|European Case Law Identifier:||ECLI:EP:BA:2013:T060809.20130709|
|Date of decision:||09 July 2013|
|Case number:||T 0608/09|
|IPC class:||G06F 9/445
|Language of proceedings:||EN|
|Download and more information:||
|Title of application:||Data processing method and device|
|Applicant name:||Sony Corporation|
|Relevant legal provisions:||
|Keywords:||Inventive step - yes|
Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. The appeal lies against the decision of the examining division dated 16 October 2008 to refuse European patent application 02077625.8 for not complying with Article 123 (2) EPC and for lack of an inventive step, Article 56 EPC 1973, in view of document
D1: Yokote Y et al., "A New Software Architecture for Evolvable Multimedia Software", Sony Corporation, Research Center.
The Eu ro pean Search Report cites a document listing tech nical pa pers by one of the authors of D1, Jun-ichiro Hagino/Itoh, which mentions D1 at no. 88 as ha ving been published in the Pro ceedings of the Eu ropean Conference on Multimedia Applications, Services and Techniques (ECMAST96), Lou vain, Belgium, May 1996.
II. Notice of appeal was filed on 16 December 2008, the appeal being paid on the same day. A statement of grounds of appeal was received on 13 February 2009. The appellant requested that the decision be set aside and that a patent be granted based on claims 1-14 according to a main or an auxiliary request as filed with the grounds of appeal.
III. With a summons to oral proceedings the board informed the appellant of its preliminary opinion. The board raised an objection under Article 76 (1) EPC 1973 but other wise indicated that the independent claims of both requests appeared to show the required inventive step over D1, Article 56 EPC 1973.
IV. In response, with letter of 3 June 2013, the appellant filed amended claims 1-14 according to both the main and the auxiliary requests. The other appli ca tion docu ments are as follows:
1, 4-40 as originally filed
2 filed by telefax on 29 August 2007
2a, 3 received with letter dated 18 December 2007
1/20-20/20 as originally filed
V. By telefax on 3 July 2013, the board raised an inven tive step objection to which the appellant res ponded the next day. The board then cancelled the oral procee dings.
VI. Claim 1 of the main request reads as follows.
"A data processing system comprising a first and a second client device in communication with one another, wherein the first client device comprises:
a) storage means which stores:
an application program constructed from a plurality of application program objects;
a system object group constructed from a plurality of execution environment objects providing an execution environment that is compatible with said application program;
a first data structure (52) that specifies an application program interface for said system object group; and
a second data structure (51) that shows one execution state of said application program and points to said first data structure;
a compiler operable to dynamically compile said application program into an intermediate code form or into a binary form;
b) first execution means (MVM 31a) operable to interpret and execute said intermediate code form of said application program; and
c) second execution means (MK 31b) operable to interpret and execute said binary code form of said application program and said system object group; and
wherein said first execution means (MVM 31a) and said second execution means (MK 31b) are arranged to control execution of said application program on the basis of said first data structure and said second data structure; and
the second client device comprises:
d) storage means which stores:
a second application program constructed from a plurality of application program objects;
a second system object group constructed from a plurality of execution environment objects providing an execution environment that is compatible with said second application program;
a third data structure (52) that specifies an application program interface for said second system object group; and
a fourth data structure (51) that shows one execution state of said second application program and points to said third data structure;
e) means for migrating an object located in the first client device to the second client device; and
f) compatibility checking means for checking whether an object to be migrated from said first to said second client device can be executed after migration, such that if an object can be executed after migration, the object is migrated from the first client device to the second client device, and if an object could not be executed after migration, the object is not migrated from the first client device to the second client device."
