Monday, 10 September 2012

T 1410/07 – Nothing Special

Another decision on the patentability of meta-methods …

The application under consideration had been refused for lack of inventive step. According to the Examining Division, the claimed invention concerned an administrative method for organising a project the purpose of which was merely mental/administrative. The only technical aspect consisted in routine programming of a conventional data treatment device.

Claim 1 of the main request before the Board read (in English translation):
1. Method for generating at least one project reference model defining project and process requirements and their control in a machine-readable way, comprising the following processing steps:
  • preparation of a predefined project reference model (XY) in a memory arrangement with different classification elements (KE) linked by means of at least one classification scheme, wherein each classification element (KE) refers to at least one memory location in which information regarding the configuration of this classification element is stored,
  • representation of the predefined PEP project reference model (XY) on a display device;
  • generation of a new PEP project reference model from the predefined project reference model (XY) via an input device, according to predefined organization-specific and/or service-specific conditions;
  • representation of the new project reference model on the display device; and
  • storage of the new reference configuration model;
characterized by the following processing steps:
  • the classification elements (KE) are stored in a first memory with their individual designations and memory location references to at least one further memory, wherein a state code taken from a set of state codes is allocated to the classification elements (KE), wherein the set of state codes comprises at least state codes indicating whether a corresponding classification element (KE) exists in the PEP project reference model (XY) or has been virtually deleted, changed, made into versions, inherited, blocked, or duplicated, so that it is possible to access former versions of the PEP project reference model;
  • information going beyond the designations of the classification elements (KE), i.e. not only the information on this classification element (KE) but also its link to other classification elements (KE) is stored in the at least one further memory to which a classification element (KE) refers;
  • for generating the new project reference model, the at least one further memory is accessed exclusively by means of a preceding access to the first memory, and
  • the target system is controlled via information regarding the configuration, wherein the information regarding the configuration consist in classifications, links (KEV, KV), procedures, rules, and configuration information, data, as well as other descriptions for a target system to be configured.
The Board dismissed the appeal, for the following reasons:

*** Translation of the German original ***

[2] The main request of the appellant cannot be granted because the claimed invention does not comply with the requirement of inventive step under A 52(1) together with A 56 EPC 1973. This requirement is not satisfied when the claimed invention as such does not have a technical contribution to the prior art or when the technical contribution is nothing but a solution that is obvious to the skilled person.

[2.1] The invention according to claim 1 concerns a method for generating at least one project reference model defining project and process requirements and their control in a machine-readable way (see the claim wording). Based on the description, see paragraph [0022] et seq.,  the term “model” is to be interpreted as designating a data object stored in a computer system used to generate information regarding configurations in a machine-readable mark-up language (Auszeichnungssprache) – e.g., according to paragraph [0034] et seq., the meta mark-up language XML (Extensible Markup Language) – and which comprises an interface for accessing the stored model information.

[2.2] The claimed method provides a “predefined projet reference model” and generates a “new PEP project reference model from the predefined project reference model”. Both project reference models use “classification elements KE” and at least one “classification scheme” that “links” the classification elements. The “classification elements (KE) are stored in a first memory with their individual designations and memory location references to at least one further memory” in which “information going beyond the designations of the classification elements (KE)” is stored.

[2.3] According to the description and the explanations of the appellant, such a project reference model is a “standardisation model”. It is used “to make available the use of the standardizable parts of a project or process and its specialization … in the target systems by an automated configuration” […] “The classification elements and their reference structures can be organized arbitrarily and underlie the logic of each model defined by the user.” […] A project reference model is a “standardizable and reusable part of a systemic configuration support of project management and project organization applications, project portals, and project processes”.

[2.4] Therefore, the presently claimed invention boils down to a computer assisted meta-method for generating software that can be used for preparing, executing and following up (Nachhaltung) projects after it has been appropriately configured and adapted to a particular target system.

[2.5] During the OPs the appellant has insisted on a very successful use of the invention in the company of a well-known car manufacturer and the description also explains the method by means of the development of vehicles. However, the invention that is disclosed in the application is not intended for direct use in a concrete industrial production process and is not claimed in the context of a concrete target system. Rather, the invention can be used in any domain, including financial services, to which paragraph [0058] of the description (and original claim 15) refer.

