T 0683/17 () of 3.12.2020

European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EP:BA:2020:T068317.20201203
Date of decision: 03 December 2020
Case number: T 0683/17
Application number: 14157712.2
IPC class: G07F17/32
G07C15/00
Language of proceedings: EN
Distribution: D
Download and more information:
Decision text in EN (PDF, 438 KB)
Documentation of the appeal procedure can be found in the Register
Bibliographic information is available in: EN
Versions: Unpublished
Title of application: Gaming system
Applicant name: Grubmüller, Walter
Opponent name: -
Board: 3.4.03
Headnote: -
Relevant legal provisions:
European Patent Convention Art 56 (2007)
Rules of procedure of the Boards of Appeal Art 12(4) (2007)
Keywords: Inventive step - main request (no)
Auxiliary Requests - not substantiated - not admitted
Catchwords:

-

Cited decisions:
-
Citing decisions:
-

Summary of Facts and Submissions

I. The appeal is against the decision of the examining division refusing the European patent application No. 14 157 712.2 on the grounds that the Main Request and the Third Auxiliary Request before it did not involve an inventive step (Article 56 EPC). Moreover, the examining division, exercising its discretion under Rule 137(3) EPC, did not admit the First and Second Auxiliary Requests because it considered them to be prima facie not allowable.

II. At the oral proceedings before the board the appellant requested that the decision under appeal be set aside and a patent be granted according to the Main Request or one of the 1**(st) to 3**(rd) and 5**(th) to 8**(th) Auxiliary Requests, all Requests filed with the statement of the grounds of appeal.

III. Reference is made to the following documents, cited during the first instance procedure:

D1: EP 2 551 829 A2

D5: WO 2008/039174 A2.

IV. Claim 1 of the Main Request is worded as follows:

A roulette betting system (100) for playing betting cycles based at a central office (102) of a gaming service wherein the gaming service central office (102) houses a central server system (110) executing an instruction set for playing the modified version of roulette, wherein the server system (110) comprises a database server (111), a draw server (112), a bet acceptance server (114), a table management server (115) and an authentication server (116) wherein the server system (110) is connected to the Internet (150) with a communications link for communicating with entities outside of the central office wherein the entities having [sic] at least one electronic roulette gaming area (160) with a central table (162) including a draw presentation client (166), which provides players with an electronic display of a roulette wheel, wherein

the central table (162) has for each player a dedicated electronic user interface (168) which includes modules comprising an interactive bet acceptance client (168a) and a table presentation client (168b) wherein the bet acceptance client (168a) enabling [sic] a player to place bets on the roulette betting system (100) and the table presentation client (168b) provides the user with a graphical representation of the betting table and

the roulette gaming area (160) is connected with the server system (110) of the central office (102) through an electronic communication link (124) via Internet (150) and wherein

the database server (111) is adapted to stores [sic] persistent information,

the draw server (112) utilize [sic] a random number generator (113) to generate a random result within a given set of numbers and is adapted to pass the result of the random number generator (113) to the draw presentation clients (166) and to the bet acceptance server (114),

the bet acceptance server (114) is adapted to receives [sic] bets from all connected bet acceptance clients (168a) and to verify the input via interaction with the authentication server (116) and to store the bets and to return information about the bets to the bet acceptance client (168a) and to forward to the table management server (115).

V. Claim 1 of the 1**(st) Auxiliary Request has the same wording as claim 1 of the Main Request with the addition, before the last paragraph of the claim ("the bet acceptance server (114) is adapted to ...") of the following feature:

"the spinning of the roulette wheel is accomplished by the random number generator (113) selecting a random number and then associating the random number, through an internal algorithm, with a numbered slot on the roulette wheel representation on the draw presentation client (166),"

VI. Claim 1 of the 2**(nd) Auxiliary Request has the same wording as claim 1 of the Main Request with the addition of the following features at the end of the claim:

", the spinning of the roulette wheel is accomplished by the random number generator (113) selecting a random number and then associating the random number, through an internal algorithm, with a numbered slot on the roulette wheel representation on the draw presentation client (166),

wherein the roulette system (100) is configured that after the first spin of the roulette wheel, the winning number is replaced in the betting table layout and is replaced by a randomly selected number out of the remaining (N-1) numbers of N numbers and a color property of the added number is inherited from the replaced number and thereafter, the field of numbers on the betting table again contains N numbers for the next betting cycle."

