T 0531/09 (Checkpoint simulation/ACCENTURE) of 3.5.2012

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2012:T053109.20120503
Date of decision: 03 May 2012
Case number: T 0531/09
Application number: 03776901.5
IPC class: G06F 17/00
Language of proceedings: EN
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 226.252K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: SECURITY CHECKPOINT SIMULATION
Applicant name: Accenture Global Services Limited
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.01

Headnote

-
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step (no)
Simulation
Catchwords:

See point 3

Cited decisions:
T 0208/84
T 0306/04
T 1227/05
T 1265/09
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The Examining Division, by decision posted on 2 October 2008, refused European patent application 03776901.5 for lack of inventive step. This appeal is against that decision.

II. The Board arranged oral proceedings, and explained, in an annex to the summons, why it tended to agree with the Examining Division. It also made some comments regarding Articles 84 and 123(2) EPC.

III. The appellant responded by letter dated 3 April 2012. It submitted a new main and a new auxiliary request, each comprising new sets of claims, 1 - 14.

IV. Oral proceedings were held on 3 May 2012. The appellant confirmed its requests as the following: that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of the main request or auxiliary request, as filed with the letter dated 3 April 2012.

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

1. A system for simulating a security checkpoint for screening passengers and their carry-ons, the system having:

a. a security checkpoint model (200) representing time spent in the security checkpoint as a series of probabilistic events, and

b. a simulation application for simulating said security checkpoint model (200), said simulation application operating on a computer system,

whereby the improvement in the security checkpoint simulation system comprises:

said security checkpoint model (200) including separate sets of probabilistic events representing:

a security checkpoint entrance process (110) referring to a process in which a person enters a security checkpoint entrance (110),

a personal screen process (120) referring to a process in which one or more personal scans (120a) of the person who has entered the security checkpoint en-

trance (110) are carried out, the one or more personal scans (120a) being performed by a walk through metal detector,

an item screen process (130) referring to a process in which one or more item scans (130a) of the items belonging to the person who has entered the security checkpoint entrance (110) are carried out, the one or more item scans (130a) being performed by a scanning device, in particular, by an x-ray device, and

a defined relationship between the security checkpoint entrance (110), personal screen (120), item screen processes (130),

wherein the system is adapted to define one or more tasks in a security checkpoint,

each task having an associated output time value representing a delay caused by undertaking that task, and wherein the delay value for a task can be altered as necessary to represent changes in the tasks, and wherein the delay value is dynamically linked to other checkpoint conditions, and wherein the delay time value associated with a task is conditionally determined by the results of a previous task,

the system further being adapted to run a checkpoint simulation using security

checkpoint data (321) and security checkpoint demand data (331) and to produce the simulation results (630)

;

and wherein

the system further comprises a display device (500) for graphically displaying the results of the security model (200) along with a graphical representation of

events and positions in the security checkpoint (100)

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

1. A computer simulation system for simulating a security checkpoint for screening persons and their carry-ons to optimize checkpoint equipment requirements, the security checkpoint including:

- item screen areas (130) including scanning devices for scanning carry- on items of the persons to be loaded (201) into the scanning devices including an x-ray device;

- personal screen areas (120) including rapid testing devices for scanning of the persons including a walk through metal detector;

the computer simulation system having:

a. a security checkpoint model (200) representing time spent in the security checkpoint as a series of probabilistic events, and

b. a simulation application for simulating said security checkpoint model (200), said simulation application operating on a computer system,

whereby the improvement in the security checkpoint simulation system comprises:

said security checkpoint model (200) including separate sets of probabilistic events representing:

a security checkpoint entrance process (110) referring to a process in which a person enters a security checkpoint entrance (110),

a personal screen process (120) referring to a process in which one or more personal scans (120a) of the person who has entered the security checkpoint en-trance (110) are carried out, the one or more personal scans (120a) being performed by the walk through metal detector,

an item screen process (130) referring to a process in which one or more item scans (130a) of the items belonging to the person who has entered the security checkpoint entrance (110) are carried out, the one or more item scans (130a) being performed by the x-ray device, and

a defined relationship between the security checkpoint entrance (110), personal screen (120), item screen processes (130),

wherein in the computer simulation system are defined one or more tasks for each of the time screen areas (130) and the personal screen areas (120),

each task having an associated output time value representing a delay caused by undertaking that task, and wherein the delay value for a task can be altered as necessary to represent the varying of machinery or personnel used in the task,

the task comprising task variables including data that affects other, subsequent tasks, whereby the delay time value associated with a task may be condition-ally determined by the results of a previous task,

wherein the data from one task are used as a factor in a formula dynamically determining the time delay value for another task,

the computer simulation system being adapted to compute a delay time value encountered by the person in the security checkpoint based on the task,

wherein the security checkpoint model (200) is used to provide checkpoint equipment requirements balanced against checkpoint demand and service level.

VII. The appellant's relevant written and oral arguments can be summarized as follows.

The invention provided a simulation tool, which allowed specific security systems to be simulated. It allowed, for example, an assessment of machine and staff requirements, particularly when some change was envisaged, such as the introduction of special checks on liquids carried by air passengers. The skilled person was an industrial engineer, who was in a position analogous to that of the designer of a production line in a car manufacturing plant. With both the present invention and the production line, the engineer was concerned with arranging mutually dependent tasks in an efficient way. In the security checkpoint, the tasks involved screening people and their belongings, and each task was characterised by a delay; delay being a technical matter, at least when technical equipment was involved. The screening process involved such equipment in the forms of a walk-through metal detector and an x-ray device. The effect of individual delays on the overall time it takes to screen one person was not easy to assess, because the resolution of alarms raised during one screening task may need to wait for other tasks to be completed, and the invention provided a technical tool which allowed such effects to be determined.

