T 1894/08 (Operating system abstraction/INTERDIGITAL) of 19.12.2012

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2012:T189408.20121219
Date of decision: 19 December 2012
Case number: T 1894/08
Application number: 03793413.0
IPC class: G06F 9/45
G06F 9/44
G06F 9/46
Language of proceedings: EN
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 141.352K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Wireless device operating system (OS) Application Programmer's Interface API
Applicant name: INTERDIGITAL TECHNOLOGY CORPORATION
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.06

Headnote

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Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 83
European Patent Convention Art 84
European Patent Convention Art 54(1)
European Patent Convention Art 54(2)
Keywords: Clarity - both requests (no)
Sufficiency of disclosure - both requests (no)
Novelty - main request (no)
Catchwords:

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Cited decisions:
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Citing decisions:
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Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal lies against the decision of the examining division, with written reasons dispatched on 11 July 2008, to refuse the European patent application no. 03793413.0 for lack of clarity, Ar ticle 84 EPC 1973, or an inventive step, Article 56 EPC 1973, over the document

D2: "Intelligent I/O (I2O) Architecture Specification, Draft Revision 1.5", I2O Special Interest Group, March 1997.

II. Notice of appeal along with a statement of the grounds of appeal was filed on 11 September 2008, the appeal fee being paid on the same day. The appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted based on claims 1-11 filed on 12 July 2006. On 30 September, the appellant filed a further set of claims 1-24 as an auxiliary request on the basis of which a patent should be granted in case the board considered the main request not to be allow able.

III. Independent claims 1 and 8 according to the main re quest read as follows:

"1. A method for targeting a software model to a plurality of different operating systems, the method comprising:

providing a software model;

providing an operating environment (112), the operating environment being common to said plurality of operating systems;

providing a porting layer (110), the porting layer porting the software model to said provided operating environment by converting software model elements into predefined operating environment constructs; and providing a plurality of operating system abstraction layers (122), each abstraction layer being designed to interface the operating environment to at least one targeted operating system, wherein clients of the targeted operating system are given access to the operating environment and the ported software model.

8. A wireless communication device comprising:

at least one system processor (100) and at least one communication processor (102);

a communication module (104) to facilitate communication between each system and communication processor; and

a shared memory (106) associated with the communica tion module;

each system processor and communication processor having an associated operating system (124, 126), the operating system performing code generated from a software model, the device being arranged to port a software model to an operating environment (112) common to the operating systems by converting software model elements into predefined operating environment constructs, the device further being arranged with an operating system abstraction layer (114) for interfacing the operating environment to each associated operating system, wherein clients of the operating systems are given access to the operating environment and the ported software model"

IV. Claims 1 and 10 according to the auxiliary request read as follows:

"1. A method for exporting a specification and description language, SDL, software model to different operating systems, the method comprising:

providing an SDL software model;

providing an SDL porting layer, the SDL porting layer converting the SDL software model to an operating environment wherein the operating environment is common to all the different operating systems; and

providing a plurality of operating system abstraction layers, each abstraction layer designed to abstract the operating environment to at least one targeted operating system.

10. A wireless communication device comprising:

at least one system processor and at least one communication processor;

a communication module to facilitate communication between each system and communication processor;

a shared memory associated with the communication module;

each system processor and communication processor having an associated operating system, the operating system performing code generated from an SDL software model, the SDL software model being ported to an operating environment wherein the operating environment is the result of an SDL porting layer converting an SDL software model to the operating environment, providing an operating environment, the operating environment common to all different operating system, an operating system abstraction layer abstracts the operating environment to each associated operating system."

V. In an annex to summons to oral proceedings the board expressed its preliminary opinion according to which the claims accor ding to both requests lacked clarity, Article 84 EPC 1973. The board also raised objections under Ar ticle 123(2) EPC and under Articles 54(1,2) and 56 EPC 1973, in view of D2 but also, alternatively, in view of the prior art acknowledged in the applica tion itself.

VI. The appellant did not respond to this communication. Du ring a telephone conversation with the board's regis trar, the representative expressed his intention not to attend the oral proceedings.

VII. Oral proceedings took place as scheduled and in the absence of the appellant. At the of the oral procee dings, the chairman announced the decision of the board.

Reasons for the Decision

The appellant's absence at the oral proceedings

1. The appellant was duly summoned, but did not attend the oral proceedings.

1.1 According to Article 15(3) RPBA, the board is not ob liged to delay any step in the procee dings, including its decision, by reason only of the ab sence at the oral proceedings of any party duly summoned who may then be treated as relying only on its written case.

1.2 Since the appellant chose not to respond to the board's communication, the board has no reason to deviate from its preliminary opinion set out therein. Of the ob jec tions raised in the annex to oral proceedings, only those are reproduced herein which the board deems to be the most pertinent ones. The following reasons are sub stan tially based on the board's preliminary opinion as set out in the annex to the summons to oral proceedings.

