T 2309/08 (Initiator management/MICROSOFT) of 3.7.2013

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2013:T230908.20130703
Date of decision: 03 July 2013
Case number: T 2309/08
Application number: 04018959.9
IPC class: G06F 1/00
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 141.760K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Coordinated network initiator management that avoids security conflicts
Applicant name: MICROSOFT CORPORATION
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.06
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 83
European Patent Convention 1973 R 27(1)(e)
Keywords: Insufficient disclosure - all requests
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal lies against the decision of the examining division, dated 8 July 2008, to refuse European patent application 04018959.9 for lack of an inventive step.

II. Notice of appeal was filed on 17 September 2008, the appeal fee being paid on the same day. With a statement of grounds of appeal, received on 13 November 2008, the appellant filed claims according to a main request and auxiliary requests I to VI and requested that the de ci sion under appeal be set aside and a patent be gran ted based on one of these seven sets of claims.

III. With summons to oral proceedings the board informed the appellant of its preliminary opinion, raising ob jec tions under Article 83, 84 and 56 EPC 1973.

IV. In response, the appellant filed eight amended sets of claims according to a main request and auxiliary re quests I to VII. During oral proceedings the appellant filed further auxiliary requests VIII and IX.

V. The appellant requested that the decision be set aside and that a patent be granted based on claims 1-19 accor ding to the main request or auxiliary requests I and III, claims 1-18 according to auxiliary requests II, IV or VI, claims 1-15 according to auxiliary request V or claims 1-14 according to auxiliary requests VII to IX, in com bi na tion with drawings 1-3 and description pages 1, 2, and 4-13 as originally filed and descrip tion page 3 as filed on 29 January 2007.

VI. Claim 1 according to the main request reads as follows.

"A method in a computer system (201), wherein the computer system is a computer or a hand-held device, that includes a plurality of initiators (230), each for initiating communication with target devices (250) over a network (240), in particular, each initiator being an iSCSI initiator, the method for configuring the com pu ter system (201) to securely communicate with a target device (251-255) over the network (240), the method comprising the following performed by an abstraction module (220) that configures each of the plurality of initiators (230) in a manner that security conflicts between the plurality of initiators (230) is avoided:

an act of exposing a common interface for configuring any of the plurality of initiators (230);

an act of receiving an indication through the common interface that a selected initiator from among the plurality of initiators (230) is to be configured to communicate with a selected target device;

an act of retrieving security information from a database (261) that includes information that is relevant to configuring security for any of the plurality of initiators (230);

an act of identifying a security configuration of the selected initiator using the retrieved security information, the identified security configuration including the retrieved security information which may have been further processed by the abstraction module;

an act of determining that the identified security configuration would not cause the selected initiator to conflict with any of the other of the plurality of initiators (230); and

an act of configuring the selected initiator using the identified security configuration."

Claim 1 of auxiliary request I is identical to that of the main request, except that the "act of exposing a common interface" has been limited by the following statement:

"... wherein the common interface is an Application Programm Interface API".

Claim 1 of auxiliary request II is identical to that of the main request, except that the second clause rela ting to the "act of identifying a security configu ra tion" has been amended to read as follows:

"... the identified security configuration including the retrieved security information being further processed by the abstraction module" (emphasis by the board).

Claim 1 of auxiliary request III is identical to that of the main request, except that between the "act of determining" and the "act of configuring" the following phrase has been inserted:

"... if a conflict is determined, an act of reconfiguring other initiators so that a conflict is eliminated and/or identifying another security configuration; ...".

Claim 1 of auxiliary request IV is identical to that of the main request, except that at the end the following phrase has been inserted:

"... wherein the indication through the common interfaces is received in response to a request to communicate with the selected target device".

Claim 1 of auxiliary request V is identical to that of the main request, except that at the end the following phrase has been inserted:

"... wherein the retrieved security information comprises IPSec configuration information or CHAP configuration information".

Claim 1 of auxiliary request VI is identical to that of the main request, except that "in particular" has been deleted and each occurrence of the term "initiator" or "initiators" has been amended to read "iSCSI initiator" or "iSCSI initiators", respectively.

Claim 1 of auxiliary request VII is identical to that of auxiliary request VI, except that at the end the following phrase has been inserted:

"... wherein the retrieved security information comprises IPSec configuration information".

Claim 1 of auxiliary request VIII is identical to that of auxiliary request VII, except that in the "act of identifying" the clause "which may have been further processed by the abstraction module" has been deleted and at the end the following phrase has been added:

"... wherein the identified security configuration is the same as the retrieved security information".

Claim 1 of auxiliary request IX is identical to that of auxiliary request VIII, except that between the "act of determining" and the "act of configuring" the following has been added:

"... an act of, if a conflict does exist, identifying another security configuration for the selected initiator; ...".

For completeness it is noted that each request contains another independent computer program product claim which corresponds closely with the respective method claim.

