A computer-implemented data structure or data format embodied on a medium or as an electromagnetic carrier wave has technical character as a whole and thus is an invention within the meaning of Art. 52(1).
A data structure or format contributes to the technical character of the invention if it produces has an intended technical use and it causes a technical effect when used according to this intended technical use. Such a potential technical effect related to an implied technical use is to be taken into account in assessing inventive step (G 1/19). This may happen if the data structure or format is functional data, i.e. if it has a technical function in a technical system, such as controlling the operation of the device processing the data. Functional data inherently comprise, or map to, the corresponding technical features of the device (T 1194/97). Cognitive data, on the other hand, are those data whose content and meaning are only relevant to human users and do not contribute to producing a technical effect (see however, G‑II, 3.7 for presentation of information to a user in a continued and/or guided human-machine interaction process).
For example, a record carrier for use in a picture retrieval system stores coded pictures together with a data structure defined in terms of line numbers and addresses which instruct the system how to decode and access the picture from the record carrier. This data structure is defined in terms which inherently comprise the technical features of the picture retrieval system, namely the record carrier and a reading device for retrieving pictures therefrom in which the record carrier is operative. It thus contributes to the technical character of the record carrier, whereas the cognitive content of the stored pictures (e.g. photograph of a person or landscape) does not.
Similarly, an index structure used for searching a record in a database produces a technical effect since it controls the way the computer performs the search operation (T 1351/04).
Another example is an electronic message with a header and a content section. Information in the header comprises instructions which are automatically recognised and processed by the receiving message system. This processing in turn determines how the content elements are to be assembled and presented to its final recipient. The provision of such instructions in the header contributes to the technical character of the electronic message, whereas the information in the content section, representing cognitive data, does not (T 858/02).
A data structure or a data format may have features which may not be characterised as cognitive data (i.e. not for conveying information to a user) but which nevertheless do not make a technical contribution. For example, the structure of a computer program may merely aim at facilitating the task of the programmer, which is not a technical effect serving a technical function purpose. Furthermore, data models and other information models at an abstract logical level have per se no technical character (see G‑II, 3.6.2).
Digital data is used to control devices in additive manufacturing (AM), which is the general term for technologies manufacturing physical objects by successive addition of material based on a digital representation of the geometry of the object. If the data defines the instructions for operating the AM device, it makes a technical contribution as illustrated in the following example:
A computer-readable medium storing data which defines both a digital representation of the product of claim 1 and operating instructions adapted to control an AM device to fabricate the product using the digital representation of the product when said data is relayed to the AM device.
Since the data comprises both a digital description of the (physical) product of claim 1 and associated operating instructions adapted to control an AM device, it is intended to be used to control an AM device to fabricate the product. This technical use of the data is implied across substantially the whole scope of the claim. Construing the present claim to encompass a non-technical use of merely visualising the data would be artificial. The technical effect of fabricating the physical product defined in claim 1 that is achieved when the data is used according to its intended use is thus a potential technical effect that is to be taken into account when assessing inventive step. The digital representation of the product makes a technical contribution to the extent that it defines technical features of the fabricated physical product.
However, if such a technical use of the data were not implied by the claim, the potential technical effect of the data of fabricating the physical product could not be taken into account when assessing inventive step as it would not be implied across substantially the whole scope of the claim. This would be the case, for instance, if the data defined only a digital description or 3D model of the product that is not adapted to additive manufacturing of the product and could be used to merely visualise the product in a CAD software tool. Abstract descriptions or models are not considered technical even if the described entities are technical (see G‑II, 3.3.2). In such a case, the stored non-technical data would not make a technical contribution.