VII. The only claim of the 3**(rd) Auxiliary Request is a method claim and is worded as follows:

A method of playing betting cycles with a roulette betting system (100) based at a central office (102) of a gaming service wherein the gaming service central office (102) houses a central server system (110) executing an instruction set for playing the modified version of roulette, wherein the server system (110) comprises a database server (111), a draw server (112), a bet acceptance server (114), a table management server (115) and an authentication server (116) wherein the server system (110) is connected to the Internet (150) with a communications link for communicating with entities outside of the central office wherein the entities having [sic] at least one electronic roulette gaming area (160) with a central table (162) including a draw presentation client (166), which provides players with an electronic display of a roulette wheel, wherein

the central table (162) has for each player a dedicated electronic user interface (168) which includes modules comprising an interactive bet acceptance client (168a) and a table presentation client (168b) wherein the bet acceptance client (168a) enabling [sic] a player to place bets on the roulette betting system (100) and the table presentation client (168b) provides the user with a graphical representation of the betting table and

the roulette gaming area (160) is connected with the server system (110) of the central office (102) through an electronic communication link (124) via Internet (150) and wherein

the database server (111) is adapted to stores [sic] persistent information,

the draw server (112) utilize [sic] a random number generator (113) to generate a random result within a given set of numbers and is adapted to pass the result of the random number generator (113) to the draw presentation clients (166) and to the bet acceptance server (114),

the bet acceptance server (114) is adapted to receives [sic] bets from all connected bet acceptance clients (168a) and to verify the input via interaction with the authentication server (116) and to store the bets and to return information about the bets to the bet acceptance client (168a) and to forward to the table management server (115),

wherein the roulette system (100) is configured that after the first spin of the roulette wheel, the winning number is replaced in the betting table layout and is replaced by a randomly selected number out of the remaining (N-1) numbers of N numbers and a color property of the added number is inherited from the replaced number and thereafter, the field of numbers on the betting table again contains N numbers for the next betting cycle. [sic] including the steps of:

(a) providing an executable instruction set hosted on the roulette betting system (100);

(b) receiving from the bet acceptance clients (168a) a bet desired by the players;

(c) spinning of the roulette wheel accomplished by the random number generator (113) selecting a random number and then associating the random number, through an internal algorithm, with a numbered slot on the roulette wheel representation on the draw presentation client (166),

(d) associating the random number to one of a field of numbers presented on the table presentation clients (186b) [sic];

(e) designating the associated one of the field of numbers as the winning number;

(f) determining winning and losing bets;

(g) removing the winning number from the field of numbers presented on the table presentation clients (168b) and replacing the removed number with a randomly selected one of the numbers remaining in the field of numbers presented on the table presentation display;

(h) recalculating the odds of each possible bet; and

(i) repeating the betting cycle.

VIII. Claim 1 of the 5**(th) Auxiliary Request has the same wording as claim 1 of the Main Request with the additional specification that the claimed "entities" "are one or more casinos (140, 142)" and the following features added at the end of the claim:

", wherein the system is adapted to replace after the first spin of the wheel, the winning number in the betting table by a randomly selected number out of the remaining (N-1) numbers wherein the color occurrences [sic] of the added number is inherited from the replaced number and thereafter, the field of numbers on the betting table again contains N numbers for the next spin, so that the next cycle can continues [sic] with a table field of N numbers and the system is configured that after the first draw there will be multiple occurrences of one or more numbers and the odds for a single number will change depending on how often the number is used as a substitute for another withdrawn number and if in one of the subsequent spins a number with multiple occurrences in the table field is selected, all of the occurrences will be replaced by the same number selected from the field of available numbers."

IX. Claim 1 of the 6**(th) Auxiliary Request is worded as claim 1 of the Main Request with the addition, at the end of the claim, of the following features:

"and wherein

the random number generator (113) can select the random numbers electronically via hardware and/or software implementation which allows the roulette wheel to be manually operated by a croupier wherein the spinning of the roulette wheel is accomplished by the random number generator (113) selecting a random number and then associating the random number, through an internal algorithm, with a numbered slot on the roulette wheel representation on [sic] draw representation client (166)."

