T 1529/10 (Modular monitor service/SAP) of 20.2.2013

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2013:T152910.20130220
Date of decision: 20 February 2013
Case number: T 1529/10
Application number: 07010671.1
IPC class: H04Q 9/00
G06F 9/54
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 140.850K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Modular monitor service for smart item monitoring
Applicant name: SAP AG
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.03
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step - yes
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. This appeal is against the decision of the examining division refusing European patent application No. 07010671.1, with publication number EP 1863316 A, on the ground that the subject-matter of claim 1 of a main request and of first to third auxiliary requests did not involve an inventive step (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC) having regard to the disclosure of documents:

D1: US 2006/0106581 A

D3: Decasper et al: "Router Plugins - A Software Architecture for Next Generation Routers", Computer Communication Review, October 1998, pages 229-240.

II. This decision also refers to the following documents cited in the European Search Report:

D4: Graupner et al: "A Framework for Analyzing and Organizing Complex Systems", Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Engineering of Complex Computer Systems, 11-13 June, 2001, pages 155-165.

D5: Bornhövd et al: "Integrating Automatic Data Acquisition with Business Processes - Experiences with SAP's Auto-ID Infrastructure", Proceedings of the 30th VLDB Conference, Toronto, Canada, 2004, pages 1-7.

D6: Wiemann et al: "A Service and Device Monitoring Service for Smart Items Infrastructures", Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Wireless and Mobile Communications (ICWMC'O7), IEEE, 4 March 2007, pages 1-6.

III. In the notice of appeal the appellant requested that the decision be set aside. In a subsequently filed statement of grounds, the appellant filed claims of a main and an auxiliary request, said to be the same as those currently on file.

In a communication accompanying a summons to oral proceedings the board gave a preliminary opinion that claim 1 of the main and the auxiliary requests was not clear (Article 84 EPC). As regards inventive step, the board indicated that it did not regard the examining division's objection based on D1 and D3 as well-founded. However, it indicated that document D4 appeared to be relevant.

IV. With a fax letter dated 14 December 2012 sent in response to the board's communication, the appellant filed a new main and an auxiliary request to replace the requests on file. Arguments were advanced with respect to document D4.

V. On 23 January 2013, the day before the oral proceedings were scheduled to take place, the board sent a proposal by fax for amended independent claims 1 and 9 which it considered would be allowable. The rapporteur informed the representative by telephone that if the board's proposal were accepted, the oral proceedings would be cancelled and the board would likely issue a decision in writing to remit the case for further prosecution since the board had not examined the dependent claims or considered whether amendments were necessary to the description.

VI. In a fax letter received on the same day, the appellant expressed agreement to the amendments proposed by the board and requested the grant of a patent on the basis of these independent claims. The appellant annexed a copy of the new claims to the letter. The board duly cancelled the oral proceedings.

VII. The appellant accordingly requests that the decision under appeal be set aside and a patent granted on the basis of claims 1 and 9 received by fax letter on 23 January 2013. Implicitly, the request also includes dependent claims 2-8 and 10-12 of the main request received by fax letter on 14 December 2012. Formally on file are also the main and auxiliary requests received by fax letter on 14 December 2012, which implicitly are subordinate to that received on 23 January 2013.

VIII. Claim 1 of the appellant's request reads as follows:

"A system for monitoring smart item devices of at least one device network (102) by means of monitor services, the system (100) comprising:

a service repository (124) configured to store a core monitor service (148), the core monitor service (148) being configured to implement fundamental monitoring functionalities that are used by all monitor services (132a - 132d), and a plurality of monitor service modules (150) configured to implement functionality that is particular to a given one of the monitor services (l32a - l32d), each of the monitor service modules including a system adaptor (134) and being implemented by means of a respective module manager

