T 0040/13 (Multiple image formats/FLASHPOINT) of 7.5.2014

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2014:T004013.20140507
Date of decision: 07 May 2014
Case number: T 0040/13
Application number: 98925090.7
IPC class: G06F 17/30
G06T 3/40
H04N 1/21
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 351.252K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: A method and system for accelerating a user interface of an image capture unit during play mode
Applicant name: FlashPoint Technology, Inc.
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.07
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step - (no)
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appellant (applicant) appealed against the decision of the Examining Division refusing European patent application no. 98925090.7.

II. In the contested decision, the Examining Division came, inter alia, to the conclusion that the subject-matter of claims 1 and 6 filed in electronic form on 4 April 2012 did not involve an inventive step within the meaning of Article 56 EPC, having regard to the following prior art document and the skilled person's knowledge:

D1: N. Dal Degan et al. "Still images retrieval from a remote database: The system Imagine", Signal Processing: Image Communication 5 (1993), pages 219 - 234, Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam, NL.

Furthermore, the amendments in claims 2 and 7 introduced subject-matter extending beyond the content of the application as originally filed and thus contravened Article 123(2) EPC.

In section III. ("Obiter Dicta") of the decision, the Examining Division further referred to the following documents:

D2: C. R. Hauf et al.: "The FlashPix**(TM)Image File Format", The Fourth Color Imaging Conference: Color Science, Systems and Applications, 1996, pages 234 - 238, XP000856885;

D3: WO-A-92/05655.

III. With the notice of appeal dated 4 September 2012, the appellant, inter alia, requested "to grant a European patent in accordance with one of the Applicant's Requests as submitted to the Examining division or based on such further Requests as may be submitted during the appeal procedure with the approval of the Board".

As the only request considered by the Examining Division in the contested decision related to claims 1 to 10 filed in electronic form on 4 April 2012 and no further request was submitted in the course of the appeal proceedings, the Board understands that the appellant intended to request the grant of a patent on the basis of these claims.

IV. In a communication accompanying the summons to oral proceedings, the Board drew the appellant's attention to the following document cited in the International search report:

D6: US-A-5 164 831.

Furthermore, the Board introduced the following document into the appeal proceedings:

D7: GB-A-2 295 936.

V. In reply to the Board's communication, the representative of the appellant argued with letter dated 3 April 2014 that claim 1 was inventive over the newly cited documents and declared that the appellant would not be represented at the oral proceedings.

VI. With letter dated 28 April 2014, the appellant's representative confirmed that the appellant would not be represented at the oral proceedings.

VII. Oral proceedings were held as scheduled on 7 May 2014 in the absence of the appellant.

VIII. Claim 1 filed on 4 April 2012 reads as follows:

"A method for accelerating a user interface (408) on a display (402) of an image capture unit (110), the image capture unit including a plurality of image files (600) for providing a plurality of images, each image file including a high resolution image (604, 811) therein, the image capture unit including controls (409, 410a, 410b, 420) for allowing an image to be viewed on the display and for allowing navigation between the plurality of images, the method comprising the steps of:

(a) providing a lower resolution image (606, 608) within each image file, the lower resolution image being associated with the high resolution image within a particular image file, wherein each image file comprises the high resolution image and the low resolution image, which is a low resolution version of the high resolution image;

(b) allowing the lower resolution image to be viewed on the display;

(c) causing the high resolution image related to lower resolution image to be displayed on top of the lower resolution image; and

(d) allowing for navigation between lower resolution images based upon user interaction."

Claims 2 to 5 depend directly or indirectly on claim 1.

Claim 6 is directed to a "system for accelerating a user interface" and comprises means for performing the steps recited in claim 1.

Claims 7 to 10 are directly or indirectly dependent on claim 6.

IX. The appellant's arguments may be summarized as follows:

The problem addressed in the application was to accelerate the process of navigation through multiple images in a digital camera. The solution offered by document D1 was to have one browse window comprising a lower quality image, which allowed the user to explore the content of the database. If the user wanted to see the selected image with a higher quality, a request had to be made to the database management system module to extract the full image. A higher resolution version of the image was then decompressed.

In other words, document D1 disclosed a mechanism wherein a low resolution version of the image was stored in one file and coded differences between the low resolution version and higher resolution versions were stored in separate files. Notably, nowhere was a high-resolution version of the image stored. Thus, document D1 taught that if a high-resolution version was desired, it could be assembled using the low resolution version and the files of coded differences.

A further distinguishing feature of claim 1 over document D1 was the feature "causing the high-resolution image to be displayed on top of the lower resolution image" (see feature (c) of claim 1).

