A feature relating to a presentation of information defined solely by the content of the information does not have a technical character. This applies whether the feature is claimed as a presentation of the information per se (e.g. by acoustical signals, spoken words, visual displays, books defined by their subject, gramophone records defined by the musical piece recorded, traffic signs defined by the warning thereon) or as relating to processes and apparatus for presenting information (e.g. features of indicators or recorders defined solely by the information indicated or recorded would not be technical features).
A feature which relates to the manner in which cognitive content is conveyed to the user on a screen normally does not contribute to a technical solution to a technical problem. An exception would be if the arrangement or manner of presentation can be shown to have a credible technical effect (T 1741/08, T 1143/06).
Examples in which such a technical feature may be present are: a telegraph apparatus or communication system using a particular code to represent the characters (e.g. pulse code modulation); a measuring instrument designed to produce a particular form of graph for representing the measured information; a gramophone record having a particular groove form to allow stereo recordings; a computer data structure (see T 1194/97) defined in terms which inherently comprise the technical features of the program which operates on said data structure (assuming the program itself, in the particular case, to be patentable); and a diapositive with a soundtrack arranged at the side of it.
When assessing the exclusion from patentability under Art. 52(2), the subject-matter of the claim has to be considered as a whole (G‑II, 2). For example, a claim directed to a product (e.g. a bleaching composition) and to instructions for use of the product, wherein the instructions have no technical effect on the product, is not excluded since the claim has a technical meaning and defines the technical features necessary for the definition of the claimed subject-matter, i.e. a product comprising a composition of matter (T 553/02).
When deciding if a feature relating to the presentation of information is technical or not, what has to be considered is whether or not it contributes to solving a technical problem. The fact that mental activities are involved does not on its own render the subject-matter non-technical (T 643/00). However, a feature that solely addresses a user's subjective preferences does not solve a technical problem (T 1567/05).
In the context of automated systems, in particular computers, giving visual indications of an automatically detected event occurring in the system itself as a prompt for human interaction with the system, e.g. to avoid technical malfunctions, is usually regarded as making a technical contribution. On the other hand, a visual indication aimed exclusively at the mental activities of the viewer, in particular at preparing the relevant data for a non-technical decision-making process by the user as the final addressee, is usually not regarded as making a technical contribution (T 756/06). Presenting the state of some non-technical application executed on a computer is normally not considered to be technical, either.
Presentation of information in the sense of Art. 52(2)(d) is understood as the conveying of information to a user. It concerns both the cognitive content of the information presented and the manner of its presentation (T 1143/06, T 1741/08). It is not limited to visual information, but also covers other presentation modalities, e.g. audio or haptic information. However, it does not extend to the technical means used for generating such presentations of information.
Furthermore, conveying information to a user is to be distinguished from technical representations of information directed to a technical system which will process, store or transmit that information. Features of data encoding schemes, data structures and electronic communication protocols which represent functional data as opposed to cognitive data are not regarded as presentations of information in the sense of Art. 52(2)(d) (T 1194/97).
When assessing exclusion from patentability under Art. 52(2) and (3), the claimed subject-matter has to be considered as a whole (G‑II, 2). In particular, a claim directed to or specifying the use of any technical means for presenting information (e.g. a computer display) has, as a whole, technical character and is thus not excluded from patentability. As another example, a claim directed to a kit comprising a product (e.g. a bleaching composition) and further features such as instructions for use of the product or reference information for evaluating the results obtained, wherein said further features have no technical effect on the product, is not excluded since the claim has a technical feature: a product comprising a composition of matter.
Once it is established that the claimed subject-matter as a whole is not excluded from patentability, it is examined in respect of the other requirements of patentability, in particular novelty and inventive step (G‑I, 1).
During the assessment of inventive step, features related to the presentation of information are analysed to determine if, in the context of the invention, they contribute to producing a technical effect serving a technical purpose. If they do not, they make no technical contribution and cannot support the presence of an inventive step (G‑VII, 5.4). Therefore, the examiner assesses the context of the invention, the task the user carries out and the actual purpose which is served by the particular presentation of information.
A feature defining a presentation of information produces a technical effect if it credibly assists the user in performing a technical task by means of a continued and/or guided human-machine interaction process (T 336/14 and T 1802/13). Such a technical effect is considered credibly achieved if the assistance to the user in performing the technical task is objectively, reliably and causally linked to the feature. This would not be the case if the alleged effect depends on subjective interests or preferences of the user. For example, for some users it is easier to understand data when it is displayed as numerical values, whereas others might prefer a colour-coded display. The choice of the one or other manner of displaying the data is thus not considered to have a technical effect (T 1567/05). Similarly, whether or not it is easier to understand audio information conveyed as a musical scale instead of spoken words is a matter concerned only with the cognitive abilities of the user. As another example, allowing the user to set parameters determining the information to be presented or to select the manner of its presentation does not make a technical contribution if it merely accommodates subjective user preferences.
Determining the extent to which a particular presentation of information may be considered to credibly support the user in performing a technical task may be difficult. It may be simplified during the assessment of inventive step by comparing the invention with the prior art, thus allowing the analysis to be limited to the distinguishing features (G‑VII, 5.4, paragraph 5). This comparison may reveal that the potential support for the performance of the technical task is already achieved in the prior art, with the consequence that the distinguishing features make no technical contribution (e.g. relate only to non-technical subjective user preferences).
