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T 1272/08 (Configurable processor architecture/IMAGINATION) of 24.2.2012

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2012:T127208.20120224
Date of decision: 24 February 2012
Case number: T 1272/08
Application number: 03775521.2
IPC class: G06F 9/318
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 28.404K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: A configurable processor architecture
Applicant name: Imagination Technologies Limited
Imagination Technologies Limited
Home Park Estate
Kings Langley
Hertfordshire WD4 8LZ (GB)
Opponent name: Robson, Aidan John
Reddie & Grose
16 Theobalds Road
London WC1X 8PL (GB)
Decision under appeal:
Decision of the Examining Division of the European Patent Office posted 7 February 2008 refusing European patent application No. 03775521.2 pursuant to Article 97(2) EPC.
Composition of the Board:
Board: 3.5.06
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 123(2)
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 84
Keywords: Clarity - no
Added subject matter - yes
Inventive step - no
Case Number: T 1272/08 - 3.5.06
of the Technical Board of Appeal 3.5.06
of 24 February 2012


Cited decisions:
Citing decisions:

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal lies against the decision of the examining di vision, dispatched on 7 February 2008, to refuse European patent application no. 03775521.2 for lack of an inven tive step, Article 56 EPC 1973, in view of inter alia the following documents:

D1: Arndt M. et al., "Software radio: the challenges for reconfigurable terminals", Ann. Télécommun., 57, nr. 7-8, p. 570-612, July 2002

D5: Software Defined Radio Forum, "Requirements for Radio Software Download for RF Reconfiguration", SDRF-02-A-0007-V0.00, 13 November 2002

D6: Hansson A. et al., "Global Positioning System in a Digital Signal Processor for the TMS320 Platform", Application Report, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden, April 2001

II. The decision referred to the following documents:

description, pages 1-12 as published

drawings, sheets 1, 2 as published

claims, no. 1-17 according to the main or secon dary requests, both filed with telefax of 28 December 2007

III. A notice of appeal against this decision was received on 17 April 2008, the appeal fee being paid on the same day. A statement of grounds of appeal was received on 17 June 2008.

IV. According to the notice of appeal, the decision to re fuse the European Patent Application is "appealed in its entirety". In the grounds of appeal, the appellant argues why the decision was wrong to reject the main re quest. Neither the no tice of appeal nor the statement of grounds of appeal specifies the appellant's requests explicitly, and nei ther mentions the secondary request at all.

V. With summons to oral proceedings, the board informed the appellant of its preliminary opinion according to which the main request lacked clarity, Article 84 EPC 1973, went beyond the application as originally filed, Article 123 (2) EPC, and lacked an inventive step, Article 56 1973. The board further expressed its doubts as to whether the se condary request as re fused was maintained in the appeal, but also its preliminary opinion that the secondary request would lack an inven tive step, too.

VI. Neither amendments nor arguments were filed in response to the summons. Instead, the appellant informed the board - with telefax of 9 December 2011 and, for con fir mation, with letter dated 15 February 2012 - of its intention not to be represented at the oral proceedings.

VII. Claim 1 according to the main request reads as follows:

"A multi-standard broadcast or receiver processor com pri sing a programmable modulation and coding processor (1) closely coupled to a data memory (2), a memory (4) for storing instruction words for the programmable pro cessor, a direct memory access unit (3) (DMA) coupled to the data memory (2), at least one input side dedicated processor (30) coupled between a data input and the memory access unit and at least one output side dedicated processor (31) coupled between the memory access unit and a data output, wherein the input and output side processors perform operations common to many signal standards on input and output data and the programmable processor performs operations specific to individual standards, and wherein the programmable processor is loaded with different sets of instruction words in dependence on the standard of a received signal, and wherein the inputs and outputs to the programmable processor are made by the DMA unit via the closely coupled memory unit."

VIII. Oral proceedings thus took place in the absence of the appellant. At the end of the oral proceedings, the chairman announced the de ci sion of the board.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The duly summoned appellant did not attend the oral proceedings. In accordance with Article 15 (3) RPBA the board relied for its decision only on the appellant's written sub missions. The board was in a position to decide at the con clusion of the oral proceedings, since the case was ready for decision (Article 15 (5,6) RPBA), and the vo lun tary absence of the appellant was not a reason for delaying the decision (Article 15 (3) RPBA).

