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).
When assessing data structures and data formats, a distinction is made between functional data and cognitive data (T 1194/97). Functional data serve to control the operation of a device processing the data. They inherently comprise, or reflect, corresponding technical features of the device. Cognitive data, on the other hand, are those data whose content and meaning are only relevant to human users. Functional data contribute to producing a technical effect whereas cognitive data do not.
A data structure or format contributes to the technical character of the invention if it produces a technical effect. 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 functional data 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 is functional data 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. However, Furthermore, data models and other information models at an abstract logical level have per se no technical character (see G‑II, 3.6.2).