The invention

2. The application is concerned with the development of software for wireless devices in view of the variety of the operating systems (OS) they run and their diverse and possibly heterogeneous hard ware structures (pars. 8-9). A central element of the proposed and claimed sol u tion is an "operating environment common to all ope ra ting systems" (par. 11) which sits between the "software mo del" and the "clients" (figs. 1 and 11a) on the one hand and the operating systems on the other. The ope ra ting environment contains, in particular, an ope ra ting system API (fig. 1, nos. 112, 120) to which a given software model is "ported" (no. 110). Any con crete ope ra ting system in turn provides an ab straction layer (no. 122) which interfaces to the OS API.

Main Request

Articles 84 EPC 1973

3. The decision under appeal (point 3.1) considered the term "software model" to be unclear for not having a "ge nerally accep ted and well-defined meaning [in] soft ware programming".

3.1 The appellant disagreed with this finding, arguing that the term "software model" is widely used in the con text of the well-known software modelling languages UML and SysML and the related "modelling tool" Telelogic Tau.

3.2 The board first notes that, as already pointed out by the examining division, a term may well be widely used in the art - as the board has no doubt for the term "soft ware model" - without having a well-defined tech ni cal meaning.

3.3 The board also notes that none of UML, SysML or Tele lo gic Tau is mentioned in any of the claims, so that an es tablished meaning the term "software model" might have in the context of UML, SysML or Telelogic Tau is not im plied by the claim language.

3.4 While modelling is indeed a central aspect of software de velopment, the term "model" may, in the board's under standing, refer to a variety of things during the soft ware development process, such as the modelling of the appli cation domain, the choice of data structures - i.e. a data model - or the choice of a con crete pro gramming language - defining, inter alia, a compu ta tio nal model. Moreover, the term "software model" appears to be ambi gu ous between a "model for software" or a "mo del ex pressed in software": UML for instance, is a gra phical modelling language to enable and simplify commu ni cation between developers from requirements en gi nee ring to im ple mentation: Although a UML model de scribes what is even tu ally to become a software pro duct - and thus is a mo del for software - it is not, as a whole, meant or sui table for auto ma tic execution, i.e. not a program and in this sense not "soft ware" itself.

3.5 Beyond this ambiguity, the board notes that the claims do not specify explicitly any of the "software model ele ments" or any detail as to the object of the soft ware model, i.e. neither what is modelled nor how.

3.6 The board therefore agrees with the decision under appeal that the term "software model" is unclear, Article 84 EPC 1973.

4. The claims according to the main request specify that the software model is "ported" to the "operating envi ron ment" by "converting" its "ele ments into ... opera ting environment constructs".

4.1 The board considers this feature to lack clarity for two reasons.

4.2 The conventional and established meaning of the term "porting" in the field of software engineering is adap ting software for a diffe rent OS or hardware platform. In contrast, the "porting layer" according to the in ven tion is meant to hide different platforms by way of abstraction, expressly so that software need not be adap ted to individual OS or hardware structures (see description, par. 55). The board considers this con flict between the established and the intended meaning of "porting" to render the claims unclear, Article 84 EPC 1973.

4.3 The board also considers unclear the claimed phrase which explains the "porting layer" as "con ver ting soft ware model elements into ... opera ting en vi ronment con structs", because it leaves open the na ture of the con version, Article 84 EPC 1973.

5. Another central term of the claimed invention is the "opera ting environment". Also this term does not, in the board's judgment, have a well-defined meaning in the art. The ope ra ting environment is specified by the claims only in so far as it should have "predefined" but otherwise un de fined "operating environment con structs" and is in ter face[d] ... to [a] tar geted operating sys tem" via what is called an "operating system ab strac tion layer". The board considers this definition to be in sufficient ly clear, Article 84 EPC 1973.

5.1 The description specifies that the operating environ ment comprises in particular an OS API (see e.g. pars. 43, 54, fig. 1) which defines the relevant operating system con structs into which the "porting layer" is to convert the software model elements. The board consi ders the OS API as an essential fea ture of the inven tion whose omission from the claims amounts to a de fi ciency under Article 84 EPC 1973.

5.2 The claims specify the "operating environ ment" as being "common to [a] plurality of operating sys tems" and in ter facing to "operating abstraction layers". Thereby, the claims specify the operating environ ment as being independent of any particular operating system, i.e. "OS independent" (see par. 43). How ever, the claims neither specify the range of opera ting sys tems covered nor to what extent an "OS inde pen dence" is achieved. In general, an "OS abstraction layer" could be meant to hide superficial diffe ren ces between two versions of the same opera ting system, larger diffe rences between two members of the same fami ly of operating systems such as BSD and Linux, or sub stantial differences between operating systems such as Windows and Unix. The board considers this vagueness as a lack of clarity, Article 84 EPC 1973.

