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T 1667/11 (Hot migration/OCE) of 1.2.2016

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2016:T166711.20160201
Date of decision: 01 February 2016
Case number: T 1667/11
Application number: 02076952.7
IPC class: G06F 9/445
G06F 17/30
G06F 9/46
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 349.333K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Hot migration through incremental roll-over using migration plug-ins for conversion during upgrade
Applicant name: Océ-Technologies B.V.
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.06
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step - (no)


Cited decisions:
Citing decisions:

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal lies against the decision of the examining division, with reasons dispatched on 11 February 2011 to refuse European patent application No. 02 076 952.7 for lack of an inventive step over the documents

D1: EP 0 738 980 A2 and

D3: Lautemann, S-E, "An Introduction to Schema Ver­sioning in OODBMS", Proc. 7th International Conference and Workshop on Database and Expert Systems Appli­ca­tions, IEEE Press, 1996, pages 132-139, XP010200865.

A number of clarity objections were also raised in a section entitled "Obiter Dicta".

II. Notice of appeal was filed on 11 April 2011, the appeal fee being paid on the same day. A statement of grounds of appeal was received on 21 June 2011. The appellant requested that the decision be set aside and that a patent be granted based on claims 1-13 as filed with the grounds of appeal, the other application documents be­ing description pages 1-10 and drawings sheets 1/7-7/7 as originally filed.

III. In an annex to a summons to oral proceedings, the board informed the appellant of its preliminary opinion, inter alia that claim 1 lacked an inventive step, Article 56 EPC 1973.

IV. In response to the summons, the appellant did not file either amendments or arguments. In a letter dated 18 De­cember 2015 it only reiterated its belief "that the application is deemed allowable" and indicated that no one would be present at the scheduled oral procee­dings. Moreover, it withdrew its request for oral pro­cee­dings.

V. The board then cancelled the oral proceedings.

VI. Claim 1 reads as follows:

"A method for executing a hot migrate operation from a first version of a service (511) using a first data model (N), to a second version of the service (512) using a second data model (N+1) that is modified with respect to said first data model, the service comprising a client application, a data manager and a data repository, said migrate operation being effected on a server facility (SA, SB) that accommodates multiple processes to be running in parallel, said method comprising the steps of:

- installing second version client applications

- installing a second version data manager operating according to the said second data model, and

- installing a second version data repository arranged according to the said second data model and cooperating with the second version data manager;

characterized in that

- the second version data manager is provided with a first migration plug-in;

in that, the second version service is controlled to retrieve and remove data from the first version data repository, and thereupon to convert and store these data to the second version data repository, whereafter the second version data manager will retrieve converted data from the second version data repository;

in that the first version service is controlled to retrieve data from the first version data repository, but if unsuccessful, to retrieve and convert data from the new version data repository without storing thereof, where said conversion takes place with a second migration plug-in coupled to the first data manager;

and in that an incremental roll-over process is effectuated, wherein in successive steps data is converted from said first version data repository to said second version data repository by means of the first migration plug-in until all data will have been converted."

Reasons for the Decision

1. The following reasons are based on the board's analysis presented in the annex to the summons to oral procee­dings, on which the appellant chose to to comment.

The invention

2. The application relates to the migration of databases to a new format - or, as the claims specify, to a new "da­ta model" - without interrupting the operation of the database system (see Figures 1 and 2). The migra­tion of both "user entities" (e.g. applications) and of data "entries" is disclosed as being executed 'in a "rolling-over" manner', so that the database continues to ope­rate even when only some "user entities" have been "up­gra­d[ed] or migrat[ed]" and even when the data migra­tion is still incomplete (see description, page 1, last paragraph, page 2, first paragraph, and Figure 3). This is referred to as "hot migration". The central features of the claimed invention are illus­­trated in Figure 5 and on page 6 of the descrip­tion. Data is held in data reposi­to­ries (503, 507) and applications access data reposito­ries through "data ma­na­gers" (501, 508). Before and after data migra­­tion from version N to ver­sion N+1, only one data manager and one data reposi­tory is needed (see Figure 5, situ­a­tions A and C). Migration is per­formed in an incremen­tal manner and is driven by new version N+1 applica­tions, which operate on data in ver­sion N+1. When a ver­sion N+1 application accesses data which has not yet been migrated and is only avai­lable in version N, a so-called "migration plugin" con­verts the data into ver­sion N+1. The converted data is stored in the version N+1 data repository and removed from the version N data repository (see page 6, lines 8-14). On the other hand, when a version N application accesses data which has already been migrated, another migration plugin will con­vert version N+1 data into version N. Eventually, when all data is converted, the version N data manager, data repository and migration plugins can be dispensed with.

The prior art

3. D1 discloses a method for converting data on external storage from an old format to a new format which does not affect system availability (column 1, lines 3-6), i.e. a "hot data migration" technique. More spe­ci­fi­cally, the technique enables the co-existence of pro­cessors running code which operates on the data in the new format and pro­cessors running code which operates on data in the old format (column 2, lines 6-50). Pro­cessors are "migrated" one by one (column 4, lines 5-8; column 5, lines 45-55). The processor running "new" code will access the data stored in the old format and convert it into the new format for the new code. Com­pu­­­tational results produced in the new format will be converted (back) into the old format and stored on the external storage (see column 4, lines 8-10; column 5, line 55 - column 6, line 5). Only when "the new code is loaded on all of the processors" will the data on the external storage be converted and permanently stored in this form (see column 4, lines 10-13; column 6, line 8-11). Data accessed during conver­sion may be in the old format, the new format or "being conver­ted" (see column 6, lines 12-14 and 49-52, and co­lumn 7, lines 11-31; Figure 3). If the new "code" accesses old data which is not yet converted, the con­ver­sion is performed "on the fly" for that access (loc. cit.). A correspon­ding "backward" translation "on the fly" of data in the new format for "old" code is not dis­­closed.

