T 1544/10 (Pattern occuring in situation representations/SAP) of 2.3.2015

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2015:T154410.20150302
Date of decision: 02 March 2015
Case number: T 1544/10
Application number: 04075323.8
IPC class: G06F 9/44
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 366.154K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: A system for storing a pattern occuring in situation representations for context representation in an application and a method of storing a pattern occuring in situation representations for context representation in an application
Applicant name: SAP SE
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.06
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 83
Keywords: Sufficiency of disclosure - (no)
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. This is an appeal against the decision, dispatched on 18 February 2010, to refuse European patent application No. 04 075 323.8 inter alia on the basis that the claimed method according to the then main and first to third auxiliary requests was, particularly in view of the expressions "situation representation" and "context representation", not disclosed in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for the skilled person to put it into practice, Article 83 EPC.

II. With a notice of appeal, received on 27 April 2010, the appellant submitted amended description pages and claims according to a main and first to third auxiliary requests. The appeal fee was paid on the same day. The appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that the case be remitted to the first instance with an order to grant a patent. The appellant also made an auxiliary request for oral proceedings.

III. In a statement of grounds of appeal, received on 17 June 2010, the appellant reiterated the requests made in the notice of appeal.

IV. In an annex to a summons to oral proceedings the board expressed its provisional opinion that the application seemed not to comply inter alia with Article 83 EPC 1973 regarding sufficiency of disclosure.

V. With a submission received on 19 January 2015 the appellant submitted amended description pages relating to the main and first to third auxiliary requests.

VI. At the oral proceedings, held on 2 March 2015, the appellant submitted amended claims according to a fourth auxiliary request. The appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and the case be remitted to the department of first instance with the order to grant a patent on the basis of the claim sets of the main request or of one of the first to third auxiliary requests, all filed with the notice of appeal, or of the fourth auxiliary request filed during the oral proceedings. The remaining application documents for the main and first to third auxiliary requests are as follows:

Description:

Main request: pages 6 and 14 filed on 19 January 2015;

pages 1, 1a, 2 and 3 filed with the notice of appeal and pages 4, 5 and 7 to 13 as originally filed.

First auxiliary request: page 6 filed on 19 January 2015; page 14 filed on 19 January 2015 for the main request; pages 1, 1a, 2 and 3 filed with the notice of appeal and pages 4, 5 and 7 to 13 as originally filed.

Second auxiliary request: page 6 filed on 19 January 2015 for the first auxiliary request; page 14 filed on 19 January 2015 for the main request; pages 1, 1a, 2 and 3 filed with the notice of appeal and pages 4, 5 and 7 to 13 as originally filed.

Third auxiliary request: page 6 filed on 19 January 2015 for the first auxiliary request; page 14 filed on 19 January 2015 for the main request; pages 1, 1a, 2 to 4 and 10 filed with the notice of appeal and

pages 5, 7 to 9 and 11 to 13 as originally filed.

Drawings:

Figures 1 to 3 filed on 19 April 2004, for all requests.

At the end of the oral proceedings the board announced its decision.

VII. Claim 1 according to the main request reads as follows:

"A system for storing a pattern occurring in situation representations for a context representation in an application (20), a situation being an action or a process in an application, a situation representation representing a current or previous situation and being stored in terms of entities (61) involved or associated with each particular process and/or action, a context representation being a collection of facts and entities related to a situation, the system (10) comprising a first storage medium (18) for storing a plurality of situations (64) in which a user of the application (20) is or has been involved as a respective plurality of situation representations (64', 64") having at least one property (4) determined by the respective situation (64), a pattern identifier (15) for identifying a pattern including a common property (4) shared by at least two of the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") in the plurality of stored situation representations (64', 64"), and a second storage medium (19) for storing a representation (5) of the pattern, wherein the first storage medium (18) is arranged to remove the at least two of the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") from the first storage medium (18) in response to the identification of the pattern."

The claims according to the main request also comprise a corresponding method claim 16, a claim 31 to a user terminal and a claim 32 to a program storage device, claims 31 and 32 both referring to the method of any of claims 16 to 30.