VII. At the end of the oral proceedings, the chairman announced the decision of the board.

Reasons for the Decision

The invention

1. The application generally relates to the communication between a computer and possibly remote peripheral de vices over the Internet. More specifically, the appli ca tion re lates to iSCSI: SCSI is short for Small Com puter Sys tem Interface, and iSCSI, short for Inter net SCSI, is a protocol for carrying SCSI commands over networks using the TCP/IP protocols of the In ter net. The computer contains a so-called "ini tiator" which functions as an iSCSI client. The peri phe ral de vices on remote servers are referred to as "tar gets".

1.1 IP-based communication over the Internet in general, and iSCSI communication in particular, is vulnerable to interception, eaves dropping or hijacking so that addi tio nal security pro visions may be required. The de scrip tion discloses that established IP security stan dards may be used to this end such as IPSec or CHAP (CHallenge Authentication Protocol; see original de scription, p. 2, lines 12-17; p. 12, lines 8-10; and original claims 4 and 5).

1.2 The description mentions that "IPSec supports a variety of encryption algorithms, includes options regarding which part of the message is to be encrypted, and what type of authentication is to be employed" (p. 2, lines 18-23). It is further disclosed that "[t]he configura tion settings of IPSec include whether or not to use a key, whether or not tunneling mode is desired, which encryption is to be used, and other IPSec setting options" (p. 12, line 30 - p. 13, line 1). The appli cation does not discuss any details of CHAP or other security standards.

1.3 The description discloses that an "initiator ... must be properly configured ... in order for the communi ca tion to be secured as desired and interpretable by the target device" (p. 2, lines 21-23). In computing sys tems with multiple initiators, it is further dis closed that "initiators are typically configured without re gar ding for the security configuration of the other ini tiators in the computing system" and that "accor dingly, sometimes conflicts arise be tween the security configurations of the initia tors" which "may prevent [them] from functioning as intended, or even functio ning at all" (p. 2, lines 23-29).

1.4 The invention therefore sets out to enable "multiple ini tiators on a computer system [to] be properly con fi gured with security information in a manner that the security information of one initiator does not conflict with the security information of any other initiator" (p. 2, line 30 - p. 3, line 2).

Configuration conflicts

2. The description does not disclose details of the possible conflicts between the configurations of diffe rent initiator or how the invention is to "de ter min[e] that [a given] security configuration would not cause [one] initiator to conflict with any of the other of the plurality of initiators".

2.1 While the description suggests (loc. cit.) that the con flicts in question are caused by the presence of mul tiple initiators on one computer system, the board notes that it is not claimed in any of the requests nor elaborated on in the description that the conflicts con cerned are such as are caused specifically by this circumstance. In particular, nei ther the description nor the claims exclude, in the board's view, the possi bility that the relevant con flicts would (or might) al so arise between multiple ini tiators on different com pu ters, for instance if two initiators were to use configurations which were incom pa tible with respect to a single target device. At any rate, the reference to multiple initiators is, in the board's view, insuffi cient to delimit substantially the range of possible conflicts.

2.2 The description discloses that conflicts may be such that the "the ability of other ini tia tors to communi cate" is "degraded" (see p. 4, line 1-3 and p. 5, lines 12-14). The above-mentioned formulation (point 1.3) that conflicts may "prevent the initia tors from functio ning as inten ded, or even functio ning at all" is less specific.

3. During the oral proceedings, the appellant explained by way of two examples the kind of conflicts the applica tion means to refer to.

3.1 An IPSec configuration determines, inter alia, whether "tunneling mode" or "transport mode" is to be used. Network cards may be limited to processing data packets accor ding to only one of these modes at a time. Hence, in a computer system with multiple initiators all using the same network card having such a restriction there will be a conflict between one initiator configured to use tunneling mode and another initiator configured to use transport mode.

3.2 Another IPSec parameter determines the key length used during encryption, say 64 or 128 bit. Some en cryp tion engines employed may require that a single key length be selected and may be incapable of encryp ting different packets with keys of different lengths. Again, in a com puter system where multiple initiators have to access the same such encryption engine a conflict may arise if two initiators are configured to use different key lengths.

3.3 In these examples, the conflict arises only because mul tiple initiators have to use a shared component, there by illustrating how conflicts may be caused by the pre sence of multiple initiators on a single computer sys tem.

4. The board notes that neither of these examples is disclosed nor is the specific conflict mentioned or alluded to in the description. Only the "tunneling mode" is mentioned as one of several known IPSec setting (p. 12, last par.). The board also notes that both examples relate to IPSec. The appellant did not pro duce any example without this limitation even when invited to do so during oral proceedings.

Main request

5. Claim 1 of the main request specifies acts of "retrie ving security information from a database" and "identi fying a security configuration for [a] selected initia tor using the retrieved information" and, centrally, an "act of determining that the identified security infor mation would not cause the selected initiator to con flict with any of the other of the plurality of ini tia tors".

5.1 As explained above, the description fails to define or illustrate by way of example or otherwise the conflicts that are to be avoided or how they are to be determined. Apart from indicating that conflicts might "degrade communication", the nature of the conflicts in question is not further explained.

