T 2313/09 (Report design/MICROSOFT) of 3.12.2014

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2014:T231309.20141203
Date of decision: 03 December 2014
Case number: T 2313/09
Application number: 05105252.0
IPC class: G06F 17/24
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 294.284K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Flexible report design
Applicant name: Microsoft Corporation
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.07
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 54(1)
European Patent Convention Art 54(2)
Keywords: Novelty - after amendment (yes)
Remittal to the department of first instance - (yes)
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The applicant (appellant) lodged an appeal against the decision of the Examining Division refusing European patent application No. 05105252.0.

II. The Examining Division decided that the subject-matter of the independent claims of the then main request and of the then auxiliary requests I, II and III was not new within the meaning of Article 54(1) and (2) EPC in view of the following document (one of its authors being erroneously identified in the contested decision as "Craig Stevens"):

D1': Stinson C. et al., "Microsoft Excel 2003 Inside Out", Microsoft Press, September 2003, pages 797 to 799 and 800 to 807.

III. With the statement of grounds of appeal, the appellant filed a main request and auxiliary requests I, II and III. These requests were identical to those considered in the decision under appeal.

IV. In a communication accompanying a summons to oral proceedings, the Board raised certain clarity objections and expressed the preliminary opinion that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request and of auxiliary requests I and III was not new and that the subject-matter of claim 1 of auxiliary request II lacked an inventive step over document D1'.

V. With a letter dated 29 October 2014, the appellant replaced its requests with an amended main request and amended auxiliary requests I, II and III.

VI. Oral proceedings were held on 3 December 2014. In the course of the oral proceedings the appellant replaced the main request and auxiliary request I with a new main request and maintained auxiliary requests II and III filed with the letter of 29 October 2014 as auxiliary requests I and II, respectively. At the end of the oral proceedings, the chairman pronounced the Board's decision.

VII. The appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of the claims of the main request filed during the oral proceedings or, in the alternative, on the basis of the claims of one of auxiliary requests I and II.

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

"A method for designing and generating a report, comprising:

declaring, in a report design (500), at least one column (600, 601), wherein said declaring comprises identification information identifying data to be placed in the at least one column and a declarative marking to indicate whether or not the at least one column can be expanded into a plurality of columns as necessary to accommodate data for the report such that the at least one column is declaratively defined as either dynamic or static;

declaring, in the report design, at least one row (650, 651), wherein said declaring comprises identification information identifying data to be placed in the at least one row and a declarative marking to indicate whether or not the at least one row can be expanded into a plurality of rows as necessary to accommodate data for the report such that the at least one row is declaratively defined as either dynamic or static;

declaring, in the report design, at least one nested row (653, 655), wherein said declaring comprises identification information identifying data to be placed in the at least one nested row and a declarative marking to indicate whether or not the at least one nested row can be expanded into a plurality of nested rows as necessary to accommodate data for the report such that the at least one nested row is declaratively defined as either dynamic or static;

wherein the declaring steps are performed using a report design software;

storing the report design in a report definition file;

using the report design by a report processing software (510) for generating the report by querying a data source (520, 521) to retrieve the data that is specified in the report design, populating the at least one column, row or nested row indicated in the report design with the retrieved data to compile the retrieved data into a layout specified in the report definition file;

wherein the report design comprises a computer readable set of instructions."

IX. In view of the outcome of the appeal, the text of the claims of the auxiliary requests need not be given.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal complies with the provisions referred to in Rule 101 EPC and is therefore admissible.

2. The invention

2.1 The invention relates to the design and generation of a report for the display of data retrieved from a data source.

2.2 According to paragraph [0006] of the background section of the application, commercial software exists that allows a report designer to specify, in a report design, the type of data that he wants in a column of the report. Paragraph [0008] discloses, with reference to Figure 5, that report processing software exists that, on the basis of a report design, gathers data from a data source and compiles the data into a properly structured report.

2.3 The background section of the present application discusses two known types of report design: "table report designs" and "matrix report designs".

2.4 A table report design has a fixed number of columns and a dynamic number of rows. An example is provided by Figure 1 of the application, which shows a table report design comprising three columns "Customer", "Year" and "Sales". The rows of this design are "dynamic" in the sense that the number of rows is adapted to the amount of data to be presented. As an example, additional rows are added as data for additional years becomes available. Figure 1 also shows "nested rows" in that rows for different years corresponding to the same customer are grouped together.

2.5 A matrix report design is similar to a table report design, but in addition allows columns to be dynamic. An example is provided by Figure 4, which shows a matrix report design comprising both dynamic columns for accommodating a dynamic number of years and dynamic rows for accommodating a dynamic number of customers. Figure 4 again shows nested rows.

2.6 Whereas Figures 1 and 4 are presented as illustrating prior-art report designs, Figure 6 is presented as illustrating a report design in accordance with the invention. According to paragraph [0055], any combination of nested dynamic and static rows or columns may be declared within another row or column.

3. Main request - admission

3.1 The main request was filed at the oral proceedings before the Board in an attempt to overcome the novelty objection with respect to document D1' on the basis of which the Examining Division refused the application.

