Tuesday, 17 May 2011

T 1809/07 – On Drafting And Drawings

The applicant filed an appeal against the decision of the Examining Division to refuse its application.

Claims 1 and 14 of the sole request before the Board read:
1. An article comprising:
a transparent conductive surface;
two or more polygonal parallel rows of conductive segments disposed on the conductive surface, each edge of each row comprising two end conductive segments and one or more middle conductive segments disposed between the two end conductive segments;
wherein for each edge of each row, the middle segments are equal in length, and the segments are separated by gaps of equal length;
wherein for each edge, the length of the middle segments in an inner row along the edge is smaller than the length of the middle segments in an outer row along the same edge; and
wherein at least one segment in a row is connected via one or more conductive bars to a segment in an adjacent row.
14. An article according to claim 1, wherein at least some portions of electrically non-functional sections of connected conductive segments are removed.
The applicant chose not to attend the oral proceedings before the Board, which found the request to lack both clarity (A 84 EPC 1973) and inventive step (A 56 EPC 1973). The decision is not stunning but it deals with some drafting mistakes that are easily made and features that can be taken from schematic drawings - in other words, very practical stuff.

A 84 - clarity

[3.1] In the second feature of claim 1 the alternatives “one or more middle conductive segments …” are specified. However, the first alternative option with only one middle segment does not make sense from a technical point of view, because if there is only a single middle segment this has a certain length which cannot be regarded as “equal” in length to other non-existing segments in an edge of a row.

Claim 1 therefore lacks clarity in the sense of A 84.

[3.2] Dependent claims 9 and 14 are defined by negative features by specifying that certain sections of connected conductive corner segments “are removed” rather than defining the corresponding subject-matter by using positive features.

A claim’s subject-matter is normally defined in terms of positive features indicating that certain technical elements are present. Negative limitations may be used only if adding positive features to the claim would not define more clearly and concisely the subject-matter still protectable. In present claims 9 and 14, however, it is possible to clearly and concisely define the limitations by positive features.

Claims 9 and 14 therefore lack clarity.

A 56 - Inventive step

[4.1] Notwithstanding the aforementioned objection concerning the lack of clarity of claim 1, the board judges that all of the features of claim 1 are known from document D2 except for the last feature of the claim, i.e. that at least one segment in a row is connected via one or more conductive bars to a segment in an adjacent row.

[4.2] D2 explicitly discloses in accordance with the features of claim 1 a transparent conductive surface […] with a rectangular structure with four bent “rows”, i.e. polygonal parallel rows, of conductive segments CS (see figure 6) with two end conductive segments and a plurality of middle conductive segments in between for each edge.

In figure 6 the shown conductive segments CS are of equal length in each of the rows. In accordance with decision T 748/91 relative dimensions in drawings and size ratios can be inferred from a schematic drawing such as figure 6 of D2. The same is true for the length of the gaps between those middle segments for each edge as can be also seen from figure 6. In addition, figure 6 shows that the length of the conductive segments CS in an inner row along the edge is smaller than the length of the middle segments in an outer row along the same edge (see also claim 20 of D2).

[4.3] Figure 6 of D2 can be interpreted in the light of the corresponding description in column 6, lines 60 to 64 in a way that there are “connecting parts” between the rows. However, D2 does not explicitly disclose that these “connecting parts” have the form of conductive bars for connecting at least one segment in a row to a segment in an adjacent row as required in the last feature of claim 1.

The objective technical problem underlying this difference is considered to be that the connection between the rows is integrated in the pattern of electrodes.

[4.4] Figure 7 of D2 shows an alternative embodiment of a pattern of electrodes in which there are conductive bars between conductive segments CS’ of adjacent rows.

When starting with the embodiment shown in figure 6 and assessing the requirement of inventive step in the light of the further embodiment of figure 7 of D2, the technical difference leading from the design disclosed in figure 6 of D2 to that in figure 7 of D2 is that “the function of the connecting parts in FIG. 6 is incorporated into the pattern of conductive segments CS’, reducing the outside dimensions of the device and the amount of resistive material required” […]. From reading prior art document D2 the skilled person was thus motivated to consider such conductive bars according to the last feature of claim 1 in order to solve the objective problem posed.

The board judges that in the light of such an explicit motivation in D2 it was merely an obvious design option lying within the routine competence of the skilled person to design the connecting parts foreseen in the embodiment of figure 6 in the form of conductive bars in order to integrate them in the pattern of electrodes by connecting a segment of a row to a segment in an adjacent row, in particular in the light of the following statement found in the present application which relates to different design choices for the conductive bars:
“In general, connecting conductive bars can have different shapes and assume different orientations with respect to the conductive segments they connect.” […].
[4.5] The board therefore judges that the skilled person starting from the design in figure 6 of D2 would also consider the use of direct connections between adjacent rows without departing from the design of segments of equal length as an obvious alternative solution to the connecting parts as referred to in D2, column 6, line 61 with regard to figure 6. There is no inventive technical contribution required for such a modification.

[4.6] During the first instance proceedings the appellant argued in favour of an inventive step, because despite the long time between the date of publication of D1 to D3 and the priority date of the present application, nobody had come up with segments of an equal length before the priority date. This argument, however, is not convincing in the light of the disclosure in figure 6 of D2.

[4.7] The subject-matter of claim 1 therefore lacks an inventive step in the light of D2 combined with the skilled person’s common general knowledge. […]

The appeal is dismissed.

To read the whole decision, click here. The file wrapper can be found here.