Claims directed to methods of simulation, design or modelling typically comprise features which fall under the category of mathematical methods or of methods for performing mental acts. Hence, the claimed subject-matter as a whole may fall under the exclusions from patentability mentioned under Art. 52(2)(a)Art. 52(2)(c) and Art. 52(3) (see G‑II, 3.3 and 3.5.1).
The methods considered in this section, however, are at least partially computer-implemented so that the claimed subject-matter as a whole is not excluded from patentability. When determining which features contribute to the technical character of the invention, the same principles as outlined in G‑II, 3.3 apply.
The computer-implemented simulation of the behaviour of an adequately defined class of technical items, or specific technical processes, under technically relevant conditions qualifies as a technical purpose (T 1227/05). Examples are the numerical simulation of the performance of an electronic circuit subject to 1/f noise or of a specific industrial chemical process.
Such computer-implemented simulation methods cannot be denied a technical effect merely on the ground that they precede actual production and/or do not comprise a step of manufacturing the physical end product.
In contrast, the simulation of non-technical processes, such as a marketing campaign, an administrative scheme for transportation of goods or determining a schedule for agents in a call centre, does not represent a technical purpose. In addition, a generic limitation, such as "simulation of a technical system", does not define a relevant technical purpose.
In the context of computer-aided design of a specific technical object (product, system or process), the determination of a technical parameter which is intrinsically linked to the functioning of the technical object, where the determination is based on technical considerations, is a technical purpose (T 471/05, T 625/11).
For example, in a computer-implemented method of designing an optical system, the use of a particular formula for determining technical parameters, such as refractive indices and magnification factors, for given input conditions so as to obtain optimal optical performance makes a technical contribution. As another example, determining by iterative computer simulations the maximum value that an operating parameter of a nuclear reactor may take without risking rupture of a sleeve due to stress makes a technical contribution.
In contrast, where the computer-aided determination of the technical parameters depends on decisions to be taken by a human user and the technical considerations for taking such decisions are not specified in the claim, a technical effect of improved design cannot be acknowledged since such an effect would not be causally linked to the claim features (T 835/10).
For establishing the presence of a technical effect, it is not decisive whether the simulated system or process is technical or whether the simulation reflects technical principles underlying the simulated system and how accurately it does so.
Computer-implemented simulations that comprise features representing an interaction with an external physical reality at the level of their input or output may provide a technical effect related to this interaction. A computer-implemented simulation that uses measurements as input may form part of an indirect measurement method that calculates or predicts the physical state of an existing real object and thus make a technical contribution regardless of what use is made of the results.
A computer-implemented simulation without an input or output having a direct link with physical reality may still solve a technical problem. In such a "purely numerical" simulation, the underlying models and algorithms may contribute to the technical character of the invention by their adaptation to a specific technical implementation or by an intended technical use of the data resulting from the simulation.
Models and algorithms that do not make a contribution to the technical character of the invention form constraints that may be included in the formulation of the objective technical problem when following the COMVIK approach outlined in G‑VII, 5.4.
The technical contribution that may be made by a model or algorithm because of their adaptation to the internal functioning of the computer system or network on which they are implemented is assessed in the same manner as adaptations of mathematical methods to specific technical implementations, see G‑II, 3.3.
Calculated numerical data reflecting the physical state or behaviour of a system or process existing only as a model in a computer usually cannot contribute to the technical character of the invention, even if it reflects the behaviour of the real system or process adequately.
Calculated numerical data may have a "potential technical effect", which is the technical effect that would be produced when the data is used according to an intended technical use. Such a potential technical effect may only be relied on for the formulation of the objective technical problem if the intended technical use is either explicitly or implicitly specified in the claim.
If the data resulting from a numerical simulation is specifically adapted for an intended technical use, e.g. it is control data for a technical device, a potential technical effect of the data can be considered "implied" by the claim. The specific adaptation implies that the claim does not encompass other non-technical uses because the intended technical use is then inherent to the claimed subject-matter over substantially the whole scope of the claim (see also G-II, 3.6.3). On the other hand, if the claim also encompasses non-technical uses of the simulation results (such as gaining scientific knowledge about a technical or natural system), the potential technical effect is not achieved over substantially the whole scope of the claim and therefore cannot be relied on in the assessment of inventive step.
Whether a simulation contributes to the technical character of the claimed subject-matter does not depend on the quality of the underlying model or the degree to which the simulation represents reality.
However, the accuracy of a simulation is a factor that may have an influence on an already established technical effect going beyond the mere implementation of the simulation on a computer. It may be that an alleged improvement is not achieved if the simulation is not accurate enough for its intended technical use. This may be taken into account in the formulation of the objective technical problem (Art. 56) or in the assessment of sufficiency of disclosure (Art. 83), see F‑III, 12. Conversely, a technical effect may still be achieved by a method where certain simulation parameters are inaccurate but sufficient for its intended technical use.
The aforementioned principles apply equally if a computer-implemented simulation is claimed as part of a design process.
If a computer-implemented method results merely in an abstract model of a product, system or process, e.g. a set of equations, this per se is not considered to be a technical effect, even if the modelled product, system or process is technical (T 49/99, T 42/09). For example, a logical data model for a family of product configurations has no inherent technical character, and a method merely specifying how to proceed to arrive at such a logical data model would not make a technical contribution beyond its computer-implementation. Likewise, a method merely specifying how to describe a multi-processor system in a graphical modelling environment does not make a technical contribution beyond its computer-implementation. Reference is made to G‑II, 3.6.2 related to information modelling as an intellectual activity.