Tuesday, 14 December 2010

T 70/08 – Good News For The Log Lady

The present decision deals with an appeal against the decision of an Examining Division (ED) to refuse the patent application under consideration.

Claim 1 of the main request read as follows:

Procedure for determining the properties of a moving log (5), in which procedure the moving log (5) is radiographed by means of more than one radiation source (4) each emitting radiation capable of penetrating matter to form a respective radiographic projection, and each of the radiographic projections is received by means of one or more detector array(s) (8) each including more than one detector (9) wherein the procedure involves utilization of knowledge relating to the typical geometry, density and other properties of the moving log, such as the stemwood and knots in a log and anomalies associated with knots, as well as to the interdependencies between said properties, wherein to allow sorting according to quality, the radiographic information is analyzed to locate objects and parts of objects haying the shape of a knot or other anomalies (11), that differ from the normal material of the log being inspected, and wherein:
- array sums are calculated from the radiation received by the detector array(s) (8), from which the positions of knots are to be determined;
- each knot mass is projected to volumetric elements (6) of sectors (3) in a system of cylindrical coordinates (α, r, z), wherein each knot is lying within a sector that contains no other knots;
- stemwood portions are filtered out from radiographic projections; and
- back-projecting the filtered radiographic projections to a system of 3-D coordinates and repeating said back-projection but only for selected rotational angles by omitting those sectors that are not regarded as knot sectors.

In the following passage, the Board deals with sufficiency of disclosure.

[4.1] In its decision the ED held that the disclosure of the invention was insufficient within the meaning of A 83 with respect to features defined in the claims of the requests then on file, and in particular with respect to the feature according to which “wood type specific knowledge” was used in the step relating to the identification of knots and other anomalies in the moving logs. The objected features, however, have been omitted in the claims amended according to the present main request, and in this sense the objections raised by the ED no longer apply to the presently claimed invention.

[4.2] Notwithstanding, according to present claim 1 “knowledge relating to the typical geometry, density and other properties of the moving log, such as stemwood and knots in a log and anomalies associated with knots” is used in the claimed procedure, and thus the question arises whether the objection raised by the ED with regard to the use of “wood type specific knowledge” in the former claims casts doubts on sufficiency of disclosure of the invention as defined in present claim 1.

According to the description of the application, knowledge on typical wood structure […] is used at different stages of the procedure of the invention […], and in particular - as already noted by the ED in its decision - in the claimed step of back-projecting the filtered radiographic projections and identifying the possible knot sectors of the log. More particularly, the description specifies that the claimed step of back-projecting the filtered radiographic projections can be carried out in terms of back-projection coefficients that take into account the typical geometric properties of knots and trunk […], and that the further step of identifying stemwood and knots in the log on the basis of knowledge of the typical geometry and density of stemwood and knots defined in present dependent claim 2 can be carried out on the basis of truth values for possible knot sectors obtained from evidence values determined in terms of experimental parameters and the measured density values and representing probability values as to whether the corresponding volumetric element is part of a knot […].

Thus, the description teaches how knowledge of typical wood structure is taken into account in the aforementioned claimed steps, and although the description does not provide detailed guidance or exhaustive examples as to how the back-projection coefficients or the evidence values are determined, the Board is of the opinion that the competent skilled person working in the technical field of analysing by means of imaging techniques the inner structure of objects such as moving logs has good overall knowledge of the techniques commonly used in object identification by image data processing and is therefore in a position to implement the claimed invention by taking appropriately into account - for instance, using appropriate graphical techniques and/or computational algorithms known in the art - the typical wood structure of a log when processing the radiographic measurement data for identifying the knot regions in the specific log being measured and in particular when calculating the aforementioned back-projection coefficients and evidence values.

[4.3] This conclusion is not affected by the view also expressed by the ED in its decision that the application did not provide a description in full detail of one way of carrying out the invention defined in the claims then on file within the meaning of R 42(1)(e) and that a detailed disclosure of a particular way of implementing it could only be found in document D3, this document having been published according to the ED after the priority date of the application.

First of all, as regards the invention defined in the present claims, the description explains in detail the different aspects of the steps of the invention […] and also illustrates with reference to Figures 5 to 8 an example of implementation of the claimed invention; the description therefore does provide a sufficiently detailed description of at least one way of carrying out the presently claimed invention, using examples and referring to the drawings as stipulated by R 42(1)(e).

Secondly, document D3 - a PhD thesis by one of the named inventors of the application - is directed to the detection of knots in logs using x-ray imaging techniques, discloses a method of determination of the properties of a moving log involving aspects similar to those of the claimed method, and - as pointed out by the ED - contains an exhaustive and extensive detailed description of some processing techniques and algorithms that can be used in the procedure and involving, among others, the use of shape mask functions in the reconstruction of the knot structure […] and of equations for deriving the truth values from the evidence values […].

However, the standards of disclosure required by A 83 and R 42(1)(e) do not necessarily correspond to those generally met by a PhD thesis such as document D3, and the mere fact that document D3 discloses specific implementations of some of the aspects of the claimed invention with a higher degree of detail than the present application is not detrimental to the issues under consideration; more particularly, the extensive and exhaustive disclosure in the PhD thesis D3 does not by itself imply that the description of the application would - contrary to the conclusion in the former paragraph - not describe in sufficient detail at least one way of carrying out the claimed invention within the meaning of R 42(1)(e), let alone that the invention is not sufficiently disclosed within the meaning of A 83 since for the purposes of this article it is sufficient if the application as a whole discloses (as the present application does,[…]) the invention with a degree of detail such that the person skilled in the particular art under consideration can perform the claimed invention.

[4.4] The remaining claimed features are sufficiently clear and self-explanatory and the Board sees no reason to doubt that the application contains a sufficient disclosure for them to be carried out without undue burden by the person skilled in this art.

The Board concludes that the application documents as presently amended meet the requirements of A 83.

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