T 0207/19 (Text disambiguation for reduced keyboard/BLACKBERRY) 23-07-2021
Handheld electronic device with text disambiguation employing advanced word frequency learning feature
Inventive step - (yes)
Amendments - added subject-matter (no)
I. This appeal is against the decision of the examining division posted on 13 September 2018 refusing
European patent application No. 05252108.5. A main request and first to third auxiliary requests were refused for not fulfilling the requirements of
Article 56 EPC having regard to the disclosure of:
D1: WO 2004/091182.
Furthermore, the main request and the second auxiliary request were found to contravene the
requirements of Articles 123(2) and 84 EPC, respectively.
D2: WO 2004/006079 was cited in the decision and
D3: US 2004/155869 was cited in the European search report.
II. Notice of appeal was received on 12 November 2018, and the appeal fee was paid on the same day. The statement setting out the grounds of appeal was received on 8 January 2019. The appellant requested that the decision be set aside and that a patent be granted based on the main request or the first to third auxiliary requests on which the decision was based, all requests being re-filed with the statement setting out the grounds of appeal. Furthermore, the appellant requested that oral proceedings be held in the event of the main request not being allowed.
III. A summons to oral proceedings was issued on
23 April 2021. In a communication pursuant to
Article 15(1) RPBA, sent on 28 May 2021, the board gave its preliminary opinion that the main request and the second and third auxiliary requests did not meet the requirements of Article 56 EPC in light of the disclosure of D1, D2 or D3. The first auxiliary request did not meet the requirements of
Article 123(2) EPC. The objection under
Article 123(2) EPC, raised in the decision, against the main request was not upheld by the board.
IV. With a letter of response dated 23 June 2021, the appellant submitted a new first auxiliary request replacing the first auxiliary request on file and withdrew the second and third auxiliary requests. The appellant also provided further arguments with respect to the requirements of Article 56 EPC.
V. Oral proceedings were held on 23 July 2021. The appellant withdrew the first auxiliary request. It requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted based on the claims of the main request submitted with the statement setting out the grounds of appeal. The decision of the board was announced at the end of the oral proceedings.
VI. Claim 1 according to the main request reads as follows:
"A method of disambiguating a character input into a handheld electronic device (4), the handheld electronic device including an input (8) for inputting characters into the device, an output (60) for outputting characters, and a processor (16) for electronically processing characters, including a memory (20) having a plurality of objects stored therein, the plurality of objects including a plurality of language objects (100), that may be constructed, identified or otherwise interpreted from one or more linguistic characters to generate text, and a plurality of frequency objects (104) for indicating the relative frequency within a relevant language of occurrence of the language objects, each of at least a portion of the language objects being associated with a frequency object, the input including a plurality of input members (28,34), each of at least a portion of the input members having a plurality of characters (48) assigned thereto, the method comprising:
detecting an initial ambiguous input (204) including an actuation of at least one of the input members (28, 34) having a plurality of characters (48) assigned thereto;
determining that a first language object corresponds with the initial ambiguous input;
determining that a second language object corresponds with the initial ambiguous input;
determining that a first frequency object is associated with the first language object and has a first frequency value;
determining that a second frequency object is associated with the second language object and has a second frequency value;
determining that the first frequency value is relatively greater than the second frequency value;
outputting an initial output including an initial default output and an initial variant output, the first language object forming at least a portion of the initial default output and the second language object forming at least a portion of the initial variant output;
detecting a delimiter input for identifying the end of a contiguous sequence of characters, that selects the second language object from at least a portion of the initial variant output;
detecting a subsequent ambiguous input comprising the actuation of at least one input member having a plurality of linguistic elements assigned thereto that is entered after the initial ambiguous input and the delimiter input that selects the second language object, the subsequent ambiguous input being the same as the initial ambiguous input;
determining that said first language object corresponds with the subsequent ambiguous input;
determining that said second language object corresponds with the subsequent ambiguous input;
determining that said first frequency object is associated with said first language object and has the first frequency value;
determining that said second frequency object is associated with said second language object and has the second frequency value;
outputting a subsequent output including a subsequent default output and a subsequent variant output, said first language object forming at least a portion of the subsequent default output and said second language object forming at least a portion of the subsequent variant output;
detecting a delimiter input that selects the second language object from at least a portion of the subsequent variant output;
determining that the subsequent ambiguous input was a first of any inputs to the handheld electronic device subsequent to the initial ambiguous input, that was the same as the initial ambiguous input; and
assigning to the second language object a new frequency object having a frequency value greater than the frequency value of the first frequency object."
The main request comprises a further independent claim (claim 5) directed to a corresponding handheld electronic device.
