T 1584/13 (Virus monitoring/CURITEL) of 2.2.2016

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2016:T158413.20160202
Date of decision: 02 February 2016
Case number: T 1584/13
Application number: 03254057.7
IPC class: G06F 1/00
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 297.845K)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Mobile communication system and mobile terminal having function of desactivating mobile communication viruses and method thereof
Applicant name: Curitel Communications, Inc.
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.5.06
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention 1973 Art 56
Keywords: Inventive step (no)
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal lies against the decision of the examining division, with reasons dispatched on 3 January 2013, to refuse European patent applica­tion No. 03 254 057.7 for lack of an inventive step in view of the following documents:

D1: US 6 240 530 B1

D4: "Security on the Gateways", White paper, MicroWorld Software Services, 2000, XP002245105

D5: US 5 889 943 A.

II. Notice of appeal was filed on 27 February 2013, the appeal fee being paid on the same day. A statement of grounds of appeal was received on 3 May 2013. The appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the basis of the claims pursued in the oral proceedings of 6 De­cem­ber 2012 before the examining division and re-filed with the grounds of appeal, that is based on claims 1-11 according to the main request and claims 1-10 according to the auxiliary request. The appellant also made an auxiliary request for oral proceedings.

III. In an annex to a summons to oral proceedings, the board informed the appellant of its preliminary opinion that the independent claims of both requests, namely 1 and 8 of the main request and 1 and 7 of the auxiliary re­quest, lack inventive step over D1, D4 and D5, Article 56 EPC 1973.

IV. In response to the summons, the appellant did not file ei­ther amendments or arguments. Instead, with a letter da­ted 23 December 2015, it withdrew its request for oral proceedings, informed the board that no one would be attending the oral proceedings in the name of the applicant, and stated that it expected to receive "a decision on basis of the state of the file".

V. The board then cancelled the oral proceedings.

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

"A method for inactivating viruses in a mobile communication system having a plurality of mobile terminals (111, 112, 113, 114), comprising the following steps:

a) at a virus monitoring unit associated with the mobile communication system:

detecting virus infection of data received from at least one first mobile terminal (111; 112; 113; 114), wherein the first mobile terminal has a virus vaccine program stored therein;

b) at the virus monitoring unit:

analyzing virus information of the detected virus infection when data are virus infected

c) at the virus monitoring unit:

choosing suitable one of virus vaccine programs that are stored in a database according to the virus information, and

curing the data received from the first mobile terminal (111; 112; 113; 114) to inactivate the virus,

wherein the cured data is transmitted to a destination mobile terminal;

d) at the virus monitoring unit:

notifying said first mobile terminal about virus infection;

e) at the first mobile terminal (111; 112; 113; 114):

receiving the virus infection notification from the virus monitoring unit and, in response to receiving said virus infection notification, detecting a virus infection of the first mobile terminal to inactivate viruses by using said virus vaccine program stored therein; and

f) transmitting a vaccine request message to the virus monitoring unit to receive a virus vaccine program suitable for the detected virus to thereby inactivate the virus by using the received virus vaccine program when the virus vaccine program previously stored in the mobile terminal can not inactivate the virus."

Claim 1 according to the auxiliary request is identical to claim 1 of the main request except for the following text added at the end:

"..., wherein the vaccine request message includes vaccine program information, virus information and capability information of the first mobile terminal."

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 not to comment.

The invention

2. The application relates to virus protection for mobile termi­nals, and more specifically to the protection of data in transit and the provision of up-to-date "vaccine" programs to mobile terminals.

2.1 The application relates to a number of mobile phones which communi­cate via base stations and a mobile swit­ching center (see fig. 1). So called "vaccine" programs are installed on the mobile devices. The base stations and the mobile switching cen­ter, but not the mobile devices, have access to a database of vaccine programs and a virus monitoring unit (VMU).

2.2 When data is transmitted from one mobile device to another, it is determined (by the VMU) whether the data is infected. The suitable vaccine is retrieved from the DB and applied, and the "cured" data is forwarded. In passing, it is noted that the term "vaccine" appears to be an inappropriate metaphor for a program which is used as a cure and after an infection has been diagnosed rather than before and for prophylaxis. The re­ceiving mobile device is also informed about the infection. The mobile device then checks whether a sui­table vaccine is locally available and, if not, requests it from the VMU via the base station.

Claim construction

3. Claim 1 of both requests contains a few linguistically imprecise and ambiguous formulations which might be considered to render the claim unclear. The board con­siders however that claim 1 is clear enough to allow an assessment of inventive step. To this end, claim 1 is construed as follows.

3.1 Step e) of claim 1 specifies that "in response to [a] virus infection notification", "a virus infection" is detected and later, in step f), reference is made to the "detected virus". The board takes it that the virus detected at the mobile device is meant to be the same as the one detected in the transmitted data and noti­fied to the mobile device.

3.2 Step e) of claim 1 specifies that the first mobile terminal "detect[s] a virus infection [...] to inacti­vate viruses [...]". The board takes the view that the skilled person would read the phrase "to inactivate vi­ruses [...]" as "in order to inactivate viruses [...]" and, hence, the corresponding phrase as a statement of purpose.

3.3 According to step f) of claim 1, a "suitable" vaccine program is requested "when the virus vaccine program previously stored [...] can not inac­tivate the virus". This language leaves open whether the suitable program is requested when the stored vaccine program is known or assumed to be unsuitable to inactivate the virus or only after an attempt to inactivate it has failed.