X. Claim 1 of the 7**(th) Auxiliary Request has the same wording as claim 1 of the 6**(th) Auxiliary Request with the additional specification that the claimed "entities" "are one or more casinos (140, 142)".

XI. Claim 1 of the 8**(th) Auxiliary Request has the same wording as claim 1 of the 6th Auxiliary Request with the additional specification that the claimed "entities" "are one or more casinos (140), (142)" having at least one electronic roulette gaming area with a central table "with a real roulette wheel with a real roulette ball wherein the insertion and the removal of the ball works fully automatic [sic] with a pneumatic or mechanical mechanism".

XII. The appellant argued essentially that the architecture of the claimed system provided for increased security without losing speed in the execution of the roulette game. A skilled person would not contemplate modifying the architecture of the roulette playing system of the prior art and arrive at the architecture of the claimed system without exercising inventive skill. Regarding the Auxiliary Requests, the appellant argued mainly that they comprised self-explanatory amendments and no additional substantiation was necessary. The appellant's arguments are dealt with in the reasons for the decision.

Reasons for the Decision

1. The appeal is admissible.

2. The claimed invention

2.1 The claimed invention relates to a roulette betting system and method for playing a modified version of roulette.

The system comprises a central office server system in communication with at least one electronic roulette gaming area via the Internet (Figure 1 of the published application). The central server system comprises a series of servers carrying out various operations: a draw server (which uses a random number generator to "spin" the electronic roulette), a database server (comprising a player database), a bet acceptance server (for accepting bets from the players and managing payouts to them), an authentication server (for authenticating the players) and a table management server (for managing the electronic roulette tables) (Figure 2 and paragraph [0021] of the application as published). The electronic roulette gaming area comprises a central table including an electronic representation of a roulette wheel and electronic user interfaces (clients) for each player, such that the players can place their bets and follow the game (ibid., Figures 3 and 4; paragraphs [0019] and [0022]).

2.2 The modified roulette game consists in a series of roulette "spins". After each "spin" the drawn number is removed from the game and is replaced by a randomly selected number among the remaining numbers. After each round the odds of the game are calculated anew before the players can place bets (ibid., paragraphs [0023] to [0025]).

2.3 It is to be noted that the apparatus claims of the Main Request (claims 1 to 3) refer only to a central server system "executing an instruction set for playing the modified version of roulette", without any details about the actual modified roulette game. It is only in method claim 4 of the Main Request that the modified roulette game is defined.

3. Main Request

3.1 Claim 1 of Main Request relates to a roulette betting system. During the examination procedure, the admitted requests related to a method for playing a modified electronic version of roulette (Main Request and Third Auxiliary Request underlying the impugned decision).

The board considers that the change of the claimed invention from a method to a system made a reassessment of the available prior art documents and the selection of the closest prior art appropriate.

3.1.1 Document D1, which was used by the examining division as closest prior art, relates to a lottery gaming system and method and not to a system for playing a roulette game. The playing of a modified version of a roulette game combined with lottery ("BetLottoRoulette") is mentioned as one of the possible games offered (see, for example, paragraph [0054]).

Document D5 defines a roulette betting system comprising an electronic roulette table with which players can interact using individual electronic user interfaces (clients/stations), in a similar way as the claimed system (see more details below).

3.1.2 In the board's view, since the claimed invention relates to a roulette betting system, the most appropriate and promising starting point for the skilled person should also be a roulette betting system, such as the one in D5, for example. The appellant agreed also that D5 was a more appropriate starting point for the assessment of inventive step than D1.

3.2 D5 describes a roulette betting system (Figure 3 and paragraphs [36] and [43]) comprising a table (34) with an electronic display of a roulette wheel (42) ("virtual wheel"). The virtual wheel is connected with a random number generator, which generates the results of the virtual "spins" of the roulette wheel. The table comprises further player stations (36A, 36B, ..., 36N) with an interactive electronic user interface (Figure 4), allowing the players to place bets and to follow the game (paragraphs [36], [37], [48] and [49]). The table comprises a croupier station (38), which is used to accept bets and award benefits and payouts to the players. The table comprises also a table controller (40), which controls the operation of the electronic roulette game at the table. In some embodiments the table controller and the croupier controller are merged (paragraphs [41] and [42]).