(608) as a plug-in component that is added to the core monitor service on an as-needed basis and adapted to communicate with the core monitor service via a common interface which is shared by the plurality of monitor service modules (150), such that the core monitor service (148) is extendable according to application-specific needs in that functionality related to communicating, data storage or data preprocessing may be added or replaced to form a respective modular monitor service (600) without changing the core monitor service (148), the modular monitor service (600) representing one or more of the monitor services (132a — 132d), wherein the common interface is implemented by said system adaptors (134), each system adaptor

being a service mapped to a respective device by a service mapper (120) and serving as a data source to provide monitor data about the respective device as well as about any service running on the respective device, the system adaptors (134) implementing the common interface for communicating with the core monitor service (148) while implementing whatever other interfaces are necessary for monitoring the respective services and/or devices;

wherein said service mapper (120) is configured to select devices as selected devices from among the smart item devices of the device network, for installing instances of the core monitor service (148) onto at least two tiers (202, 204, 206, 208) of a hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture and further, once the core monitor service is installed, for installing at least one monitor service module (150) onto at least one tier of the hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture, and the system further comprises

a system monitor (132) implemented according

to the hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture to provide a scalable, distributed monitoring service and comprising the instances of the core monitor service (148) and the at least one monitor service module (150), the system monitor (132) configured, with the instances of the core monitor service (148) and the at least one monitor service module (150) in place, to detect and collect monitor data of the device network and propagate at least a portion of the monitor data through the hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture from the device network (102)."

IX. Claim 9 of the appellant's request reads as follows:

"A method comprising:

providing instances of a core monitor service (148,

148a, 148b, 148c, 148d) configured to implement fundamental monitoring functionalities that are used by all monitor services (132a — 132d), onto at least two tiers (202, 204, 206, 208) of a hierarchical, multi-

tiered monitor architecture associated with at least one device network (102), the core monitor service being stored in a service repository and the instances of the core monitor service being installed by selecting by means of a service mapper devices as selected devices from among smart item devices of the device network; and

providing, once the core monitor service is installed, on at least one of the plurality of tiers at least one monitor service module (150, 150a, 150b, l5Oc) stored in the service repository, including a system

adaptor (134) and implemented by means of a respective module manager (608) as a plug-in component that is added to the core monitor service on an as-needed basis and communicates with the core monitor service via a common interface which is shared by a plurality of monitor service modules (150), such that the core monitor service (148) is extendable according to application-specific needs in that functionality related to communicating, data storage or data processing may be added or replaced to form a respective modular monitor service (600) without changing the core monitor service (148), the modular monitor service (600) representing one or more of the

monitor services (132a - 132d), wherein the common interface is implemented by system adaptors (134), each system adaptor being a service mapped to a respective device by a service mapper (120) and serving as data source to provide monitor data about the respective

device as well as about any service running on the respective device, the system adaptors (134) implementing the common interface for communicating with the core monitor service (148) while implementing whatever other interfaces are necessary for monitoring the respective services and/or devices, so that, with the instances of the core monitor service and the at least one monitor service module in place, monitor data of the device network may be detected and collected and at least a portion of the monitor data may be propagated through the hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture from the device network."

X. In view of the board's decision, it is not necessary to reproduce the text of the claims of the main and auxiliary requests received on 14 December 2012.

Reasons for the Decision

1. Amendments (Article 123(2) EPC)

Claim 1 is mainly based on claims 1 and 2 as originally filed together with subject-matter from paragraphs [0014], [0088] - [0090], and [0123] of the description as filed (referring to the published application). As regards the amendments made during the appeal proceedings: The feature that fundamental monitoring functionalities are used by all monitor services is disclosed in paragraph [0089] of the description. The feature "functionality ... particular to a given one of the monitor services" is also based on paragraph [0089]; the omission here of the term "more" from the expression "more particular" is a clarification which nevertheless, in the board's view, merely reflects the meaning that the skilled person would have understood from the original phrase. The feature that each of the service modules includes a system adapter, whereby common interface is implemented by the system adapter, is disclosed in paragraph [0123].

Claim 9 is a method claim corresponding to claim 1, ie is based on the same parts of the application as filed.

