T 1816/07 (Integrating semantic web/SAP) of 13.11.2012

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2012:T181607.20121113
Date of decision: 13 November 2012
Case number: T 1816/07
Application number: 04030451.1
IPC class: G06F 17/30
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 237.587K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: A method and a system for integrating semantic web services into a existing web service infrastructure
Applicant name: SAP AG
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.01
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step - integrating semantic web services into existing web (No)


Cited decisions:
Citing decisions:

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. This appeal is against the decision of the examining division to refuse the European patent application No. 04030451.1. It concerns integrating semantic web searches (based on frameworks that incorporate the meaning of the data) into the existing (non-semantic) web service infrastructure.

II. The examining division decided according to the state of the file based essentially on the annex to the summons to oral proceedings. In the annex they had inter alia raised the objection that claim 1 was not clear (Article 84 EPC) and did not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC 1973). They argued that the skilled person would have considered applying the teaching of the IBM disclosure entitled "Method of enabling automated invocation of web services" (D1) to semantic web services. The remaining differences of listing the selected services, executing the services in the form of a script and calling a mediation service were considered to be matters of common knowledge or routine design procedure.

III. In the statement of grounds of appeal, the appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of the refused claims, dated 30 August 2006. The appellant argued that various aspects of the semantic web were clear since they were well known inter alia from the article by McIlraith S.A. et al.: "Semantic Web Services", IEEE Intelligent Systems. Special Issue on the Semantic Web. 16(2):46--53, March/April, 2001. The appellant stated that the term "mediation unit" was described in the article by Fensel D. et al.: "The Web Service Modeling Framework WSMF", Electronic Commerce: Research and Applications, 1 (2002) and thus generally known for a person skilled in the art.

IV. In its communication, the Board tended to agree with the examining division's reasoning starting from D1. The Board also stated that it appeared that all the claimed features were in fact known from the McIlraith and Fensel articles that the appellant had filed with the grounds of appeal. In a response, the appellant filed further arguments in connection with D1. In a further letter, the representative notified the Board that the appellant had decided not to attend the oral proceedings.

V. At the oral proceedings, which took place in the appellant's absence, the Board discussed the above mentioned request. At the end of the oral proceedings, the Chairman announced the BoardÂ’s decision.

VI. Claim 1 of the main request reads as follows:

"A method for integrating semantic web services of a semantic web service environment into at least one existing web service infrastructure with an execution environment (10) by placing a proxy component (20) specialized in achieving a specific predefined goal and having access to a pool of semantic web services between the execution environment of the existing web service infrastructure and the semantic web services (30), wherein the execution environment (10) invoking the proxy component (20) instead of a real web service can utilize semantic web services, wherein the proxy component (20)

selects services among the semantic web services by invoking a discovery unit of the semantic web service environment, listing the selected services in a list and calculating conformance of the selected services with predefined selection criteria,

composes an executable service from the selected services stored within the list,

executes the executable service by first invoking a mediation unit of the semantic web service environment for matching with different formats and processes of the selected services before invoking a service as part of the composed service and

returns the result of the service execution to the execution environment (10)"

Reasons for the Decision

1. The application explains that there are two possibilities for existing web services to evolve into semantic web services: either the current services are replaced, or they are augmented with semantic technology [10]. The application chooses the latter route so that companies can keep their existing infrastructure [11].

2. Looking at Figure 1, the solution is to provide a proxy component 20 between the existing web service environment 10 and the semantic web service environment 30. The execution environment calls the proxy component with a "goal" (e.g. book trip) instead of the actual web services themselves and the proxy finds the appropriate service(s), which is thus transparent to the? calling environment [end of 45]. The selection unit 21 in the proxy breaks the goal down into any necessary "sub-goals", (e.g. "book flight", "book hotel") and invokes the "Discovery" service 31 of the semantic web to find relevant services for each sub-goal. The selection unit then selects the returned discovered services [46]. A composition unit 22 formulates an executable command to invoke the services. This may be in the form of a script, i.e. program. This is run in an execution unit 23, which essentially calls the web services required to achieve the goal from the available services 33. The execution unit 23 also calls the "Mediation" service 32 provided by the semantic web. This basically matches the data formats (e.g. date format) and processes between different services so that the output of one can be fed into another. Finally, the execution unit returns the result to the execution environment 10 that called the proxy [47].

3. In its communication, the Board pointed out that in arguing that the claims were clear, the appellant had effectively conceded that most of the features and services of the semantic web were in fact known or implied at the priority date of the application.

4. In particular, the McIlraith article from 2001 describes, at pages 48 to 49, DAML markup for Web service discovery, composition and execution and gives an example at page 52 of using an agent to make a travel arrangement. Apart from the fact that, as stated by the appellant, a "proxy component" is generally well known, the Board considers that this agent is "specialized in achieving a specific predefined goal", namely making the travel arrangement, as claimed and the Board sees no reason why it could not be set such a goal in the context of an "existing web service infrastructure" as also claimed. Thus the subject-matter of claim 1 differs from this system by the provision of a mediation service. This solves the problem of matching the formats between the different services, as stated in the application [47].

5. The Fensel article from 2002 states at page 28, lines 13 to 17 that such a DAML system lacks a mediation service, but concludes at lines 32 to 34 that a web service modelling framework could extend it to provide one as described in that document. In the Board's view, the skilled person would inevitably recognise the problem of differing formats in the known system. Searching for a solution he would be led to the mediation unit in the DAML system as suggested by Fensel and thus arrive at the method of claim 1. The appellant did not advance any reason why this would not be the case.

6. Essentially all of the appellant's arguments are aimed at explaining the difference between semantic web services and "normal" web services in connection with the D1 argument. However, these arguments are moot in the light of the fact that all the claimed features of the semantic web services were known.

7. Accordingly the Board judges that claim 1 of the sole request does not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC 1973), so that the appeal must be dismissed.


For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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