3.2 According to Article 12(2) RPBA, the statement of grounds of appeal has to contain an appellant's complete case. According to Article 13(1) RPBA, an amendment to an appellant's case after it has filed its grounds of appeal may be admitted and considered at the Board's discretion, said discretion to be exercised inter alia in view of the current state of the proceedings and the need for procedural economy.

3.3 In the present case, the appellant when filing its statement of grounds chose to address the novelty objection only through argument and not through amendment. In addition, in response to the communication accompanying the summons to oral proceedings in which the Board expressed its provisional agreement with the objection, the appellant refrained from addressing it through a suitable amendment until it became clear at the oral proceedings that the Board was not persuaded by the appellant's arguments.

3.4 Nevertheless, in view of the facts that the main request overcomes the ground for the refusal (see points 5.15.1 to 5.75.7 below) and that it does not raise issues which the Board cannot deal with without adjournment of the oral proceedings, the Board exercises its discretion to admit it into the proceedings.

4. Main request - added subject-matter

4.1 Claim 1 essentially corresponds to original claim 1, amended on the basis of paragraphs [0041] and [0042] of the original description to indicate that the steps of declaring a report design are performed using report design software, that the report design is stored in a report definition file, and that the report design is used by report processing software for generating a report by querying a data source to retrieve the data specified in the report design and populating the rows and columns of the report on the basis of the layout specified in the report definition file.

4.2 The expressions "such that the at least one column/row/nested row is declaratively defined as either dynamic or static" are based on paragraphs [0023] and [0024] of the original description.

4.3 The feature "wherein the report design comprises a readable set of instructions" is based on paragraph [0040] of the original description.

4.4 The Board is therefore satisfied that amended claim 1 complies with Article 123(2) EPC.

5. Main request - novelty

5.1 According to the decision under appeal, the subject-matter of claim 1 of the then main request was fully anticipated by document D1'.

5.2 Document D1' relates to the Microsoft Office Excel 2003 spreadsheet program. It discloses a method of creating a "PivotTable Report". According to page 797, a PivotTable Report is a special kind of table that summarises information from selected fields of a data source.

5.3 Document D1', page 803, discloses that the layout of a PivotTable is created by dragging field headings from a "PivotTable Field List" to the appropriate places on an initially blank PivotTable layout. It follows from Figure 30-8 on page 804 that the layout may include columns ("Year"), rows ("Channel"), nested columns ("Quarter") and nested rows ("CatalogNo"). Initially, these rows and columns are "dynamic" in the sense that the PivotTable displays all items for a particular field (page 806, second paragraph). By clicking the drop-down arrow at the right-hand side of a field heading, the display can be limited to particular items, thereby rendering the row or column "static" (page 806, second paragraph).

5.4 The appellant has argued that document D1' did not disclose the creation of a report design. A distinction had to be made between a "report design" and the (final) "report". The term "report design" denoted a template for a report defining what data (from a database) would be displayed in an actual report and (possibly) the layout.

5.5 In the Board's view, the creation of a PivotTable layout as disclosed in document D1' can in principle be viewed as the creation of a report design. When dragging field headings from the "PivotTable Field List" onto the initially blank PivotTable layout, the user effectively declares rows and columns and identifications of the data to be placed in those rows and columns. That the corresponding data values are immediately displayed in those rows and columns, as can be seen for example in Figure 30-8 on page 804, does not detract from this.

5.6 However, document D1' does not disclose storing the report design in a report definition file and subsequently using this report definition file by means of report processing software to generate a report.

5.7 The subject-matter of present claim 1 is therefore new over document D1' (Article 54(1) and (2) EPC).

6. Remittal to the department of first instance

6.1 Since document D1' does not contain any indication that a PivotTable layout can be stored separately in a file for later retrieval by report processing software, the Board is satisfied that, starting from the disclosure of document D1' and further having only regard to common general knowledge that is apparent from the file, the skilled person would not have arrived at the subject-matter of claim 1 in an obvious manner. Due to the structural differences between the PivotTable functionality as disclosed in document D1' and the invention as now claimed, document D1' in fact does not appear to be a particularly suitable starting point for the assessment of inventive step.

6.2 However, what now distinguishes the subject-matter of claim 1 from the disclosure of document D1', namely the separation of report design and generation into a first phase of designing a report layout to produce a report definition file and a second phase of using the report definition file to generate a report, is described in the present application as being part of the background of the invention and might hence as such be known from the prior art. See in particular paragraphs [0006] to [0008] of the description and also paragraphs [0041] and [0042]. In addition, further documents are cited in the search report. The Board is therefore not in a position to express an opinion on inventive step.

6.3 Furthermore, the claims still have to be examined for clarity. In particular, the wording of claim 1 "wherein said declaring comprises identification information (...) and a declarative marking" might require reformulation from a grammatical point of view.

6.4 For these reasons it is appropriate to remit the case to the Examining Division for further prosecution on the basis of the main request.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

1. The decision under appeal is set aside.

2. The case is remitted to the department of first instance for further prosecution.

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