[2.6] In decision T 354/07 [2 et seq.] the Board (in different composition) has found that as a rule conceptual methods and meta-methods of software creation do not possess technical features relevant for patentability and, therefore, cannot establish inventive step, unless in a particular case it can be shown that there is a direct causal connection with a technical effect that is relevant for the solution of a technical problem. The fact that the alleged invention could possibly serve a technical purpose or contribute to the solution of a technical problem is not sufficient for establishing its technicality (see also T 306/04 [6]). Methods and processes for information management in the context of controlling economic processes are not per se technical inventions within the meaning of A 52(1). If they do not directly and causally contribute to the technical solution of a technical problem by interacting with technical features, neither novelty nor inventive step can be based on them. (see also T 1359/08 [2] and T 1171/06 [4.5]).

[2.7] The concept underlying the present invention, i.e. to standardise concept, project and planning processes by means of computer-based models, is not part of a technical solution of a technical problem. Requirements such as the possibility to re-use such models or particular substructures of a model and to combine or edit existing models or substructures do not per se have a technical orientation (Bezug) and no not make a technical contribution to the prior art, even in the context of general implementation concepts such as the use of arborescent structures or references related to the definition of models. Also, the scheme of starting from an existing model, of visualising it and of producing the new model by taking into account predefined conditions does not confer any concrete technical relevance.

[2.8] This is what distinguishes the present case from decisions T 1351/04 and T 1227/05 cited by the appellant, because in these decision the Board could acknowledge a technical and inventive contribution of the respective claimed subject-matter to the prior art.

[2.9] In the present case only the use of technical means in the computer-based implementation of the claimed method can make a technically relevant contribution to the prior art, i.e. the storage of data in a first and at least one further memory, the representation of the predefined project reference model on a display device and the limitation of the access path to the “at least /one/ further memory by means of a preceding access to the first memory” (see claim 1 of the main request).

[2.10] According to the appellant, the use of several memories in the context of re-usable data makes an inventive contribution. The Board cannot endorse this argument, be it only because, according to the description […] there can be several logical memories, which is an embodiment where this feature would be automatically fulfilled when different data are stored. But in the present context even the (hypothetical) use of several physically different memories appears to be  an obvious technical option that does not result in particular advantages when the method is carried out.

[2.11] Moreover the use of a display device for representing relevant data structures, such as models or other information, is not something that would surprise the skilled person, even less so within the framework of complex application programs in the field of project management.

[2.12] Finally the claimed exclusive access to the further memories by means of a preceding access to the first memory is already suggested by the arborescence of the model because, according to the invention, the classification elements of higher rank are stored in the first memory. The effect referred to by the appellant, that this feature allowed the system to know at any time to which semantic context the corresponding requested information belonged may be an important feature of the method on the meta-level of abstract model generation, but it does not make any concrete contribution to a technical solution of a technical problem.

[2.13] The appellant has invoked the particular advantage of the invention consisting in the fact that it allows to configure models for complex processes in an efficient way. This would make it possible to precisely understand changes of the model and to re-use subcomponents of the model across projects (projektübergreifend).

However, these advantages and features of the invention at best are the result of the abstract concept of providing a configurable standardisation model; they do not have any direct causal connection with a concrete technical solution to a problem.

[2.14] The appellant also pointed out that the invention allowed to configure complex systems in real time. It made it possible to immediately and simultaneously carry out, administrate and manage changes of configuration, without any loss of time and without requiring the prior use of data processing specialists, across all projects and systems concerned.

Such performances cannot be claimed for the invention be it only because the invention is not a concrete system but is directed at generating an abstract standardisation model on a meta-level. The hypothetical possibility of developing a model that is based on the claimed method, allowing to promptly configure a complex target system is not sufficient and does not constitute an indication that the claimed method as such makes an inventive contribution to the prior art.

[2.15] Therefore, the method according to claim 1 of the main request does not comprise any feature that could make a contribution to the prior art beyond an obvious implementation of a computer. Thus the requirement of inventive step is not fulfilled.

Should you wish to download the whole decision (in German), just click here.

The file wrapper can be found here.