VIII. Claim 1 according to the first auxiliary request differs from that according to the main request in that the following passage has been added at the end:

", wherein the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") is stored as a respective plurality of frames describing at least one entity (61) and action involved in the respective situation (64) and their relationship to each other".

IX. Claim 1 according to the second auxiliary request differs from that according to the first auxiliary request in that the following passage has been added at the end:

", the system being associated with a context modeller (16) for determining which entities (61) are to form the context representation on the basis, amongst others, of an output of the system".

X. Claim 1 according to the third auxiliary request differs from that according to the second auxiliary request in that the following passage has been added at the end:

", and the system being associated with an application (20) that includes a database (22), a recorded user behaviour storage medium (28) for storing user behaviour, a high level ontology storage medium (30) for storing a high level ontology, and other repositories (32) for storing other data, wherein

the database (22), the recorded user behaviour storage medium (28), the high level ontology storage medium (30) and the other repositories (32) exchange data with the system via communication links (27, 29, 31, 33), respectively, in order to provide data concerning entities (61) for the situation representations".

XI. The claims according to the first to third auxiliary requests also comprise a corresponding method claim 15, a claim 29 to a user terminal and a claim 30 to a program storage device, claims 29 and 30 both referring to the method of any of claims 15 to 28.

XII. Claim 1 according to the fourth auxiliary request reads as follows, the features added with respect to claim 1 of the first auxiliary request (which has also been rearranged somewhat), being indicated in bold:

"A system for storing a pattern occurring in situation representations for a context representation in an application (20), a situation being an action or a process in an application, a situation representation representing a current or previous situation and being stored in terms of entities (61) involved or associated with each particular process and/or action, a context representation being a collection of facts and entities related to a situation, the system (10) comprising a first storage medium (18) for storing a plurality of situations (64) in which a user of the application (20) is or has been involved as a respective plurality of situation representations (64', 64") having at least one property (4) determined by the respective situation (64), wherein the first storage medium (18) is a short term memory and the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") is stored as a respective plurality of frames describing at least one entity (61) and action involved in the respective situation (64) and their relationship to each other; a pattern identifier (15) for identifying a pattern including a common property (4) shared by at least two of the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") in the plurality of stored situation representations (64', 64"), and a second storage medium (19) for storing a representation (5) of the pattern, wherein the second storage medium (19) is a long term memory and the pattern is stored as a frame representation; wherein the frame storing the pattern is an abstraction of the plurality of frames corresponding to the at least two of the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") sharing a common property (4); wherein the first storage medium (18) is arranged to remove the at least two of the plurality of situation representations (64', 64") from the first storage medium (18) in response to the identification of the pattern, and wherein the pattern identifier (15) is arranged to identify the pattern if a number of situation representations (64', 64") with at least one common property (4) exceeds a first threshold value and/or if a number of common properties (4) shared by the at least two situation representations (64', 64") exceeds a second threshold value."

The claims according to the fourth auxiliary request also comprise a corresponding method claim 5, a claim 9 to a user terminal and a claim 10 to a program storage device, claims 9 and 10 both referring to the method of any of claims 5 to 8.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The admissibility of the appeal

In view of the facts set out at points I to III above, the appeal complies with the admissibility requirements under the EPC and is therefore admissible.

2. The admittance of the fourth auxiliary request into the proceedings

2.1 This request was submitted during the oral proceedings after the discussion of whether the application according to the main and first to third auxiliary requests complied with Article 83 EPC 1973 regarding sufficiency of disclosure. Thus the new request was an amendment to the appellant's case.

2.2 According to Article 13(1) RPBA, any amendment to a party's case after it has filed its grounds of appeal or reply may be admitted and considered at the board's discretion. The discretion shall be exercised in view of inter alia the complexity of the new subject-matter submitted, the current state of the proceedings and the need for procedural economy. Under Article 13(3) RPBA amendments sought to be made after oral proceedings have been arranged shall not be admitted if they raise issues which the board cannot reasonably be expected to deal with without adjournment of the oral proceedings.

