For all readers interested in software patent-related case law, here’s the March’16 roundup:
New EPO software patent case law
Giving nicknames to business contacts: no technical contribution
Case T 2428/11 concerned an examination appeal against the rejection of European patent application No. EP 1 770 625 (“Communicating with business customers”). Claim 1 was essentially directed to a communication system with a communications nickname database associating each of a multiplicity of businesses with its communications nickname.
The idea was to use a single “nickname” for contacting a business via one of a plurality of communication means in that the nickname replaces e.g. the postal address, telephone number, fax number, mobile telephone number, or website address.
Here, the board even mentioned doubts as to the technicality of the claimed subject matter. In any case, the board concluded that none of the features of the claim makes a non-obvious technical contribution over the prior art. In doing so, the board followed the established COMVIK approach which is summarized nicely in the decision:
As set out in decision T 641/00 “Two identities/COMVIK” (OJ EPO 2003, 352), it is only technical features, i.e. those which contribute to the solution of a technical problem by providing a technical effect, that can support the presence of an inventive step. Non-technical features, i.e. those which do not make a technical contribution, may legitimately appear in the formulation of the objective technical problem.
Gaming: Setting game parameters based on slide operations is non-technical
Case T 1385/12 concerned an examination appeal against the rejection of European patent application No. EP 1 671 685 (“Game apparatus, storage medium storing game program, and game control method”). Claim 1 was essentially directed to a game apparatus with a new input mechanism in particular for controlling movement of an object according to the player’s operating position and a slide operation. An object of the invention was to offer the player a new sense of operation and make the game more interesting.
The Board of Appeal addressed the question whether or not the choice of coordinates that determine game parameters is technical or not. The answer was that “whilst claim 1 is not restricted to any particular game, and therefore its subject matter is not founded on any specific game rule, the Board considers that the game developer’s choice of having the y coordinate of the slide start-point set a game parameter used in game processes nevertheless represents a non-technical generic scheme for playing various games. Therefore it is excluded from patentability under Article 52(2)(c) EPC”.
As a result, claim 1 lacked an inventive step since there was no technical contribution over the prior art. Read the full decision here.
Escalator maintenance: Producing a fault log is technical, but obvious
Case T 1746/11 concerned an opposition appeal against the revokation of European Patent No. EP 1 628 899 (“Method and device for the maintenance of a lift or escalator installation”). Claim 1 was directed to a method of maintaining a lift or escalator and included the feature that “fault log with a specification of the ascertained operating faults and the identified components is produced”.
The appellant opponent argued that this feature related merely to the presentation of information which is as such excluded from patentability. The Board of Appeal did not follow this argument but held that the displaying of information about the status of an apparatus is in principle a technical task (citing T 115/85).
Applied to the case at hand, a protocol was generated containing information about the status of the escalator (namely operating faults) and the affected escalator components, which according to the Board constitutes technical information and is based on technical considerations. The feature in question was therefore part of the examination of inventive step, but was eventually considered obvious by the Board. Read the full decision (in German) here.
New German software patent case law
Blocking remote inputs to an electronic control system: probably patentable
Case 17 W (pat) 48/13 concerned an examination appeal against the rejection of German patent application No. DE 10 2005 054 140.2-53 (“Distinguishing between the origins of operating inputs in electronic control systems by means of an associated electronic code”). Claim 1 was essentially directed to a method for distinguishing between inputs in an electronic control system via a local and a remote operating element. The two operating elements are distinguished by electronic codes.
The problem underlying the invention was to provide an electronic control system which can be controlled both locally and remotely via the same user interface and in which security-relevant functions can be blocked if triggered remotely.
The Federal Patent Court held that the method was novel and inventive vis-a-vis the cited prior art. However, since the claim had been amended during the appeal procedure, the case was remitted back to first instance. Read the full decision (in German) here.
Did I miss an interesting decision?
Let me know in the comments below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.