3.4 In step f) of claim 1, the phrase "program sui­table for the de­tec­ted virus to thereby inactivate the virus by using the received virus vaccine program" is gramma­ti­cally unclear. The board takes the view that the skilled reader of claim 1 would construe that phrase to mean "program sui­table for inactivating the detected virus".

Inventive step

4. The subject-matter of claim 1 of both requests consists of two parts which appear to be only loosely connected with each other.

4.1 Steps a)-c) specify a central "virus monitoring unit" for detecting a virus infection in data in transit between two mobile devices, for example in email messa­ges, to eli­mi­nate the detected virus and to forward the resulting "cured" data.

4.2 Steps e) and f), with the exception of the "in res­ponse" phrase of step e), specify that the mobile unit determines whether a local vaccine program "can" inac­ti­vate a vi­rus and, if not, requests from the virus mo­nitoring unit a vaccine program which can.

4.3 Step d) specifies that the virus monitoring unit no­ti­fies the mobile terminal about the detected virus in­fection and step e) specifies that the mobile terminal acts "in response" to this notification.

5. Both parts are connected with each other in that the first "triggers" the second and in that the "suitable" vaccine program is requested from the same unit having detected the virus infection in the transmitted data.

5.1 The board considers that what happens at the mobile device is essentially independent of what happened previously at the virus monitoring unit.

5.2 The appellant claims the following synergistic effect of the two parts (see e.g. grounds of appeal, page 15, point 9): because the mobile terminal requests a sui­table vaccine program from the virus monitoring unit, which has just "cured" the transmitted data from that virus, the requested vaccine program must already be available at the virus monitoring unit (see grounds of appeal, points 8-10, resp. last sentences).

5.3 The board is not convinced by this argument, conside­ring that, on the assumption that the data base avai­lable to the VMU is up-to-date and complete, the avai­lability of the required vaccine program does not depend on whether the VMU has just deleted a virus from data in transit.

The prior art

6. In the decision under appeal, the assessment of in­ven­tive step started from D1. The board agrees that this is a suitable choice but prefers an assessment starting from D4 or D5.

7. D4 and D5 disclose virus checking of emails in tran­si­tion at a gateway server (D4, see e.g. abstract, 3rd para.) or "gateway node" (D5, col. 5, lines 18-24). Both disclose that the sender of an email in which a virus was found is informed accordingly (D4, p. 5, penult. para.; D5, col. 20, lines 41-63).

Main request

8. In the board's view, each of D4 and D5 discloses the preamble of claim 1 and steps a) - d).

8.1 Thus the differences are steps e) and f), i.e. the steps taken by the sender of the infected data. The board finds these differences to solve the problem of determining and deleting the cause of the virus infec­tion of the transmitted data.

8.2 The board considers that this problem is one the skilled person, given either of D4 and D5, can reaso­nably be ex­pected to address. It would be an obvious re­action for a sender, to the notification that a virus infec­tion was found in a sent email, to determine whe­ther this infection originated in the sending computer and, if so, to try to delete the virus.

8.3 It has been a matter of convention for years, dating back well before the priority date in the present case, that client compu­ters are equipped with some sort of anti­virus­­ soft­ware. Hence doing this for the sender com­puters of D4 and D5 does not require an inventive step. The board notes that this also applies to mobile devi­ces, in particular in view of the fact that many con­ven­tional computers are "mobile".

8.4 Furthermore, if antivirus software is avai­lable on the mobile device, the board considers it ob­vious that the "mobile termi­nal" will either run this program or, at least, consi­der whe­ther it should be run. Typical anti­virus­ soft­ware must be regularly updated to remain effective against new viruses. It would thus be obvious for the mobile terminal to deter­mine whether the lo­cally available vaccine program is up-to-date and, if not, con­sider it "unsuitable" and download an up-to-date ver­sion.

8.5 Whether this up-to-date version is requested from the VMU or some other server is, in the board's judgment, a marginal and obvious choice.

8.6 Starting from D4 or D5, therefore, the board finds the subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request to be ob­vious in view of common general knowledge of antivi­rus software, Article 56 EPC 1973.

Auxiliary request

9. Claim 1 of the auxiliary request specifies that the request for a "suitable" vaccine program includes "vaccine program information, virus information and capability information of the first mobile terminal".

9.1 The board notes that claim 1 does not specify how the "virus monitoring unit" uses these pieces of informa­tion. Thus it is questionable whether their inclusion in the claim has, per se, any tech­nical effect and thus whether they can contribute to inven­tive step of the claimed subject-matter at all.

9.2 The description discloses (p. 8, lines 14-19) that the "vaccine request message" comprises "version infor­ma­tion", including the virus identity, and a "capability field", including "operating system (OS) information" of the mobile terminal.

9.3 In the scenario considered above, the board considers it obvious that the mobile terminal requests an update in­di­cating the version numbers (a) of the locally available "vaccine program" - so that the server can deter­mine whether an update is needed - and (b) of the local ope­rating system - so that the server can provide the up­date for the pertinent operating system. The board also considers it to be an obvious option for the mo­bile ter­minal to indicate which virus it is spe­ci­­fi­cal­ly interested in - for instance to save band­width if the local antivirus software is up-to-date with respect to the virus of interest.

9.4 Therefore, the board also concludes that claim 1 of the auxiliary request lacks inventive step over D4 or D5 in view of common general knowledge of antivirus software, Article 56 EPC 1973.

Summary

10. In view of this finding it is immaterial that, as explained in the summons, the board comes to the same conclusion starting from document D1.

11. There not being an allowable request, the appeal must be dismissed.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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