Saturday, 12 January 2013

T 1577/07 – Democracy: An Obvious Choice

This is an examination appeal; the Examining Division (ED) had refused the application for lack of inventive step.

Claim 1 of the second auxiliary request before the Board read:
A display control apparatus for controlling display of information, the apparatus comprising:
a display control means for displaying, on a display device (24), a cursor (Cur-1) movable by a user and link parts (a-d) to items of information;
a selecting means (12) for selecting one of said items of information based on a link part designated by said cursor displayed on said display device; and
an acquisition means (12) for acquiring said item of information selected by said selecting means;
characterised in that:
said display control means (12) is operative to display, on said display device (24), a plurality of cursors (Cur-1 ... Cur-n) movable by respective plural users and to permit each cursor to be settled on one of the link parts (a-d) to an item of information that is desired by the user of that cursor,
said display control means (12) being further operative to display a position settled cursor with a different shape or colour from a cursor before position settlement in order for users to recognize the position settlement of cursors operated by other users; and
said selecting means (12) is operative to select one of said items of information based on all of the links selected by the settled cursors, thereby to decide which item of information to access next taking account of competition among the users, based on a majority decision among the link parts selected by all of the settled cursors. (my emphasis)
The Board confirmed the ED’s analysis and dismissed the appeal. Here is why:

[2] The Board cannot see any prejudicial error in the ED’s conclusion or the reasoning […] that the subject-matter of all requests does not involve an inventive step (A 56 EPC 1973).

[3] In particular, taking the more limited claim 1 of the second auxiliary request as a concrete example, the Board agrees with the ED […] that no technical considerations are involved in deciding to base a decision arrived at by a plurality of persons on the principle of a majority vote as opposed to the first come first served principle underlying the invention described in D1. The decision to implement a democratic majority rule instead of a first come first served rule merely reflects a different choice of social interaction concerning the manner of decision taking. The appellant argued that the technical considerations appeared in the form of an improved man-machine interface involving navigation where plural cursors are in a contentious state. In the Board’s view, however, these considerations mix up the non-technical aspects of resolving contention and the technical aspects of the implementation, the latter being obvious to the degree claimed […] once the problem has been posed.

[4] Moreover, in the Board’s view, the idea of resolving the contention with a majority vote would be an obvious solution in any case. Faced with the problem of processing the input from a plurality of users, the Board considers that the skilled person would recognise determining the result based on a majority vote as an obvious alternative to the first come first served principle of D1. There may be other solutions, but in the Board’s view, the majority vote remains an obvious one.

[5] The appellant argued that the argument starting from D1 involved a “category error” since D1 did not relate to a plurality of users each having permission to act. In D1 there was therefore no need to make a decision whereas the thrust of the claimed invention was to make a decision. D1 did not use or suggest any decision-making rule, not even according to a “dictatorship” principle since D1 disclosed […] that other users could force the active user to relinquish control. Thus D1 was concerned with the later stage of implementing the first come first served principle, but not with the general question of how to resolve contention between users.

However, in the Board’s view, the disclosure of the invention of D1 should be read against the background and purpose disclosed in the introduction discussed by the ED […], namely overcoming the problem of the conflicts between input of information by multiple users at the same time. Thus, the skilled person would realise that D1 solves the general problem […] that when a plurality of users have input permission, it is hard to follow what is going on and they may interfere with each other. One of the solutions proposed […] is to let only one user have input permission at a time. This is said to have drawbacks, but in the Board’s view it would nevertheless suggest to the skilled person the possibility of this type of solution. Another solution […] is to show the cursors of all users at the same time. In the Board’s view, the skilled person would also consider this display possibility independently of the adopted conflict resolution principle.

[6] The appellant argued that D1 only related to inputting data in an application, the only example given being that of a helpline, whereas the invention related to selecting links in a browser. Firstly, the Board is not convinced that the claimed accessing of “items of information” via “link parts” does not cover selecting parts of an application. In particular, D1 discloses […] “clicking with a mouse”. Moreover, the Board agrees with the ED […] that the skilled person would realise that the resolution of the conflict between users does not depend on the type of application involved.

[7] Accordingly the Board judges that claim 1 of the second auxiliary request and thus also the broader main request does not involve an inventive step.

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

The file wrapper can be found here.