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T 2359/08 (Persistent web resources/ALCATEL) of 6.2.2014

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2014:T235908.20140206
Date of decision: 06 February 2014
Case number: T 2359/08
Application number: 99309298.0
IPC class: G06F 17/30
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 271.635K)
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Versions: Unpublished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 apparatus for persistent storage of web resources
Applicant name: Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc.
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.01
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step - use of relative time stamp in embedded link (no
Inventive step - analogy with everyday language)


Cited decisions:
Citing decisions:

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. This appeal is against the examining division's decision to refuse European patent application No. 99309298.0 on the basis that the claimed subject-matter extended beyond the content of the application as filed (Article 123(2) EPC). The decision also contained the examining division's obiter dicta opinion that the core idea of the invention was not inventive (Article 56 EPC) inter alia over the IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletin, Vol. 41, No. 01, January 1998 entitled "Information Retrieval and Presentation Apparatus with Version Control" (D2).

II. With the statement setting out the grounds of appeal dated 13 October 2008, the appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of amended claims according to a main request and first and second auxiliary requests.

III. In the communication accompanying the summons to oral proceedings, the Board presented its preliminary observations. The Board considered that the examining division's objections to added subject-matter had been largely overcome, but that the invention according to all the requests appeared to lack an inventive step. In particular, the Board considered that the relative time stamps in claim 1 of the first auxiliary request were not technical and that the updating of time stamps of embedded links, based on that of the retrieved document, or by incorporating the time stamp of the retrieved document, was known from D2.

IV. In a response dated 6 January 2014, the appellant filed an amended main and first auxiliary request and requested that a patent be granted on the basis of either one of these requests or the second auxiliary request filed with the statement of grounds of appeal dated 13 October 2008. The appellant also filed further arguments in support of the requests.

V. The appellant informed the Board that it would not be represented at the oral proceedings. At the oral proceedings, held in the appellant's absence, the Board announced its decision.

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

"A method for persistent storage retrieval of an electronic document, said electronic document having multiple versions, said method comprising the steps of:

receiving a user request for one of said versions of said electronic document, said user request including a time-stamp;

retrieving a version of said electronic document corresponding to the time-stamp included in the user request for said electronic document;

modifying, in response to the user request, the retrieved version of said electronic document to update one or more embedded hyperlinks in said retrieved version of said electronic document to link to a version of a second document having a time-stamp that corresponds to the time-stamp of said retrieved version of said electronic document; and

transmitting the modified electronic document to a client."

Claim 1 of the first auxiliary request essentially adds to the end of the penultimate feature, the qualifier "the updated one or more embedded hyperlinks containing a relative time stamp".

Claim 1 of the second auxiliary request essentially replaces in the the penultimate feature of claim 1 of the main request "to link to a version of a second document having a time-stamp that corresponds to the time-stamp" with "to incorporate the time-stamp".

Reasons for the Decision

1. The invention concerns the problem of providing persistent access to Web documents, in particular, older versions of documents. The problem is solved by including a time stamp in the reference (URL) to each document, so that a user can access a version of a document as it existed at a particular point in time [6] (of the published application). A Web server receives a user request for a particular version of a document corresponding to the time stamp, retrieves the requested document and transmits it to the client [7].

2. The aspect of the invention in dispute relates to the ability of the server to modify any embedded links in the retrieved document. These are updated to link to documents having a time stamp that "corresponds" to the time stamp of the retrieved version of the document (claim 1 of the main request). The effect of this is that if a user requests a particular version of a primary document, any links to secondary documents that are accessed from the primary document also lead to versions of the secondary documents as they existed as of the requested time stamp.

3. The description gives an embodiment in which the embedded hyperlink contains a relative time stamp, such as "yesterday" or "+10D", specifying the time relative to the time stamp of the retrieved document [11].

4. Claim 1 of the first auxiliary request contains this more limited definition and it is convenient to consider it first.

Inventive step (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC) ? first auxiliary request

5. The Board considers D2 to be an appropriate starting point because it concerns resolving links in time-stamped versions of information.

