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Case Law of the Boards of Appeal

4.2.8 Distinguishing features which are non-technical or involve no technical features

Whereas novelty is not necessary to establish the technical character of an invention, the converse is not true as novelty and inventive step can only be established on the basis of the technical features of the invention. This is in line with the case law of the boards of appeal (T 154/04, OJ 2008, 46).

The Enlarged Board of Appeal held in decision G 2/88 (OJ 1990, 93) that the claims of a European patent should clearly define the technical features of the subject invention and thus its technical subject-matter, in order that the protection conferred by the patent can be determined and a comparison can be made with the state of the art to ensure that the claimed invention is, inter alia, novel. A claimed invention lacks novelty unless it includes at least one essential technical feature which distinguishes it from the state of the art.

In T 154/04 (OJ 2008, 46) the board stated that it is legitimate to have a mix of technical and "non-technical" features appearing in a claim, in which the non-technical features may even form a dominating part of the claimed subject matter. Novelty and inventive step, however, can be based only on technical features, which thus have to be clearly defined in the claim. Non-technical features, to the extent that they do not interact with the technical subject matter of the claim for solving a technical problem, i.e. non-technical features "as such", do not provide a technical contribution to the prior art and are thus ignored in assessing novelty and inventive step.