Claim 6 of the main request reads as follows:
"A data processing method comprising the steps of:
storing in a first client device an application program constructed from a plurality of application program objects;
storing a system object group constructed from a plurality of execution environment objects providing an execution environment that is compatible with said application program;
forming a first data structure (52) that specifies an application program interface for said system object group; and
forming a second data structure (51) that shows one execution state of said application program and points to said first data structure;
using a compiler operable to dynamically compile said application program into an intermediate code form or into a binary code form;
providing a first execution means (MVM 31a) operable to interpret and execute said intermediate code form of said application program; and
providing a second execution means (MK 31b) operable to execute said binary code form of said application program and said system object group;
wherein said first execution means (MVM 31a) and said second execution means (MK 31b) are arranged to control execution of said application program on the basis of said first data structure and said second data structure;
the method further comprising the steps of:
constructing, in a second client device, a second application program from a plurality of application program objects;
constructing, in the second client device, a second system object group constructed from a plurality of execution environment objects providing an execution environment that is compatible with said second application program;
forming, in the second client device, a third data structure (52) that specifies an application program interface for said system object group; and
forming, in the second client device, a fourth data structure (51) that shows one execution state of said application program and points to said third data structure;
migrating an object located in the first client device to the second client device over a communication link in accordance with a compatibility check;
performing said compatibility check to determine whether said object to be migrated from said first client device to said second client device can be executed after migration, such that if said object can be executed after migration, the object is migrated from the first client device to the second client device, and if said object could not be executed after migration, the object is not migrated from the first client device to the second client device."
In view of the result of this decision the wording of the claims according to the auxiliary request is irre levant.
Reasons for the Decision
The status of D1 as prior art
1. The present application was filed as a divisional of European patent application no. 96305139, filed on 12 July 1996 and claiming the priority of Japanese patent appli ca tion no. 07-178625 filed on 14 July 1995.
1.1 The pre sent application is considerably extended over the Ja pa nese application, specifically by figures 12-23 and the corresponding disclosure (starting on page 31, last par., of the description as originally filed, page 31). Moreover, the present claims are based on this added matter, witness specifically the claimed first and second data structures 51 and 52 which are depicted in figures 14 and 16 and the first and second execution means MVM 31a and MK 31b which are depicted in figures 12 and 13.
1.2 The Japanese application thus does not disclose the same invention as presently claimed so that the claimed priority is not valid for the present claims (see Article 87 (1) EPC 1973) and does not have the effect provided by Article 89 EPC 1973. The effective filing date of the present application there fore is the filing date 12 July 1996 of the ear lier European application.
2. D1 does not itself bear a publication date, but the Eu ro pean search report contains an indication of the fact that the paper was presented at a pub lic confe rence in May 1996 (see point I). Based on this information, the appellant has not challenged that D1 was prior art for the present appli cation in the sense of Article 54 (2) EPC 1973. Rather, the appellant specifically confirmed in its sub mission dated 3 June 2013 (p. 2, penult. par.) that D1 was the correct starting point for the assess ment of inven tive step. The board concurs.
Article 76 (1) EPC 1973
3. The board's objection under Article 76 (1) raised in the annex to the summons to oral proceedings was essen tially based on the fact that originally filed claims 1, 6, 7 and 12 and the pending independent claims 1 and 6 specified the "second" and "fourth data structure[s] (51)" to contain "exe cu tion conditions" of respective application pro gram whereas the description - both of the present and of the earlier application (see p. 34, last par. - p. 35, 1st par.) - rather disclosed the "con text (51) [to show an] execution state". Since in the present claims the references to "execution con di tions" were replaced by references to "execution state", this objection has become moot.
Article 123 (2) EPC
4. The objection under Article 123 (2) in the decision un der appeal (reasons 1.1) was based on the argument that migration of objects to a client device was dis closed but not, as then claimed, migration of an object to an application program in a client device. Since the claims now refer to object migration from a first to a second client device, this objection has become moot, too. The board also has no objections of its own under Article 123 (2) EPC.
5. The application generally relates to the development, deployment and modification of software in a client/ server system (see description, pp. 1-2, and fig. 1). The clients are disclosed to be preferably set-top boxes (STB).
5.1 For all comp u ting devices in this system, server and clients alike, an object-oriented architecture is disclosed. Appli ca tion programs and their execution environments consist of "objects" and an application programming interface (API) is provided between both.
