This is an examination appeal.
Claim 1 of the main request read :
A notification system (120), comprising:
an information display object (160) that presents summarized notifications (124); and
an information controller (130) that receives attentional inputs associated with a user to dynamically generate the information display object (160) on one or more display screens (150, 170) in order to facilitate user processing of the summarized notifications (124);
wherein the information controller is configured to control positioning of the information display object by dynamically moving the display object closer to the user’s focus of visual attention if a notification is determined to be urgent, and
wherein the user’s focus of visual attention is determined by at least one of determining the current cursor position, determining the place of an active cursor, using at least one head or gaze tracking component, using an attention model and determining the user’s activity or other input about focus of visual attention including gaze and pose information.
The Board found this request to lack inventive step :
Interpretation of claim 1
[3.1] During the oral proceedings (OPs), the appellant argued that the expression “dynamically moving the display object” implies a smooth movement, not a “jump”. However, the board considers that there is a priori no reason for such an interpretation and that, in fact, the description of the present application explicitly includes both possibilities of mapping a location either smoothly or in a step-function manner, i.e. by “jumping” in a non-continuous manner; […]. According to the board, the broader interpretation given in this description passage is the one that should apply.
Difference with the closest prior art
[3.2] The board considers, and the appellant has never disputed, that D1 represents the closest prior art for the subject-matter of claim 1. D1 discloses a notification system […], comprising an information display object that presents summarised notifications […] and an information controller […] that receives attentional inputs associated with a user […] to dynamically generate the information display object on one or more display screens in order to facilitate user processing of the summarised notifications […].
This means that the following features distinguish the subject-matter of claim 1 from the disclosure of D1:
(1) The information controller is configured to control positioning of the information display object by dynamically moving the display object closer to the user’s focus of visual attention if a notification is determined to be urgent.
(2) The user’s focus of visual attention is determined by at least one of determining the current cursor position, determining the place of an active cursor, using at least one head or gaze tracking component, using an attention model and determining the user’s activity or other input about focus of visual attention including gaze and pose information.
Inventive step, A 56 EPC 1973
[3.3.1] Looking first at the distinguishing feature (1), it is noted that it is largely similar to what was recognised in the appealed decision as distinguishing the subject-matter of claim 1 of the refused main request from the disclosure of D1. In the appealed decision […], that feature was simply dismissed as non-technical and it was therefore concluded that there was no inventive step. The board however considers that feature (1) needs to be analysed in more detail. The display of an object near the centre of visual attention of a user (within the “foveal vision”), so that it is more-or-less guaranteed to be seen immediately, or its display simply within the visual field of the user, so that it can be seen, may well be seen as technical effects as compared to arbitrary placement on the screen or on one of a plurality of screens. Thus measures to assess where the user is looking and to place a display object in the light of that assessment do qualify as contributing to a technical effect. However, the board notes that in the case of one screen it is a matter of experience that the whole screen is normally within the field of vision of the user. Further, displaying a value assigned to an object by means of its relative positioning, or by moving it on the screen, is clearly a presentation of information. Reference is made to T 1143/06, as well as to T 1741/08, from this board in a different composition, which discusses the case law in this area, including the case cited by the appellant in the grounds of appeal, T 643/00. The particular effects of the claimed invention put forward by the appellant, “minimising information overload and distraction”, can not be considered technical in nature according to the case law, being determined by psychological factors and typical to the question of how to present information in a particular context. Overall the board judges that determining (or attempting to determine) a user’s visual focus of attention as a point on a screen and displaying objects in positions relative to that point can be considered to have a technical effect, but that the particular choice of where to display an object dependent on a value assigned to that object (its “urgency”) cannot be. Thus for the question of inventive step the critical question is whether it would be obvious for the skilled person to adapt the notification system of D1 to take account of the visual focus of attention of the user when placing a notification on the screen.
In D1, the choice of when and how to display messages is based on their priority and on the state of the user (see abstract) and may use a different size and either a central or a peripheral location on a screen for a document or alerting window […]. In D1, the “attentional focus” of a user indicates the activity or computer application on which the user is focused. It determines whether the user is “amenable to receiving notification alerts”, in other words whether the user can be disturbed. In D1 the focus of attention can also be the focus of visual attention, viz. when the user is focusing on some application […], which will necessarily be at a particular position on the screen.
Given that D1 already clearly considers the question of how to present notifications in such a way that high priority messages attract attention, a skilled person will normally be tempted to continue along the same line, i.e. to ensure that urgent messages will receive even more attention. One way of grabbing the user’s attention which will naturally come to mind is to place the urgent information in the user’s focus of attention (visual or otherwise). Such attention grabbing is in fact part of human nature. For example, when a mother wants to attract the attention of her child which has totally immersed itself in a television programme, she may decide to stand in front of the television, i.e. in the child’s “focus of visual attention”.
The system of D1 already contains the necessary means to determine the user’s focus of visual attention (viz. the application on which the user is focusing at a given moment; […]) and it will be a matter of trivial implementation for the skilled person to use these means to determine the user’s focus of visual attention and to place an urgent message, e.g. from the periphery, at that focus of visual attention. Although it is not necessary to discuss the further issue of changing the position of messages according to their urgency, as argued above, the board also notes that in as much as D1 discloses placing non-urgent messages at the edge of a screen and urgent messages at the centre, it is also considered obvious to move a message to a position central to the focus of visual attention if its priority/urgency is increased.
As regards the expression “dynamically moving the display object”, the board considers that this expression covers a “jump” from one place to another, according to the interpretation that should be given to the word “dynamic” following [3.1] above. In the remainder of this section, however, the board assumes, for the sake of argument, that the expression is somehow changed to reflect the meaning given to it by the appellant during the OPs, i.e. that it implies a continuous movement.
The board already judged above that choosing the location of the display object in function of the urgency of the message is non-technical and hence does not contribute to the presence of an inventive step. The only matter left to consider is therefore whether some effect may be caused by the continuous nature of the movement itself, even if, as was argued by the appellant during the OPs, any such effect would only be a side-effect.
Leaving aside the normal physical changes that would occur as a consequence of the inherent technical nature of a computer display, e.g. changes in the intensity of various pixels, the only effect that could possibly be caused by a continuous movement of the display object is to attract the attention of the person looking at the display and present information to him or her that a certain message is urgent. It may also imply a kind of time limit for reacting (before the object reaches the focus of attention). However this is also only a presentation of information; the application does not include any disclosure of any technical consequences of reacting or not within this implied time limit. In other words, continuously moving the display object can serve no other objective purpose than that of presenting information as such. It therefore produces no further technical effect (i.e. no technical effect apart from the normal physical changes which inherently take place in a computer display) and does not contribute to the presence of an inventive step.
[3.3.2] Feature (2) includes several alternatives: the user’s focus of visual attention is determined by any of a number of parameters, including “other input about visual attention”. This means that it clearly also includes the possibility of determining the user’s focus of visual attention by establishing which application is currently receiving the focus of the user. This possibility is however made obvious by D1, as already covered by the reasoning given in [3.3.1] above.
[3.3.3] The subject-matter of claim 1 of the main request is therefore not inventive (A 56 EPC 1973).
[3.4] For this reason, the main request is not allowable.
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