European Round-Table on Patent Practice (EUROTAB)
|European Case Law Identifier:||ECLI:EP:BA:1989:T015888.19891212|
|Date of decision:||12 December 1989|
|Case number:||T 0158/88|
|IPC class:||G09G 1/00
|Language of proceedings:||DE|
|Download and more information:||
|Title of application:||-|
|Headnote:||1. The statement in a patent claim that technical means (in this case a visual display unit) are to be used to carry out a process is not alone sufficient to render patentable within the meaning of Article 52(1) EPC a process which is in essence a computer program as such.
2. A computer program is not considered part of a technical operating procedure if the claimed teaching merely modifies the data and produces no effects beyond information processing.
3. If the data to be processed by a claimed process neither constitute the operating parameters of a device (but, as here, forms the word elements of a language) nor affect the physical/ technical functioning of the device (but, as here, supply visual information for a viewer) and if the claimed process does not solve a technical problem (but, as here, generates complete orthographically correct character forms), the invention defined in the claim does not use technical means and under Article 52(2) (c) and (3) EPC cannot be regarded as patentable within the meaning of Article 52(1) EPC. (Cf. T 26/86, "X-ray apparatus/KOCH & STERZEL", OJ EPO 1988, 19.)
|Relevant legal provisions:||
|Keywords:||Patentability - computer program
Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. European patent application No. 84 112 599.0 (publication No. 0 144 656) was rejected by a decision of the Examining Division.
II. The grounds given for the rejection were that in view of document:
D1: GB-A-2 056 916
the subject-matter of the independent claims lacked the inventive step required under Articles 52(1) and 56 EPC, and there was therefore no need to consider whether the invention was patentable within the meaning of Article 52(2) EPC.
III. The appellants lodged an appeal against this decision without amending the current version of the claims.
IV. In a communication enclosed with the invitation to oral proceedings the Board expressed doubts with regard to Article 52(2)(c) and 52(3) EPC, pointing out that in its current form Claim 1 could be interpreted as a method for performing mental acts. Even if Claim 1 were to be limited to the fully automatic display of characters on an electronic screen using a software- controlled control device, it would be doubtful whether a claim thus restricted would not constitute a computer program as such. The appellants then filed a new Claim 1, requesting that the previous apparatus Claims 9 and 10 be deleted. This claim is worded as follows:
"1. Process for displaying characters on a visual display unit, in which characters are displayed in isolated form, start form, middle form or end form depending on their position in a word, characterised in that,
(a) a first character (Z1) is initially displayed in a first complete basic form on a screen (AE),
(b) if a second character (Z2) is then entered, it is displayed in a second complete basic form and the first character (Z1) already displayed on the screen (AE) is replaced by a character (Z1) in its complete start form,
(c) if the first basic form differs from the start form and no further character is entered, the first character (Z1) already displayed on the screen (AE) is replaced by a character (Z1) in its complete isolated form,
(d) if further characters (Z3) in the word are entered, these are displayed in their complete second basic form on the screen (AE) and the preceding characters (Z2) already displayed are replaced by characters (Z2) in their complete middle form, and
(e) if no further character is entered, the last character (Z3) already displayed on the screen (AE) is replaced by a character (Z3) in its complete end form."
Process Claims 2 to 8 depend on Claim 1.
V. Oral proceedings were held.
VI. At the end of the oral proceedings the appellants requested that the decision to reject the application be set aside and a patent granted on the basis of: ...
VII. With regard to lack of patentability under Article 52(2)(c) and (3) EPC, the appellants argued essentially as follows in support of their request:
1. Since the characters were generated by technical means on the visual display unit's screen, the process defined in Claim 1 should be regarded as technical.
2. In contrast to the state of the art known from document D1, which came closest to the process claimed in Claim 1, the process according to the invention had the characters displayed in unmutilated form immediately following a keystroke. The elimination of character mutilation changed the visual presentation. This change had a technical effect in that the visual stimulus was modified without in its turn directly affecting the subsequent assimilation of the stimulus as part of a mental act.
3. The improvement in character display achieved by technical means simply facilitated mental activity. No mental act was required to carry out the procedure defined in Claim 1. That procedure merely showed the skilled person how to construct and program a computer connected to a visual display unit so that, if a character could be displayed in various forms, the computer would select one of them for the character requested by the user from a particular character set, displaying it immediately in complete form and where necessary replacing it later by the same character in a different form. In that way, certain (orthographical) rules were complied with.
Reasons for the Decision
1. The appeal is admissible.
2.1 The process according to Claim 1 concerns the display of characters (letters) which traditionally occur in different forms depending on whether they are in isolation (i.e. a single character) or at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word (e.g. Arabic characters). The process according to Claim 1 enables a character to be displayed simultaneously with the keystroke and initially in one of several forms, preferably the most probable. The form displayed simultaneously with the keystroke is automatically replaced by the orthographically correct form on the next keystroke if those two forms differ. The orthographically correct choice is made by determining the sequence in which the two alternatives - characters or non-characters (spaces or punctuation) - were entered.
