Wednesday, 11 July 2012

T 531/09 – Trouble At The Checkpoint

This is an appeal against the refusal of an application by the Examining Division (ED), for lack of inventive step.

Claim 1 of the main request before the Board read:
1. A system for simulating a security checkpoint for screening passengers and their carry-ons, the system having:
a. a security checkpoint model (200) representing time spent in the security checkpoint as a series of probabilistic events, and
b. a simulation application for simulating said security checkpoint model (200), said simulation application operating on a computer system,
whereby the improvement in the security checkpoint simulation system comprises:
said security checkpoint model (200) including separate sets of probabilistic events representing:
a security checkpoint entrance process (110) referring to a process in which a person enters a security checkpoint entrance (110),
a personal screen process (120) referring to a process in which one or more personal scans (120a) of the person who has entered the security checkpoint entrance (110) are carried out, the one or more personal scans (120a) being performed by a walk through metal detector,
an item screen process (130) referring to a process in which one or more item scans (130a) of the items belonging to the person who has entered the security checkpoint entrance (110) are carried out, the one or more item scans (130a) being performed by a scanning device, in particular, by an x-ray device, and
a defined relationship between the security checkpoint entrance (110), personal screen (120), item screen processes (130),
wherein the system is adapted to define one or more tasks in a security checkpoint,
each task having an associated output time value representing a delay caused by undertaking that task, and wherein the delay value for a task can be altered as necessary to represent changes in the tasks, and wherein the delay value is dynamically linked to other checkpoint conditions, and wherein the delay time value associated with a task is conditionally determined by the results of a previous task,
the system further being adapted to run a checkpoint simulation using security checkpoint data (321) and security checkpoint demand data (331) and to produce the simulation results (630) ;
and wherein the system further comprises a display device (500) for graphically displaying the results of the security model (200) along with a graphical representation of events and positions in the security checkpoint (100)
The Board came to the same verdict as the ED:

[1] The invention concerns the simulation of a security checkpoint. It could be the sort of familiar security checkpoint used at airports, but is not limited to that. The simulation is carried out by computer. According to claim 1 of the main request, tasks at the checkpoint are modelled as probabilistic events, each taking a certain time to perform, which may depend on what happens in preceding tasks. Two of the tasks simulated involve technical equipment, namely a walk-through metal detector and (possibly) an x-ray device.

[2] The [applicant] seeks to rely on T 1227/05, which concerned the simulation, on a computer, of an electronic circuit. The basis of the [applicant’s] argument is that the organisation of a security checkpoint, at least in so far as it comprises technical scanning devices, is a technical problem, because it lies in the field of “industrial engineering”. As a technical problem, and following T 1227/05, this contributes to inventive step.

[3] In decision T 208/84 [5] the board held that a technical process is different from a mathematical method in that the technical process is carried out on a physical entity and provides, as its result, a certain change in that entity. That definition of technical processes seems to exclude simulations, whose very purpose is to replace physical entities by virtual ones. T 1227/05 [3.1.1] goes beyond the earlier decision in holding that the simulation of an adequately defined class of technical items could be a functional technical feature. In T 1265/09 [1.13], the Board, referring to T 1227/05, left open the question whether it is a sufficient condition for a simulation to be patentable that the simulated items be technical, noting that the simulated system (in that case, call handling in a telephone call center) was not technical, so that the condition did not hold. The present Board finds itself in a similar situation and will proceed in the same way. For the reasons set out below, the Board finds that the condition is not fulfilled in the present case, and so there is no need to decide whether or not it is sufficient.

[4] Simulation of a checkpoint is not inherently technical. It can be carried out by asking people to queue and undergo various checks. The simulations of the metal detector and the x-ray device are the same as that of any other task at the checkpoint, whether they involve technical equipment or not: a probabilistic delay, dependent on the results of earlier tasks, and variable to allow for changes in tasks. The idea is that each task at the checkpoint takes some time, but that later tasks may take more or less time depending on what happens in earlier tasks. The metal detector and x-ray device are not modelled any differently from any non-technical tasks, and it is not a technical delay which is modelled, but a non-technical: the queuing of people , rather than, say, the length of time the metal detector and x-ray device take to react to a stimulus.

The Board does not see how any technical delay of the detectors contributes to the delay of a person in the queue. That might happen if, for example, a person had to stand in the scanner for any length of time, but that is not so with a walk-through detector. The delay to the person results rather from standing in a queue and waiting for an operator to respond. The same goes for the x-ray device. The Board, therefore, rejects the [applicant’s] arguments that the simulations of the metal detector and of the x-ray device make a technical contribution to the invention. They would not count in favour of inventive step, even if T 1227/05 were followed. For the same reasons, consideration of T 306/04, also cited by the [applicant], does not lead to any different conclusion.

[5] The Board sees claim 1 according to the main request as defining a simulation, on a computer, of a non-technical process, which happens to include some technical devices, and considers that the only feature that makes a contribution to inventive step is the fact that the simulation is performed on a computer.

[6] It is common ground that simulation on computers was well known, and that software for that purpose was commercially available at the priority date (published application, page 26, lines 3 - 5). The Board concludes that to run this particular simulation on a computer would have been obvious.

[7] Thus, the main request cannot be allowed due to lack of inventive step (A 56 EPC 1973). […]

The appeal is dismissed.

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