4. D3 discusses "schema versioning in OODBMS" (see title), i.e. the modification of database schemas (see page 134, left column, items 1-3) in object-oriented data­base mana­ge­ment systems. D3 distinguishes between sche­ma "evolu­tion" and schema "versioning". Schema evo­lu­tion is the conversion of the data and the code from from one schema version to another one (see Figure 1), whereas schema ver­sio­ning (Figure 5) allows the coexis­tence of data (objects) in seve­ral versions at the same time. To avoid system down-time it is disclosed to use a "lazy mechanism" for schema evolu­tion which converts an ob­ject from the old to the new schema only when it is actually accessed (page 133, left column, 2nd para­graph). It is then ar­gued in D3 that schema evolution would require the instantaneous "evo­lution" of old appli­cat­ions as well (see loc. cit., 3rd paragraph). Schema versioning is pro­posed as a solution to that prob­lem. In the context of schema versioning, it is dis­­closed to use "conversion functions" between data in different formats, and it is expressly disclosed that conversions may be provided in both directions (see sec­tion 7.4 and Figure 5). By con­catenating the conver­sion functions, propaga­tion be­tween several different ver­sions becomes possible (page 137, right column, last paragraph).

Inventive step

5. In the decision under appeal, D1 is used as the star­ting point for the assessment of inventive step.

5.1 The board agrees with the appellant that D1 does not disclose an incremental data conversion pro­cess during simultaneous presence of "old" and "new" code. As long as both old and new code is present, data is only tem­po­rarily converted into the new format and converted back for storage. That is, the "old" data in exter­nal storage is not permanently converted into the new for­mat, so that the old data cannot be removed. Complete and final con­ver­sion of the data in external storage only starts once all the old code has dis­appeared. In both cases, there is no need to pro­vide a conversion function - i.e. a "plugin" as claimed - for the old code.

5.2 Therefore, the board finds D3 a more suitable starting point for the assessment of inventive step.

6. In the board's view, the lazy conversion mecha­nism of D3 implies all the features of claim 1 except for the ones specified in claim 1, lines 20-23. In particular, the component performing the on-need conversion quali­fies as a "migration plugin" to a "data manager" as claimed, taking account of the fact that no detail about either the "plugin" or the "data manager" is spe­ci­fied explicitly in the claims or implied by these terms alone. Moreover, the lazy mechanism is disclosed in D3 as an alternative to the conversion of a database as a whole. The board considers that the skilled person would under­stand con­version to be "de­structive", i.e. that the conver­ted data would take the place of the ori­­gi­nal data, thereby removing the old version data. For completeness' sake, the board also notes that it con­si­ders the removal of old - and thus out-dated - data to be an immediately obvious­ option for the skilled per­son. The lazy mechanism of D3 therefore also consti­tutes an "incremental roll-over process" which termi­nates only once all the data has been converted.

7. The subject-matter of claim 1 thus differs from the disclosure of D3 in that

i) a distinction is made between first and second da­ta repositories,

ii) the data manager of a first version client applic­ation initially tries to access the data in the first version repository, and

iii) the data manager, if data is not accessible from the first version repository because it has al­rea­dy been con­ver­ted, uses a "second migration plug­in" to access (re­trieve and convert) the data in the new format.

7.1 The board takes the view that it would have been ob­vious for the skilled person to store converted data else­where (i.e. in a "second version repository") rather than con­vert it in-place (difference i). In fact, this might even be necessary, e.g. if the new format re­quired more space than the old format and the converted data did not fit into its original place.

7.2 D3 teaches that, for schema evolution to work, "appli­ca­­­tions have to be adapted to modified schemas" (page 133, left column, 3rd paragraph, lines 5-7), and states that this may be "unaccep­table" or impossible "simply for prac­ti­cal reasons or because the source code is not avai­lable" (lines 12-17). That it may often be "unaccep­table", however, does not mean that it always is. Therefore, the board takes D3 to suggest that, in principle, adap­ta­tion of old applications to schema updates is an op­tion, if a less preferable one.

7.3 In the board's understanding, difference iii) repre­sents such an adaptation: the "second migration plugin" enables an old application to access converted data. Moreover, difference ii) modifies this adaptation to work with the lazy conversion mechanism.

7.4 The board thus finds that differences ii) and iii) solve the problem of adapting old applications to be compatible with the lazy conversion mechanism.

7.5 In the board's view, the solution provided by diffe­ren­ces ii) and iii) was obvious. It would have been ob­vious for the skilled person to provide an old appli­cation with some suitable code for converting data in the new for­mat back into the old format so that the old appli­­ca­tion could operate on data that had already been con­ver­ted. It would further have been obvious to pro­vide such code as a separate "module" or "plugin" to the old application.

7.6 In passing, the board notes that D3 already discloses the necessary conversion functions, albeit in the context of "schema versioning" (see Figure 5). There­fore, the board cannot see that the skilled person would have to exercise an inventive step in order to provide the claimed "migration plugins".

7.7 The board therefore concludes that the subject-matter of claim 1 lacks inventive step over D3 (Article 56 EPC 1973).


For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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