Claims 1 and 9 therefore comply with Article 123(2) EPC.

2. Clarity (Article 84 EPC)

The board finds that, following amendment, claims 1 and 9 are adequately clear within the meaning of Article 84 EPC.

3. Inventive step (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC)

3.1 The present invention relates to a system for monitoring smart item devices, for example of a network comprising RFID (radio frequency ID) tags. The system includes a service repository for storing "monitor services", which the board understands as software modules for installation in the "smart item" processing devices making up the monitoring system, and a service mapper for installing the monitor services to selected devices of the network. The monitoring network is arranged as a multi-tiered hierarchical architecture. The monitor services are made up of a core monitor service implementing fundamental monitoring functionalities used by all monitor services, and so-called "monitor service modules" which implement functionality particular to a given monitor service/device. The monitor service modules are configured as plug-in components to be added to the core service on an as-needed basis.

3.2 The examining division considered that document D1 represents the closest prior art. The board agrees.

Document D1, like the present invention, discloses a system for monitoring RFID tags. As in the present invention, the monitoring network is arranged as a multi-tiered hierarchical architecture. One layer is formed by a device controller which carries out "core functions" (cf. paragraph [0098]. These are listed as: filters, enrichers, aggregators, writers, buffers, and senders (cf. paragraph [0091]). These functions are carried out by one or more data processors in the device controller.

3.3 The examining division identified three differences over D1, namely (cf. the impugned decision, section 2.1 of the reasons):

"(i) the system comprises a service repository configured to store the core monitor service as a template and that

(ii) the service repository additionally stores a plurality of monitor service modules, each of the monitor service modules being implemented by means of a respective module manager as a plug-in component that is added to the core monitor service on an as-needed basis and communicates with the core monitor service via a common interface which is shared by the plurality of monitor service modules, such that the core monitor service is extendable according to application-specific needs in that functionality related to communicating, data storage or data preprocessing may be added or replaced to a respective module monitor service without changing the core monitor device,

the system monitor comprises both the core monitor service and the at least one monitor service module, and that

(iii) the system further comprises a system mapper configured to select devices as selected devices from among the smart item devices of the device network, for deploying instances of the core monitor service onto at least two tiers of the hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture and further once the core monitor service is installed, for deploying at least one monitor service module onto at least one tier of the hierarchical, multi-tiered monitor architecture."

The examining division then identified three separate technical problems to be solved, and argued that each problem had an obvious solution based on the common knowledge of the skilled person. Document D3 was mentioned to support this view in connection with distinguishing feature (ii). The examining division also commented that although features (i) to (iii) were analysed separately they did in fact interact, but that combining them did not provide any further or surprising technical effect. The examining division concluded that the claimed subject-matter as a whole did not involve an inventive step.

3.4 The examining division has clearly made use of a "partial problems" approach (see eg the Guidelines G-VII, section 5.2, last paragraph, and sections 6 and 7). In accordance with the Guidelines and Board of Appeal case law (cf. Case Law of the Boards of Appeal, 6th Edition 2010, Part D, section 8.2.2), such an approach is appropriate where the distinguishing features concerned are not functionally interdependent, ie do not mutually influence each other to achieve a technical success over and above the sum of their respective individual effects. The board has to consider whether this is a reasonable approach in the present case.

3.5 In the board's view, the overall problem to be solved starting out from D1 is how to efficiently and flexibly program a large, scalable, multi-tiered monitoring network. This is achieved, in accordance with the distinguishing features (i) to (iii), by having a single core module used by all devices and a plurality of additional, plug-in modules particular to certain devices, all centrally stored in a service repository and installed onto the various devices of the various tiers of the multi-tiered network using a service mapper. Each of these aspects is an interrelated part of an overall concept for efficiently managing the network. The combination of these features cannot therefore, in the board's view, be fairly viewed as a mere aggregation of three unrelated features solving separate problems. For this reason, the board finds the examining division's line of reasoning based on partial problems to be inappropriate.