3.2.1 The table (34) is connected to a remote central server via a communications network (Figure 5 and paragraph [54]), which can be the Internet (paragraph [176]). The central server system (controller 108) comprises, among others, a player database (118) and executes a series of programs (116) carrying out different functionalities such as tracking the activity on the tables, tracking the activity of the players, assign or otherwise determine a unique identifier for a player (i. e. authenticating players), control access to stored funds and credit lines, etc. (paragraphs [54] and [56]).

3.2.2 Regarding the game played, the system of D5 can play the classic roulette game but also a modified roulette game involving multiple balls (paragraph [47]).

3.3 Comparing the claimed system to the one in D5, the only differences relate to the distributed system architecture. In claim 1 of the Main Request a series of servers (database server, draw server, etc.) are defined, which are implemented within the central server system and carry out the various functionalities of the claimed betting system. In D5, the same functionalities are distributed between the central controller and the table(s). In addition, in D5 there is no mention of separate servers as in the claimed system, but rather of controllers and programs (instructions) executed in the central controller.

3.4 The claimed system has, thus, a more centralised architecture, since the various functionalities are implemented at the central server system and none of them locally, at the gaming table(s) or areas.

The board considers such an architecture of a centralised computer system generally known in the art. Its advantages and disadvantages with respect to a distributed architecture are also commonly known. It is known, for example, that a system whose operation is controlled centrally can be more flexible in that additional peripherals (gaming areas in the present context) can be added more easily, since all the necessary functionalities are controlled/carried out by/at the central server. Costs can be also saved in that the peripherals do not need to have the necessary resources to carry out functionalities which are executed by/at the central server. A centralised server can also control better the security of the whole network. On the other hand, it is also known that in a distributed implementation, with various functionalities carried out at/by (some of) the peripheral devices, technical problems (malfunctions) can be treated locally at the device (peripheral) where they occur without risking the operation of the whole system. Hence, when, for example, the "spinning" of the virtual wheel does not operate correctly at a table, only the table manager of the specific table has to be repaired, while the other tables can continue playing normally.

3.5 The appellant agreed also that the only differences between the claimed system and D5 lay in the centralised architecture of the system. It argued, however, that the architecture of the claimed system provided additional technical effects beyond those identified by the board.

In the claimed system, when a player placed a bet to the bet acceptance server, the server interacted first with the authentication server to verify the input before accepting the bet (last 5 lines of claim 1). Hence, even if a player had already been authenticated at some previous phase of the game, each time they placed a bet, their input was authenticated again. In this way, even if an external (unauthorised) user managed to gain access to the gaming system in some way, at the moment they would attempt to place a bet, the system, through this interaction of the bet acceptance server with the authentication server, would recognise them as unauthorised players/users and would not accept their bet(s), i. e. would not allow them to participate in the game. This improved the security of the game.

Moreover, since the authentication was performed between the bet acceptance server and the authentication server, i. e. without requiring the players to provide (again) their credentials (e. g. a password), the flow of the game was not affected in any way, since the interaction between the two servers was a fast step that did not change the overall speed of the game.

Hence, the technical effect obtained by the architecture of the claimed system was improved security without any sacrifice in the speed of the game. In D5 there was no indication or suggestion of such an authentication step and the skilled person would not contemplate such an implementation of the gaming system without hindsight. At the most, if they wished to improve security, they would add a step in the gaming procedure requiring the users to (re)enter their credentials when they placed a bet in order to be authenticated as players authorised to place bets. Such a step would, however, slow down the whole gaming experience. The subject-matter of claim 1 of the Main Request involved, thus, an inventive step.

3.6 The board does not agree with the appellant's definition of the technical problem. The system of D5 comprises a series of programs (116), which facilitate the operation of the controller (108), allowing it, among others, to track gaming or other activities of individual players, assign or determine a unique identifier for a player, control access to stored funds and/or a credit line (paragraph [56]). Although it is not explicitly described in D5, the board considers it implicit that users, who wish to participate in the game played in the described system, would have to go through an authentication/verification process before they are allowed to do so. As the cited passage indicates, each user is assigned a unique identifier and the board considers it implicit that this unique identifier is used by the system (controller) to track the player's activity within the game, including the placing of bets.

