T 0737/03 () of 15.2.2007

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2007:T073703.20070215
Date of decision: 15 February 2007
Case number: T 0737/03
Application number: 94309669.3
IPC class: H04N 5/50
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 32.215K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Television channel memory device and channel programming method
Applicant name: LG ELECTRONICS INC.
Opponent name: IGR GmbH & Co. KG.
Board: 3.5.04
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 54
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Novelty (yes)
Inventive step (yes)
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal is against the decision by the opposition division to reject the opposition against European patent No. 0 660 603. The opposition was based inter alia on the ground of lack of inventive step.

II. Claim 1 as granted reads as follows:

"A channel memory method comprising

a first step (101-106) of sequentially inputting a user's desired channel information to a channel table for each channel position, said channel information being a broadcasting station name or a channel number;

a subsequent second step (107,108) of performing a tuning operation;

a subsequent third step (109-116) of comparing the channel information of a tuned channel with said desired channel information, sorting so that the tuned channel is matched with the channel position of the corresponding desired channel information and memorizing (111) the corresponding channel information on the corresponding channel position; and

a subsequent fourth step (117) of displaying sorted channels."

III. In its decision the opposition division held that the claimed subject-matter showed inventive step in view of the following documents, amongst others:

D1: EP 0 467 108 A2

D2: EP 0 486 988 A1

D3: EP 0 561 189 A2

D4: Funkschau 1991, vol. 19, pages 58 to 60.

IV. The opponent appealed, requesting that the patent be revoked in its entirety. In a subsequently filed statement of grounds of appeal the opponent argued essentially that the subject-matter of claim 1 was new, but not inventive, with respect to D1. The apparent simplicity of the claimed solution did not constitute a significant difference to that of D1. The sequential inputting in the first step, for instance using a remote control, was implicit in D1. The program source codes in D1 could be regarded as "broadcasting station names" in the sense of the patent, since they served the same purpose as the broadcasting station names, namely to identify each station, albeit in another "language". In D1 all program source codes in the station location table were compared one after another with the program source codes of the transmitter data table, constituting a comparison of the channel information of a particular channel with the desired channel information. D1 also disclosed displaying the station name after the sorting step. Moreover a user calling up each found channel after having done a search would satisfy the displaying step of claim 1. According to column 1, lines 49 to 58, of D1, if several transmitters were transmitting the same programme source code then only the frequency of the strongest transmitter was stored. The subject-matter of claim 1 only differed from the method disclosed in D1 in two respects. Claim 1 explicitly stated that tuning was performed after the step of inputting the desired channel information and that memorizing the corresponding channel information was done on the corresponding channel position. The difference between the indexing known from D1 and the sorting (and memorizing) specified in claim 1 of the patent was not an inventive one. Regarding the "subsequent second step" of claim 1, the order in which independent pieces of information were entered was trivial. Moreover the claimed order seemed to offer no advantage for the user. The subject-matter of claim 1 also lacked inventive step in view of the combination of D2 with either D3 or D4 and in view of the combination of D1 and D3.

V. In a response dated 15 March 2004 the respondent patentee presented counter-arguments, requested that the appeal be dismissed and made four auxiliary requests, each containing amended claims.

VI. In a letter of 26 October 2006 the appellant submitted a change of name and filed a copy of the corresponding excerpt from the German commercial register.

VII. In an annex to a summons to oral proceedings the board summarized its provisional view on the common ground and stated that the oral proceedings would focus on the inventive step of the claimed subject-matter in view of D1 alone, although D2, D3 and D4 might also be discussed.

VIII. In a letter dated 19 December 2006 the appellant stated that he would not attend the oral proceedings, but maintained the request that the patent be revoked in its entirety.

IX. As announced in advance, the appellant did not attend the oral proceedings held on 15 February 2007. The respondent filed an amended description consisting of pages 1, 2, 3 (including insert A), 3a and 4 to 17, and a new set of claims 1 to 5. The respondent requested that the patent be maintained in amended form on the basis of these documents and drawing sheets 10 to 29 of the patent specification. In the alternative, the respondent requested that the patent be maintained on the basis of the claims of auxiliary requests 1 to 4 filed with the letter dated 15 March 2004.

The respondent argued essentially that, as stated on page 17, last two lines, of the description, the invention was aimed at providing a simple and easy channel memory method. The program source codes in D1 could not be considered as broadcasting station names, since D1 explicitly distinguished between the technical roles of program source codes and broadcasting station names. D1 did not disclose sequentially inputting a user's desired channel information. D1 also did not disclose tuning subsequent to said inputting step. If a tuning operation was carried out before entry of the desired channel information, then this was inconvenient for the user, since it meant waiting for tuning to be completed before entering the desired channel information. If however the user entered the desired channel information first then the procedure was more convenient, since the user could then leave the system to carry out both tuning and sorting. D1 did disclose something similar to a comparison of tuned channel information with desired channel information in the comparison of the program source codes in figures 3 and 5. However D1 disclosed indexing and not the claimed sorting. Indeed sorting would not be possible in D1 in view of a lack of correspondence between the broadcasting station names and the program source codes. Moreover the patent only mentioned sorting, figure 5C of the patent containing an error in the right-hand column where the entries "AFKN" and "MBC" had been erroneously reversed. Furthermore the "channel positions" "CP", shown for example in figure 7C of the patent, were not indices because they never changed. The table in figure 7C contained an error in the right-hand "CP" column in not simply containing the numbers 01 (at the top) to 05 (at the bottom). The sorting described in the patent had a similar result to the indexing known from D1, but was simpler and saved memory, an important consideration at the priority date. In the patent the order of data storage in memory was important. For instance, received stations were stored in tuning order. D1 also did not disclose the display of sorted channels. Indeed, since multiple sweeps were involved, a point was never reached where such display could occur.