As to document D6, it failed to teach or suggest causing the display of an image capture unit to display a higher resolution image on top of the low resolution image. In fact, document D6 disclosed a still camera, having a display device that displayed a thumbnail image, and a still video player separate from the still camera. The still video player included a monitor that was used to display other thumbnail images or alternatively decompressed image signals. Nowhere did D6 teach or suggest displaying a thumbnail image and then replacing the thumbnail image by displaying the decompressed image signal on top of the thumbnail image signal.

Document D7 disclosed using progressive image transmission schemes to display a low quality image and then progressively increase the quality of the image as more data was received. A progressive image transmission scheme would not work with the thumbnail images and decompressed image signals of D6. Therefore the teaching of document D7 was not compatible with the teaching of document D6.

Accordingly, the subject-matter of claim 1 was inventive over the cited prior art documents (Article 56 EPC).

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal is admissible.

Accelerated processing before the Board

2. The present application was filed as an International Application on 2 June 1998 (priority date: 10 June 1997) and published on 17 December 1998.

Form 1200 (Entry into the regional phase before the EPO) was filed on 21 December 1999.

The international preliminary examination report was completed on 22 June 2000. The supplementary European search report, dated 19 January 2006, was transmitted to the applicant on 26 January 2006. With letter dated 27 March 2006, the applicant confirmed that it wished to proceed with the examination of the application.

The first communication of the Examining Division was dated 1 February 2007. The applicant's reply was dated 30 July 2007. With letter dated 1 December 2008, the applicant inquired when a further communication was likely to be received.

A second communication was issued on 10 March 2009. The applicant's reply was dated 7 September 2009.

A communication accompanying the summons to oral proceedings, scheduled for 10 May 2012, was issued on 15 February 2012.

Oral proceedings were held as scheduled on 10 May 2012 in the absence of the applicant.

The decision to refuse the application was issued on 6 July 2012.

2.1 Considering the duration of the examination proceedings and, in particular, the regrettably long and hardly justifiable delays between the entry into the regional phase and the Examining Division's first communication, and between the applicant's submission of 7 September 2009 and the summons to oral proceedings of 15 February 2012, the Board has decided to accelerate the processing of the present appeal, although no corresponding request has been filed by the appellant.

Appealed decision

3. In the decision under appeal, the Examining Division considered that document D1 represented the closest prior art and found that the subject-matter of claim 1 differed from the method disclosed in D1 in that:

- the method of claim 1 was executed on the display of an image capture unit; and

- the high resolution image was displayed on top of the lower resolution image.

3.1 As to the first distinguishing feature of claim 1, the Examining Division held that an image capture unit was a computer with image capture capabilities. A skilled person would implement the method known from document D1 without use of any inventive skills in order to improve the retrieval of images on an image capture unit.

As to the second feature which would distinguish the claimed method from D1, the Examining Division argued that displaying the high resolution image on top of the lower resolution image was an image placement choice on a display that a skilled person would implement according to the circumstances without use of any inventive skills.

Thus, the Examining Division concluded that the claimed method resulted from an obvious combination of the teaching of document D1 and of the skilled person's general knowledge (Article 56 EPC).

3.2 Under the heading "III. Obiter Dicta", the Examining Division furthermore noted that the idea of the application was the progressive display of an image at an increasing resolution to allow a user to get a first view of the image and to enable the user to switch to another image without waiting too long because of the processing time involved in displaying a high resolution image. These processes were well-known in the art (cf. documents D1 and D3). According to the Examining Division, storing together images of different resolutions was known (cf. D2). Thus, using a particular image storage format storing three different image resolutions as in the application was a solution that a skilled person would implement without use of any inventive skills (Article 56 EPC).

4. As correctly argued by the appellant, document D1 does not teach or suggest storing both a low resolution and a high resolution image in a single file. In fact, in the passage of D1 which, according to the Examining Division, would anticipate feature (a), it is specified that coded "information regarding image's pixels is actually stored in the database as follows: the lowest resolution version (0.08 bits/pixel) followed by the three differences between the increasing resolution versions (at 0.17, 0.5 and 1.5 bits/pixel, respectively). As an example, in order to have a decoded picture with the resolution corresponding to 0.75 bits/pixel, three pieces of coded information must be composed: the basic 0.08 bits/pixel together with the 0.17 bits/pixel and 0.5 bits/pixel coded differences" (D1, page 220, right-hand column, penultimate paragraph of section 2.).

4.1 Hence, the Board agrees with the appellant that document D1 does not disclose all the features of claim 1 identified by the Examining Division in this document, and that the refusal of the application on the basis of this prior art and of the skilled person's general knowledge was not justified.