1. Article 123(2) EPC
In the decision under appeal, the objection was raised that the following feature of claim 1, as amended in the examination, added subject-matter: "determining that the subsequent ambiguous input was a first of any inputs to the handheld electronic device subsequent to the initial ambiguous input, that was the same as the initial ambiguous input". According to this feature, in combination with the feature of "the subsequent ambiguous input being the same as the initial ambiguous input" further up in claim 1, the subject-matter of claim 1 related to the case wherein one and the same ambiguous input sequence is entered twice in a row with selection of the second language object for each of the two identical input sequences, uninterrupted by any other input sequence or any other selection. According to the decision, the above-mentioned feature of claim 1 excluded any intermediate inputs, even if they were not the same as the initial ambiguous input. This contradicted the disclosure of paragraphs  to  of the description, wherein a user may enter a different input sequence between the first and the second identical ambiguous input sequences, and nevertheless promote the lower frequency word with its second selection of the second language object.
However, the board does not agree with this interpretation of claim 1 by the examining division. In that respect, claim 1 recites that the subsequent ambiguous input is the first of any inputs that is the same as the initial ambiguous input and for which the second language object has been selected (see the feature "detecting a delimiter input that selects the second language object..."). This does not - contrary to the assessment contained in the decision - preclude other intermediate ambiguous inputs that are not the same as the initial ambiguous input. However, claim 1 also makes it clear that there can be no intermediate same ambiguous inputs with the first language object selected, as required by paragraph  of the description.
Therefore, the skilled person is not presented with any new information, and the feature "without in the meantime having entered the same sequence and accepted the default" of paragraph  is in fact implicit in the claim wording.
For these reasons, the board is satisfied that the main request meets the requirements of Article 123(2) EPC.
2. Inventive step - Article 56 EPC
2.1 Prior art
D1 discloses a method for editing the word database of a mobile terminal having a reduced keyboard and a text disambiguation system. Each word is inserted into the database by the user, associated with a priority specified by the user, by using a connection with a computer (see from page 2, line 16, to page 3, line 10). As a result of a disambiguation performed on an input sequence corresponding to an intended word, a sequence of candidate words is presented to the user in the order according to their associated priorities in the database. The user may change, at any time, the priority associated with a word, in particular when the user is not satisfied with the ranking of words presented as a result of a disambiguation on a specific input sequence (see from page 4, line 26, to page 5, line 8).
D2 discloses a disambiguation system for ideographic Korean syllables on a reduced keyboard. Upon disambiguation of an input sequence, symbol variants are presented to the user in groups having decreasing priorities and the symbol variants in each group being sorted by frequency of use of the symbol variants (see from page 2, line 18, to page 3, line 6, and page 13, lines 15 and 16). Upon selection of a variant by the user, its frequency of use is updated (see page 33, lines 13 to 19).
D3 discloses a system for automatically correcting a "sloppy" text input, of which the ambiguity might be due to errors in touching a small-sized physical keyboard or virtual keyboard, and not a reduced keyboard, displayed on the screen of a portable device. The system of D3 is configured to calculate distance values between each location of the keyboard contacted by the user for providing a key input and the known position of a group of keys. The system is further configured to determine candidate words stored in the memory and to rank the candidate words using a matching metric algorithm that is based on the calculated distance values and the frequencies of use stored in association with the candidate words. Thus, D3 is not a disambiguation system adapted to a reduced keyboard.
2.2 It was common ground during the oral proceedings that D2 was the closest prior art to the subject-matter of claim 1. Indeed, D2 discloses an automatic adjustment of priorities of the stored candidate words, whereas D1 discloses a manual adjustment performed off-line and D3 does not work with a reduced keyboard.
D2 is based on a gradual frequency adjustment occurring each time a user selects one of the stored words in preference to other words.
Claim 1 differs from the disclosure of D2 by the feature of determining that a subsequent ambiguous input is a first of any inputs to the handheld electronic device subsequent to an initial ambiguous input, for which the second language object has been selected, and which is the same as the initial ambiguous input, and for which the second language object was also selected, and, in response, assigning to the second language object a new frequency object having a frequency value greater than the frequency value of the first frequency object. In other words, the system of claim 1 defines an upgrading of the frequency of a word when this word is forced twice in a row by a user without there being an instance of the word not being forced between these two forced instances. The user thus has a direct influence over which word is presented first the next time the same ambiguous input is entered.
The board agrees with the appellant that, based on these distinguishing features, the objective technical problem can be defined as how to improve the frequency adaptation of D2.
The appellant plausibly argued that the solution of claim 1 results in a deterministic adjustment, which is quicker than the statistical adjustment of D2, and which in certain text entry circumstances with repetition of the same word also provides a more accurate reflection of the user's wish to select this word.
The board agrees with the appellant that the skilled person would not be incited by D2 to change from a statistical approach of the frequency adjustment to a deterministic approach. Moreover, a combination of the statistical approach of D2 with the deterministic approach of D1, even if considered by the skilled person, would not lead to the subject-matter of
claim 1, because D1 is merely a manual off-line system.
For these reasons the board holds that the subject-matter of claim 1, and of the corresponding system claim 5, involves an inventive step having regard to the prior art on file. Claims 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 are dependent claims and, as such, also meet the requirements of Article 56 EPC.
For these reasons it is decided that:
1. The decision under appeal is set aside.
2. The case is remitted to the examining division with the order to grant a patent based on claims 1 - 8 of the main request submitted with the letter setting out the grounds of appeal, and the description and drawings to be adapted.