3.6.1 The board further considers that, in the context of a multiple player gaming system as in claim 1 of the Main Request and D5, it is not the individual players (persons) that are tracked by the central server or controller but the respective devices they use for playing (interacting with) the game. In claim 1 of the Main Request there is mention of bet acceptance clients, i. e. the devices the players use to place their bets (play the game). In a similar way, in D5 the players use their player stations (36) to interact with the table where the game is played (paragraph [39]). In the board's view it is evident for the skilled person that in a multi-device network like those of D5 and the present application, the various peripheral devices are recognised by a unique identifier (e. g. a network address) so the central controller/server can track their activity. Hence, it is implicit that when a player of the system in D5 places a bet through their player station, the central controller will check whether the specific player station is a recognised device of the network and whether it is authorised to perform the specific action (place a bet).

3.6.2 The board concludes, therefore, that the step of verification of a user (device) at the moment they place a bet must also be present in D5, i. e. it is implicitly disclosed in D5. Hence, there is no additional technical effect in the claimed system beyond those identified by the board (see point 3.4 above).

3.7 D5 provides some indication about a possible centralised implementation of the system, where the functionalities of the tables and player stations are taken over by the central controller (108), see for example paragraph [56]. In particular, the last sentences of this paragraph state explicitly that "[t]he controller 108 may be programmed to perform any or all of the functions described herein ..." and "[i]t is particularly contemplated that the table 34 may be a thin client controlled by the controller 108 ...".

3.8 In the board's view, such hints would be sufficient for the skilled person to contemplate a centralised implementation of the described system in D5, where the various functionalities are carried out by the central controller. Moreover, the board considers that the skilled person (a computer programming expert in gaming/betting systems) would be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of a particular distribution of known functionalities in a centralised computer system as part of their common general knowledge (see point 3.4 above).

3.9 The board is, therefore, convinced that the skilled person would select between a centralised and a distributed implementation of the various functionalities of the gaming system in an obvious manner, based on the circumstances and using only common general knowledge.

3.10 It is also the board's opinion that there is no functional difference between implementing a server for each functionality (as in the claimed system) and implementing the functionalities with computer programs (as in D5). It is regarded as commonly known that a server can also be implemented only as a computer program. The application does not indicate any particular technical advantages of the use of servers, either.

Hence, an implementation of a centralised architecture of the system in D5 would also be within the skilled person's common general knowledge, since the application does not indicate any particular technical problems or constraints related to this aspect of the gaming system.

3.11 The board's opinion is, therefore, that the subject-matter of claim 1 of the Main Request does not involve an inventive step within the meaning of Article 56 EPC.

4. Auxiliary Requests

4.1 The appellant submitted eight Auxiliary Requests with the statement of the grounds of appeal. The 4**(th) Auxiliary Request was later withdrawn.

Each of the remaining Auxiliary Requests comprises additional features when compared to the Main Request. In the statement of the grounds of appeal, the appellant did not provide any explanations of the amendments made or any arguments why the additional features of any of these Auxiliary Requests would overcome the grounds of refusal of the application. It made only a general reference to the arguments regarding the Main Request (last paragraph on page 7 of the statement of the grounds of appeal).

4.2 In its preliminary opinion, which was issued with the summons to the oral proceedings, the board considered the Auxiliary Requests not to have been properly substantiated and referred to established case law, according to which unsubstantiated requests are considered as not filed until the date they are substantiated (Case Law of the Boards of Appeal of the EPO, 9th Edition, July 2019, section V.A.4.12.5). The board indicated that it intended to adhere to that case law and the admittance of the Auxiliary Requests would be a possible point of discussion during the oral proceedings.

4.3 The appellant argued in response that the Auxiliary Requests were substantiated, essentially because the amendments carried out were self-explanatory.

The statement of the grounds of appeal comprised the appellant's arguments why it considered claim 1 of the Main Request to be new and to involve an inventive step. This applied also to the Auxiliary Requests as well, especially since claim 1 of each of them comprised additional features (with respect to the Main Request) that were not disclosed in any of the prior art documents. Since the additional features were clearly indicated in the amended claims, the amendments were self-explanatory in this aspect.

4.3.1 Moreover, the examining division had not admitted the First and Second Auxiliary Requests because it held that they did not fulfil the requirements of Articles 84 and 123(2) EPC. The appellant considered the examination division's approach to be "overly strict". The claims were, however, reformulated so as to be clear and the support in the originally description for the amended features was clearly indicated in the submitted working copies. The appellant thus regarded the amendments to be also in this respect self-explanatory.