2. The reasons for this decision are based on the preli mi na ry opinion communicated to the appellant with the summons to oral proceedings.

Admissibility and extent of the appeal

3. As regards the main request, the appeal is clearly in conformance with Articles 106-108 and Rule 99 EPC and therefore admissible (see also points I and II above).

4. In the summons to oral proceedings, the board had ob served that the grounds of appeal was limited to the main request and did not contain any arguments in favour of the secondary request, and expressed its doubts as to whether the appellant intended to maintain the secondary request in appeal at all. The appellant has not submitted anything in response to remove the board's doubt. The board therefore considers that the appellant's request is to set aside the decision and to grant a patent based on the main request only.

The Invention

5. The application relates to a processor architecture which is suitable for a broadcast receiver (e.g. for television) or communication system (e.g. a mobile phone).

5.1 The invention according to claim 1 of the main request specifies a "multi-standard broadcast or receiver pro cessor" comprising a central "programmable modulation and coding processor" (MCP), at least one "input side dedicated processor" and at least one "output side dedicated processor", and a direct memory access (DMA) unit. It is specified that the MCP is closely coupled to data memory, that the DMA unit is coupled between that data memory and the input and output side pro cessors, and that the DMA unit makes input and outputs to the processor via that data memory.

5.2 The input side and output side processors are specified to perform operations "common to many signal standards" while the MCP is to perform operations "specific to individual standards" according to program instructions which are loaded "in dependence of a received signal".

Articles 84 EPC 1973 and 123 (2) EPC

6. Claim 1 as originally filed referred to a processor sys tem comprising, inter alia, a programmable VLIW pro cessor and a "memory access unit". The terms "pro grammable VLIW processor" and "memory access unit" were later replaced by "programmable modulation and coding pro cessor" (MCP) and "direct memory access unit".

6.1 The board notes that further occurrences of the term "programmable processor" and "memory access unit" in the claims (esp. in claim 1, page 13, lines 13-14, 17, 19 and 22) were not correspondingly amended. This de ficiency as regards the processor renders unclear which is the difference, if any, between the MCP and the pro grammable processor, Article 84 EPC 1973.

6.2 The application distinguishes between the MCP (fig. 1, no. 10) and one of its components, the pro grammable pro cessor (fig. 1, no. 1). The dis tinction between these processors is blurred by claim 1. This causes cla rity problems such as whether the MCP can be called "closely coupled" to its components, Article 84 EPC 1973.

6.3 Due to this clarity problem, claim 1 allows the inter pre tation that the "programmable pro cessor" refers to the MCP. According to this interpretation, however, the claimed fea ture that "the inputs and outputs to the pro grammable pro cessor are made by the DMA unit" is not supported by the application as originally filed. The DMA unit being a component of the MCP, it is clear from the application (fig. 1) that inputs to the MCP (10) are not made via the DMA unit, but only inputs and out puts to the programmable processor (1) within the MCP (10) are. The board therefore concludes that claim 1 of the main request offends against Article 123 (2) EPC.

Inventive Step

7. Notwithstanding the above-mentioned deficiencies of the wording of claim 1 under Articles 84 EPC 1973 and 123 (2) EPC, the board deems it appropriate to assess in ventive step of the claimed invention as interpreted in view of the description and drawings. According to this interpretation the "programmable modulation and coding processor (1)" is taken to refer not to the MCP but to the component of the MCP referred to as "pro grammable processor" in figure 1 and elsewhere in claim 1.

8. It is common ground that D1 constitutes the closest piece of prior art at hand.

8.1 D1 addresses the problem of facilitating the access to multiple telecommunication standards using the same mo bile device (see abstract and introduction) and disclo ses a multi-standard receiver processor system. This system comprises a central digital signal processor DSP which performs, inter alia, modulation and coding (cf. figs. 6 and 11, Modem; and p. 589, penult par.) and which is coupled to input side and output side pro cessors (cf. the RF and Message Processing components depicted in fig. 6 and 11, pp. 583 and 590, and con tained in table II, p. 588; see also figs. 10 and 12 on pp. 588 and 591). The input and output side processors per form operations common to many signal standards (cf. e.g. p. 587, last par.) whereas the central DSP per forms operations specific to individual standards (see esp. p. 589, penult. par.). The DSP comprises closely coupled memory including data and program instructions (cf. p. 583, penult. par., lines 4-5).