2.3 As the appellant explained, the claims of the fourth auxiliary request are based on those of the first auxiliary request, claims 1 to 7 having been combined and claims 9 to 11 deleted. In the present case, the board is satisfied that the amendments made to the claims in the fourth auxiliary request are aimed at overcoming the objections under Article 83 EPC 1973 raised by the board in the annex to the summons to oral proceedings and discussed in the oral proceedings themselves. The manageable complexity of the subject-matter and the limited extent of the amendments were such that the board was able to assess their effect without adjournment of the oral proceedings.

2.4 Hence the board admitted the fourth auxiliary request into the proceedings.

3. A summary of the invention

3.1 The application relates to storing a pattern occurring in situation representations for context representations in an application. Applications, for example business applications, are known which adapt the information displayed, and the actions and objects which the user can select, according to the context, the context being implicitly given by the various screens of the application's user interface.

3.2 According to the description (see page 5, lines 10 to 26), a context representation typically includes at least one business entity. The term "entity" is used extensively in the application. Page 5, lines 18 to 23, provides the following explanation of its meaning: "For a user the context may include entities 61 including his role, projects, personal preferences etc. For a session the context may include entities 61 including a user, last actions, manipulated business entities 61 etc. For a certain business object of the business application, the context may include entities 61 including past projects, orders for a customer etc."

3.3 The context of an entity or a situation as defined by the process or action is a collection of facts and entities which are of special importance for that entity or situation and which usually have a direct or indirect relationship to the entity or situation. For a user the context may include entities including his role, projects, personal preferences etc. For a session the context may include entities including a user, last actions and manipulated business entities. For a certain business object of the business application, the context may include entities 61 including past projects and orders for a customer. A context may be represented by a number of instances of business entities, processes/actions, or situations.

3.4 The problem arises that context sensitivity must be hard coded for each application screen, since very limited context information is kept when a user changes screen. The context information is consequently poor and unavailable for generic algorithms. According to the application, this problem is solved by improving the context representation in the application whilst keeping the data to be handled to a minimum. Although this is not set out in the claims, enhancing context sensitivity may have the advantage that user preferences can be identified and a preselection of probable values for input fields can be made; see page 2, lines 23 to 30.

3.5 The board notes that in figure 2 the situation representations (64', 64") and the pattern representation (5) are shown as data structures having a finite number of properties, depicted as either filled or empty squares. The appellant has referred to these squares as "slots". In the following discussion the slots are represented by a "1" if filled and by a "0" if empty.

4. Sufficiency of disclosure, Article 83 EPC 1973, main request

4.1 According to Article 83 EPC 1973, the application must disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art.

4.2 As illustrated in figures 1 and 2, the invention as set out in the claims of the main request enhances context sensitivity by inter alia the steps of storing, in a first storage medium (18), a plurality of situation representations (64', 64") in which the user is or has been involved, identifying a pattern including a common property (4) shared by at least two of the situation representations and storing, in a second storage medium (19), a representation of the pattern (5) and removing the at least two stored situation representations from the first storage medium (18) in response to the identification of the pattern.

4.3 Figure 2 contains the most detailed disclosure in the application of the derivation of a pattern representation (5) from two situation representations (64', 64"), if they have the common property (4).

4.4 According to the reasons for the decision, the claimed method was insufficiently disclosed because the passage on page 5, lines 2 to 4, which stated that "The situation representation 64', 64" is created by the system 10 on the basis of data from the application 20 and depending on the circumstances the current context representation which may be stored in the context modeller 16." was ambiguous as to which circumstances were meant. The technical and functional meaning of the terms "situation representation" and "context representation" and their interrelationship remained obscure. The description also gave no example of how a situation was used to improve the context representation of an application, which put an undue burden on the skilled person.

4.5 The appellant argued in the grounds of appeal that a "mind willing to understand" could carry out the invention, the terms "context" and "situation" being terms of art. Moreover the description explained the terms used in the claims "situation", "situation representation" and "context". As stated in its provisional opinion in the annex to the summons to oral proceedings, the board finds that, in the context of the application, a skilled person would know what is meant by "situation" and "context".