The simulation, on a computer, was a technical simulation of a technical entity, in terms of specified variables and specified relations between them. It was not an abstract simulation, but a concrete one implemented in a specified manner. The situation was the same as in T 1227/05, C

ircuit simulation I

/INFINEON TECHNOLOGIES, OJ EPO 2007, 574.

Decision

T 1227/05

did not contradict decision T 208/84

Computer-related invention/VICOM

, OJ EPO 1987, 14, but rather developed it.

T 208/04

considered only the question of exclusions under Article 52(2) and (3) EPC, but not of inventive step.

T 1227/05

established that when a technical entity was simulated, the technical nature of the thing simulated could contribute to inventive step.

In T 0306/04,

Scheduling tasks/HONEYWELL

, not published in the OJ EPO, it was held (at point 4 of the reasons) that "Technicality

may result ... from the implementation of planning and scheduling procedures on a computerised system or, for example, from the purposive use of such a procedure to control a technical process.

" The simulated checkpoint was a technical process and the simulation was carried out on a computer, and so this decision also supported the arguments in favour of inventive step.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The invention concerns the simulation of a security checkpoint. It could be the sort of familiar security checkpoint used at airports, but is not limited to that. The simulation is carried out by computer. According to claim 1 of the main request, tasks at the checkpoint are modelled as probabilistic events, each taking a certain time to perform, which may depend on what happens in preceding tasks. Two of the tasks simulated involve technical equipment, namely a walk-through metal detector and (possibly) an x-ray device.

2. The appellant seeks to rely on T 1227/05, which concerned the simulation, on a computer, of an electronic circuit. The basis of the appellant's argument is that the organisation of a security checkpoint, at least in so far as it comprises technical scanning devices, is a technical problem, because it lies in the field of "industrial engineering". As a technical problem, and following T 1227/05, this contributes to inventive step.

3. In decision T 208/84 the board held (at point 5 of the reasons) that a technical process is different from a mathematical method in that the technical process is carried out on a physical entity and provides, as its result, a certain change in that entity. That definition of technical processes seems to exclude simulations, whose very purpose is to replace physical entities by virtual ones. T 1227/05 goes beyond the earlier decision in holding (at point 3.1.1 of the reasons) that the simulation of an adequately defined class of technical items could be a functional technical feature. In T 1265/09 Call center/IEX, not published in the OJ EPO, the Board (at point 1.13 of the reasons), referring to T 1227/05, left open the question whether it is a sufficient condition for a simulation to be patentable that the simulated items be technical, noting that the simulated system (in that case, call handling in a telephone call center) was not technical, so that the condition did not hold. The present Board finds itself in a similar situation and will proceed in the same way. For the reasons set out below, the Board finds that the condition is not fulfilled in the present case, and so there is no need to decide whether or not it is sufficient.

4. Simulation of a checkpoint is not inherently technical. It can be carried out by asking people to queue and undergo various checks. The simulations of the metal detector and the x-ray device are the same as that of any other task at the checkpoint, whether they involve technical equipment or not: a probabilistic delay, dependent on the results of earlier tasks, and variable to allow for changes in tasks. The idea is that each task at the checkpoint takes some time, but that later tasks may take more or less time depending on what happens in earlier tasks. The metal detector and x-ray device are not modelled any differently from any non-technical tasks, and it is not a technical delay which is modelled, but a non-technical: the queuing of people , rather than, say, the length of time the metal detector and x-ray device take to react to a stimulus. The Board does not see how any technical delay of the detectors contributes to the delay of a person in the queue. That might happen if, for example, a person had to stand in the scanner for any length of time, but that is not so with a walk-through detector. The delay to the person results rather from standing in a queue and waiting for an operator to respond. The same goes for the x-ray device. The Board, therefore, rejects the appellant's arguments that the simulations of the metal detector and of the x-ray device make a technical contribution to the invention. They would not count in favour of inventive step, even if T 1227/05 were followed. For the same reasons, consideration of T 306/04, also cited by the appellant, does not lead to any different conclusion.

5. The Board sees claim 1 according to the main request as defining a simulation, on a computer, of a non-technical process, which happens to include some technical devices, and considers that the only feature that makes a contribution to inventive step is the fact that the simulation is performed on a computer.

6. It is common ground that simulation on computers was well known, and that software for that purpose was commercially available at the priority date (published application, page 26, lines 3 - 5). The Board concludes that to run this particular simulation on a computer would have been obvious.

7. Thus, the main request cannot be allowed due to lack of inventive step (Article 56 EPC 1973).

8. The appellant explained during oral proceedings before the Board, that claim 1 according to the auxiliary request did not raise any different issues regarding inventive step. The differences were there in order to take account of comments the Board had made regarding Articles 84 EPC 1973 and 123(2) EPC in the annex to the summons to oral proceedings. The Board agrees that that questions regarding inventive step are no different, and concludes that the auxiliary request cannot be allowed for the same reasons as the main.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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