X. At the end of the oral proceedings the board announced its decision.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal is admissible.

2. The amendments

Claims 1 to 5 are the same as granted claims 1 to 5, the granted independent apparatus claim 6 having been deleted. The description has been amended to adapt it to the new claims and to acknowledge D1. The amendments consequently satisfy Article 123(2, 3) EPC.

3. The closest prior art

D1 forms the closest prior art on file and concerns a television signal receiver, such as a television or video recorder, capable of receiving a signal from a television "station", in the sense of a content provider. The television signal is transmitted by one or more transmitters, the number possibly varying with time. The receiver is set up primarily by the dealer, although the user can also play a part. The dealer enters data into the name abbreviation table of the receiver; see column 5, lines 22 to 28, and figure 2. The dealer or user sets up a station location table (see figure 5) to contain a programme source code for every station button of the receiver. The receiver carries out a tuning operation to find stations and fill a transmitter data table (see figure 3) including the programme source code contained in each received signal. The station location table is then filled with indices referring to transmitters in the transmitter data table 13; see column 8, line 54, to column 9, line 2. The abbreviated name of a subsequently selected station is displayed; see column 11, lines 1 to 20.

4. Novelty

Claim 1 sets out a sequence of four steps: a first "inputting" step, a second "tuning" step, a third "comparing/sorting/memorizing" step and a fourth "displaying" step.

4.1 The common ground

D1 discloses a channel memory method. Regarding the first step, D1 discloses inputting a user's desired channel information to a channel table for each channel position; see the station location table in figure 5 and column 8, lines 48 to 58. Regarding the second step, D1 discloses a tuning operation (see column 6, lines 22 to 48, and steps s1 to s9 in figure 4). However D1 does not disclose the inputting step coming before the tuning step. Regarding the third step, in D1 the program source codes in the station location table are compared with those in the transmitter data table to fill the right-hand column of the station location table (see step s36 in figure 6 and column 9, lines 38 to 55).

4.2 The contested features

4.2.1 The sequential inputting of a user's desired channel information

The passage in D1 relating to inputting user desired channel information into the station location table makes no explicit mention of how inputting occurs; see column 8, line 48, to column 9, line 2. Although the appellant has speculated as to how this might be carried out, the appellant has provided no evidence that sequential inputting of a user's desired channel information for each channel position is directly and unambiguously derivable from D1.

4.2.2 The programme source codes being broadcasting station names

Claim 1 specifies two alternatives for the channel information: a broadcasting station name or a channel number. According to the description, the broadcasting station name forms part of the transmitted signal, it being in a form understandable to the user, such as "MBC", which stands for the "Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation" in Seoul; see page 5, lines 12 to 17, and page 12, lines 4 to 7. According to the cited passages, "MBC" is broadcast on different channel numbers in different places. Hence the "broadcasting station name" refers to a station in the sense of a content provider, rather than a particular transmitter. The channel number constitutes channel information which can be detected from the decoder as the station name; see page 8, penultimate line, to page 9, line 1. For a given area the channel number identifies a content provider in a similar way to the station name; see page 12, lines 12 to 14, page 14, penultimate line, to page 15, line 1, and figures 13A and 15A.

The programme source codes mentioned in D1 are, like the broadcasting station names mentioned in the patent, a part of the transmitted signal; see D1, column 6, lines 4 to 8. However, as the entries in the transmitter data table in figure 3 of D1 show, the programme source codes in D1 are not always unique identifiers of programme content. It is true that where only one transmitter broadcasts a particular station, such as "3SAT" in the third row of the table, then the programme source code "1D1 07" serves as a unique identifier of programme content. This is the situation relied upon by the appellant for the case where only one transmitter is received for each station. The method known from D1 however distinguishes between source codes and broadcasting station names so that it can cope with the more complicated general case where, as for instance shown in the first row of the transmitter data table, a programme source code such as "1D1 29" corresponds to the content providers "SDR", "SWF" and "BW". Hence, in the context of D1 the programme source codes are not unique identifiers of a programme content provider in a given area and so cannot be considered as "broadcasting station names" nor as "channel numbers". It follows that D1 does not disclose channel information in the meaning of claim 1.