4.6 In its preliminary opinion, the board stated that the application did not sufficiently disclose how the invention achieved the technical effect of reducing the amount of data, thus avoiding having to store large amounts of data; see page 7, lines 5 to 16. The application did not explain how the pattern representation (5) was computed from the situation representations (64', 64") and what it should contain. Although this might have been an error made when producing the clean copy of figure 2 from that originally filed, it appeared from the currently valid (clean copy) version of figure 2 that the pattern representation (5) did not even contain the common property (4). The board also questioned what happened with the disjoint properties of the situation representations. It seemed reasonable to assume that situation representations 64' and 64" were not equal, otherwise the pattern identification would be a mere equality test. Assuming that the pattern representation (5) contained the common property (4), as it did in figure 2 as originally filed, the question arose of what happened with the other disjoint properties of the situation representations, which begged the question of why one disjoint property was included in the pattern representation 5 while the other was deleted and thus lost. It appeared that the invention reduced the amount of data on situation representations to be stored simply by deleting it, the conditions under which it was tolerable to lose some information and the conditions under which it was not were however not disclosed.

4.7 In the submission received on 19 January 2015 the appellant argued that the common property (4) between the situation representations 64' and 64" was the fact that they both had two "1"s, albeit separated by differing numbers of "0"s. The appellant also argued that the skilled person would know how to identify a pattern including a common property, as well as patterns as such. It was also a commonplace work procedure to store various kinds of information in the form of data. Hence the skilled person would have no difficulty in finding and creating a suitable representation for the identified pattern to be stored in a storage medium, for instance a frame, i.e. a data structure for representing situations.

4.8 At the oral proceedings the appellant argued that the invention was aimed at reducing the amount of memory required to implement a situation-based representation of application context. One possible way of representing situations and storing patterns was to use frames. Two storage media were used: a short-term, first storage medium, in which situation representations (64', 64") were stored, and a long-term, second storage medium, in which pattern representations (5) were stored. A pattern identifier recognised a pattern either based on a single situation (see page 6, lines 16 to 17) or based on several situation representations sharing a common property (4) enough times to exceed a predetermined threshold. Hence a pattern related to only certain properties of the situation representations which had been identified as important. The unimportant properties of the situation representations were ignored so that the user was not overloaded with variables not relevant to context. In this way the system could recognize repeated user actions. The stored pattern representation could be seen as an abstraction of the various situation representations containing it. However abstraction could go further to process situations with ostensibly no common property: page 12, lines 17 to 22, gave the example of abstracting the statements "A has a dog" and "B has a cat" to identify the common property "A and B each have a pet". Once a pattern had been recognised, all situation representations exhibiting it were deleted from the first storage medium, thus making the data processing involved more efficient. In one embodiment a further reduction in stored data could be achieved by only storing situation representations in the first memory that had never occurred before; see page 7, lines 22 to 26.

4.9 The board notes that the situation representations (64', 64") and the pattern representation (5) according to figure 2 as originally filed were as follows, the third slot in the situation representations being designated the common property (4):

Situation representation 64': 001001000 (9 slots)

Situation representation 64": 00101000 (8 slots)

Pattern representation 5: 001001000 (9 slots)

In contrast, the clean copy of figure 2 received on 19 April 2004 gives 8-slot values for all three quantities, the last slot of situation representation 64' and the first slot of pattern representation 5 having been removed, as follows:

Situation representation 64': 00100100 (8 slots)

Situation representation 64": 00101000 (8 slots)

Pattern representation 5: 01001000 (8 slots)

The appellant has conceded that errors were made when producing the clean copy of figure 2 from that originally filed. To resolve the discrepancies, the board has interpreted the presently valid version of figure 2 in the light of original figure 2 concerning the situation representation 64' and the pattern representation 5. Even on this interpretation of the application, the board finds that the derivation of the pattern representation (5) from the situation representations (64', 64") is not sufficiently disclosed, and that the skilled person would have to use inventive skill to implement it. In the board's understanding, figure 2 discloses a common property (4), namely the third slot being a "1", as being present in both situation representations. The third slot of the pattern representation (5) is also shown as a "1" and is understood by the board to reflect the common property. Beyond this disclosure, the skilled person has to use inventive skill to fill in the gaps in the disclosure of the invention, the gaps not being matters of common general knowledge, contrary to the assertion by the appellant. In figure 2, only the property in the sixth slot of situation representation 64' (a "1") is transferred into pattern representation 5. The property in the fifth slot of situation representation 64" (also a "1") is not reflected in pattern representation 5, and the skilled person is provided with no guidance as to why one disjoint property is included in the pattern representation 5 and the other is not. The board does not accept the appellant's explanation that the pattern representation reflects the spacing between the "1"s in the situation representations, there being no original disclosure to support this assertion. Consequently the application does not sufficiently disclose how the amount of memory required to implement a situation-based representation of application context is reduced.

