Database management systems and information retrieval 

Database management systems are technical systems implemented on computers to perform the technical tasks of storing and retrieving data using various data structures for efficient management of data. A method performed in a database management system is thus a method which uses technical means and is therefore not excluded from patentability under Art. 52(2) and Art. 52(3).

Features specifying the internal functioning of a database management system are normally based on technical considerations. Therefore, they contribute to the technical character of the invention and are taken into account for the assessment of inventive step. For instance, technical considerations are involved in improving system throughput and query response times by automatically managing data using various data stores with different technical properties such as different levels of consistency or performance (T 1924/17, T 697/17).

Database management systems execute structured queries, which formally and precisely describe the data to be retrieved. Optimising the execution of such structured queries with respect to the computer resources needed (such as CPU, main memory or hard disk) contributes to the technical character of the invention since it involves technical considerations concerning the efficient exploitation of the computer system.

However, not all features implemented in a database management system necessarily make a technical contribution by virtue of this fact alone. For example, a feature of a database management system for accounting costs related to the use of the system by different users may be regarded as not making a technical contribution.

Data structures, such as an index, hash table or a query tree, used in database management systems to facilitate access to data or for the execution of structured queries contribute to the technical character of the invention. Such data structures are functional since they purposively control the operation of the database management system to perform said technical tasks. Conversely, data structures defined solely by the cognitive information they store are not considered to contribute to the technical character of the invention beyond the mere storage of data (see also G‑II, 3.6.3).

A distinction is made between executing structured queries by a database management system and information retrieval. The latter includes searching for information in a document, searching for documents themselves, and also searching for metadata that describe data such as texts, images or sounds. The query may be formulated by the user in need of information, typically informally using natural language without a precise format: the user may enter search terms as a query in web search engines to find relevant documents or submit an exemplary document to find similar documents. If the method of estimating relevance or similarity relies solely on non-technical considerations, such as the cognitive content of the items to be retrieved, purely linguistic rules or other subjective criteria (e.g. items found relevant by friends in social networks), it does not make a technical contribution.

The translation of linguistic considerations into a mathematical model with the aim of enabling the linguistic analysis to be done automatically by a computer can be seen as involving, at least implicitly, technical considerations. However, this is not enough to guarantee the technical character of the mathematical model. Further technical considerations such as those relating to the internal functioning of the computer system are needed.

For example, a mathematical model for calculating the probability that a given term is similar in meaning to another term by analysing the co-occurrence frequency of the two terms in a collection of documents does not make a technical contribution per se since it is based on considerations of a purely linguistic nature (i.e. based on the assumption that terms which are related are more likely than unrelated terms to occur in the same documents). The search results produced using this method of similarity calculation would differ from prior art that adopts another mathematical model only in that information with different cognitive content would be retrieved. This is a non-technical distinction and does not qualify as a technical effect. In this context of retrieval based on similarity of meaning of terms, the concept of "better search" is subjective (T 598/14). In contrast, optimising the execution time of structured queries in a database management system as discussed above is a technical effect.

See also G‑II, 3.3.1, for artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

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