3.6 The board therefore has to judge whether the combination of features of claim 1 involves an inventive step.

3.7 In order to arrive at the combination of features of claim 1, the skilled person starting out from the system of document D1 has to perform a number of steps to incorporate the features (i), (ii) and (iii). There is no evidence on file that these features in combination belonged to the common knowledge of the skilled person in this field. Furthermore, the examining division ignored aspects of features (ii) and (iii) when assessing inventive step, namely that a plurality of monitor service modules share a common interface with the core monitor service, and that instances of the core monitor service are installed on at least two tiers of the multi-tiered architecture. Claim 1 as amended during these appeal proceedings further defines a system adaptor in each of the monitor service modules for implementing the common interface. The board takes the view that the skilled person, purely on the basis of alleged common knowledge, would not take the large number of steps required to arrive at the claimed subject-matter without the benefit of hindsight.

3.8 Concerning the remaining documents on file, the board comments as follows:

3.8.1 Re D3: The examining division combined D1 with document D3, which discloses a modular architecture using plug-in modules. However, this document comes from a different field, namely routers for packet switching networks. Hence the board finds it unlikely that the skilled person would combine these documents.

3.8.2 Re D4: Document D4 discloses a hierarchical network structure having some apparent similarities to the claimed solution. In this respect, D4 refers to a repository for storing prior and current model descriptions of hardware, software etc (cf. page 160, right-hand col., section 4.1). The network also includes monitoring sensors for feeding information into the network model (cf. Fig. 7 and page 161, line 4 ff.). It also includes a mapping matrix "containing a solution of services assigned to servicing stations" (cf. page 162, left-hand col., lines 43-45). However, these "services" do not refer to those running on the infrastructure of the monitoring network itself, but to network applications which are to be optimally configured using a "Generic Optimization Framework" (cf. page 162, section 4.3). Apparently, data obtained from the monitoring network, eg load readings (cf. page 160, right-hand col., section 4.2, lines 2-4), is used to optimise the mapping matrix (cf. page 162, left-hand col., lines 33-37). The mapping matrix of D4 is therefore the result of an optimisation process based on monitoring data, and not directly comparable to the mapper of the present invention. In addition, there is no suggestion in D4 that monitoring services should be arranged to have a core module used by all services together with particular plug-in modules. Therefore D4 would not lead the skilled person to the subject-matter of claim 1 without the exercise of inventive skill.

3.8.3 Re D5: Document D5 is a publication by the applicant which is similar to D1. It adds that "Centralized administration tools to ... configure, deploy ... and upgrade remote devices is a prerequisite for the deployment of large, highly distributed Auto-ID solutions". However there are no details which would lead the skilled person to the features of the present invention.

3.8.4 Re D6: Document D6 is a publication by the applicant disclosing many features of the present invention. However, it was published between the priority date and the filing date of the present application. In the view of the board, at least independent claims 1 and 9 are entitled to the claimed priority (cf. claims 1 and 2 and paragraphs [0014], [00105] - [00107] and [00140] of the priority application US 11/444,279 (31 May 2006)). Hence D6 is not prior art within the meaning of Article 54(2) EPC and therefore not relevant to inventive step.

3.9 The board accordingly concludes that the subject-matter of claim 1 involves an inventive step having regard to the prior art on file (Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC).

3.10 These comments apply, mutatis mutandis, to independent claim 9.

4. Main and auxiliary requests received on 14 December 2012

The appellant has not formally withdrawn these requests. However, in view of the board's decision, there is no reason to consider these requests, since they are implicitly subordinate to the request received on 23 January 2013.

5. Conclusion

The board concludes that independent claims 1 and 9 meet the requirements of the EPC, having regard to the prior art at the board's disposal. The board has however not examined the dependent claims or considered whether amendments are required to the description. For this reason, the case is remitted to the examining division for further prosecution.

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 on the basis of claims 1 and 9 received on 23 January 2013 and dependent claims 2-8 and 10-12 of the main request received on 14 December 2012.

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