4.10 The board concludes that the application does not disclose the invention according to the main request in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by the person skilled in the art, contrary to Article 83 EPC 1973.

5. The first and fourth auxiliary requests

5.1 The claims according to the first and fourth auxiliary requests have been restricted, compared to those of the main request, by further specifying inter alia that the situation representations are stored as frames, each describing at least one entity and action involved in the situation and their mutual relationship. Additionally, the claims of the fourth auxiliary request specify that the first and second storage media are short and long term memory, respectively, and set out that the frame storing the pattern is an abstraction of the plurality of frames corresponding to the at least two of the plurality of situation representations sharing a common property.

5.2 Regarding the claims of the fourth auxiliary request, the board gave its provisional opinion in the oral proceedings that the amendments were insufficient to overcome the objection under Article 83 EPC 1973 raised against the previous requests. The appellant argued that the skilled person using common general knowledge could carry out the invention as claimed.

5.3 The board takes the view that, despite the amendments made to the claims in the first and fourth auxiliary requests, the skilled person would have to exercise inventive skill to carry out the invention, the gaps in the disclosure not being matters of common general knowledge. As stated for the main request, the application does not disclose how the pattern representation is derived from the at least two situation representations including a common property and, in particular, does not disclose criteria for the skilled person to know which properties of situation representations are unimportant and can be ignored.

5.4 Also in the case of the fourth auxiliary request, the claims set out the pattern identifier being arranged to identify the pattern if a number of situation representations with at least one common property exceeds a first threshold and/or if a number of common properties shared by the at least two situation representations exceeds a second threshold value. The application however contains no disclosure as to how the thresholds are to be chosen, again requiring the skilled person to use inventive skill to fill in the gaps when carrying out the invention.

5.5 For example, the application does not disclose why in original figure 2, the sixth slot of situation representation 64' is transferred to pattern representation 5 whereas the fifth slot of situation representation 64" is not transferred to it, although these two properties both appear exactly once in each situation representation. Hence this example cannot be explained by the second threshold (nor by the first threshold), figure 2 providing the only example of pattern identification in the whole application.

5.6 The board concludes that the application does not disclose the invention according to the first and fourth auxiliary requests in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by the person skilled in the art, contrary to Article 83 EPC 1973.

6. The second auxiliary request

6.1 Compared to the claims of the first auxiliary request, the claims of this request have been further restricted to those embodiments in which a context modeller (see figures 1 and 2; 16) determines which entities are to form the context representation on the basis, amongst others, of an output of the system.

6.2 The amendments, relating to the context modeller, do not restrict the invention in a way which avoids the objections raised against the application according to the main request, that the application does not disclose how the pattern representation is derived from the at least two situation representations including a common property and, in particular, does not disclose criteria for the skilled person to know which properties of the situation representations are unimportant and can be ignored.

6.3 The board concludes that the application does not disclose the invention according to the second auxiliary request in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by the person skilled in the art, contrary to Article 83 EPC 1973.

7. The third auxiliary request

7.1 Compared to the claims of the second auxiliary request, the claims of this request have been further restricted to those embodiments in which the application (see figure 1; 20) includes a database, a recorded user behaviour storage medium and a high level ontology (i.e. a structural framework for organising information) storage medium, these elements exchanging data with the system via communication links in order to provide data concerning entities for the situation representations.

7.2 The amendments, relating to the provision of data concerning entities, do not restrict the invention so as to avoid the objections raised against the application according to the main request, that the application does not disclose how the pattern representation is derived from the at least two situation representations including a common property and, in particular, does not disclose criteria for the skilled person to know which properties of the situation representations are unimportant and can be ignored.

7.3 The board concludes that the application does not disclose the invention according to the third auxiliary request in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by the person skilled in the art, contrary to Article 83 EPC 1973.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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