6. D2 describes a system implemented as an information server at a host computer (last paragraph on page 712). The system's version controller retrieves and stores snapshots, or versions, of Web documents at predetermined update intervals (third paragraph on page 711). The system's client manager allows a user to get the version of a URL at time T by coupling the time stamp T to the URL (page 711, lines 19 to 25; page 712, line 12), as claimed.

7. According to the appellant in the grounds of appeal, it did not make sense to interpret D2 as having a version controller at the server triggering storing of the updated versions as described in the cited passage on page 711. This was because the server would already have all the updated Web pages and would not need to store them. However, as mentioned above, D2 explicitly states in the last paragraph that the "disclosed system", i.e. including the version controller, can be implemented as an information server. Moreover, D2 states at page 711, lines 19 & 20 that the versions between sampling intervals may be ignored and this is confirmed in the next sentence which states that a user's browsing of a Web page can trigger storing a version. Thus, in the Board's understanding of D2, the version controller does not necessarily have all the versions of a document. This means that it does make sense that it can be at a server, namely one that collects documents from a different Web server. The claim covers this interpretation.

8. D2 also discloses, on page 712, under the bullet "linked-object recovery", a situation where there is an embedded hyperlink from A.html to B.html, each document having several versions with several time stamps. The link from A to B is said to be "evaluated" and the closest later version is "returned". The appellant argued that this resolving of time stamps did not imply that the retrieved document A was "modified" in response to the user request as claimed. The Board agrees that D2 does not directly disclose that the embedded link is modified, only that the link is "evaluated" and that "B.html", possibly the page data, is returned.

9. Taking this as a difference, the Board considers that claim 1 differs from D2 in that the embedded links may contain a "relative" time stamp that is updated in response to the user request.

10. However, relative time references, such as "yesterday" and "in ten days" are abstract concepts that are used in everyday language to indicate a particular time frame that one is interested in. Sometimes, it is convenient to use a relative time reference, e.g. when talking about the recent past or near future. In other situations, e.g. when talking about a historic event, an absolute time reference may be more convenient. The expression "relative" time stamp in the claim is a straightforward analogy with and not more original than this everyday usage. Thus, the effect of a relative time reference in an embedded link is simply to obtain the data that the author wanted to refer to, which depends on the user's intention and the data itself.

11. The description states that the effect of the relative time stamps, at least in the context of "next_archive" and "previous_archive", is to make moving between different versions of the documents more efficient (page 6, lines 12 to 13). Furthermore, the appellant argued that relative time stamps facilitate user requests, by allowing the user to specify the requested Web page without calculating the requested date.

12. The advantage that the user need not calculate an absolute date is the same as in ordinary speech. Moreover, transferring as many calculation tasks as possible from the user to the computer must be regarded as a fundamental programming aim. The implementation by using a time stamp does not add anything inventive either because it is essentially only the assertion of the non-inventive idea as a functional requirement of the time stamp without any further implementation details.

13. The difference of updating the embedded links has the effect of making them point to the required pages. As mentioned above, D2 appears to disclose "returning" these pages. Thus this difference represents the choice between returning the pages after clicking on the embedded links, or already with the retrieved document. In the Board's view this is a straightforward trade-off between the amount of data transmitted and the speed required to access the data pages of the embedded links. The Board does not consider that this can establish an inventive step.

14. For these reasons, claim 1 lacks an inventive step (Article 56 EPC) and the first auxiliary request is, therefore, not allowable.

Inventive step (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC) ? main request

15. Claim 1 of the main request is not limited to the use of relative time stamps and is thus broader than claim 1 of the first auxiliary request. Consequently, the main request is not allowable for lack of inventive step (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC).

Inventive step (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC) ? second auxiliary request

16. Claim 1 of the second auxiliary request recites that the embedded hyperlinks in the retrieved document are updated to "incorporate" the time-stamps of the retrieved version of the document. In the grounds of appeal, the appellant stated that this claim was also supposed to encompass the possibility of using relative time stamps, presumably in the sense that "incorporate" means "use the information contained in". Thus this claim essentially has the same scope as claim 1 of the main request so that this request is not allowable for the same reasons as the main request.

17. Since none of the requests are allowable, it follows that the appeal must be dismissed.


For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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