5.2 Programs are compiled into intermediate code (I-code) which may either be interpreted and executed directly by what is called a Micro Virtual Machine (MVM), or which is further compiled into native code for exe cu tion by what is called the Micro Kernel (MK) (see p. 31, last par. - p. 33, penult. par.; p. 34, penult. par.; figs. 12-13). The system also comprises a layer of so-called "personality objects" need to "provide various" opera ting systems "OSs or virtual machines". By way of example, it is suggested that "personality objects for BASIC programming" are needed to "execut[e] interme di ate code obtained by compiling [a] BASIC program" (p. 32, penult., par.).
5.3 The run-time system uses inter alia two data struc tures, one called "context" and one "descriptor". The context structure represents the execution state of a program on the MVM (p. 34, last par. - p. 35, 2nd par.) and points to the descriptor structure which in turn iden ti fies "the API of the Personality object" (p. 35, 3rd par.; fig. 14).
5.4 The application is further concerned with the "mi gra tion" (or "shifting") of objects between devices. Typi cally, objects are downloaded from a server to a client, but they may also be shifted within a client (see figs. 7 and 8) or between servers, between clients, or from a client to a server (p. 39, 4th par.).
5.5 Before an object is migrated, the involved de vices carry out a negotiation about whether a migra tion is possible and desirable (see p. 25, 3rd par.). It is disclosed that it may not be desi rable to migrate an object into a "meta-object space" if the tar get device lacks required functionality such as cer tain hardware drivers or a virtual memory struc ture (p. 26, 1st full par.). To address this, the application therefore dis clo ses a compati bi lity check to determine whether an object can be exe cuted "even after being shifted", and that, if this is not the case, "object migration is not carried out" (p. 26, penult. par. - p. 27, 2nd par.).
Article 56 EPC 1973
6. It is common ground between the board and the appellant that D1 is a suitable starting point for the assessment of inventive step.
6.1 D1 was co-authored by the present in ventor when working for the present applicant and is, in fact, closely re la ted with the present application.
6.2 D1 also relates to a system comprising a server and se veral set-top boxes as clients, and discloses the same object-oriented system architecture with appli cations and their execution environments consisting of ob jects (see e.g. D1, fig. 2). Execution environ ments in D1 are called "metaspaces". Like in the appli cation, D1 dis closes a Micro Virtual Machine and a Mic ro Kernel MVM/MK (see e.g. sec. 5.3), and the data struc tures "con text" and "descriptor"; the "context" is defined as an "execution instance for a software object" and the "descriptor" as a "data structure containing a lookup table for the methods implementing the objects in the metaspace (secs. 5.1, 5.2 and 6.1; fig. 3). Moreover, D1 discloses the idea of object "migra tion" either from a server to an STB (download; see sec. 8.4) or within a computing device ("intra host", see sec. 6.2, p. 11, 2nd par.).
7. The subject matter of independent claims 1 and 6 differs from D1 in that
(i) the first and third data structures specify appli cation programming interfaces (API) to the system object groups on the first and second client devices, respectively; that
(ii) in the first client device the second data structure points to the first data structure, as in the second client device the fourth data structure points to the third on; that
(iii) object migration is from a first client device to a second client device; and that
(iv) there is a compatibility check to determine whe ther an "object to be migrated ... can be exe cu ted after migration", i.e. on the second client device, and if this is not the case, the object is not migrated in the first place.
Differences (ii)-(iv) correspond essentially to diffe rences (i)-(iii) de termined in the decision under appeal in view of the then pending claims (see rea sons 3.2-3.4). In the letter dated 3 June 2013 (p. 2, penult. par.) the appellant indicated agreement with this analysis and that it had "no further difference to highlight".
Re. (i) and (ii)
8. D1 discloses that a metaspace is "characterized by its descriptor" (see sec. 5.1) which contains a "lookup table for the methods imple men ting the objects in the metaspace" (see sec. 6.1). The board considers it to be a matter of common programming practice to provide access to these methods through an API instead (fea ture i). D1 further discloses that "each context holds pointers to ob jects implementing the metaspace of that context" (p. 7, 1st sentence). Replacing the pointers to individual objects of a metaspace by a pointer to the descriptor of that metaspace, which itself makes the objects accessible, constitutes a simpli fication of the context data structure at the price of an only in di rect object access via the descriptor. In the board's view, the skilled person would contemplate this simpli fi cation and the trade-off it involves as a matter of common practice and without exercising an inventive step (feature ii).
