Saturday, 7 January 2012

T 1086/07 – Presenting Information

This appeal was against the decision of the Examining Division (ED) to refuse the European patent application under consideration, which concerned the problem of indicating on a summary document where the summarised portions came from in the original document.

The ED found  that the subject-matter of claim 1 did not involve an inventive step.

Claim 1 of the sole request before the Board read:
A method for summarizing a document using a processor (12), the method comprising:
  • extracting (S200) text from the document along with corresponding location information;
  • identifying (S220) portions (82) of the extracted text that reflect the content of the document;
  • generating (S230) a presentation file that includes the identified portions (82) and a first set of indicators (84) that identify each identified portion of text, the first set of indicators being placed adjacent to the corresponding extracted text; and
  • presenting (S270) the presentation file, characterized by generating a second set of indicators (86) that correspond to the first set of indicators, the vertical positions of the second set of indicators (86) indicating the vertical locations of the corresponding extracted text in the document.
[4] The ED started from the method of automatically mapping a document abstract to its original sentences disclosed in D1. The subject-matter of claim 1 differed from this by the generation of the second set of indicators to indicate the “vertical locations” of the original text. The objective problem was seen as how to improve navigation between the document summary and the summarised document. The ED considered that the skilled person would try to solve this by providing more navigation information about the summarised document. Such data was already present in D1 in the form of the corresponding area table 410 in Figure 13,

the sentence score table 408, revealing the sentence length, in Figure 8

and the abstract sentence table 409, showing which original sentence corresponds to which abstracted sentence, in Figure 9.

The ED considered that the skilled person would “use this data and visualize it according to user requirements, the form of presentation of this information being only a mere choice for the skilled person”.

[5] The Board agrees with the appellant that the ED’s reasoning is rather terse, in particular the motivation to modify D1 to arrive at the invention. If the features in question were all of a technical nature, the Board might have some doubts about the conclusion of this argument. However, as the ED did acknowledge, albeit only at point 4.3 of the minutes, the “pure visualization of available information” cannot contribute to inventive step. In the Board’s view this consideration is decisive to the outcome of the present case.

[6] Moreover, the Board finds the ED’s statement of the distinguishing features slightly too generous. In the Board’s view, the sentence numbers (B2, B5, B7) shown in Figure 9 of D1 can be considered to be a second set of indicators that correspond to the first set of indicators (A1, A2, A3…), and indicate the vertical locations of the extracted text. Thus, strictly speaking the invention differs only in that these second indicators are displayed and that their vertical positions indicate the vertical locations of the text instead of using them to look up and display automatically the text.

[7] The Board considers that, in general, the idea of displaying and placing an indicator at a position to identify a location has no technical character. It is a presentation of information, namely the results of the summarising process, and has no interaction with the possibly technical function of producing it.

A similar conclusion was reached in decision T 603/89 [2.1(c)/(d), 2.6] in connection with a kind of template that displayed numbers on a card to represent notes on a keyboard instrument. Although the jurisprudence on A 52(2) was somewhat different at the time, the judgement of technical character was essentially the same. Thus, in the Board’s view the idea of this distinguishing feature cannot contribute to inventive step. As the ED stated, the skilled person would be able to implement some form of indicator based on the sentence number, and the claim gives no details of the implementation of these indicators that could contribute to inventive step either.

[8] Concerning the appellant’s absolute position argument, the Board considers that the claimed term “vertical locations” is not precise enough to define a position that is any more absolute than the sentence numbers in D1, in particular considering that the user must anyway make the connection between the indicator and the actual text. Since the claim does not define how the invention deals with non-text passages, this argument cannot be used to distinguish over D1.

[9] In the Board’s view the same conclusion can be reached starting from the general desire to refer to original sentences while reading the abstracts disclosed in the opening part of D1 at column 1, lines 23 to 26. The invention differs from this by identifying the extracted portions and providing the corresponding second indicators. Again these differences would be aspects of presentation of information having no technical character.

[10] Finally, even if the features were considered to have technical character, the Board cannot see how they could involve an inventive step. The claimed portions of extracted text and first indicators essentially cover the contents page of a document or book. The second indicators cover the use of sticky tabs that indicate the position in the book of relevant passages. In the Board’s view the skilled person would consider the idea of using such tabs on the contents page as an obvious possibility for keeping track of the original text using the contents page alone.

[11] Accordingly, the subject-matter of claim 1 does not involve an inventive step (A 56 EPC 1973), so that the appeal must be dismissed.

Should you wish to download the whole decision, just click here.

The file wrapper can be found here.