4.3.2 Finally, since the examining division had not presented any arguments regarding inventive step in relation to the non-admitted First and Second Auxiliary Requests, the appellant did not consider it necessary or appropriate to provide arguments regarding inventive step with respect of the Auxiliary Requests, either. It expected that, if the board admitted the Auxiliary Requests, it would remit them to the examining division for the assessment of inventive step, permitting thus the appellant to have the issue decided in two instances.

4.4 The board did not find the appellant's arguments persuasive.

The submitted working copies of the Auxiliary Requests comprise indeed references to the originally filed description as basis for the amended features and they distinguish (underline) the additional features in the claims with respect to the Main Request.

4.4.1 They are not self-explanatory, however. In its letter of 8 October 2020, the appellant states that "[t]he interpretation if a claim has support in the application is simply a question of interpretation of the content of the application as originally filed based on the parts in the application forming the support" (page 3, second paragraph). Hence, the appellant itself recognises the need for interpretation of the content of the application (as originally filed) in order to assess whether there is support for the amended features or not. This implies that a mere reference to a passage of the originally filed application is not sufficient. Yet, the appellant provided no arguments or explanations regarding the interpretation of the cited passages and how they provide the necessary support for the amended features.

4.4.2 Regarding clarity, the appellant provided no indication why the new formulation of the claims in the Auxiliary Requests was clear or why it overcame the examining division's prima facie objections in this respect. Neither in the statement of the grounds of appeal nor in the letter of 8 October 2020 did the appellant explain why or how the claims overcame the objections for lack of clarity by the examining division or in which concrete aspects it considered the examining division's approach to be "overly strict". A mere assertion during the oral proceedings that the claims were reformulated to be clear is not considered sufficient in order to allow the board to understand and to assess the amendments carried out with respect to the requirement of clarity.

4.4.3 Finally, the board expected that the appellant would provide some explanation as to why it considered the additional features in claim 1 of each of the Auxiliary Requests to be new and inventive or at least how these features contributed to an inventive step of the claimed subject-matter, in particular as to how these Auxiliary Requests would overcome the outstanding objections or at least what they contribute beyond the Main Request. According to the above-cited case law, the appellant must make its complete case at the outset of the appeal and it is not the task of the board to seek to understand the rationale behind any submitted requests.

In the present case, the appellant's arguments regarding novelty and inventive step of the Main Request were not found convincing, as the board indicated already in its preliminary opinion. In the absence of any substantiation, the board is not in a position to assess how the Auxiliary Requests might overcome the objections raised against the Main Request. Even after receiving the board's preliminary opinion, the appellant did not provide any arguments as to why or how the Auxiliary Requests might overcome the board's objections against the Main Request. The board considers, thus, that the amendments are not self-explanatory in this aspect, either.

4.5 Summarising, the board regards the 1**(st) to 3**(rd) and 5**(th) to 8**(th) Auxiliary Requests filed with the statement of the grounds of appeal as not substantiated.

4.6 According to Article 12(3) of the Rules of Procedure of the Boards of Appeal (RPBA 2020), the statement of the grounds of appeal shall contain a party's complete appeal case. It shall set out clearly and concisely the reasons why it is requested that the decision under appeal be reversed, amended or upheld, and should specify expressly all the requests, facts, objections, arguments and evidence relied on.

In the board's view, the 1**(st) to 3**(rd) and 5**(th) to 8**(th) Auxiliary Requests do not meet these requirements.

4.7 Therefore, pursuant to Article 12(4) of the version of the RPBA in force when the statement of the appeal was filed, i. e. before 1 January 2020 (which applies in this case pursuant to Article 25(2) RPBA 2020), the board does not admit the 1**(st) to 3**(rd) and 5**(th) to 8**(th) Auxiliary Requests into the proceedings.

4.8 Since the Auxiliary Requests are not admitted into the proceedings, the board does not need to comment on the appellant's expectation of a remittal to the examining division for the assessment of inventive step of the Auxiliary Requests.

5. Since the Main Request is not allowable and the Auxiliary Requests are not admitted, the appeal must fail.

Order

For these reasons it is decided that:

The appeal is dismissed.

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