9. The board considers that the desire to transfer objects di rectly be tween clients arises naturally in the con text of D1 and with out in itself requiring an inventive step.
9.1 Imagine, for example, a situation in which two clients (say, two set-top boxes in the same household) are much closer to each other than either is to the remote ser ver and in which the server connection is slow or un reliable or both. Imagine further that one the clients already runs an application which the user would want on the other client as well. Then the board would con sider it an obvious desire to download this appli cation (and its objects) directly between the clients because this would most likely be faster than via the server.
9.2 In the grounds of appeal (p. 2, last par.), the appellant argues that a "complete redesign of the sys tem of D1 ... would be required" to enable the commu ni ca tion between clients without however making precise what such redesign would involve.
9.3 Also the description itself mentions the "downloading" of objects between clients only in a short paragraph (see p. 39, 5th par.) without disclosing that the claimed system would have to be substantially modified - and if so, in what manner - in order to enable the download between clients as opposed to the download from a server to a client.
9.4 The board finds this brevity appropriate on the under stan ding that indeed no or only obvious such modi fi ca tions are needed, in view of the fact that clients and servers all provide the same object-orien ted envi ron ment across which object migration is possib le in any direction.
9.5 The board therefore considers that the skilled person starting from D1 would find that object migration be tween clients is essen tially the same as between ser ver and client since all devices implement the same envi ron ment and concludes that feature (iii) also does not establish an inventive step.
10. D1 discloses that an application existing on a specific client STB may require certain functionality to run and therefore "request the download of the appropriate me ta space and migrate to it" (see sec. 8.1, 2nd par.). In the board's understanding, this refers to a mi gra tion within a single client. D1 also discloses that, "when a customer requests a new application, the ob jects imple men ting this application are downloaded to the custo mers's [client] STB" (sec. 8.4, first sen tence). If "the correct meta space al rea dy exists on the STB to run this appli ca tion", the object is migrated di rectly "to that metaspace" (sec. 8.4, second sen tence). If not, the server "accesses the feature set of current metaspaces exis ting on the STB and builds one from an already exis ting one by extending it, or by deriving a new metaspace" (see sec. 8.4, 2nd par.).
10.1 If the creation of a suitable metaspace were to fail, the objects to be migrated could not executed on the target STB. D1 however does not dis close or imply that the provision of a suitable metaspace might fail, let alone what would have to be done if it happened none the less.
10.2 It might be argued to be obvious for the skilled person in view of D1 to provide a means to check whether a sui table metaspace is available on the target STB and to terminate object migration to the target STB if this were not the case. This question can however be left open because the claimed "compatibility check" goes beyond a check of whether a required metaspace is available on the target STB.
10.3 According to claims 1 and 6, the "compatibility check" is for "checking whether an object to be migrated ... can be executed after migration" (board's emphasis). In conformance with the description (p. 26, 1st full par.) the board in ter prets this to mean that the checking con cerns condi tions at the target STB other than the existence of an environment (i.e. a metaspace accor ding to D1) into which the object can be migrated.
10.4 Not migrating objects which cannot be executed anyway avoids cluttering the client's memory. The objec tive technical problem solved by difference (iv) thus can be said to be, as the appellant suggests (grounds of appeal, p. 3, 3rd par.), to improve the memory usage of the system, especially at the receiving client side.
10.5 In the board's view the immediate solution to this problem would be that the non-executable object be erased from the receiving client's memory.
10.6 Given further that D1 neither discloses any "compa ti bility check" preceding migration nor addresses whe ther objects can be executed "after migration", the board concludes that the claimed compatibility check is not obvious for the skilled person in view of D1.
10.7 The board therefore concludes that claims 1 and 6 of the main request are inventive over D1 by virtue of difference (iv).
For these reasons it is decided that:
1. The decision under appeal is set aside.
2. The case is remitted to the department of first instance with the order to grant a patent based on the following documents:
1-14 according to the main request filed with letter dated 3 June 2013
1, 4-40 as originally filed
2 filed by telefax on 29 August 2007
2a, 3 received with letter dated 18 December 2007
1/20-20/20 as originally filed