|European Case Law Identifier:||ECLI:EP:BA:2019:T021513.20190111|
|Date of decision:||11 January 2019|
|Case number:||T 0215/13|
|IPC class:||G21C 1/00
|Language of proceedings:||EN|
|Download and more information:||
|Title of application:||Method and system for calculating rod average criteria|
|Applicant name:||Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas, LLC|
|Relevant legal provisions:||
|Keywords:||Inventive step - (no)
Claims - clarity
Claims - auxiliary request (no)
Summary of Facts and Submissions
I. This appeal is against the decision of the Examining Division to refuse European patent application 05257693.1. The decision was by means of a reference to an earlier communication containing the objection of lack of inventive step against claims 1 to 5 filed on 25 August 2011.
II. With the statement of grounds of appeal, the appellant filed a set of claims as an auxiliary request and arguments in support of both the claims underlying the impugned decision and of the auxiliary request.
III. In a communication accompanying a summons to oral proceedings, the Board set out its preliminary view on the case. In particular, the Board saw a lack of inventive step in the two versions of claim 1. Reference was made to the following document:
D1: US 4,333,797.
It was further stated that claim 1 of the auxiliary request was unclear.
IV. The appellant informed the Board that it would not be represented at the oral proceedings and that it maintained its written arguments.Accordingly, the board cancelled the oral proceedings.
V. The appellant requests that the decision under appeal be set aside and that a patent be granted on the claims filed on 25 August 2011 (main request) or the claims filed on 2 January 2013 (auxiliary request).
VI. The claims of the main request read as follows:
Claim 1 of the auxiliary request comprises the features of claims 1 to 3 of the main request.
VII. The appellant's arguments are discussed in the reasons.
Reasons for the Decision
1. The application relates to the calculation of rod average criteria for a nuclear reactor.
2. The purpose of obtaining rod average criteria is indicated in the application (see paragraphs 2 and 3 of the application as published) as being to support the obtaining of reliable information, during the design and planning phases of a reactor, as to whether operational parameters and constraints comply with the guidelines of the regulatory authority. The amount and type of fission products generated in the reactor and their release from the containment vessel must be acceptably within safety margins given by the technical specifications. According to the application, conventional methods of estimating parameters and constraints suffer either from being cumbersome or from being based on conservative assumptions which have an adverse influence on operation.
Claim 1 of the main request - inventive step (Article 56 EPC)
3. D1 relates to the control of power of a nuclear reactor. For monitoring and controlling the reactor, a computer system (e.g. Fig. 4) carries out calculations of rod average exposures and rod average powers in the same manner as specified in the features in the second to sixth text paragraphs of the preamble of claim 1 (see point VI above). The results of these calculations are used in a process for controlling reactor power to follow a requested change of generated power. The results of calculation are presented in terms of of parameters J (index number of fuel assembly) and K (index number representing axial position) (D1, text following equation (1) in column 5).
4. The claim further defines that core maps are obtained from the calculated rod average exposures and powers in the way as specifically defined in sub-features (i) to (iv) of claim 1.
5. As regards inventive step, the Examining Division reasoned as follows:
The inclusion of any of the additional steps (i)-(iv) cannot be considered to be inventive because they merely define a series possibilities of displaying the calculation results made available to the reactor operator, which directly implies that no tangible technical problem is solved by these features. Additionally, the inclusion of any of these possibilities is part of common design options which the skilled person would consider introducing depending on the reactor core operation or reactor operator requirements. In other words, the four distinguishing features are considered to be working instructions and/or user wishes. Thus they merely state objects, e.g. develop the rod average power for the rods and generate a 2D core map for the rods, without however defining any clear technical features for achieving these objects. Moreover, the definition of these working instructions or user wishes is not necessarily based on technical considerations but can also involve business and/or administrative needs.
6. The board agrees with this reasoning.
7. The appellant argued that the invention aimed at providing better information early in the design phase, addressed the problem of how to provide improved operational efficiency and rod management in a nuclear reactor power generator, and that D1 taught away from the invention, since it related to a core monitoring system with a core instrumentation adaption mechanism. The invention, however, concerned a method for calculating a rod average value in a simulator that was primarily "for an alternate source term critera" that did not include core instrumentation or adaptation.
8. The Board is not persuaded by these arguments. In the present case, D1 is a suitable starting point, since it discloses deriving expected operational values of a reactor from measured values. The skilled person would start out from this prior art also for gaining knowledge about operational parameters of a reactor which does not (yet) even exist, i.e. for the purpose of planning and designing the reactor. The presentation of values of these parameters in a specific format does not serve a technical purpose. It does not contribute to the solution of a technical problem and does not, therefore, contribute to inventive step.
The auxiliary request
9. The above reasoning also applies to claim 1 of the auxiliary request, as it is not apparent that defining a core map as being a 2D core map limits the claimed computer system.
10. In addition the term "editing the output generation 2D maps" is unclear. Firstly, it makes no grammatical sense, and secondly, the wording is unclear as it does not specify who or what performs the editing, or to what end such editing is done.
11. Since there is no allowable request, the appeal must be dismissed.
For these reasons it is decided that:
The appeal is dismissed.