A feature relating to the presentation of information may commonly be considered to specify:
This categorisation is adopted to allow for a more detailed discussion of technical effects in the rest of this section. It is noted that these categories are not meant to be exhaustive. Also, there are cases in which a feature falls into both categories. For example, a step of "displaying the surname of a customer in capital letters" in a claimed method defines both the cognitive content of the presented information (surname of a customer) and the manner of its presentation (in capital letters). Such a feature may be considered to consist in fact of two features: the displayed text is the surname of a customer (falling into the first category) and the displayed text is shown in capital letters (falling into the second category). The manner of presentation itself might additionally convey cognitive information. For example, the capitalised part of a name may, as a matter of convention, indicate which part is the surname.
If the cognitive content of the information presented to the user relates to an internal state prevailing in a technical system and enables the user to properly operate this technical system, it has a technical effect. An internal state prevailing in a technical system is an operating mode, a technical condition or an event which is related to the internal functioning of the system, may dynamically change and is automatically detected. Its presentation typically prompts the user to interact with the system, for example to avoid technical malfunctions (T 528/07).
Static or predetermined information about technical properties or potential states of a machine, specifications of a device or operating instructions do not qualify as an internal state prevailing in the device. If the presentation of static or predetermined information merely has the effect of helping the user with the non-technical tasks preceding the technical task, it does not make a technical contribution. For example, the effect that the user is not required to know or memorise a sequence of buttons to be operated prior to configuring a device is not a technical effect.
Information representing a state of a non-technical application run on a computer system, such as the state of a casino game, a business process or an abstract simulation model, constitutes non-technical information. This type of information is exclusively aimed at the user for his subjective evaluation or non-technical decision-making which is not directly linked to a technical task. Such information does not qualify as technical information even if ultimately states of processors or memories are modified.
A feature in this category typically specifies the form or arrangement in which, or the timing at which, information is conveyed to the user (e.g. on a screen). An example is a diagram designed solely for conveying information. Specific technical features related to, for example, the way audio signals or images are generated are not covered by category (ii).
Features defining a visualisation of information in a particular diagram or layout are normally not considered to make a technical contribution, even if the diagram or layout arguably conveys information in a way which a viewer may intuitively regard as particularly appealing, lucid or logical.
Dealing with limited available screen space is part of designing presentations of information for human viewing and therefore not an indication of technicality per se. For example, the general idea of giving an overview of a plurality of images in a limited display area by displaying a single image and sequentially replacing it with other images is not based on technical considerations, but is a matter of layout design. Similarly, arranging objects within available screen space by eliminating "white space" between window panes follows the same layout principles as would apply to the layout of a magazine cover and does not involve technical considerations.
In some exceptional cases, technical effects may arise from a manner of presentation that facilitates a continued human-machine interaction or enables the user to perform a technical task. For example, displaying several images side by side in low resolution and allowing selection and display of an image at higher resolution conveys information to the user in the form of a technical tool that enables the user to perform the technical task of interactively searching and retrieving stored images more efficiently. Storing digital images at different resolutions gives rise to the technical effect of allowing the simultaneous overview display of several images (T 643/00). As another example, in a video soccer game, the particular manner of conveying to the user the location of the nearest teammate by dynamically displaying a guide mark on the edge of the screen when the teammate is off-screen serves the technical purpose of facilitating a continued human-machine interaction by resolving conflicting technical requirements: displaying an enlarged portion of an image and maintaining an overview of a zone of interest which is larger than the display area (T 928/03). As a further example, in the context of a visual aid for a surgeon, if the current orientation of a medical ball joint implant in the course of surgery is displayed in a manner which credibly allows the surgeon to position the implant more precisely, this is considered to provide a technical effect.
A technical effect may also arise if information is presented in a proactive and timely manner to enable the user to perform a technical task in a more efficient or precise manner as opposed to presenting information in an arbitrary sequence or based on aesthetic considerations or non-technical preferences or constraints.
When a manner of presenting information produces in the mind of the user an effect which does not depend on psychological or other subjective factors but on physical parameters which are based on human physiology and can be precisely defined, that effect may qualify as a technical effect. The manner of presenting information then makes a technical contribution to the extent that it contributes to this technical effect. For example, displaying a notification on one of a plurality of computer screens near the user’s current visual focus of attention has the technical effect that it is more or less guaranteed to be seen immediately (compared e.g. to an arbitrary placement on one of the screens). In contrast, the decision to show only urgent notifications (compared e.g. to all notifications) is based only on psychological factors and thus makes no technical contribution. Minimising information overload and distraction is not considered to qualify per se as a technical effect (T 862/10). As another example, displaying a stream of images in which the parameters for delay and change in the content between successive images are computed on the basis of physical properties of human visual perception in order to achieve a smooth transition is considered to make a technical contribution (T 509/07).
If information (e.g. a visual or audio stimulus) is presented to a person for the purpose of producing in that person a physiological reaction (e.g. involuntary eye gaze) which can be measured in the context of assessing a medical condition (e.g. eyesight, hearing impairment or brain damage), that presentation of information may be considered to produce a technical effect.
Where the claimed subject-matter comprises a feature of presenting information to a user, be it of category (i) or (ii), an evaluation by the user is involved. Although such an evaluation per se is a mental act (Art. 52(2)(c)), the mere fact that mental activities are involved does not necessarily qualify subject-matter as non-technical. For example, in T 643/00 discussed above, the user makes an evaluation based on an overview of low-resolution images in order to locate and objectively recognise a desired image. This mental evaluation may be considered to be an intermediate step steering the image search and retrieval process and thus forms an integral part of a solution to a technical problem. Such a solution relies neither on facilitating the human tasks of understanding, learning, reading or memorising nor on influencing the user’s decision as to which image is to be searched. It provides a mechanism for inputting a selection which would not be possible if the images were not displayed in that specific arrangement.
On the other hand, if the choice or layout of information presented aims exclusively at the human mind, in particular to help the user to take a non-technical decision (e.g. which product to buy based on a diagram showing properties of products), no technical contribution is made.