2.2 Claim 1 does indeed state that the characters are "displayed on a visual display unit" ... or "displayed on a screen", and that characters are "entered" or "replaced". However, these technical descriptions serve only to characterise the forms in which the characters appear, the selection criteria for any exchange of characters which may prove necessary and the result of the selection. The "process for displaying characters on a visual display unit" as defined in Claim 1 does not involve any kind of procedure which uses technical means to influence the visualisation of the characters. It is simply a method of processing data according to the specific selection criteria set out in Claim 1. The effect on the computer of the process claimed in Claim 1 is to retrieve data representing a specific character form from a memory and, where appropriate, to replace it by data representing the same character in a different form. These data differ only in the information they contain, not technically. In the Board's opinion, Claim 1 therefore essentially describes not a technical operating procedure for a computer and its visual display unit but an idea for a program, i.e. general instructions on how to program a software-controlled computer to achieve the desired effect (immediate display of a character in a pre- determined form selected from several possible forms, and retention or replacement of such form by another in accordance with pre-defined rules).
2.3 The statement that technical means (e.g a visual display unit) are to be used to carry out the claimed process (see point VII-1 above) is not alone sufficient to render patentable within the meaning of Article 52(1) EPC a process which in essence constitutes a computer program as such. A computer program is not considered part of a technical operating procedure if the claimed teaching merely modifies the data and produces no effects beyond information processing.
2.4 In contrast to the point at issue in decision T 26/86 (KOCH & STERZEL, OJ EPO 1988, 19), the claimed process does not constitute an invention consisting of a mix of technical and non- technical elements. In the former case, the data processed by means of the non-technical part of the program were the operating parameters of a device, and, once processed, influenced the physical/technical functioning of the device by altering X-ray tube voltages and currents and their anode rotation speeds and focal spot sizes. In the present case, the data to be processed represent characters, and, once processed, serve only to make those characters more readily comprehensible to the viewer without affecting the (technical) means of displaying them. The claimed process, which defines a computer program, does not result in a change in the physical or technical functioning of the device operating by this process, i.e. the visual display unit and screen. The characters are always displayed in the same way (not explained in any detail in the claim or description). The program described in Claim 1 has no technical effect, such as enhanced luminance of the display elements, image enlargement, etc.; at most, it improves the (mental) registrability of the characters displayed. This result is not technical in nature. The applicants are indeed right in thinking that the registering - i.e. recognition - of a character generally presupposes that the reader has visualised it. In the present case, however, such recognition is not improved by technical means (e.g. enhanced image contrast) but by means that influence mental assimilation of the visual stimulus, namely the display of complete characters rather than elements of such characters - just as in a crossword puzzle the more letters are present the easier it is to guess a word.
3.1 It remains to be investigated whether the process according to Claim 1 could serve to solve a technical problem which could make the program defined in Claim 1 patentable as part of a practical technical teaching. To define the problem underlying Claim 1, it will first be necessary to establish how the results achieved by the claimed procedure compare with the closest prior art.
3.2 In the Board's opinion the prior art closest to the method according to Claim 1 is described in document D1, where in one embodiment a character entered after a space is displayed in start form simultaneously with the keystroke and a character entered after a character is displayed in middle form simultaneously with the keystroke. These forms remain unchanged, and on subsequent entry of a space are converted into an isolated or end form by the addition of another character element. With certain characters, this building-block principle results in an incomplete, i.e. mutilated or stylistically altered, representation of the correct traditional character forms.
3.3 Given this state of the art, the purpose of the process according to Claim 1 is (a) to display the characters in their complete form simultaneously with the keystroke and (b) still to produce an orthographically correct script. Neither of these problems is technical, however. The display of complete characters rather than elements of characters does indeed, as the appellant correctly points out, result in a different image in the reader's eye. But, as stated above, this only serves to make mental registering of the character easier. Similarly, an orthographically correct script facilitates mental assimilation of a text. The Board cannot therefore regard the problem underlying Claim 1 as technical.
3.4 The case examined in decision T 26/86, moreover, involved extending of the life of an X-ray tube, a problem which can be considered technical.
4. Thus, the data to be processed by the claimed process neither constitute operating parameters of a device nor affect its physical/technical functioning, nor does the claimed process solve a technical problem. Accordingly, the invention defined in Claim 1 does not involve technical means.
5. As stated above, it is ultimately a computer program whose purpose as an information carrier is to produce the orthographically correct form of a character. Again, there is nothing technical in this. Nor therefore can the program be considered part of a technical teaching on the basis of the result achieved. In this context too, therefore, Claim 1 is to be considered as relating to the program as such and under Article 52(2) and (3) EPC its subject-matter cannot be regarded as a patentable invention within the meaning of Article 52(1).
6. Consequently, Claim 1 cannot be allowed. Claims 2 to 8 depend on Claim 1 and cannot therefore be allowed either.
For these reasons it is decided that: The appeal is dismissed.