The appellant's request

5. Claim 1 considered in the contested decision relates to a "method for accelerating a user interface on a display of an image capture unit", whereby the image capture unit includes the following features:

- a plurality of image files for providing a plurality of images,

- each image file including a high resolution image therein,

- controls for allowing an image to be viewed on the display and for allowing navigation between the plurality of images.

5.1 The claimed method comprises the following steps:

(a) providing a lower resolution image within each image file,

(i) the lower resolution image being associated with the high resolution image within a particular image file,

(ii) wherein each image file comprises the high resolution image and the low resolution image, which is a low resolution version of the high resolution image;

(b) allowing the lower resolution image to be viewed on the display;

(c) causing the high resolution image related to lower resolution image to be displayed on top of the lower resolution image; and

(d) allowing for navigation between lower resolution images based upon user interaction.

5.2 As stressed by the appellant in the statement of grounds of appeal, an essential aspect of the present invention is the provision of a single image file which contains a high resolution version and a low resolution version of the same image. In view of this, the Board considers that document D6 is to be regarded as the closest available prior art.

6. Document D6 relates to an "electronic still camera providing multi-format storage of full and reduced resolution images". As pointed out in column 1, lines 35 to 48, despite "efficient operation of such a camera and the use of compression to reduce the amount of data, high quality digital image files written in the memory card are nonetheless quite large and take significant amounts of time to process due to image size, image resolution, and the nature of the compression process. For example, a 1,280 by 1,024 pixel, 24-bit per pixel image might compress over many seconds to 100 to 300 Kilobytes of storage area. It is often desirable to quickly review the images on the memory card before deciding to transmit, to make a copy, or to retake a picture. The physical time for decompression and display of a high resolution image can be so slow as to interfere with the review process (emphasis added)".

6.1 The solution proposed by document D6 (see column 2, lines 21 to 31) is "based on the addition of a reduced resolution image to the digital file format for an individual high resolution image. Particularly if the reduced resolution, or "thumbnail", image is created as a part of the image acquisition process, or in close timing thereto, it is convenient to provide multi-format storage of the "thumbnail" image in a reserved area associated with each image file. The "thumbnail" image then follows the high resolution image wherever the image file travels. Since the "thumbnail" image is easily and quickly accessed, reviewing and display is extremely fast" (emphasis added).

6.2 Figure 2A of document D6 shows a file format for a single full resolution image and its associated low resolution image ("thumbnail"). As explained in document D6 (column 4, lines 65 to column 5, line 6), on "request from the processor 20, the digital signal processor 22 recovers the "thumbnail" image from the image file and outputs it on a line 22a to a display device 30. Inasmuch as the "thumbnail" image is itself low resolution, the display device 30 may be a low resolution electro-optical device such as a liquid-crystal display. Alternatively, the display device 30 can be of higher resolution and display the "thumbnail" image in a window or portion of the display space".

According to column 7, lines 47 to 52, "for a plural number of images, the corresponding "thumbnail" images can be quickly accessed and displayed either in a mosaic frame or in sequence in order to select the desired full resolution image for printing, displaying, transmitting, etc." (emphasis added).

6.3 In summary, document D6 relates, inter alia, to an image capture unit which includes a plurality of image files for providing a plurality of images, each image including a high resolution image therein. Furthermore, D6 discloses a method for accelerating a user interface on a display of an image capture unit, which comprises or at least necessarily implies steps (a), (a)(i), (a)(ii), (b) and (d) of the method according to claim 1.

7. As pointed out by the appellant, document D6 teaches using the still camera to display "thumbnail" (i.e. low quality) images and a separate still video player to display either "thumbnail" images or decompressed image signals.

Furthermore, the appellant has argued that document D6 neither taught nor suggested displaying a "thumbnail" image and then replacing the "thumbnail" image by displaying the decompressed image signal on top of the thumbnail image signal (cf. feature (c) of the claimed method).

7.1 In fact, in the letter dated 3 April 2014, the appellant identifies the following differences between the subject-matter of claim 1 and the method disclosed in document D6:

- the display on which high-resolution images are displayed is separate from the display of the image capture unit;

- the high resolution image is caused to be displayed on top of the lower resolution image (feature (c) of claim 1).

7.2 It is pointed out in document D6, column 5, lines 1 to 6, that, as the thumbnail is itself low resolution, the display device of the still camera may also be low resolution. In this case, the camera display would not be suitable for displaying high-resolution images.

However, document D6 considers also the possibility of having a display of higher resolution. The "thumbnail" image would then be displayed in a window or portion of the display space (cf. D6, column 5, lines 4 to 6).

In case of an image capture unit having a higher resolution display with the capability of displaying higher resolution images, the Board considers that it would be obvious for the skilled person to provide this unit with the functionality of displaying not only thumbnails, but also the high resolution images associated with the thumbnails and stored in the same file as the corresponding thumbnails.