5.3 Claim 8 of the main request is more concrete than claim 1 insofar as it specifies a concrete device with two pro cessors which run two different operating systems both of which are interfaced with the same "operating environment". Claim 8 leaves open however, in what sense, if at all, and how the operating system achieves the express goal of the de scription (par. 9) to "hide this boundary" be tween processors and is thus also in sufficient to es tab lish a clear meaning of the term "ope rating envi ron ment".

Article 83 EPC 1973

6. As a consequence of the vague claim language, the board considers that the description does not disclose the con cept of opera ting system abstraction in the claimed generality in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for the skilled person to carry it out, Ar ticle 83 EPC 1973: For example, the de scription does not disclose how operating environment, operating abstraction layers and porting layers had to be set up to cover, say, a ma jor part of the operating systems so different as Win dows and Unix.

Articles 54 (1,2) EPC 1973

7. The application (see esp. pars. 8 and 9) discloses that known wireless devices are equipped with several diffe rent operating systems and hardware structures and addresses the problem of sim plifying the development of software for a range of such devices by hiding these diffe rences from the soft ware developer through sui table software abstraction.

7.1 The board leaves open whether the simplification of software development by providing suitable operating system abstractions in general constitutes a technical effect which must be taken into account for assessing inventive step or is not, rather, a non-technical as pect of computer programming.

7.2 At any rate, the board considers it to be common place that software is developed for several different ope ra ting systems (say Windows, Linux and Mac OS; or for diffe rent Unix vari ants such as BSD or Solaris) and thus that it is a known desirable to make such cross-OS deve lop ment as simple as possible.

7.3 The programming language Java is a prominent example for this fact: Java, released in 1996, was de signed to sim pli fy the development of software across platforms and operating systems ("write once, run every where"). Java is distributed with a set of standard class libra ries which implement the Java application in terface, i.e. an "operating environment" in the terms of the claims. The board therefore considers that, on a broad interpretation of the unclear terms discussed above (points 3-5), any mapping of a "soft ware model" into Java qualifies as the claimed "por ting" of the soft ware model into "operating environment con structs". In order to execute Java pro grams, any com puting plat form must further provide a run time envi ron ment which hides the underlying operating system and thus acts as an "opera ting system abstraction" in the terms of the claims.

7.4 Further well-known examples are toolkits for the de ve lopment of uniform gra phi cal user interfaces across plat forms, such as Motif (for the Unix fa mi ly), avai lable since the 1980s, or Qt (available for Windows, Win dows CE inclu ded, as well as for Linux and Mac OS), available since 1999. Such toolkits offer an API - i.e. an "opera ting environment" as claimed - which is common to diffe rent operating systems and which the client appli cations access for the definition of their GUIs. Thus any mapping of a "soft ware model" to make use of a GUI toolkit reads on "converting software mo del ele ments into predefined operating envi ron ment con structs" and thus on a "porting layer". On an indi vi du al opera ting system, the installation of such a tool kit pro vides an "operating system abstraction layer" inter fa cing to the operating system itself.

7.5 The board is therefore unable to determine any clear difference between claim 1 of the main request and the conventional use of the Java API or a GUI toolkit in software deve lop ment. The appellant, in not responding to the board's preliminary opinion, did not address this argument and, in particular, did not request that the board's understanding of the Java API and the GUI toolkits be further substantiated by written evidence.

7.6 The board concludes that claim 1 of the main re quest lacks novelty, Article 54(1,2) EPC 1973, over common knowledge alone.

Auxiliary Request

8. The claims of the auxiliary request are identical to the claims as originally filed except that the terms "software model" and "porting layer" were limited to "SDL software model" and "SDL porting layer", res pec tively, SDL standing for "specification and de scrip tion language".

8.1 The board leaves aside its doubts as to whether the terms "SDL software model" and "SDL porting layer" are, in themselves, clear terms and thus sufficient to over come the clarity objection against the terms "soft ware model" and "porting layer".

8.2 However, the board considers that the added reference to SDL is insufficient to over come at least some of the objections raised against the main request. In parti cular, claim 1 of the auxilia ry request also fails to specify the function of the SDL porting layer and the operating environment (see points 4.3 and 5 above) and is thus unclear as argued above, Article 84 EPC 1973.

8.3 Even though this objection was not specifically raised against the claims of the auxiliary request in the board's preliminary opinion, this does not violate the appellant's right to be heard, Article 113(1): The board considers that it was apparent for the appellant that the differences between the claims of the main and the auxiliary requests are insufficient to overcome these objections and therefore predictable that these would be raised against the auxiliary request, too.

Summary

9. There being no allowable request, the appeal has to be dismissed.

ORDER

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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