice as a matter of routine and with out exercising an inventive step.

Case Law Review – T 0702/08

Case:

T_0702/08

Claimed Subject Matter:

Process Monitoring.

The claim referred generally to “process objects” and “task objects”.

Comments:

On the facts the Board considered the term “object” to have a broad meaning encompassing the general concept of a “goal” or “objective” at an administrative management level; there was no unambiguous correlation between the described (business and process) “objects” and object-oriented programming. This suggests that a specific technical mapping between abstract concepts and their technical implementation needs to be set out in any description.

Case Law Review – T 1992/07

Case:

T_1992/07

Claimed Subject Matter:

Filtering of market information, wherein the filtering was used to provide a real-time trading status update.

In particular, a processor-implemented method of filtering market data generated at a market place, for providing real-time trading status information, the method comprising:

    • providing (620) a plurality of listings (222), each listing associated with a corresponding market place and traded at the associated market place;
    • providing (640) a set of filter criteria (224) suitable for filtering market data to determine the trading status information;
    • receiving (650) market data for at least one listing of the plurality of listings associated with a specific market place;
    • filtering (660) the received market data in accordance with the set of filter criteria to determine in real-time, whether trading of the at least one listing has been suspended or resumed at the specific market place; and
    • providing (680), in real-time, the status information (226) indicating whether trading of the at least one listing has been suspended or resumed at the specific market place.

Comments:

In this case, the data, processing and modified output data were considered to be “non-technical”; in particular, they were deemed to relate to financial and/or administrative aspects. The problem was thus deemed to be how to implement these non-technical aspects and the solution was deemed to be trivial. Even though the claim had a step of “filtering”, this did not relate to any technical process.

Data are “filtered” according to criteria (neither the filtering operations nor the criteria are well-defined in the claims), and as a consequence of the processing the received market data is broadcasted, but with supplemental information. This processing cannot be deducted alone from the wording of the claims, but corresponds to the description, p 4, penultimate para.. As the result of the processing is the provision/broadcasting of modified market data, this processing is considered essentially non-technical.

The processing as claimed also has an essentially non-technical aim, namely to assess and disseminate information about the trading status at market places of a plurality of listings. Following T 641/00, the objective technical problem can be formulated as finding a technical implementation of a system that achieves the non technical purpose (task) of assessing and disseminating information about trading statuses of a plurality of listings at market places.

In the Board’s view, the invention carries out non-technical (financial/administrative) processing on non-technical (financial) data. Since, according to the established jurisprudence of the Boards of Appeal, these features cannot contribute to inventive step, the problem boils down to how to implement these aspects. As effectively established by the division, the implementation specified in the claim amounts to no more than the use of a conventional computer system, to receive, process and generate the desired data. This cannot involve an inventive step either.

The appellant argues that the step of filtering is technical because it is carried out by a processor. However, in the Board’s view this only establishes that the processor is a technical implementation, not that the filtering relates to any technical process. Similarly, the appellant discusses the technicality of a memory device and storing filter criteria. However, as the appellant admits these features are not claimed. The appellant also discusses the features of providing data, receiving data and providing real time status information. However, as with the filtering feature, this discussion attempts to establish an overall technical effect by virtue of the intrinsic technical nature of the implementation. As stated above, the only technical features of the solution are the use of a processor to receive, process and generate data. The prior art shows that these are conventional.

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.