5.2 Security configurations as claimed may involve a large number of various parameter settings. Without any spe ci fication as to what security standard, if any, these configurations relate to the, the number of parameters is undefined. Each configuration represents a com bi nation of several parameter settings. The appellant's examples relate to situations in which different settings of a single parameter in different configu rations conflict with each other. A priori, however, conflicts might arise between the setting of a para me ter A in one configuration and the setting of a diffe rent parameter B in another one, or only between the combined parameter settings in two configurations.

5.3 Whether or not a conflict would arise may depend, as the appellant's arguments illustrate, on the presence of certain, unspecified hardware or soft ware components on the sender's side - or, as the board considers, the receiver's side - and what limi ta tions these may put on the choice of con figuration settings or the number of alternative settings they can handle at any one time.

5.4 It is also noted that errors in distributed communica tion contexts such as the claimed one may be very diffi cult to detect because they may relate to the relative timing of various events in the components involved. Thus the communication between two devices may degrade, for instance, not only because packets from one to the other do not arrive or cannot be pro cessed, but also because they arrive too late, and in a distributed system any of these might happen in a manner difficult or impossible to pre dict.

6. The board notes that the description does not contain a single example as to how the skilled person is supposed to carry out the "act of determining that [an] identi fied secu rity configuration would not cause [one] ... initiator to conflict with any of the other ... initia tors" and that, accordingly, the description does not even, as required by Rule 27 (1) (e) EPC 1973, describe in detail at least one way of carrying out the invention.

6.1 The appellant argued that Ar ticle 83 EPC 1973 was com plied with nonetheless because, as the examples above showed (point 3), the de scription en abled the skilled person to put into practice at least some instances of a single embo di ment of the claimed subject matter.

6.2 The board disagrees with the position that a single example or a small number of enabled embodiments will, in general, be sufficient to establish that the inven tion is disclosed in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art. Rather, according to established jurispru dence of the boards of appeal an invention must be enabled over its full breadth to comply with Article 83 EPC 1973. Therefore, depending on the breadth and the nature of the claimed invention a small number of enabled embodiments may or may not be sufficient.

6.3 In the present case the board considers that, due to the enormous number of undefined parameters that might characterise the relevant "conflicts" to be avoided according to the claimed invention, carrying out the invention on the basis of the description and the common knowledge alone would constitute an undue burden for the skilled person.

6.4 The board thus concludes that claim 1 of the main request, especially the act of determining whether two configurations would or would not cause a conflict, is not disclosed sufficiently clearly and completely for it to be carried out by the person skilled in the art, and so does not comply with Article 83 EPC 1973.

Auxiliary requests I-IV, VI, VII

7. The above analysis is unaffected by the difference be tween claim 1 of the main request and claim 1 of any of auxiliary requests I-IV and VI and therefore applies di rectly to these requests, too. It also applies to the auxiliary request VII: The li mitation of the claimed matter to iSCSI does not, in the board's view, limit the possible nature and causes of conflicts in a signi fi cant way (see esp. points 5.2-5.4).

Auxiliary requests V, VIII, and IX

8. Claim 1 of each of these requests is limited to confi guration settings according to IPSec (or CHAP).

8.1 Specifically with regard to IPSec, the appellant argued in oral proceedings that the possible parameter settings of IPSec were well-known in the art. The skilled person could thus compile a list of possible configuration settings, which will be smaller than the list of all theoretically possible parameter settings since certain settings will be excluded in combination. The skilled person could also produce a list of pai rings of possible configurations and check for each en try on this list whether a conflict arises. The results so obtained could be held in a lookup list of possible conflicts for the "act of determining" to use. Both the com pilation of the lists and the checking could be per formed automatically, possibly aided by an automatic si mulation of the claimed communication setup. While the lists may be very large and therefore the process might take a while, compiling the lists was straight forward for the skilled person and waiting for the re sult did not constitute an undue burden.

8.2 The board agrees that for a given se curity standard, even taking into account its possibly different ver sions, the possible configuration settings would ge ne rally be known to the person skilled in the art. IPSec is however known for its complexity and relatively large number of parameters and possible parameter combinations.

8.3 The board's argument relating the number of possible parameter combinations to be checked (point 5.2) thus continues to hold, if to a lesser degree.

8.4 Moreover, the other arguments relating to the other re le vant parameters are unaffected. Even when li mi ted to IPSec, the possibility of a conflict will depend on a number of unspecified parameters including the dyna mic behaviour of the claimed communication system (see points 5.3 and 5.4). The board therefore cannot follow the appellant's argument that the checking of possible conflicts between pairs of configuration settings can be performed (semi-)automatically as a matter of course, i. e. without any explicit guidance on how to do so. In this context it is noted that the simulation of a dis tri buted parallel system is no trivial matter.

8.5 The board therefore concludes that putting to practice the "act of determining" possible conflicts would constitute an undue burden for the skilled person based on the description alone and even if limited to the context of IPSec and that, therefore, also claim 1 of auxiliary requests V, VIII and IX do not conform with Article 83 EPC 1973.

ORDER

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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