8.2 D1 discloses that the DSP may have to be reconfigured for a different standard and mentions the change of stan dard while roaming (cf. e.g. p. 572, 4th par., "inter radio access roaming"), but does not detail how the need for reconfiguration is to be detected (cf. par. bridging pp. 589-590). D1 thus does not disclose that the loading of instruction words is "in dependence on the standard of a received signal".

8.3 D1 further does not mention a direct memory access unit or its use to control data transfer between the input and out put side processors and the DSP.

9. The decision under appeal argues that these two diffe rences address essentially unrelated problems of pro cessor reconfiguration on the one hand and effi cient inter-processor communication on the other so that their inventive merit can be assessed separately. The board agrees with this argument and the grounds of appeal do not challenge it either.

10. The impugned decision (cf. point 4.3, item b, and point 4.6) finds the first difference (point 8.2) to lack an inventive step over D1, inter alia in view of D5. The statement of grounds of appeal does not address this difference or its inventive merit, nor does it mention the pertinent part of the reaso ning in the decision un der appeal at all. In the summons to oral proceedings the board expressed its perception that the appellant did not intend to challenge the de cision in this res pect, and the appellant did not contradict this percep tion. Therefore, the board con cludes that it is not part of the appellant's case, Article 12 (2) RPBA, to establish inventive step of the claimed invention by virtue of this first difference. Only for completeness the board points out that, as argued in the summons to oral proceedings, it agrees with the impugned deci sion that this difference indeed does not establish an in ven tive step of the claimed invention over D1.

11. The second difference (point 8.3) improves the data pro cessing efficiency of the multi-processor system according to D1. The board agrees with the decision that DMA units are commonly used for just this effect in multi-processor systems (cf. decision, p. 5, lines 9-11). Whether a DMA unit is also implicitly disclosed in D1 may be left open.

11.1 The decision under appeal finds the second difference to lack an inventive step over D1, inter alia in view of D6.

11.2 The grounds of appeal (last par., line 10) state that "the documents come from different fields". Furthermore, they argue (last par., lines 5-11) that the invention, by "not requir[ing] a separate memory to act as a swing buffer ... makes more efficient use of the silicon" than a combination of D1 and D6 would suggest.

11.3 D6 discloses a Global Positioning System GPS in a Digi tal Signal Processor for the TMS320 DSP Platform (see title) based on the "software radio concept" (sec. 1.2) and D6 also anticipates its integration into a "multi-mode radio" as used in the "wireless area" (p. 4, 2nd par., lines 2-6; cf. also sec. A.3). The board reads this an explicit indication to integrate the GPS of D6 into a multi-standard mobile communication device such as that of D1. Also D1 itself discloses the idea of in te gra ting GPS in such a device (see p. 571, last line). There fore, the board does not consider D1 and D6 to be from diffe rent fields.

11.4 In the board's view, the skilled person setting out to solve data processing efficiency in the multi-standard device of D1 would extend its search to devices with a similar architecture expecting to find solutions which are applicable to the system of D1 and therefore would indeed consider D6.

11.5 D6 addresses the problem of transferring data samples from the input processors (FPGA) to the DSP in an effi cient manner and proposes as a solution to use the DMA controller on the DSP (cf. p. 9, 1st and 2nd pars.). D6 also discloses that the DMA controller implements dual buffering (also known as ping-pong or swing buffering) in the in ternal - i.e. closely coupled - memory of the DSP (p. 11, 3rd par.). D6 thus also does not need any "separate me mo ry to act as a swing buffer" and thus makes as efficient use of the silicon as the invention in this respect (cf. grounds of appeal, last par., lines 5-7). The board further takes D6 to disclose that "inputs and outputs to the ... processor are made via the closely coupled memory" which was disputed by the appellant in the communication dated 28 December 2007.

11.6 In the board's view it is obvious for the skilled per son that the data efficiency achieved by this solution does not depend on the nature of the data and would thus carry over immediately to the system of D1. In the board's judgement it is also well within the competence of the skilled person to adopt the same technique for the output processors. The board hence considers the difference according to point 8.3 to be insufficient to establish an inventive step of the claimed invention over D1 in view of D6.

11.7 In summary, claim 1 of the main request lacks an in ven tive step, Article 56 EPC 1973, over D1 in view of the prior art, especially D5 and D6.


For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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