4.2.3 Sorting so that the tuned channel is matched with the channel position of the corresponding desired channel information

The sorting referred to in the patent description on page 5, lines 17 to 19, and page 5, last line, to page 6, line 4, and shown, for instance, in step 112 of figure 4b and in figure 5C is concerned with matching the channel information of stations found during the tuning operation with user-entered channel information to establish a logical relationship between the two, as indicated by the rearrangement of tuned channels (see, for example, figure 5B) into sorted channels (see, for example, figure 5C), before storing the matched data in memory; see page 5, lines 14 to 22. The tables shown, for example, in figures 5B and 5C do not purport to show the physical location of data in the memory, but rather their logical relationship. When understood in this context, the term in claim 1 "sorting" refers to the establishment of a logical ordered relationship between matching entries and thus covers the establishment in D1 of a logical ordered relationship using indices between entries in the transmitter data table and those in the transmitter location table having the same program source code. Hence the board finds that D1 discloses sorting in the meaning of claim 1.

4.2.4 Memorizing the corresponding channel information on the corresponding channel position in the third step

The use in D1 of the line numbers in the transmitter data table as indices in the right-hand column of the station location table (see figure 5 and page 15, line 22, to page 16, line 10) means that in D1 in general a plurality of transmitter indices are stored for each station, the storage location being part of the logical ordered relationship mentioned above. However, since D1 does not disclose channel information in the sense of the patent, it does not disclose memorizing the corresponding channel information on the corresponding channel position.

4.2.5 The fourth step of displaying sorted channels

Although D1 discloses displaying the currently selected station (see steps s57 and s59 in figure 7 and column 11, lines 1 to 20 and 35 to 40) there is no suggestion to display all the stations stored in the station location table, albeit a provisional table on account of stations using different transmitters at different times. It is moreover not directly and unambiguously derivable from D1 that each found station would be called up and thus displayed after a tuning operation. D1 consequently does not disclose displaying sorted channels in the meaning of claim 1.

4.3 Conclusion

The subject-matter of claim 1 is new because D1 does not disclose the following features:

(a) sequentially inputting a user's desired channel information to a channel table for each channel position, said channel information being a broadcasting station name or a channel number;

(b) performing a tuning operation after said inputting step;

(c) comparing the channel information of a tuned channel with said desired channel information;

(d) memorizing the corresponding channel information on the corresponding channel position and

(e) displaying sorted channels.

The board consequently finds that the subject-matter of claim 1 is new, Article 54(1,2) EPC.

5. Inventive step

The difference features set out above in the claimed combination solve the objective technical problem as being derivable from page 17, last two lines, of the description, namely to ease the selection of channels by the user. The problem itself is regarded as a usual matter of design.

The solution lies in the user entering desired channel information before a tuning operation is carried out, this having the advantage of increased user convenience in that the user can first enter the desired channel information and then leave the system to carry out both tuning and sorting. The desired channel information is then memorized, after sorting and matching with the desired channel position, "on the corresponding channel position". A subsequent step of displaying sorted channels completes the sorting and memorizing to confirm whether the channel information is sorted in the user's desired order; see, for instance, page 5, line 1, to page 6, line 5, of the description. Since the user selects the channels he desires, only the desired ones need be searched and matched in the tuning operation and memorized subsequently. Tuning may thus be quick, and memory space is only needed for the selected channels (the remaining channel positions of the memory may however be filled up with non-selected channels; see figures 7C and 11C).

The teaching of D1 goes in a different direction in that it starts with automatic tuning establishing a (complete) transmitter data table (see figure 3, column 9, lines 22 to 29, and figure 4: s21, s27), in a similar way to the prior art indicated in the patent specification. A station location table (figure 5) is then established by storing pointers to rows of the transmitter data table. In this context the user may choose station locations (D1, column 8, line 54, to column 9, line 2). Since D1 is concerned with the problem of sorting out, by repeated tuning operations (D1, column 3, lines 21 to 28), channels with identical program source codes, the board sees no hint in D1 for a person skilled in the art to modify this teaching to start with the sequential inputting of channel information to a desired number of channel positions and then to carry out tuning and memorizing based on this information.

The appellant has not indicated in the appeal proceedings specific passages in either D2, D3 or D4 which would have led a person skilled in the art to the claimed subject-matter in an obvious manner. Having examined these documents, the board finds that they also do not render the method of claim 1 obvious.

The board finds that the subject-matter of claim 1 consequently involves an inventive step, Article 56 EPC.

6. Conclusion

The respondent's main request is allowable because, taking into consideration the amendments made by the proprietor of the patent during the opposition appeal proceedings, the patent and the invention to which it relates meet the requirements of the Convention (Article 102(3) EPC). Consequently the respondent's auxiliary requests need not be considered.

ORDER

For these reasons it is decided that:

1. The contested decision is set aside.

2. The case is remitted to the first instance with the order to maintain the patent as amended in the following version:

Description: pages 1, 2, 3 (including insert A), 3a, 4 to 17, as submitted in the oral proceedings.

Claims: 1 to 5, as submitted in the oral proceedings.

Drawings: sheets 10 to 29 of the patent specification.

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