7.3 With respect to feature (c) of the claimed method, it is specified on page 3, lines 21 to 26 of the published application that the low resolution image is associated with the high resolution image within a particular image file, thus "allowing the low resolution image to be viewed on the display and causing the high resolution image related to low resolution image to be displayed on top of the low resolution image dependent upon the quality of the low resolution image" (emphasis added).

As to the actual meaning of feature (c), the Board notes that the only passage of the description which explicitly relates to the switching from a low resolution to a corresponding high resolution image provides the following details (see application as published, page 19, lines 14 to 21):

"In a preferred embodiment, as the compressed image 604 is being decompressed, the screennail image 608 in the LCD screen 402 is updated with decompressed image block by block in steps 812.

FIGS. 11C and 11D illustrate an example of a higher-resolution compressed image 811 replacing the screennail 809 on the LCD screen 402 from top to bottom as the compressed image 604 is decompressed and resized. In an alternative embodiment, the compressed image 604 may be decompressed and resized in its entirety first and then displayed to replace the screennail image 608 in one step" (underlining added).

In other words, a compressed high resolution image is decompressed by processing a certain number of lines at a time (see application as published, page 2, lines 10 to 14). The partly decompressed image may be displayed as soon as its processing is terminated, or the entire image may be decompressed first and then displayed to replace the compressed image in one step.

In the absence of any specific features detailing the switching between low and high quality images in claim 1, it is to be assumed that feature (c) covers both possibilities for replacing a low resolution image with a high resolution image described in the passage of the application referred to above.

7.4 In the statement of grounds of appeal, the appellant argued with respect to feature (c) that the lower resolution image was maintained whilst the higher resolution features were fed into it. Essentially, there was a base layer and an extended layer providing more detail and higher resolution.

However, as it appears from the relevant passages of the application quoted above, the lower resolution image is not "maintained" and progressively transformed into a high resolution image, but it is effectively replaced either "progressively", as soon as high resolution lines of the image become available, or in one step.

In fact, if an image is available only in two formats, switching from the low resolution format to the high resolution format can only be carried out by replacing the whole image in one step or in multiple steps by displaying portions of the high resolution image as soon as their processing is accomplished (see point 7.3 above).

7.5 Furthermore, the Board notes that the interpretation of feature (c) provided by the appellant with reference to Figures 11B to 11D, in the sense of replacing block by block the low resolution image with the high resolution image, appears to be based on the assumption that the low resolution image ("screennail") and the high resolution image are of the same size. However, claim 1 provides no information on the respective sizes of the two image formats.

7.6 Document D6 points out in column 7, lines 47 to 52, that, "for a plural number of images, the corresponding "thumbnail" images can be quickly accessed and displayed either in a mosaic frame or in sequence in order to select the desired full resolution image for printing, displaying, transmitting etc." (emphasis added).

As explained in column 7 of document D6, lines 20 to 33, with reference to Figure 3A (block diagram of a still video player), the digital image data is expanded block-by-block and stored in an image buffer 108 as a decompressed image. The output of the image buffer is connected to a selector 104 which is under the control of an "operator-designated selection routine". "When a "thumbnail" image is to be observed, the selector 104 routes the "thumbnail" data through a digital-to-analog (D/A) converter 114 to a conventional CRT monitor 116. Alternatively, the decompressed image signals are converted to analog form by the digital-to-analog (D/A) converter 114 and displayed on the conventional CRT monitor 116".

The implementation of this functionality (disclosed in D6 for a still video player) on the high resolution LCD display of the image capture unit would imply reading the image data into the LCD buffer. In the Board's opinion, switching from a thumbnail image to the corresponding high resolution image entails replacing the thumbnail image data in the LCD buffer with the high resolution image data to the effect that the high resolution image related to the low resolution image will be displayed, "progressively" or in one step, "on top" of the low resolution image (cf. feature (c) of claim 1).

8. In summary, in the opinion of the Board, the claimed method differs from D6 only in that it offers the possibility of selecting either the low resolution image or the high resolution image for display on the camera's display.

8.1 Starting from D6, a problem addressed by the present application can be seen in increasing the functionality of the camera by allowing the user to choose between the display of a low resolution image or the corresponding high resolution image.

8.2 As D6 already offers this possibility for a still video player, in the Board's view, it would be obvious to a person skilled in the art to extend this functionality to an image capturing device provided with a high resolution display.

8.3 In summary, the Board finds that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the appellant's request does not involve an inventive step within the meaning of Article 56 EPC.

9. As the appellant's request does not provide a basis for granting a patent, the appeal has to be dismissed.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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